Islamic State members and supporters online are distributing a photoshopped image of Santa Claus being held hostage by the group. The dark humor and heavy sarcasm of Islamic State (ISIS) supporters define its aggressive social media campaigns that position the group as the “cool” successor to the out-of-style Al-Qaeda.
It is unconfirmed if the original source was created by an Islamic State member/supporter, though an intelligence source involved in monitoring extremist online activity believes it was. Nonetheless, Islamic State supporters have happily been posting it and using it to mock the U.S. and Christmas.
Celebrating Christmas is viewed as heresy or even blasphemy, which is punishable by death under sharia law by some Islamists. Muslims believe that Christianity contradicts the singularity of God by believing that Jesus was the Son of God, instead of limiting him to an admirable prophet.
Islamic attitudes towards Christmas celebrations greatly vary, even among Islamists.
Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi condemns public celebrations of Christmas in Muslim countries, including the displaying of Christmas decorations with no overt religious meaning.
IslamWeb, a pro-Qaradawi website, has a fatwa against celebrating Christmas that orders Muslims to “try to get your children out of the holiday spirit by spending quality time with them, by traveling with them (if possible), and by decreasing their exposure to the holiday influence on TV and in shopping malls.”
The webpage for that fatwa also references Muzammil Siddiqi, a founder of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and current chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America. He says “Muslim families should not have Christmas trees in their homes, nor should they put up lights inside or outside their homes at this time.”
A radical California-based group named the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA) has a fatwa permitting Muslims to exchange gifts on Christmas with relatives and friends as long as the non-Muslims understand that they are not celebrating the holiday. Another fatwa bans saying “Merry Christmas.”
Yet another AMJA fatwa says Muslims cannot sell Christmas decorations or play Christmas music. Any business transactions related to Christmas must have their profit donated to charity and Muslims need to try to find another job if their place of employment refuses to stop playing the music. Muslims are permitted to stay if they cannot find another job.
For more extreme and intolerant groups like the Islamic State, the mythology of Santa Claus is even offensive, even though Santa is not a reflection of Christianity but rather the more secular aspects of the holiday.
Islamists often believe that Jesus will return with the Islamic messiah, called the Mahdi, to defeat infidel forces and implement sharia around the globe. The prophecies state that Jesus will destroy a cross in order to debunk Christianity, thereby absorbing the faith into Islam.
When Al-Qaeda and other Islamist terrorists talk about "breaking the cross," it is a reference to this prophecy about Jesus. The Islamic State goes further and argues that it is fulfilling prophecy and triggering this End Times conflict.
The Islamic State’s hostility towards Santa Claus is a reflection of the disdain Islamism has for non-Islamic holidays. While most Muslims accept the Christmas holiday without celebrating it, Islamists actually view it as a threat, just as they do non-Muslim proselytizing and houses of worship.
The cropped image of Santa Claus about to be beheaded isn’t just part of the Islamic State’s humor or entirely a joke. It emanates from a supremacist worldview that seeks the forced extinction of all contrary beliefs.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio.