Since announcing its arrival as a global force in June 2014 with the declaration of a caliphate on territory captured in Iraq and Syria, the jihadist group Islamic State has shocked the world with its brutality.
A long line
IS is an instance of a phenomenon that recurs in most religions, and certainly in all monotheistic religions. Every so often militant strains emerge, flourish temporarily, then vanish. They are then replaced by another militant strain whose own beginning is linked to a predecessor by nothing more profound than drawing from the same cultural pool as its predecessor.
In the seventh century, there were the Kharijites, a starkly puritanical group that assassinated two of the early caliphs. Like IS, the Kharajites thought they knew best what and who were truly Islamic, and what and who were not.
In the 18th century, there were the followers of Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, a central Arabian preacher whose followers included Muhammad ibn Saud, the founder of the Saudi dynasty. Believing that the worship of saints and the construction of mausoleums were impious acts, ibn Saud’s army destroyed sites holy to both Sunnis and Shi‘is in Arabia and present-day Iraq, much as IS targets sites from antiquity today.
The right stuff
From time to time , some figure emerges in each tradition who puts his own spin on that tradition. To be successful, that spin must capture the imagination of some of that tradition’s adherents, who then try to put it into practice.
Some spins, such as that of contemporary Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabis, have sticking power. This is not because they are somehow “truer” than others, but because those who advocate for them are better able to mobilise resources – a core group of committed followers, for instance, military capabilities, or outside support – than others. Most do not.
Al-Baghdadi is one such figure (as was al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden). His spin melds together three ideas that come from the Islamic tradition.
The first is khilafa (caliphate). Al-Baghdadi believes that Islam requires a caliphate — governance that’s in accordance with Islamic law over territory that’s under the authority of a caliph (a righteous and knowledgeable descendant of the prophet).
When his forces took over Mosul in the summer of 2014, al-Baghdadi proclaimed himself caliph and burnished his credentials for the job by changing his name to Caliph Ibrahim al-Quraishi al-Hashimi. The last two names signify he’s a member of the tribe of Muhammad and a descendant of the prophet.
The second idea al-Baghdadi brought into the mix is takfir – the act of pronouncing Muslims who disagree with IS’s strict interpretation of Islamic law to be apostates, which makes them punishable by death. This is the reason for IS’s murderous rampages against Shi‘is; rampages that even al-Qaeda central finds counter-productive, if not repugnant.
Resurrecting the concept of takfir was the idea of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, founder of al-Qaeda in Iraq. His strategy was to use the concept to tighten communal ties among Iraq’s Sunnis by mobilising them against its Shi‘is, thus making post-American-invasion Iraq ungovernable.
Al-Baghdadi has gone one step further, finding the concept useful in his effort to purify the territory of the caliphate which, he believes, will soon stretch across the Islamic world.
Finally, there is hijra, the migration of Muslims from dar al-harb (the abode of war, that is, non-Muslim majority countries) to dar al-Islam (the abode of Islam). Just as Muhammad (PBUH&HF) and his early companions migrated from Mecca to Medina, where they established the first permanent Islamic community.
Muslims Hate ISIS Most of All
The following is declaration of the International conference on the “Takfiri Threats in Today’s World”
In the Name of Allah, the All-Beneficent, the All-Merciful
Declaration of the International Conference on the “Takfiri Threats in Today’s World”
All praises belong to Allah, the Lord of the worlds, and may Allah’s abundant blessings be on our master Muhammad, his purified progeny, his chosen companions and all those who followed them in virtue until the Judgment Day.
In the present circumstances the Muslim world is passing through one of the most bitter of its historical phases. Extremist and takfiri trends through their speeches, verdicts and disuniting activities, cause homicide, terror, sectarian war, distraction of Muslims from the main issues of the Islamic world and the empowerment of the enemy front. In such circumstances, it is incumbent on the Islamic scholars while repelling and rejecting such groups and introducing the original teachings of Islam, to carry out their historical message.
On this very basis, the International Conference on the Takfiri threats was held in Qom on the 28th of January 2016 by the invitation of the great legal authority (marja’) of the Shia World and in the presence of hundreds of Shia and Sunni scholars. While condemning the extremist behavior of every sect and religious group, they hereby declare the following resolutions:
Islam is a religion of mercy and kindness and bereft of murder and terror. The role model of Muslims is the Messenger of Allah (s) who was given the appellation of “Indeed you possess a great character.” [68:4]. Thus, all the Muslims consider peaceful coexistence with other religions and sects as a pattern for their social conduct and refrain from every kind of quarrelsome behavior and action that disrupts peaceful coexistence between the followers of [the different] religions and sects.
According to the practical way of life and teachings of the Prophet of Allah (s) whosoever pronounces the statement of faith (shahadatayn) is a Muslim, and hence his blood, wealth, family, and respect are all held in esteem. Hence, personal legal inferences in this regard would be tantamount to struggle to find out the law against an explicit tradition (nass) of the Prophet (s).
In accordance with the consensus of Islamic scholars, disbelief (kufr) only takes place when there is an explicit rejection of a necessary element (dharura) of the religion, while none of the existing controversial subjects in the Islamic world are from the necessities of the religion, and on this very basis no individual or group has any right to transgress others under vain pretexts.
While condemning the crimes committed by takfiri groups in different Islamic countries and the conflicting speeches and actions of a small group in some international television channels, we ask all the Islamic scholars from all the sects and religious factions that while disregarding any kind of political and sectarian considerations, to detach themselves from the extremists and through verdicts and declarations, officially prevent the Muslims from entering in to a sectarian war.
Since the enemies of Islam benefit from such extremism for promoting their ambitions of arrogance and sovereignty over the resources of the Islamic world, and with the inauguration of the project of Islamophobia that prevents the penetration and spread of Islam, the scholars present in the congress explicitly declare their opposition to all the extremist and takfiri trends and that these groups have no kind of connection with Islam and Muslims whatsoever.
We, the scholars who are present in this conference request all the politicians of the region to refrain from such behavior that bring about the spread of violence and excommunication and are practical steps towards sectarian war, and in all the matters of the region dialogue is the best path of solution and peace is the best result, as the Qur’an explicitly says “Peace is better.” [4:128]
The secret of success for the Islamic nation is in unity and the reconstruction of a new Islamic civilization and the dissemination of the original and reviving Islamic culture in the global level with the mutual cooperation and support of one another. In order to realize this we must put all our efforts and power in elevating the word of Allah and bringing about a new civilization, and refrain from any kind of speech or behavior that can distance us from our original aim.
In view of the establishment of a permanent secretariat of the World Congress for Confronting the Extremist and Takfiri Trends by the great legal authority Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shirazī, we stretch out our hands in unity with all the Muslim scholars throughout the world and request them to assist us in this important path. This secretariat considers its duty to work together with all those who struggle for the unity and elevation of Islam, and while confronting extremism and takfir, compassionately requests all the Muslim youth to refrain from such behavior that is detrimental to Islam and Muslims.
We are hopeful that the excellent way of life of the Messenger of Allah (s) becomes an exemplar for all the Muslims and the focus of the ambition of all the Muslim scholars and thinkers of the world.