How “Islamic” is ISIS?

In the recent events, Many people have started wondering about the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a terrorist organization determined to build a “caliphate” and destabilize the Middle East, as well as gain power over there. There are countless of reports of killings of innocent Christians, Shia and Sunni Muslims and Yazdis.  This brings about an important question, Is ISIS Islamic? Is it the religion that about two billion people around the world follow that is driving ISIS into committing such atrocities? And if so, then how come a vast majority of Muslims have come out and protested against ISIS? How come the victims of ISIS have been Muslims as well as Non-Muslims?

To answer that question, I have taken snippets from an article by Mehdi Hasan, who is an Al-Jazeera presenter, who wrote a 5,000-word epic piece, in response to the Atlantic piece, on whether the so-called ‘Islamic State’ is Islamic, featuring interviews with former CIA and MI6 officials and a top Islamic theologian:

“Didier François, a French journalist who was held by Isis in Syria for ten months before being released in April 2014. François has since given us a rare insight into life inside what the Atlantic’s Graeme Wood, in a recent report for the magazine, has called the “hermit kingdom” of Isis, where “few have gone . . . and returned”. And it is an insight that threatens to turn the conventional wisdom about the world’s most fearsome terrorist organisation on its head.

“There was never really discussion about texts,” the French journalist told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour last month, referring to his captors. “It was not a religious discussion. It was a political discussion.”

According to François, “It was more hammering what they were believing than teaching us about the Quran. Because it has nothing to do with the Quran.” And the former hostage revealed to a startled Amanpour: “We didn’t even have the Quran. They didn’t want even to give us a Quran.”

The rise of Isis in Iraq and Syria has been a disaster for the public image of Islam – and a boon for the Islamophobia industry. Here, after all, is a group that calls itself Islamic State; that claims the support of Islamic texts to justify its medieval punishments, from the stoning of adulterers to the amputation of the hands of thieves; and that has a leader with a PhD in Islamic studies who declares himself to be a “caliph”, or ruler over all Muslims, and has even renamed himself in honour of the first Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr.

The consequences are, perhaps, as expected. In September 2014, a Zogby poll found that only 27 per cent of Americans had a favourable view of Islam – down from 35 per cent in 2010. By February 2015, more than a quarter of Americans (27 per cent) were telling the pollsters LifeWay Research that they believed that life under Isis rule “gives a true indication of what an Islamic society looks like”.

Marc Sageman, 61-year-old, Polish-born psychiatrist and academic is a former CIA operations officer who was based in Pakistan in the late 1980s. There he worked closely with the Afghan mujahedin. He has since advised the New York City Police Department on counterterrorism issues, testified in front of the 9/11 Commission in Washington, DC, and, in his acclaimed works Understanding Terror Networks and Leaderless Jihad, closely analysed the biographies of several hundred terrorists.

Does he see religion as a useful analytical prism through which to view the rise of Isis and the process by which thousands of young people arrive in Syria and Iraq, ready to fight and die for the group?

“Religion has a role but it is a role of justification,” he tells me. “It’s not why they do this [or] why young people go there.”

Isis members, he says, are using religion to advance a political vision, rather than using politics to advance a religious vision. “To give themselves a bit more legitimacy, they use Islam as their justification. It’s not about religion, it’s about identity . . . You identify with the victims, [with] the guys being killed by your enemies.”

“As [Obama] recently remarked, giving groups like Isis religious legitimacy is handing them the ideological victory they desperately desire,” she says. This may be the most significant point of all to understand, as politicians, policymakers and security officials try (and fail) to formulate a coherent response to violent extremism in general and Isis in particular.

To claim that Isis is Islamic is egregiously inaccurate and empirically unsustainable, not to mention insulting to the 1.6 billion non-violent adherents of Islam across the planet. Above all else, it is dangerous and self-defeating, as it provides Baghdadi and his minions with the propaganda prize and recruiting tool that they most crave.”

It is seen that to paint a political organization and two billion peaceful worshipers of the same faith with the same brush would be to generalize and demonize innocents practising their faith peacefully.  Due to such generalisations, there have been many islamophobic attacks on the rise in the West, including the Chapel Hill Shooting in the States, whereby three Muslim students were shot to death by an American.

No one claims that all of Judaism is to blame because of the Israeli occupation of Gaza, or that the KKK represent all of Christianity, so why the double standards when it comes to the Abrahamic religion of Islam?


Excerpts taken from:

Hasan, M. (2015, March 10). Mehdi Hasan: How Islamic is Islamic State? Retrieved March 11, 2015, from Newstatesman:

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