Islamic Perspectives

Ideology of ISIS: An Objective Analysis — i

By Prof. Manzoor Alam

The speed and rapidity with which the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was established occupying a large chunk of territory, in Iraq and Syria, including Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, was really amazing and mind boggling. The rulers of this State exercise full administrative and political control in the territories occupied by them. It appears that they have stabilised themselves and it will be difficult to dislodge them from the territories under their control.

The founders of ISIS claim that they are strictly adhering to the commands of the Qur’an and the methodology of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) while implementing the basic tenets and Shariah of Islam. Let us dispassionately examine the authenticity and validity of this claim.

The ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been succinctly summed up by Bernard Haykal, a leading authority on Islam. He states that, “the group is trying to recreate the earliest days of Islam and is faithfully reproducing the norms of war.” He further states that, “what is striking about them is not just the literalism but also the seriousness with which they read their texts. There is an assiduous, obsessive seriousness that Muslims don’t have normally.” Hence the main ideology of ISIS is to revive the practices of tribal culture of the 7th century, which they assert were used by the Prophet (saw) in the incipient stage of the foundation of Islam, such as slavery. Sex with female slaves was legitimate, killing of captives captured during the course of a war, crucifixion and revenge against individuals and enemy tribes were the norm. Further, they want revival of caliphate and predict the imminent occurrence of the Apocalypse or Yaum al-Qiamah (Graeme Wood: “What ISIS really wants”, The Atlantic, March 2015).

The founders of the Islamic State ignore the fact that these were tribal practices some of which the Prophet (saw) could not reform in the early stage of the development of Islam. However, even in its initial phase of development, Islam emerged as a progressive religion and introduced many significant reforms in tribal society. For instance, women were given the right to property, granted freedom of speech and equal rights to grant protection to an acquaintance in distress as enjoyed by men. The Prophet’s daughter, Zainab, used this right to give protection to her polytheist husband Abul Aas. Islam abolished usury or exorbitant interest on loans. One of the most significant achievements of Islam was to abolish and dispense with the institution of priesthood which is still prevalent in most other religions. Similarly, many other evil practices in the tribal society were abolished within the territory under the jurisdiction of the Islamic state of Madinah.


The rulers of ISIS assert that the following are the genuine Islamic practices which must be vigorously pursued:
A. Islam rejects peace as a matter of principle; B. Forcible conversion of non-Muslims to Islam; C. Revival of slavery; D. Crucifixion; E. The instituition of Caliphate; F. The Apocalypse; G. Apostasy (Takfeer); H. Other crazy ideas advanced by founders of the Islamic State. Let us examine these ideas:


A. Islam rejects peace as a matter of principle: This perverts the fundamental principle of the mission of Islam which is renowned as a religion of peace, compassion and justice. It is an inconceivable travesty of truth. This is a blatantly false statement not supported by the Qur’an and the Traditions of the Prophet (saw). On the contrary, the Qur’an categorically states that “so long as they honour the treaty they have entered with you, have faith in them. Allah loves the righteous”(At-Taubah (9), Verse 7).

The Prophet (saw) signed the Treaty of Hudaibiya in the 6th Hijri which even contained some unfavourable clauses. He had declared Jews as citizens of the Islamic state established in Madinah and granted them equal rights with the Muslim citizens. The Prophet was designated in the Qur’an as “Mercy unto world” and not as “Tyrant unto world” which according to the acts of ISIS leaders he was. The Prophet (saw) strictly adhered to the principle of peace and invariably followed it. This is evident from the fact that he did not initiate any aggressive war except against the Jews of Khyber who had conspired with the polytheists of Makkah, in the Battle of Uhad, to destroy the state of Madinah. Most of the wars were imposed upon him by polytheists of Makkah. Bernard Haykal incorrectly states that “it is true that all Muslims acknowledge that Muhammad’s earliest conquests were not tidy affairs”. Unfortunately he has not cited any example. The conquest of Makkah was a bloodless affair where the Prophet declared general amnesty to all whether they had accepted Islam or not. The Non-Muslims were allowed to participate in the Battle of Hunain and also received their share of the spoils of war.

B. Forcible conversion of people to Islam: A large number of non-Muslims have been forcibly converted to Islam by ISIS. This contravenes the basic principle of Islam. The Qur’an categorically states “No compulsion in religion,” (Al-Baqarah(2) :verse 256). The Prophet Muhammad (saw) strictly adhered to this divine command. He conveyed the message but did not force any one to convert to Islam even after the conquest of Makkah. The peaceful missionary role of Islam was stressed by a distinguished scholar, Thomas Arnold, who stressed that “even where the Muslims ruled there was no complaint of any organised attempt to force the acceptance of Islam on non-Muslims or any systematic execution to stamp out the Christian religion.”


C. Revival of slavery: The custom of slavery was the norm in the 7th century and even prior to that. It was customary even in the Roman and Persian empires. It is true that the Prophet (saw) did not abolish slavery because of the prevailing practice in the then tribal society. But he did encourage the freedom of slaves. Many of the freed slaves attained prominent positions in Islamic society such as Bilal who became muezzin (the man who calls people to prayer five times a day). The custom of slavery and trade in slaves was abolished in a Geneva Convention held in 1926. Abolition of slavery stands for the restoration of human dignity.

Islam is committed to it because of its inherent humanitarian nature. Thus the very idea of revival of slavery is reprehensible and opposed to the progressive character of Islam. The Prophet (saw) was against oppression. He had joined an association called Hilful-Fudul formed in Makkah to prevent the elite of Makkah from committing oppression, tyranny, injustice and bullying against traders and businessmen coming from outside Makkah. He was proud of his association with this organisation even after he was divinely commissioned as a Prophet. Finally the Qur’an unambiguously states “Cooperate with each other in performing pious and righteous deeds, do not cooperate in sinful and malicious deeds”(Al-Maeda (5):verse 2). The revival of slavery will be a malicious and repulsive act. The very concept of its revival is repugnant to Islam because it violates the principle of human equality which is fundamental to Islam.

D. Crucifixion: It is misleading to state that “the Qur’an specifies crucifixion as the only punishment permitted for enemies of Islam.” This was valid only for the then tribal society provided they were participating in a war. Thus, it applied only to the combatants who were involved in the act of war. The civilian population was not to be touched. The terms and conditions for crucifixion prevailing in the seventh century cannot be superimposed on the 21st century. It is irrelevant to even conceive of it in the modern context. Moreover, the Prophet did not apply it after the conquest of Makkah. All the prisoners of war after the Battle of Badr were released on payment of ransom.


E. The institution of caliphate: There is no reference to the institution of Caliphate in the Qur’an. In fact, it does not reveal anything about the political system that should govern an Islamic country. The Prophet (saw), in one of his Traditions, did speak about 12 Caliphs (Khulafa), 7 of them were clearly identified including Mahdi, the last of them who is most likely to appear before the Apocalypse. However, this Hadith (Tradition) clearly indicates that there is no permanence to the institution of caliphate. Moreover, Abu Bakr (R.A.), who succeeded the Prophet Muhammad (saw), as the ruler of the State of Madinah did not adopt the title of Caliph. Omar (R.A.) adopted the title of Amirul Mominin. His successors Othman and Ali (R.A.) were also addressed by the same title.

It may be observed that Muslims across the world are now divided into various nationalities and sovereign states, each with its own system of government. It is impossible to pool them together into a single nation under the political jurisdiction of a caliph. The concept is irrelevant in the contemporary context. It amounts to polytheism to suggest that “caliphate is not just a political entity but also a vehicle for salvation.” And to attribute to the Prophet (saw) such a statement that to “ die without pledging allegiance to a caliph is to die a jahil (ignorant of Islam) and in disbelief” is calumnious. Salvation is subject to observing the commands of Allah (swt) regarding the obligatory rituals with sincerity and devotion and not by offering allegiance to a Caliph.

The author is a noted social scientist.
He is a former Vice Chancellor, Kashmir University

To be continued in the next issue

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 August 2015 on page no. 20

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