Islamist fighters waving flags, travel in vehicles as they take part in a
military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province June 30,
2014. The fighters held the parade to celebrate their declaration of an Islamic
"caliphate" after the group captured territory in neighbouring Iraq,
a monitoring service said. The Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot previously
known as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), posted pictures online on
Sunday of people waving black flags from cars and holding guns in the air, the
SITE monitoring service said.
Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for last week’s terrorist
attacks in Brussels, a now common debate ensued on social media and elsewhere:
does Islam condone violence against civilians?
extreme violence and nihilistic mindset, Islamic State seems a death cult bent
on senseless destruction. But the group justifies its violence, especially
against civilians, with selective interpretations of Islamic texts and scholars
that are rejected by the vast majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.
According to a long-term survey by the Pew Research Centre, at least three
quarters of the world’s Muslims reject terrorist tactics such as suicide
bombing or other attacks on civilians.
militant movements, especially al Qaeda and its offshoots, Islamic State is
inspired by a group of religious scholars across Islam’s history who advocated
the idea of declaring other Muslims as infidels or apostates, and justifying
their killing. This notion of Takfir is central to the ideology of most
contemporary Islamic militant groups, who have killed far more Muslims than
non-Muslims. Islamic State’s leaders cherry-pick the sources and scholars they
choose to imitate, so they end up with austere interpretations of Islamic texts
that run counter to a millennium of moderate understandings, including
tolerance for other faiths. Three scholars, in particular, have had an outsized
influence on Islamic State’s religious ideology.
dates back to the 13th century, a period when Islam’s early empires began to
decline after five centuries of expansion. As the Mongols swept across Asia and
sacked Baghdad, the Mongol warrior Hulagu, a grandson of Genghis Khan,
threatened to overrun the Levant, an area of the eastern Mediterranean centred around
modern-day Syria and Lebanon. While many Muslim scholars at the time lined up
to support the Mongols, one jurist forcefully rejected the invaders. Ibn
Taymiyya, an Islamic scholar from Damascus, issued several Fatwas (religious
rulings) against the Mongols — and al Qaeda, Islamic State and other militants
still quote those rulings today.
Hulagu, some Mongol leaders nominally converted to Islam, but Ibn Taymiyya
considered them infidels. He also argued that it was permissible for believers
to kill other Muslims during battle, if those Muslims were fighting alongside
the Mongols. Ibn Taymiyya is the intellectual forefather to many modern-day
Islamic militants who use his anti-Mongol Fatwas — along with his rulings
against Shi’ites and other Muslim minorities — to justify violence against
civilians, including fellow Muslims, or to declare them infidels, using the
concept of Takfir. Islamic State often quotes Ibn Taymiyya in its Arabic
tracts, and occasionally in its English-language propaganda, as it did in its
magazine, Dabiq, in September 2014.
Taymiyya also inspired the father of the Wahhabi strain of Islam that is
dominant in Saudi Arabia today, the 18th century cleric Muhammad ibn Abd
al-Wahhab, who decreed that many Muslims had abandoned the practices of their
ancestors. Wahhab believed Islamic theology had been corrupted by philosophy
and mysticism. Many of the practices he banned were related to Sufism and
Shi’ism, two forms of Islam he particularly abhorred.
argued that Islamic law should be based on a literal interpretation of only two
sources: the Quran and the Sunnah, a collection of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)’s
sayings and stories about his life. (The word Sunnah means path, and it’s the
root of the designation “Sunni” — those who follow the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)’s path — the
dominant sect in Islam.) Wahhab dismissed analogical reasoning and the
consensus of scholars, two other sources that had helped Islamic law evolve and
adapt to new realities over time.
Saudi Arabia is built on an alliance between two powers: the ruling House of
Saud and clerics who espouse Wahhabi doctrine. Wahhabis seek to return the
religion to what they believe was its “pure” form, as practiced by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and
his followers in 7th century Arabia. The Saudi regime has also used its oil
wealth to export Wahhabi doctrine by building mosques and dispatching preachers
throughout the Muslim world.
radicalism needs more to breed than just rhetorical and religious inspiration.
As Arab nationalist leaders and military rulers rose to power in parts of the
Middle East in the 1950 and 60s, they violently suppressed Islamic movements,
including peaceful ones. In Egypt, the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser clamped
down on the populist Muslim Brotherhood, and that helped lay the ideological
foundations for the emergence of violent Islamic movements in the following
militant thinker that emerged from that period was Sayyid Qutb, a Brotherhood
leader who was swept up in Nasser’s crackdown. After enduring nine years of prison
and torture, Qutb published a manifesto in 1964, Milestones along the Road, in
which he argued that the secular Arab nationalism of Nasser and others had led
to authoritarianism and a new period of Jahiliyya, a term that has particular
resonance for Islamists because it refers to the pre-Islamic “dark ages.” Qutb
declared that a new Muslim vanguard was needed to restore Islam to its role as
“the leader of mankind,” and that all Arab rulers of his time had failed to
apply Islamic law and should be removed from power. Qutb argued that it was not
only legitimate, but a religious duty for “true” believers, to forcibly remove
a leader who had allegedly strayed from Islam.
regime executed Qutb in 1966, but his ideas lived on and they inspired a new generation
of militant leaders, especially Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman
al-Zawahiri, who is now the leader of al Qaeda after bin Laden’s death. And
while Islamic State’s ideologues do not quote Qutb as frequently as al Qaeda’s
leaders have, he clearly inspired the group’s rejection of contemporary Arab
regimes and its effort to create a transnational state in parts of Syria and
predecessors, Islamic State reads Islam’s history and its foundational texts
selectively, choosing the parts and thinkers who fit into its vision of Sunni
dominance, brutality and constant war with pretty much everyone else.