27 May 2016
In a new
audio message last week, ISIS’ spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, called on
devout Muslims to use the holy month of Ramadan, which begins June 5, as a sacred
opportunity to attack non-Muslim infidels in “the United States and Europe.”
ISIS’ supporters in the West, he explains: “we wish we were in your place to
punish the Crusaders day and night.”
that Ramadan is “the month of conquest and jihad,” and encourages Muslims to
“be ready” to attack the infidels in their own lands.
the most sacred Muslim month. For many, it is a time of fasting and
self-control, meditation and Quran recitation, prayer and service to the poor.
al-Adnani insists it is also a time for attacking enemies with the aim of
making it “a month of calamity everywhere.” It is worth noting that on the
first day of Ramadan two years ago (June 30, 2014), ISIS’ caliph, Abu Bakr
al-Baghdadi, declared the establishment of the long-awaited Islamic caliphate,
stretching across Iraq and Syria.
of this new audio message coincides with the reports that the U.S.-led
coalition is getting ready for more assaults against the terrorist group.
Ramadan adds an exceptionally important religious flavour to ISIS’ statements.
Listening critically to this new audio message suggests ISIS is both changing
its strategies and using the same religious discourse.
first Ramadan speech, al-Baghdadi called devoted Muslims to immigrate to lands
where Islam is implemented properly. Now, the battlefield is outside ISIS’
territory. This suggests the U.S.-led airstrikes have been effective.
ISIS still uses the same religious sermon, relying on sacred Muslim texts and
calling on Muslims to remember their distant past as recounted in ancient texts
and apply it to today’s temporal politics.
according to Muslim primary sources, is not only the month when the Quran was
first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, but also the month when Muslims
celebrated their first victory over non-Muslim pagans.
under Muhammad’s leadership, the first believers initiated the Battle of Badr
against the pagans of Mecca, and achieved a great victory during the month of
Ramadan. Many Muslims still celebrate that victory today.
later, in 627, also during Ramadan, the early Muslims raided a coalition of
Meccan polytheists and Jews from Medina in skirmishes known as the Battle of
the Confederates or the Battle of the Trench. This strategic victory marked a
new era in consolidating Muslim power and advancing hegemony.
And in 630,
again during Ramadan, Muhammad led what is known as the “conquest of the
conquests,” in which he conquered his enemies in Mecca and became the sole
leader in most of the Arabian Peninsula.
its history well. It is certain many devout Muslims view the early years of
Islam not merely as the past, but as a sacred time. The example of the prophet
and his companions represent hope to the faithful. Many devout Muslims yearn to
emulate these early achievements. If the Prophet Muhammad led raids into
neighbouring lands during Ramadan, they believe, it is a sacred duty that
should be imitated.
invoking Ramadan in ISIS’ recent audio message is tactical and intentional. It
aims to make devout believers feel guilty if they do not consider Ramadan “the
month of conquest and jihad.” It discourages the notion that piety, prayer, and
worship are all that one needs to do, insisting that armed jihad and attacking
enemies are also sacred duties.
last year, ISIS claimed responsibility for deadly attacks in France, the U.S.,
and Belgium. As it loses ground in the Middle East, it is increasingly taking
aim at infidels abroad. But there does not seem to be any change in its use of
religious texts to achieve its political agenda. This is possibly its last
two competing traditions about Ramadan today: the one of ISIS, which recalls
Islam’s ancient past and insists on applying it literally today, and that of
other believers who long for piety, introspection, and restraint.
tradition will most Muslims follow this Ramadan? The world is watching.
Ayman S. Ibrahim is an assistant professor of
Islamic Studies and senior fellow of the Jenkins Centre for the Christian
Understanding of Islam at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary