Challenges to “Islamic State” from within Islam

This news was not as widely reported in the Indian media, to my knowledge, but on September 24, 204, 120 Islamic scholars wrote an Open Letter to to the “fighters and followers” of the Islamic State, denouncing them as un-Islamic, using the most Islamic of terms.

Lauren Markoe wrote in Huffington Post a report reproduced in NewAge Islam:

Relying heavily on the Quran, the 18-page letter released Wednesday (Sept. 24) picks apart the extremist ideology of the militants who have left a wake of brutal death and destruction in their bid to establish a transnational Islamic state in Iraq and Syria.

Even translated into English, the letter will still sound alien to most Americans, said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, who released it in Washington with 10 other American Muslim religious and civil rights leaders.

“The letter is written in Arabic. It is using heavy classical religious texts and classical religious scholars that ISIS has used to mobilize young people to join its forces,” said Awad, using one of the acronyms for the group. “This letter is not meant for a liberal audience.”

Even mainstream Muslims, he said, may find it difficult to understand.

Awad said its aim is to offer a comprehensive Islamic refutation, “point-by-point,” to the philosophy of the Islamic State and the violence it has perpetrated. The letter’s authors include well-known religious and scholarly figures in the Muslim world, including Sheikh Shawqi Allam, the grand mufti of Egypt, and Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem and All Palestine.

The Executive Summary of the letter in English translation is available here.

Ayman S. Ibrahim however, questions whether this letter is enough:

The letter demonstrates the stark divergence in the Muslim world on how to interpret the Qur’ānic verses that call for jihad, especially in its armed form, and that expound the meaning of the Islamic caliphate (Ar. khilāfa). The signees and addressees of this letter represent two distinct groups of interpretation. Both interpretations exist. Both groups are “Muslim.” This is most likely the reason why the letter refers to the leader of ISIS as “doctor,” and its members as “fighters and followers,” with no reference or mention at all of “terrorism” or “terrorists” in the entire document. The reader may get the impression that the letter is addressed to a “prodigal son” among the Muslims. The signing this letter (which took place in the U.S.) reflects a desire of some Muslims to live in peace with non-Muslims.

The writing of this letter in itself, however, is not enough. The statement is ambiguous in crucial areas, which not only weaken its argument, but also question whether it is truly a rigorous and valid refutation of ISIS’s deeds and claims. In what follows, I will focus only on two of them: the concept of jihad and the restoration of the Muslim caliphate. While this letter claims to present the correct version of the Muslim teaching, its imprecise description of important areas makes it subject to different, and sometimes opposite, understandings, leaving the reader, especially the non-Muslim, puzzled regarding correct Islamic teaching.

And Junaid Jahangir  offers a detailed account of critical Muslim responses to ISIS in Muslims Stand Against ISIS, Too.

5 thoughts on “Challenges to “Islamic State” from within Islam”

  1. Even if these facts are not much published in media, the hatred of common muslims against ISIS is not hidden. Each of the muslim friends i know, have openly shown their displeasure against it.

  2. first of all, as a Muslim, and as my common expression to any other evil thing, I express my extremely furious refutation of the legitimacy of ISIS. It’s unauthentic, since Islam doesn’t advocate it’s followers to establish an Islamic Khilafat among non-Muslim people. rather it stands firmly for the propagation of Islam, through normal and peaceful means.

    beside this, I am not afraid of even most furious criticisms if I say that I’d like to see ISIS as a project of Islamophobes; to ligitimize their remaining murky aspirations in west asia and north africa…

    i don’t know, but Allah, he only knows best.

    1. “rather it stands firmly for the propagation of Islam, through normal and peaceful means.”

      A recent idea, I am afraid, and one that has not caught on in certain sections of the society.

  3. I read the letter. I despair for humankind. These adult members of the human race really believe in their imaginary friends (god, inc.). Arguments from authority(among other logical fallacies) seem to be the dominant factor in determining what is ‘true’ and ‘correct’. The way they stew in the darkest, narrowest, most unconscionably medieval bits of their inheritance appalls me.

    Islam is definitely going through a ‘phase’ in its development. It needs to get its act together quickly. Here are a couple of reasons:

    a. Being the second most popular religion in the world, it has a huge responsibility towards its inhabitants.

    b. Fanatics and extremists no longer have to content themselves with burning people at the stake. They have industrial methods of slaughter and destruction at their disposal.

    c. With the advent of social media, bad ideas get around as fast as the good ones.

    Ambiguous religious texts, their atavistic concepts and the armies of theologians that are needed to interpret them do not belong in a modern world. They hold us back. They have been sources of untold misery. We deserve better.

    I wonder why the term Islamic State was framed by double quotes; we must come to terms with it, especially the Islamic part. The ideology desperately needs revision and reform. So long as we have god, inc. and people who believe in its divinely equivocal messages couched in ancient aphorisms, we will have states of this sort.

    “A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past, or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men.”
    – Bertrand Russell

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