Is the Islamic State contrary to Islam?

Is the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) un-Islamic, as President Obama has said?  Or can we best understand the Islamic State as part of Islam as a whole?

It’s not for me, or for President Obama, to say who is a true Muslim and who isn’t.  But the facts are that the vast majority of Muslims, including those who think it is right and just to kill blasphemers who insult Islam, are horrified by the killing of harmless people.

0618-ISIS-Iraq-gulf_full_600The reaction of the Iranian ayatollahs to the 9/11 attacks is a case in point.  In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini called upon all Muslims to kill the author Salman Rushdie for his allegedly blasphemous depiction of Mohammad in his novel, The Satanic Verses. 

But in 2001, his successor, Ayatollah Khameni, strongly condemned the Al Qaeda’s attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.  Apparently, for him, suppressing blasphemy is one thing and killing the innocent quite another.

I of course condemn blasphemy laws and fatwas against alleged blasphemers.  At the same time I can understand the distinction.

Graeme Wood wrote an enlightening and frightening article in the March issue of The Atlantic on the apocalyptic religious reliefs of the Islamic State, but falls for their claim that they represent a more authentic version of Islam than that held by the vast majority of Muslims.

Mohammad was a warrior as well as a prophet, but neither he or his immediate successors went around be-heading people on a regular basis.  The rule of the first Islamic caliphs was in fact tolerable for most Christians and Jews because all they had to do was pay a special tax.

ISIS-Iraq-AttackNeither did Mohammad or his followers justify the rape of women, as is done systematically by ISIS and also the Boko Haram movement in Nigeria.

There are more than a billion Muslims in the world, and they don’t all believe the same thing.  My experience is that it is a big mistake to think you understand what someone thinks just by knowing the creed to which the person plays lip service.

I know there are Muslims, including a good friend of mine, whose attitudes toward freedom and democracy are the same as mine.  Muslims in the USA, despite prejudice and government harassment, enjoy more religious freedom than they do in majority-Muslim countries where mosques are supervised by the government, and vastly greater safety than they do in countries such as India and Thailand.

I think there are many Muslims whose attitudes are like those of conservative American Christians 50 or 100 years ago—as the columnist Charlie Reese put it, much like Southern Baptists only more so.

There are majority-Muslim countries who use blasphemy laws as a means of suppressing dissent.  I once worked on a human rights case involving a teacher in Pakistan who was sentenced to death for blasphemy for saying that Mohammad’s parents and Mohammad himself, as a matter of logic, were not Muslims before Mohammad received his revelation.  The sentence was reversed on appeal due to a technicality, and the teacher was smuggled out of the country before that decision was announced.

I’m getting beyond my actual knowledge here, but this kind of intolerance among Muslims seems to be something new.  Seyyed Hossein Nasr wrote in The Heart of Islam that adherents of the various schools of Islam historically have lived together in peace and that Muslims, like orthodox Jews, emphasize religious practice rather than theological belief.

What changed this is the rise of the Salafi (aka Wahabist) sect in Saudi Arabia, who accuse other Muslims of not being true Muslims.  They were a small and unimportant group until Saudi oil money enabled them to spread their teaching through the Muslim world.

But it is one thing for Salafists to condemn other Muslims as un-Muslim, and another thing to advocate killing them.   Some Christians regard other Christian sects as un-Christian, but they don’t commit acts of violence.

I agree with President Obama in refusing to conflate the so-called Islamic State with Islam as a whole.  What hurts his credibility is that American bombs and drones don’t distinguish between violent Islamic terrorists and peaceable Muslims who happen to be in the vicinity.   The best thing the U.S. government can do in regard to ISIS is to refrain from doing things that give them credence.


What ISIS Really Wants by Graeme Wood for The Atlantic.

Today’s Top 7 Myths About Daesh /ISIL by Juan Cole for Informed Comment.  A rebuttal of Wood’s arguments without mentioning him by name.

The War Nerd: Islamic State and American Narcissism by Gary Brecher for Pando Daily.

Why Salafists see Shiites as their greatest enemy by Ali Mamouri for al-Monitor.


Update 2/23/2015

I thank my e-mail pen pal Jack Clontz for the following links.

The Atlantic’s big Islam lie: What Muslims really believe about ISIS by Haroon Moghul for Salon.

This stupidity needs to end: Why the Atlantic and NY Post are clueless about Islam by H.A. Hellyer for Salon.

Islamism has many faces.  We must learn to read them all by H.A. Hellyer for The Guardian.

Muslim Scholars Release Open Letter to Islamic State Meticulously Blasting Its Ideology by Lauren Markoe for Religion News Service.

English translation of Muslim scholars’ letter to Islamic State.

Update 3/5/2015

I thank my e-mail pen pal George Dardess for the following link.

What the Atlantic Left Out About ISIS According To Their Own Expert by Jack Jenkins for ThinkProgress.

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5 Responses to “Is the Islamic State contrary to Islam?”

  1. Hoden Says:

    Nice commentary. Any yes, historically Islam made amazing head ways into mathematics, geography, and science. It’s too bad things have seemed to regress in some aspects.


  2. djgarcia94 Says:

    I didn’t know the Ayatollah condemned 9/11, but its really not surprising especially considering that he’s Shia.


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