Nothing ‘So-Called’ About Baghdadi’s Islamic State

The news that Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi finally met his fate is to be welcomed. At the very least the action by the Trump administration will slow down the efforts of ISIS to rebuild their capacity to unleash terror. We should not kid ourselves however, that this means the end of the ideology that animated ISIS. This is because this ideology is deeply rooted in the classical teachings of Islam.

In recent years, Western leaders have fallen over themselves to denounce the “Islamic State” as somehow un-Islamic. A representative quote is this one from former President Barack Obama: “We are not at war with Islam but with those who perverted Islam”. According to this line of reasoning, ISIS is simply an aberration that cannot find any justification in the teachings of Islam for the actions of its members. In fact, some media organizations are so confident in their understanding of the finer points of Islamic theology that they’ve taken it upon themselves to deny the claims of some of the most devout Muslims on the planet that they are acting for Islam by routinely referring to ISIS as the “so-called Islamic State”. It would be rather comforting if ISIS was, indeed, simply some strange aberration with no link whatso- ever to classical Islamic teaching. However, if you have read this far you would be very aware that things are not nearly as simple.

In fact, ISIS prides itself on its orthodoxy and on the way in which it adheres to the Qur’an and Sunnah (example of the prophet) in all that it does. In doing so, they do not merely latch onto a fringe tradition within Islam, but can, as has been seen, quote from centuries of interpretation and commentary on the Qur’an to justify their actions.

The following are some of the actions in which ISIS engages (and that are often cited as examples of just how un-Islamic they are). I will now show how each of these practices can be justified from the Qur’an, hadiths and commentaries on the subject. It should be clear from this that to dismiss ISIS as having “nothing to do with Islam” is highly problematic. It also raises the basic question of how we can even begin to hope that our enemies will be defeated if we are in complete denial about the nature of their guiding ideology:

  • Declaring a religious war against those who do not accept Islam: “And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah,” [in other words, if they become Muslim – PT] “let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is For- giving and Merciful” (Qur’an 9:5).
  • Giving defeated civilians the choice of conversion, exile or paying a tax on non-Muslims: “Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture – [fight] until they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled” (Qur’an 9:29).
  • Calling for the conquest and total subjugation of non-Muslim societies through a religious war: It has been narrated on the authority of Abdullah b. ‘Umar that the Messenger of Allah said: ‘I have been commanded to fight against people till they testify that there is no god but Allah, that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, and they establish prayer, and pay Zakat and if they do it, their blood and property are guaranteed protection on my behalf except when justified by law, and their affairs rest with Allah’” (Sahih Muslim Book 1 Number 33).
  • Keeping sex slaves: There are several verses in the Qur’an that make it clear that Muslim men are permitted to have sex with those whom “their right hand possesses”. For example: “O Prophet, indeed We have made lawful to you your wives to whom you have given their due compensation and those your right hand possesses from what Allah has returned to you [of captives]” (Qur’an 33:50)186. This extends, according to a very troubling hadith, to the rape of captive women. “We went out with Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) on the expedition to the Bi’l-Mustaliq and took captive some excellent Arab women; and we desired them, for we were suffering from the absence of our wives, (but at the same time) we also desired ransom for them. So we decided to have sexual intercourse with them but by observing ‘azl’ (withdrawing the male sexual organ before emission of semen to avoid conception). But we said: ‘We are doing an act whereas Allah’s Messenger is amongst us; why not ask him?’ So we asked Allah’s Messenger [Muhammad] (may peace be upon him), and he said: ‘It does not matter if you do not do it (withdraw before climaxing), for every soul that is to be born up to the Day of Resurrection will be born’” (Sahih Muslim Book 8 Hadith 3371)187.
  • Executing apostates from Islam:Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.” Statement by Muhammad according to Sahih Bukhari Volume 9 Book 84 Number 57.
  • Beheading those whom they regard as enemy combatants: There are several instances where beheading is held up as the desired response to opposition from unbelievers. In Qur’an 4:74, it is directly com- manded: “So when you meet those who disbelieve [in battle], strike [their] necks until you have inflicted slaughter upon them”. In Qur’an 8:12, the link between terror and beheading is used to “in- spire” Allah’s angels and, by extension, his followers: “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip”.
  • Crucifying Opponents: “Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land” (Qur’an 5:33).
  • Executing Homosexual People: “Narrated By Abdullah ibn Abbas: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: ‘If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did (i.e., practice homosexuality), kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done” (Sunan Abu Dawud Book 38, Number 4447).
  • Destroying graves and non-Muslim places of worship: “Do not leave an image without obliterating it, or a high grave without leveling it” (Sahih Muslim Book 11 Hadith 120).
  • Corporal punishment of “disobedient” women: “Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], for- sake them in bed; and [finally], strike them” (Qur’an 4:34).

I realize that many readers have, perhaps, gone through the list above with a chill going down their spines. If the actions of ISIS, as arguably the most violent Islamic group of recent times, were, indeed, based on a legitimate reading of the key texts of Islam, what does that say about the possible impact of these very same texts on other Muslims? Would it not be fair to say that it would incline at least some of those other Muslims to violence in the name of Allah? This has to be the inescapable conclusion. Even if only a tiny percentage of Muslims decide to be obedient to verses such as these, we are still left with millions who are seeking to do the rest of us harm for the sake of their religion.

This is exactly the conclusion that so many people in our society desperately want to get away from with their continued insistence that there is no link between the teachings of Islam and violence. It is also why we should use the recent death of Baghdadi as a ‘teachable moment’ to point out just how deeply implicated the teachings of the Qur’an and hadiths are in motivating violence and carnage for the sake of Allah. 


For more on the role of the key texts of Islam in motivating violence see my book ‘Nothing to do with Islam – Investigating the West’s Most Dangerous Blind Spot‘ 


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