November 18, 2015

Can ISIS be Considered Real Muslims?

by Eric Davis

Much of the world continues astir in the wake of ISIS’s brutal attack last Friday on Paris which left 129 people killed and more than 350 wounded.

Social media was quick to explode with prayers, cries of shock, outrage, and condemnation. But one common thread we have seen running throughout the tweets and headlines and comments of many has been along these lines: “ISIS are not real Muslims.”

We understand the desire of peaceful Muslims to distance themselves of such despicable acts. Yet, the question remains: Can ISIS be considered Muslims in any way? It’s a difficult question, especially for westerners and Christians. In order to speak accurately and intelligently on the issue, some careful consideration is needed.

Widespread Muslim Rejection of ISIS


Since ISIS, or Daesh, as it is increasingly called, rose to the spotlight not long ago, many Muslims have spoken out against it and its tactics. As ISIS is a tiny fraction of the more than one billion Muslims worldwide, this is no surprise.

The Council on American-Islam Relations condemned the Paris attacks, saying, “These savage and despicable attacks on civilians, whether they occur in Paris, Beirut, or any other city, are outrageous and without justification.”

On Saturday, the United States Council of Muslim Organizations held a press conference, also condemning the attacks, saying, “These repugnant acts of violence defy the sanctity of every innocent human live and shall always be condemned and rejected…The USCMO sends its heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and to the people of France and stands in solidarity with them against terrorism and violent extremism. We ask the American Muslim community around the nation to hold candle light vigils in memory of the victims and in support of their families.”

Muslim Council of Britain’s Secretary General, Dr. Shuja Shafi, released a statement on behalf of the organization, saying, “This attack is being claimed by the group calling themselves ‘Islamic State’. There is nothing Islamic about such people and their actions are evil, and outside the boundaries set by our faith.”

Various other Muslim international figures have spoken out against ISIS in the past.

One Muslim scholar and Sheikh, who writes for Muslim Matters, told me that, “ISIS is viewed by all Islamic scholars as apostates. Enslaving free people and killing innocents is not accepted in Islam and renders a person out of the fold of Islam.”

From this testimony, and the behavior of the majority of Muslims, it appears that they do not hold to a violent approach towards non-Muslims and apostates. Various texts are cited from the Qur’an in support of their peaceful approach. For example:

Qur’an 6:151 “Say, ‘Come let me tell you what your Lord has really prohibited for you: You shall not set up idols besides Him. You shall honor your parents. You shall not kill your children from fear of poverty – we provide for you and for them. You shall not commit gross sins, obvious or hidden. You shall not kill – GOD has made life sacred – except in the course of justice. These are His commandments to you, that you may understand.'”

Qur’an 17:33 “You shall not kill any person – for GOD has made life sacred – (wa la taqtulu an-nafsa allaty HARRAMA allahu) except in the course of justice. If one is killed unjustly, then we give his heir authority to enforce justice. Thus, he shall not exceed the limits in avenging the murder; he will be helped.”

Further, Dr. Zia Shah, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times, posted an article, entitled, “200 Verses About Compassionate Living in the Quran.” Additionally, One Muslim writer was quick to condemn ISIS, saying that a group like them was prophesied about centuries ago, commenting that, “‘…their hearts will be (as if) made of iron; without any mercy.’ The ISIS has amply demonstrated its lack of mercy. There is nothing in Islam which permits what they do. Their actions are an abomination against Islam.”

He went on to cite an example Islamic tradition of dealing with non-Muslims in the letter of the prophet Muhammad’s Charter of Privileges in A.D. 628 to the monks of St. Katherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai:

This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far; We are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants violated. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world). (English translation from ‘Muslim History: 570 – 1950 C.E.’ by Dr. A. Zahoor and Dr. Z. Haq, ZMD Corporation. P.O. Box 8231 –Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8231 – Copyright Akram Zahoor 2000. P. 167).

Clearly, then, many Muslims reject the idea that ISIS faithfully interprets and applies the Qur’an. Westerners and Christians alike do well to recognize this in their discussions on the topic.

But is ISIS Entirely Inconsistent with the Qur’an?

Despite the widespread denouncement of ISIS from many Muslims, the question still remains: Is ISIS completely at odds with the Qur’an; the book they hold as authoritative for life and practice?


Democracy-minded westerners distanced from Qur’anic ideology and culture need to be careful about confident assertions, such as, “These aren’t real Muslims.” From the top down, ISIS claims to hold faithfully to Islamic and Qur’anic doctrine. ISIS is led by educated men who know exactly what they believe and what they are doing. For example, the current leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, holds a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in Islamic studies from the Islamic University of Baghdad. Within ISIS, Baghdadi is said to be the Caliph, which is the leader of all Muslims. He is thought to be a descendant of the Prophet Muhammed’s Quraysh tribe (a central criteria for the Caliph), who is more proficient in traditional Islamic education than either al-Qaeda’s past and current leaders, Osama Bin Laden and Aymen al-Zawahiri. For this, he is given praise and legitmacy among his supporters. Notwithstanding widespread Muslim rejection, ISIS’s leader is well-versed in the religion, and certainly he and his following are far more versed than most westerners, who are immersed in a more Judeo-Christian-leaning culture.


Another ISIS supporter, British Imam, Anjem Choudary, also demonstrates proficiency in the Qur’an and Islamic faith. During the many interviews and debates in which he appears, it is clear that Imam Choudary is passionate about faithfulness to the Qur’an and the religion. Not long ago, he said, “There is jihad to liberate Muslim lands which is an obligation for the Muslims to support verbally, financially, and physically…And this is something that the Muslims around the world I don’t think will differ with…They may say one thing in front of CNN, but I can assure you behind your backs, in every masjid and every community center they are standing with their Muslim brothers and sisters…so we can implement the Sharia…Why is the American establishment not taking heed? That is the real question.” Choudary also voiced his support of the Charlie Hebdo murders back in January of this year.

One Islamic writer, Ustadh Yahya Ibrahim, mentioned that these types of extremists are often more faithful in their devotion than other Muslims: “The fact that these young, immature, foolish people are sincere is not in doubt. They love God and have a desire to give victory to faith. They believe in what they are doing. The tragedy is that although their prayer is better than ours, and their reading and memorisation of the Qur’an is more than us, they do not connect its true meaning.” So, though Muslims like Ibrahim would denounce their interpretation of the Qur’an, ISIS proponents like Choudary, he admits, have a sincere love for God and devotion to Islam.

This is not to say that ISIS ideology and interpretation of the Qur’an represents every Islamic stream. That would not be correct, as demonstrated by individuals quoted above. ISIS teaches that “fighting the Islamic State is tantamount to apostasy; all Shi‘a Muslims are apostates deserving of death; and the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas are traitors against Islam, among many other things.” In remaining true to their doctrine, they have inflicted much treachery upon other Muslims.

Men in orange jumpsuits purported to be Egyptian Christians held captive by the Islamic State (IS) kneel in front of armed men along a beach said to be near Tripoli, in this still image from an undated video made available on social media on February 15, 2015. Islamic State released the video on Sunday purporting to show the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians kidnapped in Libya. In the video, militants in black marched the captives to a beach that the group said was near Tripoli. They were forced down onto their knees, then beheaded. Egypt's state news agency MENA quoted the spokesman for the Coptic Church as confirming that 21 Egyptian Christians believed to be held by Islamic State were dead. REUTERS/Social media via Reuters TV (CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY VIDEO. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES

However, it does not appear that the case can be made that ISIS represents no stream of the Islamic faith.

So, is ISIS entirely inconsistent with the Qur’an? Some would give a firm “yes.” However, ISIS might authorize their aggressive approaches towards non-Muslims and apostates with texts like these:

Qur’an 2:190-192.  And fight in the Way of Allah those who fight you, but transgress not the limits. Truly, Allah likes not the transgressors. And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah is worse than killing. And fight not with them at Al-masjid-al-Haram (the sanctuary at Mecca), unless they (first) fight you there. But if they attack you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers. But if they cease, then Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

Qur’an 2:216. Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.

Qur’an 4:74. Therefore let those fight in the way of Allah, who sell this world’s life for the hereafter; and whoever fights in the way of Allah, then be he slain or be he victorious, We shall grant him a mighty reward.

Qur’an 4:89. They desire that you should disbelieve as they have disbelieved, so that you might be (all) alike; therefore take not from among them friends until they fly (their homes) in Allah’s way; but if they turn back, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them, and take not from among them a friend or a helper.

Qur’an 5:33. The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement

Qur’an 8:12. When your Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you, therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.

Qur’an 9:5. So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

Qur’an 9:29. Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.

Qur’an 33:60-62. If the hypocrites and those in whose hearts is a disease and the agitators in the city do not desist, We shall most certainly set you over them, then they shall not be your neighbors in it but for a little while; Cursed: wherever they are found they shall be seized and murdered, a (horrible) murdering.(Such has been) the course of Allah with respect to those who have gone before; and you shall not find any change in the course of Allah.

From the Hadith:

Bukahri 52:177. Allah’s Apostle said, “The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say. “O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him.”

​Bukhari 8:387. Allah’s Apostle said, “I have been ordered to fight the people till they say: ‘None has the right to be worshipped but Allah.’ And if they say so, pray like our prayers, face our Qibla and slaughter as we slaughter, then their blood and property will be sacred to us and we will not interfere with them except legally and their reckoning will be with Allah.” Narrated Maimun ibn Siyah that he asked Anas bin Malik, “O Abu Hamza! What makes the life and property of a person sacred?” He replied, “Whoever says, ‘None has the right to be worshipped but Allah’, faces our Qibla during the prayers, prays like us and eats our slaughtered animal, then he is a Muslim, and has got the same rights and obligations as other Muslims have.”

Now, do all of these verses sanction violent approaches such as ISIS takes? Most Muslims would say no and they confirm their interpretation with peaceful lives. Yet, it remains that the existence of texts like these provide justification for ISIS’s approach. Would ISIS and their approach exist without such passages? Either way, no one, especially not democracy-minded westerners and their idealistic tweets, are going to convince al-Baghdadi, Imam Choudary, and their like-minded jihadists, that they are not Muslims.

So, Are Christians at War with Islam?


Whether ISIS is somewhat or not at all Islamic in nature, however, is less of the issue for Christians. Certain governments and nations might be necessarily at war against ISIS, but Christians have not been given the mission to be at war with Islam. While we do need to speak accurately about the Islamic situation in the world, we have a bigger mission to consider. There’s a better way to think of it, which is more comprehensive in scope, and biblical in nature. Instead, Christians are in a war for making disciples of all nations, by the grace of God, through the message of his love in Jesus Christ crucified and risen. We are in a war against that which is responsible for false religion: “the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). And we are at war against our sin, to present ourselves holy to Christ by the flesh-mortifying power of the Spirit, useful vessels to him, so as to be effective salt and light in the world, speaking the good news of Christ crucified for sinners, and armed with biblical discernment in a fallen world. Finally, Christians go to war in prayer, praying that their enemies would turn to Christ and desist from treachery, and that responsible governments would exercise their God-given mandate to stop evil (Rom. 13:3-4).

Eric Davis

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Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. Leslie is his wife of 14 years and mother of their 3 children.
  • fundamentals

    –for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God– Exodus 34:14

    Islam is satanic darkness.

  • Don Smith

    Excellent article. We must pray for those under the sway of this manifestly false religion AND not be unaware of the true nature of it.

  • Jason

    Because there is allowance granted to Muslims to lie to uphold a desirable peace (such as in families), protect ones-self, or further the cause of Islam, it is difficult to know if the document written to the monks was intended to deceive them with false peace or was actually a treaty of sorts.

    The verses about not killing all include the clause that there is an exception for cases of justice. It would be interesting to look into what constitutes “justice” in those statements.

    Some of the statements proposing violence appear to be self-defense verses. Bukahri 52:177 certainly condones wholesale “convert or die” tactics in some instances. Muhammad had a weird relationship with Christianity (and to a lesser extent, Judaism[being “the people of the book”]) so it’s very likely they wouldn’t be considered “unbelievers” in the same sense that he considered the tribal religions he constantly fought against. It’s clear from this verse that it isn’t a “religion of peace”, but it probably doesn’t support a “war on Christianity”.

    Unfortunately, even if everyone could agree on what Muhammad taught it would have almost no bearing on people today, since the basis of the entire system is the idea that their god sends new revelations that should be taken as more authoritative than past revelations anyway.

    • Eric Davis

      Jason – agreed. The justification for aggression will hinge, for the most part, on what constitutes as justice, as those verses describe. For at least some, eliminating those who will not embrace the ISIS caliphate is within the bounds of justice. Would be interesting to hear other Islamic views on that.

  • I see ISIS and al Qaeda as a parallel to Christians who REALLY live out their faith, while more moderate Muslims parallel the varying degrees of nominal Christianity.

    These are the true believers, ready to give everything for the sake of their false god.

    • Just_passing_by

      I would echo this. If you look at Mohammed’s life, he wrote the ‘peaceful’ Koranic verses early in his life, and the ‘warlike’ verses late in life. One topic that is debated in Islam is the ‘Law of Abrogation’. Truth be told, I’m not sure why they debate it, because it is in the Koran / Hadiths and is pretty clear: Newer verses ‘abrogate’, or ‘take the place of’ older ones. So when Mohammed penned things later in life that completely disagreed the stuff he wrote early, the ‘Law of Abrogation’ dictates that you should replace the old with the newer. That means that ISIS truly does understand Islam, and is living it out as it is meant to be lived out. You can take most of the warlike verses you describe in this article as what a good Muslim should do, while most of the peaceful ones are no longer in effect.

    • 4Commencefiring4

      ISIS is “parallel” to strong christians? Not sure where you’re going with that.

      Perhaps you just mean you admire anyone’s true commitment to a cause, even if that cause is evil. If so, then think about some of the people in history who would deserve admiration on that basis. Some pretty bad dudes.

      • I wasn’t admiring ISIS. I meant simply that they take the teachings of Islam as seriously as we Bible-believing Christians take ours. As Just_passing_by said, ISIS takes their religion more seriously than Muslims on other points of the spectrum, similar to Bible-believing Christians on the spectrum of all who claim to be Christians. ISIS most fully understands, and lives out, Islam’s teachings.

        Those teachings are demonic, and not to be admired. ISIS is not admirable. They believe barbaric things, and do reprehensible things. Affirming their place on the spectrum, however, doesn’t indicate admiration. You read more into my comment than I actually said.

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  • tovlogos

    Thanks Eric — Some useful quotes I added to my list.

    Before the advent of IS most of the conversations with Muslims were about the legitimacy of their religion in the first place. Although Islam is obviously taken directly from Judeo-Christianity, which all muslims I have spoken to have admitted — however, they believe it is the Bible that has been corrupted, knowing that it would be a hard sell to say Ha Shem wrote both books as is. When I asked, Who corrupted it? When exactly was it corrupted? They have never given me a rational answer.

    I have never differentiated between radical and moderate — they are being fed the same grist.

    “They may say one thing in front of CNN, but I can assure you that behind your backs, in every community center…I hope we can implement the Sharia law.” This reality is a fact. Does anyone actually think, if the US became a caliphate, moderate muslims would denounce that manifestation?

    • Eric Davis

      Great points here, Mark. Interesting that there is no answer to your insightful question you ask on the source of the Bible’s corruption.

      And I think you are spot on here, that most, if not all, Muslims would not denounce a caliphate, should that come about in the US.

      • tovlogos

        Thanks, Eric. Amen.

      • Cara

        I might have to disagree about Muslims not denouncing a caliphate… what about the thousands upon thousands of them (millions actually I think, though I don’t know the exact religious breakdown of the refugees and there are plenty who are fleeing Assad as much as ISIS!) fleeing the current caliphate in Syria? I may have misunderstood your point, though, or be confused, I’d welcome clarification/correction! I would just see that as pretty strong evidence that they were NOT sticking around to celebrate and join in the second that Sharia law arrived in Syria.

  • 2corten5

    Your last paragraph sums it up excellently. I might have to use that when commenting on some of the posts that Christians share on social media.

  • Abu Bakr

    I love what scholar Al Tabary said in his Tafsir of Qur’an 2:109, and I quote:
    “Any verse in the Qur’an that does not include killing is an abrogated verse.”

  • Still Waters

    The varying views of Muslims on their religion neither surprise nor trouble me. Of course some are peaceful (and, considering their overall numbers, it would be safe to say that most are peaceful). They are after all human beings, and humans, although sinful, mostly want peace and security. Sharia traditions might hold a low view of women, for example, but that does not prevent many Muslim men from genuinely loving their wives and daughters. That some are violent is also no surprise. After all, Christ did say that the time would come when those who killed Christians would do so thinking they were serving God. Much of the past and present violence towards Christians is religiously motivated, from the Romans demanding emperor worship, to the fanatical Hindus now stirring up trouble against Christians in India. I find the anger I see many Christians display towards Muslims far more troubling. They are under no obligation to love us. However, we are under obligation to love them.

    • Cara

      Love this comment! Thanks!

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  • Chris Nelson

    The koran is an evil book, mohammad was perhaps the most despicable man who ever lived and a faithful moslem is one who follows muhammad. Early on, moman practiced taqiyya to win favor, once he won favor he destroyed. That is the pattern. islam is not compatible with civilization.