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.
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).