The criteria that certain commentators use to insist on calling ISIS “Islamic” would also render the khawarij “Islamic.” The same thing that made the khawarij not Islamic is the same thing that makes ISIS not Islamic. They broke with the jama`a and turned against the body of the Muslim community, made takfir against them, and even committed acts of terror and murder against them and their leaders. This may have no significance for Western academics and political commentators. But, according to our normative tradition and the logical core of “ahl as-sunnah wa al-jama`a,” such acts are enough to render one’s movement, group, and ideology cleanly outside the bounds of what is Islamic.

A group can cite classical Islamic texts till the cows come home. To concede that ISIS is Islamic on such a basis is stupid and feckless. Certainly, the khawarij were citing the Quran and hadith against Ali (r) and the other Companions. So what? Being “Islamic” is not a meaningless label that we can throw around or discard, as some Muslims who should know better seem to believe these days. For Muslims to determine that something is “Islamic” means that it is coming from God and His Messenger ﷺ. Our classical tradition is “Islamic” not because it is really, really old and whoever can cite from that tradition ipso facto becomes “Islamic” by association. It is a principle of our religion that the jama`a of Muslims reflects the will of God in a special way, so when a group breaks from that jama`a, they are thereby no longer Islamic, no matter whatever else.

Obviously, for those who don’t believe in God and aren’t Muslims and/or don’t recognize this concept of jama`a and its significance, none of this will make sense and they will continue to be confused about ISIS and ISIS’s connection to Islam. But let’s get one thing straight: The rest of us are not confused. Nor are we unprincipled, un-nuanced “cotton candy” Muslims. Nor do we suddenly think Islamic jurisprudence needs to be reformed and the classical tradition should be foregone for fresh, maqasid-based reasoning just because some idiots commit atrocities in the name of our classical scholars.

The Problem with ISISThe criteria that certain commentators use to insist on calling ISIS "Islamic" would also render…

Posted by Daniel Haqiqatjou on Saturday, August 29, 2015

Daniel Haqiqatjou

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  • I suppose this depends on what you mean when you say Islamic. If you mean the religion that was revealed to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, then there is no disagreement. However, I do not believe a case can be made against Daesh using classical literature. You can probably find a classical authority who permits any of the crimes Daesh commits, since the tradition is so vast.

    Then there is of course, the question of the Jama’a. What does this mean, and who are the Jama’a? When you say “the classical tradition”, whose tradition are you referring to? Imam Ahmad is reported to have said: “He who maintains the occurrence of Ijma’a is a liar.” Frankly, the more I read from the tradition, the truer this statement seems to be to me. There are differences of opinion on the most fundamental matters, even within Sunnism alone (consider the Ashari/Maturidi vs Athari divide for example). So much so, that if someone today were to ask me what does being a “Sunni” mean, I would struggle to answer. Perhaps I would respond with: “someone who believes in the legitimacy of all of the Rashidun Caliphs”… but doesn’t this then reduce Sunnism into a mere political opinion?

    Let us also take your example of the Khawarij. The Khawarij were not the only ones to rebel against Imam Ali, peace be upon him. You also had Muawiya Ibn Abi Sufyan, who many Sunnis to this day say “May Allah be pleased with him” whenever they utter his name. Was Muawiya being Islamic when he caused the catastrophic split in the Ummah? If not, why do so many scholars revere him then? And why does there seem to be a constant deflection onto the Khawarij, when the Ummayads have demonstrably harmed our tradition even more?

    In my humble opinion, Daesh is better compared with the Ummayads and Abbasids. They are Sunni extremists, and calling them Khawarij is a deflection to avoid dealing with the problems the Sunni tradition suffers from.

    And Allah Knows best.