The self-declared Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has shocked the world with its brutality. The British Prime Minister David Cameron, along with other Western leaders, claims that the Islamic State has “nothing to do with the great religion of Islam, a religion of peace.” The former British PM Tony Blair states that IS’ ideology is “based in a complete perversion of the proper faith of Islam.”
Notice that both the current and a previous British Prime Minister say virtually the same thing as Tariq Ramadan. He is a Swiss writer of Egyptian origin and is a Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University in Britain. Tariq Ramadan suggests that the Islamic State is ”not Islamic.”
Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Banna’s stated goal was the restoration of an Islamic Caliphate. We now have an Islamic State under the leadership of a Caliph. You could therefore argue that ISIS have fulfilled the original promise of Hassan al-Banna. What Tariq Ramadan is in effect saying is that: “The Islamic State have fulfilled the promise of my pious Muslim grandfather. Yet this has nothing to do with Islam.”
The slick Islamic infiltrator Tariq Ramadan has always reminded me of the deceiving manipulator Grima Wormtongue from Tolkien’s novel The Lord of the Rings. It is no wonder that Western ruling elites are clueless about the true nature of the Islamic threat when we allow people such as Ramadan to be treated as experts on Islam in prestigious Western universities and advise Western authorities on matters related to Islam.
Saying that the Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam or Islamic teachings is false. ISIS propagandists quote authentic Koranic verses or respected hadith literature in favor of their actions. Yes, texts can be interpreted in different ways, but some interpretations have a stronger foundation than others do. A rubber band can be stretched up to a certain point, but not forever. Likewise, texts can be read in several ways, but they are not infinitely elastic.
Maybe what the militant members of the Islamic State are doing is not the only way to interpret Islamic religious texts. Maybe. What should worry us, however, is that it is a perfectly legitimate way to interpret Islamic texts.
The Islamic State now has many supporters, also in Western countries. Their atrocities resonate with quite a few Muslims who recognize something similar from Islamic history. In the earliest days of Islam, Mohammed and his companions raided and pillaged their opponents, massacred and beheaded non-Muslims, enslaved their children, raped their women and forced them to be sex slaves. Suggesting that it has nothing to do with Islam, when militant Muslims today directly copy the behavior of their Prophet as described in Islamic sources, is not credible.
Western leaders and commentators are often shockingly ill-informed about Islam. Tony Blair, then still Britain’s Prime Minister, wrote about Islam for the influential magazine Foreign Affairs in its January 2007 issue. This quote sums up the breathtaking cluelessness of Western leaders:
“To me, the most remarkable thing about the Koran is how progressive it is. I write with great humility as a member of another faith. As an outsider, the Koran strikes me as a reforming book, trying to return Judaism and Christianity to their origins, much as reformers attempted to do with the Christian church centuries later. The Koran is inclusive. It extols science and knowledge and abhors superstition. It is practical and far ahead of its time in attitudes toward marriage, women, and governance. Under its guidance, the spread of Islam and its dominance over previously Christian or pagan lands were breathtaking. Over centuries, Islam founded an empire and led the world in discovery, art, and culture. The standard-bearers of tolerance in the early Middle Ages were far more likely to be found in Muslim lands than in Christian ones.”
Some observers suggest that Islam needs to be reformed. Yet it is arguable that we have already witnessed an Islamic Reformation, and that ISIS/the Islamic State represents a culmination of this process.
In 2007 I published an essay with the title Do we want an Islamic Reformation? The question of whether Islam can be reformed largely hinges upon one’s definition of “Reformation.” This is often implicitly taken to mean something along the lines of “peaceful, non-sharia-based with respect for individual choice, freedom of speech and the freedom to criticize and leave your religion.” In other words: “Reform” is vaguely taken to mean less Islam, or at least less traditional sharia laws, and no violent Jihad.
However, several observers argue that there are similarities between Martin Luther and the Christian or Protestant Reformation in sixteenth century Europe and the reform movement started by Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab in the Arabian Peninsula in the 18th century. Wahhab’s alliance with the family of Muhammad bin Saud led to the creation of Saudi Arabia. Using its massive oil wealth, paid for by non-Muslims, that country has for generations funded strict sharia-based Islamic movements worldwide. This Islamic revivalist movement is at the base of the present-day Salafist movement.
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