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Critical Analysis of ISIS’ Actions Under Religious Terrorism

In a matter of a few years, starting in Iraq and later in Syria during its civil war, ISIS

slowly grew as the Sunni insurgency was largely defeated, or at least reduced in size.

Meanwhile, as global news reports showcased back in 2010, the Baghdad government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, negotiated with U.S. General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker to recognize Sunni rights. However, after the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq by the end of 2011, many in the Sunni community resented Maliki since nothing had changed; the “Sunni disenfranchisement began to take root, the radical extremism erupted.”1

As a result, ISIS took advantage of those suffering, and by 2014 the so-called Islamic State (ISIS throughout this paper) expanded dramatically in Iraq and Syria. According to news sources, the group took over Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, in just four hours. Overnight, “ISIS shaped the internationally recognized border between Iraq and Syria and proclaimed the existence of its so-called caliphate by choosing an Iraqi, Ibrahim Awad al-Badri, known by his war name, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”2 The basic problem that anyone faces when trying to understand ISIS’ practices is that, behind their actions, they carry a wide spectrum of theo-political, sociological, and/or

ideological intentions that are difficult to rationalize due to deep ambiguities. Under this premise, scholarly researchers continually need to update their findings as the group’s tactics and goals are constantly evolving, usually with greater contradictions than before. A clear example is the emergence of Al-Qaeda as a global threat out of the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, and the 9/11 attacks inside the American territory; today, Al-Qaeda does not pose similar threats, as ISIS is currently far more successful in achieving its goals.

1 Al-Istrabadi, “An End to ISIS?” 5.

2 Feisal Al-Istrabadi and Sumit Ganguly, The Future of ISIS: Regional and International Implications. (Brookings Institution Press, 2018), 3-4. The aim of this paper is to outline and critically analyze ISIS’ actions, described under

the category of “religious terrorism,” as well as to highlight how its political ideology is disguised underneath a veil of Islamic theology. I claim that ISIS’ goals are theologically motivated, but their theology is not so easy to disentangle from critical political circumstances and their corresponding socio-economic conditions. Hence, they (as well as their affiliated groups) serve as intriguing case studies to test the way we use categories such as ‘religious’ when it comes to terrorism. Furthermore, I will provide a close examination of their project that reveals deep contradictions when contrasted with their actions. In short, their actions do not reflect their theo-political demands. In order to simplify content to non-Muslims as to what degree the actions of ISIS represent Islam, this paper will rely on fatwas (3) as well as reliable scholars that provide a critical analysis of the group’s arguments for their means. In addition to

refuting its ideological foundations under a theological facade, I will offer an assessment of ISIS’ actions toward the killing of civilians using both the International Just War Tradition as well as the Islamic Just War Tradition. Finally, and using the current classification under International Relations (IR), I will explain why ISIS does not meet the criteria of a ‘state’ under the global Principle of Recognition of sovereign states. In a few words, I will highlight ISIS’ paradox found in the group’s argument that rejects the current global state system, while their ambition is to become one. Also, and before underlining the erroneous classification of this group as a ‘state,’

only for the purpose of this essay, the current and popular label as ISIS will be used.

(3) The ruling of a mufti (scholar) on a question of Islamic law. Historical and Political Background – Emergence of ISIS

The emergence of radicalized jihadist (4) groups proliferated in Iraq after the US invaded the country in 2003. Under the tutelage of a “Jordanian jihadist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and financially supported by Osama Bin Laden to start an organization,” (5) a group surfaced: Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Over a decade later the group’s finances straggled, training camps were destroyed, and the death of bin Laden further diminished the power of Al Qaeda brand. Four years after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL, also known as ISIS) seized large areas in Iraq and Syria, it now appears that the group has been defeated militarily, and has lost 99 percent of

the territory it once controlled in the area. This account deserves a full stop to address a common feature found in most historical events where the rise of insurgence groups comes as a result of social turmoil. Renad Mansour, a fellow at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani and a Middle East research fellow at Chatham House, regards groups like ISIS as a ‘symptom’: “Many local-minded Iraqis and Syrians are entertaining the ideas of groups like ISIS because of more socioeconomic reasons, not necessarily the idea of ISIS.” (6) The most common belief regarding the establishment of Al Qaeda and ISIS in Iraq and Syria is that it is the result of the invasion of Iraq by U.S. forces in 2003. To a certain extent, it is. However, we similarly see the development of dissident groups in other parts of the world where, regardless their political identification, the root causes for these developments are linked to political corruption, sectarianism, or misgovernance. It is agreed that the original cause was the invasion of the sovereign country, but (4) Struggle; in its most common usage, armed struggle on behalf of God; the obligation to make war against polytheists

(5) Daniel L. Byman and Jennifer R. Williams, “ISIS vs. Al Qaeda: Jihadism’s Global Civil War,” Brookings, last accessed October 31, 2019, https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-legal-foundations-of-the-islamic-state/.

(6) Mehdi Hasan and Renad Mansour, “What happened to ISIL? An UpFront special,” Aljazeera News video, 25:00, November 23, 2018, httphttp://aje.io/2plls


by 2014 the new “rebellion in Iraq was a direct response to the failure of the state to rebuild itself as the government became corrupted;”7 we saw a comparison to what occurred in Syria under the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, not to mention his father who previously held the same position for 29 years. In short, insurgency might not arise within a peaceful and fair society; revolts surface and multiply as a result of a wide spectrum of reasons that are comprised of societal frustrations and impositions. On closer examination, one can be reminded of Europe during the eighteen and nineteenth centuries, where widespread discontent was the product of an angry and excluded proletariat that emerged after the industrial revolution; a similar fate awaited Arab governments in today’s day and age. The Islamic State entered the scene during the “breakout of the Syrian conflict in 2011 and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, under the leadership of Iraqi jihadists, initially sent a small number of fighters” (8) into that country to establish their grounds in the region. The later schism inside the jihadist movement occurred when al-Baghdadi rejected Al Qaeda’s authority, the Jihadi Salafist ideas part ways and later, “the most dramatic event was the declaration of a caliphate in Syria in 2014.”9 It is critical to underline that these events occurred coincidentally with the departure of the U.S. forces from Iraq, while the regime of al-Assad in Syria remained focused on more moderate groups. These two events opened up doors for ISIS to grow. Popular reports may affirm that the Syrian conflict revived the Iraqi jihadist movement and that their notorious control was strong enough to break away from Al Qaeda to fulfill their objectives, however, it is important to stress that the group’s aims are much more complex and any shortcomings often

(7) Hasan, “What happened to ISIL?”

(8) Byman, “ISIS vs. Al Qaeda,” 6.

(9) Daniel W. Brown, A New Introduction to Islam, Third Edition (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2017), 328.


take the form of reductive analyses. Furthermore, suggesting that various structural, political, and economic factors are the sole reasons for the rise of ISIS or, on the other hand, that ISIS is simply an expression of Islamic theology, infers an oversimplification of our examinations. With this in mind, we must first feature what ISIS pursues as their main goals (as much as we can) and

what the group’s ideological view is that seems to claim authority within Islam while challenging the inner circle of the Islamic theological standpoint.

Contemporary Jihadist Movement Versus Democracy – A Holy War?

As addressed earlier, the disillusionment and frustrations with modern politics from rulers (corruption or misgovernance) which heighten sectarianism are important factors that contribute to the appearance of radical groups that express discontent. One of the reasons for this discontent involves Islamic authority where “differences arise over how the sources of scripture are best interpreted at the political level.” (10) However, disagreements also strike within a movement. The example of ISIL versus Al Qaeda applies here where their dispute between both groups go beyond the fight for power within the jihadism movement. They hold opposite views on whom they see as their main enemy; the latter’s main enemy is the U.S. (believed to be the root cause of the problems in the Middle East), while the former targets what they define as apostate regimes in the Arab world (mostly Syria with Assad and Iraq with Abadi). Baghdadi, now deceased, put first the “purification of the Islamic community [umma] by attacking Shi’ite and other religious minorities as well as rival jihadist groups,” (11) not to mention a long list of other groups they identify as enemies such as Hezbollah, Yazidis, Kurds in Syria, and the counts goes on. In Western accounts of Islam, we often see that jihād is recurrent and showcased as a central (10) Shiraz Maher, Salafi-Jihadism: The History of an Idea, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 193-194.

(11) Byman, 11.


theme, though it is not that ‘central’ in Islamic thought. Usually compared to the Christian concept of the Crusades, though they are no more part of Western modernity, jihād is “integral to an Islamic civilization that is largely rooted in religion.” (12) The concept of Holy War, as the former was defined, has no parallel comparison to jihād as, on the one hand, the practice of the Crusades responded to papal monarchy while, on the other, there has never been a centralized theological authority in the Islamic world. Furthermore, the Arabic word for “holy [muqaddas],

is never applied to war [harb] in the classical texts.”13 Al-Fārābī, known within the Islamic philosophical tradition as “the Second Teacher,” following Aristotle who was known as “the First Teacher,” referred to military activity not as jihād but as war [harb], when speaking of it in terms of justice and injustice, he claimed that “just wars are those undertaking to attain the good of a nation, to seek grievances against other nations or to punish them for crimes committed against the nation; unjust war are those pursued purely for conquest and the enslavement of other nations.” (14) Going back to the earlier example of the Crusades, and to provide an additional contrast from jihād, the actual event of the Crusades unveiled the meaning of jihād as a duty of

every Muslim to participate in the ‘struggle’ against the attackers who did not recognize the Muslim authority; this fight was experienced collectively by Muslims. The concept of offensive jihād has been revived, however, “in the contemporary period by religious militants to justify their political goals,” (15) in a way to describe the incompatibilities between the Western and the Islamic worlds. Clarifying these concepts that make distinctions between Western-Eastern views support our understanding of events within the appropriate context.

(12) Talal Asad, On Suicide Bombing, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 10-11.

(13) Asad, On Suicide Bombing, 12.

(14) Dunlop, D. M. “AL-Fārābī's Aphorisms of the Statesman,” in Iraq 14, no. 2 (1952): 98, doi:10.2307/4199557.

(15)Asma Afsaruddin, “Views of Jihad Throughout History,” in Religion Compass 1 (2007), 168. DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2006.00015.x


ISIS’ particular form of religiosity is itself premised on the notion that state systems

imply theological association. As the traditional democratic structure is aided by human legislation, it is considered by them as a form of worship toward a social contract instead of the shari’a, which holds God’s requirements for human behaviour, or the Islamic law in its ideal form. Liberal democracy has been challenged on theological grounds by a number of Islamist critics and many label it as grounded in shirk, term usually used to idolatry or a non-believer. Al-Qaeda activist Yusuf al-Ayeri portrayed liberal democracy as a problem because it is ‘based on the concept of the autonomous individual, whose participation in civil society shapes the political

and moral nature of it.”16 Based on this last assertion, ISIS’ theological orientation (a ‘religious movement’ as they identify themselves) and their actions suggest a goal of establishing a state with hākimiyya, or the political sovereignty for God. Based on what al-Ayeri affirms, Muslims who support democracy are thus led to ignore the commands of God. Moreover, stepping away from the Shari’a as an expression of God’s will to embrace democratic secularism would impose a threat to Islamic traditionalism. The critique of democracy comes from an epistemological position where its view seems to deny the autonomy of human reason and perceives the ultimate truth only through divine intervention. Some may agree that this appears to be extremely literalistic and linked to the standpoint of fundamentalism; as affirmation of “religious authority as holistic and absolute that admits neither criticism nor reduction is what fundamentalism is all about.” (17) The sole idea that ethical and moral laws only derive from sacred scriptures, and that an acceptance is assumed without questioning, gives the assumption of a homogeneous society where everyone professes the same creed and have similar spiritual and divine needs.

(16) Vincent J. Cornell, “Reasons Public and Divine: Liberal Democracy, Shari‘a Fundamentalism, and the Epistemological Crisis of Islam,” in “Rethinking Islamic Studies: From Orientalism to Cosmopolitanism,” (University of South Carolina Press, 2012), 25, accessed October 13, 2019, https://muse.jhu.edu/

(17) Cornell, “Reasons Public and Divine,” 27.


When we confront tradition and modernity, we find what anthropologist Kevin Avruch identifies as the “inadequate” notions of culture that contribute to this conflict. Statements of assumption - for example, stating that culture “is homogeneous, is a thing that can assert and believe, is uniform among the members of a group, is unique to an individual without outside influence, is custom, and is timeless and changeless” (18) - are found in pretty much any social circle. However, from either the liberal democracy or the shari’a fundamentalist positions, they both depend on its hermeneutical authority on a literalistic reading of texts/scriptures where the rules of religion and culture are intertwined in a holistic and absolute system. We might agree that in both liberal democracy and Islamic thought, we find an epistemological crisis where fundamentalism and radicalization of religious groups awaken as a response to secular liberalism, just as secular liberalism surfaces as a response to religious fundamentalism. In short, when historically founded traditions confront a new and alien tradition as a complete antithesis, it threatens the integrity of the tradition as a whole; in particular, theological traditions perceive

this coercion with a more visceral opinion. We see this binary contrast between Islam and the West more clearly when analyzing ISIS’ theological and political stand that suggests establishing a state of hākimiyya, or the political sovereignty for God. But before examining ISIS and its practices within this theo-political outlook, we must provide a quick historical (though political) frame in which hākimiyya re-emerged.

It is worth noting that the concept of hākimiyya is not new and that “has been developed long before contemporary Islamic-radical activists materialized;” (19) (18) Kevin Avruch, Culture and Conflict Resolution, (Washington, D.C.: Institute of Peace Press, 1998), 14–16.

(19) Shiraz, Salafi-Jihadism, 187.


“the “hākimiyya was revived within the modern world in the aftermath of the First Gulf War when debates surfaced over how an Islamic state should be.” (20) Said debates were further fueled by concerns over the presence of American troops in the Peninsula (Saudi Arabia) and the U.S. support of certain regimes (such as in Egypt). We must underline that not all Islamic groups believe in or support the creation of an

Islamic state. Al-Qaeda, for example, is principally “concerned with developing Salafi-Jihadi concepts related to militaristic struggle,” (21) though the idea of an Islamic State is present within the Muslim world. This brief account provides an overview that intends to explain why fundamentalists have rejected modern politics in favour of Islamic primordial theological thoughts, or to go back to the so-called Islamic Golden Era framed within the times of the first three Califates. Though this seems overly simplistic, it does support the suspicions that “contemporary politics stems from the breakdown of tradition.” (22) Events like this triggered a sense of anxiety in societies under the prospect of Western secularism being introduced into their culture; this state of fear, by the way, embodies a classic colonial parallelism where Western

secularism or religion as defined by its culture, customs, and economy slowly erode local identities. Within this context, how much do ISIS’ ideological practices embody or depart from Sunni Islam? Furthermore, what are the responses from Muslim scholars that dispute the group’s rhetoric? 20 Ibid., 171.

21 Ibid.

22 Olivier, Roy, Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 156.

Intellectual Versus Ideological Interpretations

The hermeneutical view of the Islamic scriptures by ISIS can be assessed as a literalistic stance with ideological and superficial approaches that accommodate and assist their political reasoning, but also can be regarded as innovative. It is imperative to interject and clarify that mainstream Sunni ‘ulamā (Muslim religious scholars) stress that a Muslim consulting the Qur’an and hadith directly without proper training leads to reach erroneous conclusion,” (23) so not every Muslim can or should derive legal or theological rulings as this is a task for qualified scholars.

Consequently, “the Muslim scholars are obliged to respond” with a counter-narrative and “their response should be intellectual” (24) to clarify the reality of Islam and its commitment to tolerance.

Digging just a little bit deeper into the last argument, there is a basic norm that has framed Muslim understandings since time immemorial, which is that “there are scholars who are qualified to look directly into the derivation of Islamic law and theology from the Qur’an and Sunna, and there are the masses who are not.” (25) One of the many scholars that lines up to loudly provide intellectual reactions to the already extensive proofs that demonstrates ISIS’ conducts as not representative of Sunni Islam is Shaykh Muhammad Al-Yaqoubi. Al-Yaqoubi is a renowned Sunni jurist, theologian, and one of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world today whose

book Refuting Isis: A Rebuttal of its Religious and Ideological Foundations offers as a fatwa a strong but scholarly response to disprove ISIS’ ideological pretenses that cut sacred texts out of context to satisfy their goals, beliefs, and crimes:

One of the most important intentions of this book is to clarify the position of the Shari’a in contradistinction to the distortions made by the extremists and the ignorant, as well as to educate and rescue innocent young men and women who are deceived into traveling from various countries to join ISIS. I have read the books and proofs penned in refutation of this group, some of which are written by scholars of the Salafi-Jihadi movement. I have used their statements as proofs to substantiate my conclusions further, albeit not as a basis of my arguments (26).

(23) Jonathan A. C. Brown, “Is Islam Easy to Understand or Not? Salafis, the Democratization of Interpretation and the Need for the Ulema,” Journal of Islamic Studies, Volume 26, Issue 2 (May 2015): 123-124.

(24) Shaykh Muhammad AL-Yaqoubi, Refuting Isis: A Rebuttal of its Religious and Ideological Foundations, (United States: Sacred Knowledge, 2015), XI.

(25) Brown, “Is Islam Easy to Understand or Not? 142-143.

(26) Al-Yaqoubi, Refuting ISIS, XX.


Drawing upon Islamic source text and legal methodology that counters allegations of ISIS, Al-Yaqoubi offers throughout his fatwa conclusive evidence that this group does not represent Islam, its declaration of a caliphate is invalid, and fighting to repeal it is an obligation upon all Muslims. In addition, he reaches out to non-Muslims as well. Linking Al-Yaqoubi’s thoughts to our earlier accounts of fundamentalism, political corruption, and aim for power, one can see that the Muslim scholar understands that sophisticated understandings have become weak, basic principles seem to be left aside, and finds a generational nihilistic tone in society that is “paving the way for small fanatical groups [like ISIS] to emerge and claim a monopoly of true Islam.” (27) I

strongly consider that these propositions equally are mirrored within the liberal democratic domain. We can provide a simplistic extrapolation of these ideas to reflect on today’s world of politics and the rise of right-wing groups that test classic liberal political stability. In the so-called liberal democracy, marginalized groups (which mostly exist due to economic inequalities) are surfacing loud and clear against corrupted governments (or rulers) whose sole intentions praise perpetuity in power.

Reasons for Radicalization To accurately understand what Al-Yaqoubi suggests in order to counter the growth of extremism in the Middle East, let us return, and briefly review, what we addressed at the beginning of this essay regarding the political-military accounts that fueled the strong presence of ISIS in the region. An agreement negotiated between the Baghdad government under the leadership of Prime Minister al-Maliki, and the U.S. representatives General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, promised to remove the (then) oppression against the Sunni population and to stop the discrimination inflicted to them. Baghdad agreed to this. However, soon after the U. S. withdrawal of its forces from Iraq, many in the Sunni community were filled with anger toward al-Maliki as the promises never materialized; the Sunni marginalization began, and the extremists (i.e. ISIS) exploited their suffering to justify their goals and expand.

(27) Ibid., XXII.


As Sunni Muslims in Iraq suffer from the injustice of the Maliki regime and the people of Syria cope from Muslims in Iraq suffer from the injustice of the Maliki regime and the people of Syria cope from the terror of the Assad regime, Al-Yaqoubi turns his attention to the international community who are fighting ISIS four points to what he considers will amend the catastrophic conditions fed by extremists in the region:

First, the removal of Sunni oppression, discrimination, and exploitation in Iraq; second, the moral obligation from al-Assad’s regime to cede authority to the people (he does not say how) as his crimes against the citizens of Syria have fed extremism and gave birth to terrorism in the region; third, he directs his attention to the international community and wishes respect of Muslim minorities, especially with intentional-conspirative propaganda that propose to show and validate all Muslims as extremists; the fourth proposition calls all Muslims to respect Western societies and cultures as an acknowledgment of differences in values and sacred figures. (28)

There is little doubt that the majority of the Muslim ‘ulamā (29) reject ISIS, and Al-Yaqoubi seems to be one the most vocal of our times by far. He arrives at the conclusion that actions which ISIS perpetrate “are in complete contradiction to the Shari’a and that their claims to a caliphate are invalid, and their assertion of Islamic State is neither Islamic nor a state.” (30) Regarding the latter, I will later address what politically defines ISIS and whether or not their classification as ‘state’ falls within the International Relations (IR) and the Principle of International Recognition spectrums.

(28) AL-Yaqoubi, Refuting Isis, 36.

(29) Muslim religious scholars.

(30) Ibid., XI.


Many reviewers of ISIS lightly assert that the organization attempts to return to the

Golden Era of Islam, to embrace the true Islam of its past. However, almost all of those reports fail to observe how surprisingly modern a phenomenon it actually is, especially in its absolute totalitarian methods, while also in its engagement with modern media. There exists a pseudocomic parallelism with “the knockers of technology” (31) and social media whom -ironically- use Twitter or Instagram platforms to debunk them. Some academics emphatically reject the theory which considers ISIS’ ideology and governance centered only within the public theology

framework. Nukhet Sandal, an expert in Political Science and International Relations at Ohio University, speculates that we should step outside that rhetoric as she “dismisses the argument over whether ISIS is Islamic or un-Islamic. Using logic, it suffices to note that ISIS acts in the name of religion—as other groups from other religions also do—and that it is able to collect followers and adherents.”32 That is the centrality in ISIS’ proposal, the use of theological arguments for recruitment purposes only; the online methods for enrollment have been carefully studied and have utilized every possible tactic to brainwash potential candidates; video editing is cleverly mixed with special, almost mystic, sound effects to enhance their message blended with precisely selected Qur’anic texts. However, the central focus from International Relations (IR) (33) should remain in judging ISIS’ deplorable actions toward citizens using the rule of law and based on the global ethics involving war. (31) Charles Taylor’s repetitive expression; part of his Malaise of Modernity, 11.

(32) Nukhet A. Sandal and Patrick James, “Religion and International Relations Theory: Towards a Mutual Understanding1” in European Journal of International Relations 17, no. 1 (March 2011): 18. doi:10.1177/1354066110364304.

(33) Religion, like race, ethnicity and gender, stayed on the backburner in the study of International Relations (IR).

International Ethics – Just War and Islamic War Theories


The general public would hardly be aware that, when it comes to address global ethical issues of war, there are clear and astonishing equivalencies between the international ethics of Just War Tradition (previously known as Just War Theory) (34) and the framework of laws constituting the Islamic War Tradition. Moreover, the same audience may have never been informed that “the ethics of war are central to Islam.” (35) Under this subject, what I now aim to assess is how ISIS’ actions can be judged and condemned by using both the Just War and the Islamic War Traditions, and still obtaining almost identical condemnatory outcomes.

A couple of key points must be addressed before highlighting both traditions; the Just War Tradition contains elements of cosmopolitanism and communitarianism and discussions of global justice are dominated by ‘Rawlsian theories.’ John Rawls explains that “justice begins with the basic structure of society” and social institutions distribute fundamental rights and duties and determine the division of advantages from social cooperation; although, the dispute arises when “liberties from other societies are not compatible to others.” (36) There are three components of the Just War Tradition: jus ad bellum, jus in bello, and jus post bellum: jus in bello, and jus post bellum:

The jus ad bellum, involves self-defence or defence of a third party, contains clauses such as Right Authority: only states can wage legitimate war (corporations, groups, or

individuals are illegitimate); Right Intention: the state leader must be attempting to

address an injustice or an aggression, rather seeking personal glory, loot, or expansion; Last Resort: leaders must have exhausted all other reasonable avenues of resolution or have no choice due to imminent attack; and Restoration of Peace. The jus in bello, meaning that states use minimal force (you can use force applicable to the proportion and size of the opponent only); states should not target non-combatant including soldiers not in the field and civilians (non-combatant immunity is central to Just War Theory. The jus post bellum, the peace and settlement after the war should be measured and reasonable, which includes securing basic rights where civilians are entitled to reasonable immunity (34) (35) John Baylis, Steve Smith, and Patricia Owens, eds., The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations, 7th ed., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 207.

(36) John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), 60.


The European Just War Tradition has its origins in the works of Christian theologians, and especially Augustine from punitive post-war measures while soldiers from all side to the conflict should be held accountable to investigation and possible trial. (37)

The Islamic Just War Tradition does not stand too far from we just highlighted under The Just War Tradition. Just war thinking is crucial in Islam and is often –incorrectly- associated entirely with the idea of jihād. It is self-evident that, from the readings in the Qur’an and the hadith, that in rare instances it is mandatory for Muslims to wage war; most Islamic authorities agree that the Qur’an sanctions it only in self-defence. Profound equivalences between both traditions mostly

reside in “the Just Cause clause, right authority, right intent, and within some jus in bello clauses that include the target of civilians, their immunity and their rights.” (38) It is the jus in bello that assists us with the intention of assessing ISIS’ modus operandi. And as stated earlier, fatwas provide a scholarly-critical analysis of the group’s arguments for their means. Shayk Muhammad Afifi Al-Akiti writes in response to the fitna (39) around the Umma, (40) day in and day out, caused by

“41those who misunderstand the legal discussions of the chapter on warfare outside its proper context.” Throughout history, terms evolve into different meanings due to societal changes, and as the technical fiqh (42) terminology varies when applied in different circumstances, it has been used to justify wrong actions. Al-Akiti’s fatwa entitled: Mudāfi’ al-Mazlūm bi-Radd al-Muhāmil ‘alā Qitāl Man Lā Yuqātil, or Defending the Transgressed by Censuring the Reckless Against the

Killing of Civilians, provides such “clarity of thought and expression of knowledge of Islamic Law to define key Islamic concepts pertaining to the conduct of war and the reckless targeting of civilians.”43

(37) Baylis, The Globalization of World Politics, 206.

(38) Ibid., 208.

(39) Dissention, civil war.

(40) Community of Muslims.

(41) Shayk Muhammad Afifi Al-Akiti. Defending the Transgressed by Censuring the Reckless Against the Killing of Civilians (Germany: Warda Publications, 2005), 18.

(42) Understanding; the collective scholarly effort to understand and apply God’s law.

(43) Al-Akiti. Defending the Transgressed, 7.

The fatwa expresses that it is regrettable that misinterpretations have been written in

a legal style, which horrifies any doctor of the Law, invoking erroneous personal opinion holding self-imposed authority regarding Islamic Law. Furthermore, the text stresses that any student of fiqh is aware that, beyond forming personal opinion “regarding interpretations of God’s law, [they] ensure those opinions do not create a breach in any given legal case.” (44) Opinions can deeply affect three important legal particularities toward targeting civilians and non-combatants; the following overlaps the principles of the Just War Tradition:

First, the target [maqtūl]: without a doubt, civilians must be protected; the target is only a valid military target. Second, the authority carrying out the war: as no Muslim authority should declare it, unless in self-defence, or if there has been such a declaration there is at the same time a ceasefire [hudna]. Third, the way the killing is carried out: since it is forbidden [harām] under Islamic law and also cursed (as it is considered suicide), it must be avoided. (45)

As both Just War Traditions have been crosschecked, both are postulate analogous reasoning concerning injustice toward targeting civilians. To sum up, civilians (including soldiers not on duty on in the field) are included in this prohibition; the nature of this harām is so specific and “well-defined that there can be no legal justification; the Prophetic prohibition on soldiers from killing women and children is well known from Ibn ‘Umar’s hadith.” (46) 44 Ibid., 19.

45 Al-Akiti, 19.

46 Ibid., 20

Is the So-Called Islamic State, a State?

Previously, we clarified that in both Just War Traditions only sovereign states (not civilians or organizations) are the only authorities that can declare war in retaliation and conducting them under specific moral frames, the last major concern I seek to clarify is the validity behind ISIS’ pretexts under its classification of ‘state.’ Before we underline views from several scholars, especially from the Muslim domain, let us first define this word within the spectrum of international law. The word ‘state’ is used to refer to three distinct concepts:

One, a state is an entity that is recognized to exist when a government is in control of a population within a defined territory. Two, in the study of international politics, each state is a country. Three, in philosophy and sociology, the state consists of the apparatus of government. (47)

The crucial point under these definitions is the so-called Principle of Recognition of Sovereignty, which falls under International Relations theories. For example, Canada is defined as a sovereign country not only due to acceptance from its own citizens but also due to the importance of international approval from other states. The reader may rhetorically ask if, under this frame, ISIS meets any of them. It is worth keeping in mind that ISIS stands opposed to the current international democratic system that oversees and recognize sovereign states. So, why does ISIS opposes a system while is simultaneously eager to create one? Muslim scholars, such as Al-Yaqoubi, do not accept the premise that ISIS neither constitutes a state nor holds a recognized

leader (Caliphate); the Caliphate, says Al-Yaqoubi, “is a public affair linked to the entire Muslim Nation and cannot be settled by a few juveniles, nor can the foolish engage in discussing it.” (48) He strongly stresses that “this group, despite being called a state, is not a state from a Shari‘a point of view,” (49) and irrespective of its attributions to Islam it has no connection to it. It appears that there is no escape from this cycle where there is no Islamic state without virtuous Muslims, and no virtuous Muslims without an Islamic state. Al-Akiti defines a state by quoting Baʽalawi’s

fatwa (1309 H.) and claims that it is “any place at which a resident Muslim is capable of defending himself [herself] against hostile forces, where his judgements can be applied at that time.” (50)

47 Baylis, 544-545.

48 AL-Yaqoubi, 26.

49 Ibid., XXIII.

50 Al-Akiti, 39.

He adds that by definition, an “area is a Muslim state as long as Muslims continue to

live there and the political and executive authority is Muslim.” (51) With all this said, the grounds on which ISIS revolves around oscillates between two extremes: the revolutionary, for whom the Islamization of the society occurs through state power; and reformist, for whom “social and political action aims primarily to re-Islamize the society from the bottom up, bringing about, ipso facto, the advent of an Islamic state.”52 The split lies not on the question of the necessity of an Islamic state, but on the means by which to arrive at one, and on the attitude to adopt - with respect to the powers in place - destruction, opposition, collaboration, and indifference. To sum

up, there are no grounds from which we can affirm that ISIS can be recognized as a state. The immense majority of Muslims, which include scholars, have further uncovered the group’s public contravention and its deliberate distortion of Islam by “violating contracts, deceiving foreign visitors to Syria who must be protected, and terrorizing the population at large.” (53)

My goal within this paper was the aim to outline and critically analyze ISIS’ actions,

under the category of “religious terrorism,” as well as its political ideology disguised underneath a veil of Islamic theology. Under close examination, deep contradictions amid their actions disprove their claims. Simply put, their actions do not reflect their theo-political demands. In addition, ISIS’ actions toward the killing of civilians using both the International Just War Tradition as well as the Islamic Just War Tradition justified those contradictions as well. Finally, by using the current classification under International Relations Theory (IRT), ISIS does not meet the criteria of a ‘state’ under the global Principle of Recognition of sovereign states. Plus, the self-evident claims from Muslim scholars agree with my rationale that ISIS’ rejection of the current global state system seems paradoxical since their ambition is to become one.


51 Ibid.

52 Roy Olivier, The Failure of Political Islam. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), 136.

53 AL-Yaqoubi, XIX.


At this writing, ISIS has suffered devastating military defeats, losing control of virtually all the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria, and the killing of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Yet, even in these two countries, military operations continue to root out cells of the organization. It is almost certain that such cells will continue to exist into the indefinite future.


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