Extremists’ tiesto Islam contested

LEE KEATH
Associated Press

Cairo – — Three British schoolgirls believed to have gone to Syria to become “jihadi” brides. Three young men charged in New York with plotting to join the Islamic State group and carry out attacks on American soil. A masked, knife-wielding militant from London who is the face of terror in videos showing Western hostages beheaded.

They are among tens of thousands of Muslims eager to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State group. An estimated 20,000 have streamed into the territory in Iraq and Syria where the group has proclaimed what it calls a “caliphate” ruled by its often brutal version of Islamic law.

But how rooted in Islam is the ideology embraced by this group that has inspired so many to fight and die?

President Barack Obama has insisted the militants behind a brutal campaign of beheadings, kidnappings and enslavement are “not Islamic” and only use a veneer of Islam for their own ends. Obama’s critics argue the extremists are intrinsically linked to Islam. Others insist their ideology has little connection to religion.

The group itself has assumed the mantle of Islam’s earliest years, purporting to recreate the conquests and rule of the Prophet Muhammad and his successors. But in reality its ideology is a virulent vision all its own, one that its adherents have created by plucking selections from centuries of traditions.

The vast majority of Muslim clerics say the group cherry picks what it wants from Islam’s holy book, the Quran, and from accounts of Muhammad’s actions and sayings, known as the Hadith. It then misinterprets many of these, while ignoring everything in the texts that contradicts those hand-picked selections, these experts say.

The group’s claim to adhere to the prophecy and example of Muhammad helps explain its appeal among young Muslim radicals eager to join its ranks. Much like Nazi Germany evoked a Teutonic past to inspire its followers, Islamic State propaganda almost romantically depicts its holy warriors as re-establishing the caliphate, contending that ideal of Islamic rule can come only through blood and warfare.

It maintains its worst brutalities only prove its purity in following what it contends is the prophet’s example, a claim that appalls the majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.

Writings by the group’s clerics and ideologues and its English-language online magazine, Dabiq, are full of citations from Quranic verses, the Hadith and centuries of interpreters, mostly hard-liners.

But these are often taken far out of context, said Joas Wagemakers, an assistant professor of Islamic Studies at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, who specializes in Islamic militant thought.

Muslim scholars throughout history have used texts in a “decontextualized way” to suit their purposes, Wagemakers said. But the Islamic State goes “further than any other scholars have done. They represent the extreme,” he said.

Despite its claim to the contrary, the Islamic State group is largely political, borne out of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, said Khaled Abou El Fadl, an Islamic law scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles.