by Ian Harris Otago Daily Times October 24, 2014
A globalising world draws its peoples closer together. It also complicates things. So when a far-off band of Muslim insurgents scythes to itself a swathe of Syria and Iraq, western governments tighten laws to neutralise any threat of terrorism from their own Muslim immigrants, and unleash warplanes against the extremists abroad. With new responsibilities looming on the UN Security Council, New Zealand will soon be caught up more directly in the vortex.
I have wondered why those best placed to respond to the religious ideology of the Islamic State have been so silent. Surely Muslims elsewhere have a view on the horrors being inflicted on innocent people in the name of their religion?
They do. In a 16-page letter to IS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and his followers, 126 leading Muslim scholars from 41 countries last month issued a scathing denunciation of IS, accusing it of violating fundamental principles of Islam and committing heinous war crimes. Signatories come from countries as diverse as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Sudan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia and the United States.
The letter condemns the establishment of a caliphate in Syria: “Who gave you authority over the ummah (the total Muslim community)? Was it your group? If so, then a group of no more than several thousand has appointed itself the ruler of over a billion-and-a-half Muslims.
“This attitude is based upon a corrupt circular logic that says: ‘Only we are Muslims, and we decide who the caliph is, we have chosen one and so whoever does not accept our caliph is not a Muslim . . . In truth, the caliphate must emerge from a consensus of Muslim countries, organizations of Islamic scholars and Muslims across the globe.” The scholars reject the right of IS to call the faithful to jihad (holy war). “There is no such thing as offensive, aggressive jihad just because people have different religions or opinions,” they say.
And they condemn the war’s conduct: “You have killed many innocents who were neither combatants not armed, just because they do not agree with your opinion . . . You have killed many prisoners,” citing thousands dead in mass executions. “Your fighters are not satisfied with mere killing, they add humiliation, debasement and mockery to it.” Their barbaric acts had given the world a stick with which to beat Islam, whereas Islam was completely innocent of these acts and prohibited them.
IS had not even spared children: “You have made children engage in war and killing. Some are taking up arms and others are playing with the severed heads of your victims. Some children have been thrown into the fray of combat and are killing and being killed. In your schools some children are tortured and coerced into doing your bidding and others are being executed.”
Though Al-Baghdadi cites Muslim scriptures to justify his cause, the scholars dismiss his reasoning as illegitimate and perverse. “It is not permissible to quote a verse, or part of a verse, without thoroughly considering and comprehending everything that the Quran and Hadith (the sayings and traditions of Mohammed) relate about that point,” nor to cherry-pick Quranic verses for legal arguments without considering the entire Quran and Hadith.
The letter lists a raft of IS practices which Islam explicitly forbids. Among them are forced conversions, torture, denying women and children their rights, disfiguring the dead, and killing emissaries – “hence it is forbidden to kill journalists and aid workers.” Journalists are emissaries of truth, they say, and aid workers are emissaries of mercy and kindness. It was also forbidden to harm or mistreat Christians and any “people of the scripture” in any way, and obligatory to consider Yazidis (a Kurdish community overrun in August) as people of the scripture.
Slavery gets special condemnation. “After a century of Muslim consensus on the prohibition of slavery, you have violated this: you have taken women as concubines and thus revived strife and sedition, and corruption and lewdness, on the earth.”
In a blistering conclusion the scholars declare: “You have misinterpreted Islam into a religion of harshness, brutality, torture and murder. As elucidated, this is a great wrong and an offence to Islam, to Muslims and to the entire world. “Reconsider all your actions; desist from them; repent from them; cease harming others and return to the religion of mercy.”
Al-Baghdadi will no doubt ignore this plea, but non-Muslims will join Muslims of good will in applauding it. Especially welcome is the scholars’ rejection of the misuse of scripture for evil purposes. Where there is no humanity, it is rotten religion.