They call themselves the Islamic State. They claim to be the restorers of the caliphate, the ones who have finally fulfilled the most cherished aspiration of jihadists and Islamic supremacists the world over. They declare their intention to govern their domains solely and wholly by Islamic law, acting swiftly and ruthlessly to end any practice that does not conform to that law. They repeatedly proclaim their piety, ascribing all their victories to Allah and submitting themselves in all things to his will.
Yet despite all this, Western leaders, the mainstream media, and much of the public are certain of one thing: the Islamic State has nothing, nothing whatsoever, to do with Islam. So many people tell us so:
5. Shirley Sotloff
Shirley Sotloff is the mother of Steven J. Sotloff, an American who is being held hostage by the Islamic State. On Wednesday, she released a video appeal to the Islamic State’s “caliph Ibrahim,” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Her message to him was extremely respectful. Sotloff began: “I am sending this message to you, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Quraishi al-Hussaini, the caliph of the Islamic State. I am Shirley Sotloff. My son Steven is in your hands.”
Sotloff went on to tell the caliph that Steven had “no control over the actions of the U.S. government. He is an innocent journalist.” In fact, she said he had gone to the Middle East to chronicle the sufferings of Muslims. This was tantamount to signaling to him that Steven Sotloff could be more useful to him alive than dead. She assumes throughout that the U.S. has indeed done wrong to the Islamic State, but argues that her son should not be punished for it.
“Since Steven’s capture,” she added, “I have learned a lot about Islam. I’ve learned that Islam teaches that no individual should be held responsible for the sins of others. As a mother, I ask your justice to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over.”
It’s odd that Shirley Sotloff, after addressing the caliph so respectfully, would presume to lecture him about Islam, and it’s frankly embarrassing that she does so based on her whitewashed Karen Armstrong/John Esposito understanding of the religion. Only from such peddlers of the Islam-is-a-Religion-of-Peace myth could she have gotten the idea that the caliph’s heart would be melted by an appeal to Islam from a Western non-Muslim woman with head uncovered.
But is she right? Has the caliph somehow overlooked (or intentionally ignored) this Islamic tenet? Or have Armstrong, Esposito, Aslan and the rest of the whitewash crew neglected to tell Mrs. Sotloff that Islamic law allows for the taking of captives (cf. Qur’an 47:4), including non-combatants such as women who are then pressed into sex slavery (cf. Qur’an 4:3, 4:24, 23:1-6, 33:50), and thus the kidnapping of a male journalist is certainly within the parameters of Islamic law?
Mrs. Sotloff continues: “As a mother, I ask your justice to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over. I ask you to use your authority to spare his life, and to follow the example set by the Prophet Mohammad, who protected People of the Book.”
Mrs. Sotloff may here be referring to the spurious but increasingly popular Achtiname, Muhammad’s pact with the monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai, in which Muhammad grants all sorts of rights and privileges to Christians that do not accord with the provisions of Islamic law, which mandates that Christians and other non-Muslims be subjugated, in accord with the Qur’an: “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” — Qur’an 9:29. This subjugation is not a guarantee that one’s life will be spared, however; if one is considered to be a kaffir harbi, one’s life is forfeit.
The people who have misled Mrs. Sotloff about Islam have done her a grave disservice, and given her false hope.
4. Yvette Cooper
Yvette Cooper is a member of the British Parliament for the Labour Party, and serves as the shadow home secretary. She has said that Islamic State “extremists are beheading people and parading their heads on spikes, subjugating women and girls, killing Muslims, Christians and anyone who gets in their way. This is no liberation movement — only a perverted, oppressive ideology that bears no relation to Islam.”
Unfortunately, for every Islamic State atrocity she enumerated, there is Qur’anic sanction:
Beheading people: “When you meet the unbelievers, strike the necks….” (Qur’an 47:4)
Subjugating women and girls: “Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because Allah has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them.” (Qur’an 4:34)
Killing Muslims: “They wish that you reject Faith, as they have rejected (Faith), and thus that you all become equal (like one another). So take not Auliya’ (protectors or friends) from them, till they emigrate in the Way of Allah (to Muhammad SAW). But if they turn back (from Islam), take (hold) of them and kill them wherever you find them, and take neither Auliya’ (protectors or friends) nor helpers from them.” (Qur’an 4:89)
Killing Christians: “Fight those who believe not in God nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by God and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” (Qur’an 9:29)
Even if the Islamic State is misinterpreting or misunderstanding these verses, it is doing so in a way that accords with their obvious literal meaning. That should, at the very least, lead to a public discussion about the possibility of Islamic reform, what is being taught in mosques in the West, and related issues. But such a discussion is not forthcoming; it would be “Islamophobic.”
3. Philip Hammond
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond declared: “Isil’s so-called caliphate has no moral legitimacy; it is a regime of torture, arbitrary punishment and murder that goes against the most basic beliefs of Islam.” Which ones? Hammond didn’t say. Everyone knows already, don’t they? Everyone knows that what the Islamic State is doing has nothing whatsoever to do with the true, peaceful teachings of Islam. No one can quite manage to explain how, but what do we care about details!
2. David Cameron
Hammond’s boss, British Prime Minister David Cameron, explained: “What we are witnessing is actually a battle between Islam on the one hand and extremists who want to abuse Islam on the other. These extremists, often funded by fanatics living far away from the battlefields, pervert the Islamic faith as a way of justifying their warped and barbaric ideology – and they do so not just in Iraq and Syria but right across the world, from Boko Haram and al-Shabaab to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.”
Where is “Islam” actually battling these “extremists who want to abuse Islam”? Cameron didn’t say.
1. Barack Obama
Barack Obama has, like Cameron, made it perfectly clear: “ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents.” State Department spokesperson Marie Harf emphasized that Obama meant what he said: “ISIL does not operate in the name of any religion. The president has been very clear about that, and the more we can underscore that, the better.”
Obama, of course, has throughout his presidency excused and apologized for Islam every time a jihadist atrocity affects the U.S. in some way. Of course, most would wave away his denial as a political necessity, and ask why it matters anyway — why does it make any difference whether or not what the Islamic State is doing is in accord with Islamic texts and teachings?
It matters for many reasons. Aside from all the vague condemnations of the Islamic State that American Muslim groups have issued, how closely the Islamic State actually hews to the letter of Islamic law will help determine how much support it will ultimately get from Muslims worldwide. Two American Muslims have already been killed fighting for it; how many more will there be? Only by examining the Islamic State’s actions in light of an honest assessment of Islamic teachings will we be able to estimate to what extent we can expect to see its actions replicated by other Muslims elsewhere.
These dismissals of the Islamic State’s Islam, of course, are designed to assure us that we need not have any concerns about massive rates of Muslim immigration and the Muslims already living among them. One problem with this is that it prevents authorities from calling upon Muslim communities to teach against the doctrines that the Islamic State acts upon, and to work for genuine reform. And so the door remains open to the possibility that the actions of the Islamic State could be repeated in Western countries.
Barack Obama and David Cameron would do far better to confront the Islamic State’s Islamic justifications for its actions and call on Muslims in the U.S., the UK and elsewhere to teach against these understandings of Islam that they ostensibly reject. But they never do that, and apparently have no interest in doing it. Instead, they foster complacency among the people of the U.S. and Britain. For doing so, they may never pay a price, but their people will almost certainly have to pay, and pay dearly.
Oh, and by the way: the caliph Ibrahim, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has a PhD in Islamic Studies.