Those who claim that terrorism committed in the name of Islam has “nothing to do with Islam” received much ostensible fodder via the recent spate of terrorist attacks in Bangladesh, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia in the closing days of Ramadan.
Because these three countries are overwhelmingly Muslim-majority, the talking heads are now sure of it: the terrorists have nothing to do with the religion of Islam, which in fact bans the indiscriminate slaughter of fellow Muslims.
Is that the case? Is it that simple?
No. In fact, from the start of Islam, Muslims have relied on these same rationalizations to justify the slaughter of other Muslims.
First, consider the following outpouring of “told you Islam wasn’t responsible for terrorism” (compiled by Robert Spencer):
Maher Zain, a multi-platinum-winning singer and songwriter who is Muslim, wrote on Twitter to his 1.47 million followers: “Still need proof that ISIS is the foremost enemy of Islam? They attack the Prophet’s City. Terror knows no religion!”
After Islamic State jihadists screaming “Allahu akbar” murdered twenty hostages at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka on the night of July 1, the serially deceptive Islamic apologist Qasim Rashid tweeted: “In #Ramadan’s final 10 days, Daesh has mass murdered dozens in three Muslim majority nations Please tell me more about how Islamic they are.”
In another tweet, he included a photo captioned: “So you’re telling me they killed Muslims during Ramadan and you still blame Islam? Are you that incompetent or that bigoted?”
To that, Rashid added: “Likewise, how I feel when I hear Islamophobes claim Islam was somehow behind the #DhakaAttack.”
Echoing Rashid was no less illustrious a personage than Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who insisted: “Anyone who believes in religion cannot do such act. They do not have any religion, their only religion is terrorism.”
“ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death … Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim.“
Let’s examine the accuracy of all the above statements.
First, it should be noted that the jihadis are aware that they should not randomly kill fellow Sunnis. This was the case in the Bangladesh attack. With police fire whizzing over their heads, the jihadis still managed to question their hostages. They released those that could verify they were Muslim, and killed those who could not.
As documented here, jihadis around the world — in Libya, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria — regularly follow the same protocol of separating Muslims from non-Muslims before slaughtering the latter.
As for the deliberate slaughter of fellow Muslims, it must be remembered that mainstream Sunni Islam — the world’s dominant strand of Islam, which ISIS adheres to — views all non-Sunnis as false Muslims. At best, non-Sunnis are heretics who need to submit to the “true Islam” no less than the infidels.
This is largely how Sunnis view Shias, and vice versa — hence their perennial war. While Western talking heads tend to lump them together as “Muslims,” each group — especially the “radicals” among them, the jihadis — views the other as an enemy.
Only in recent times, as both groups plot against the West and Israel, have we seen Sunni and Shia occasionally cooperate.
The Sunni-Shia adversarial relationship was the motivation behind the terror strikes in Karada — a Shia neighborhood in Iraq — and the bombing in Saudi Arabia’s Shia majority Qatif province. Both attacks were undertaken due to the same reasoning behind Muslims attacking and murdering Christian minorities, or European, American, and Israeli citizens: all are infidels. All must either embrace the true faith, be subjugated, or die.
Contrary to the statements above, including that of President Obama, Sunnis murdering Shias or Shias murdering Sunnis is Islamic.
So what about Sunni-on-Sunni violence?
Sunni-on-Sunni violence is easily justified when one group engages in takfir: the denunciation of another group as being kafir, or infidels, as infidel blood can be shed with impunity.
Takfir has existed alongside Islam almost from its inception, beginning with the khawarij (Kharijites). They denounced and slaughtered fellow Muslims for not following the letter of the law. Takfir has been the primary rationale used to justify jihad between different Sunni nations and empires throughout the centuries.
Takfir also explains the attacks on the American consulate in Jeddah. Jihadi groups regularly denounce the Saudi rulers as apostates due to the Saudis’ close relationships with non-Muslim powers such as the United States. This charge goes all the way back to Osama bin Laden, who — though radicalized by Saudi education — ended up denouncing the monarchy for allowing the U.S. military to be stationed in the Arabian Peninsula.
As for the attack near the prophet’s tomb in Medina — which seems like a direct attack on Islam itself — the fact is that strict Islamic teaching (“Wahabbi” and “Salafi”) condemns and seeks to purge all prophets’ tombs.
These tombs are seen as promoting shirk, the sin of sharing in Allah’s glory. This is why the Saudi government itself has sought to destroy the prophet’s tomb.
What about pious Sunnis who are accidentally killed during the jihad?
Such Sunnis who die as “collateral damage” have long been classified as “martyrs” destined to enter Islam’s paradise. Indeed, the topic of fellow Sunnis being killed during the jihad has been widely addressed throughout the centuries.
More recently, it received a thorough analysis from al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri in his essay, “Jihad, Martyrdom, and the Killing of Innocents” (The Al Qaeda Reader, pgs. 137-171). After delineating how three of the four schools of Sunni jurisprudence — Hanafi, Shafi‘i, and Hanbali — do not forbid the accidental or inevitable killing of Muslims during the jihad, Zawahiri concluded:
The only thing mujahidin [jihadis] are specifically required to do, should they knowingly kill a Muslim [who is intermixed with the targeted infidels], is make atonement. Blood money, however, is a way out of the dispute altogether.
Payment should be made only when there is a surplus of monies, which are no longer needed to fund the jihad. Again, this is only if their [Muslims] intermingling with the infidels is for a legitimate reason, such as business.
And we assume that those who are killed are martyrs, and believe that what the Sheikh of Islam [Ibn Taymiyya] said about them applies: “[T]hose Muslims who are accidentally killed are martyrs; and the obligatory jihad should never be abandoned because it creates martyrs.”
- To Sunni jihadis, non-Sunnis are heretics and thus fair game to be killed.
- Fellow Sunnis who deliberately impede can be pronounced apostates, and attacked accordingly.
- Jihadis should try to separate true Sunnis from the intended infidel targets — as happened in Bangladesh and elsewhere.
- But if these true Muslims die accidentally, they are martyrs. And most importantly, “the obligatory jihad should never be abandoned because it creates martyrs.”
The argument that jihadi organizations kill fellow Muslims proves nothing. Muslims have been slaughtering Muslims under a number of justifications and rationalizations since the beginnings of Islam.
So what kind of treatment can the non-Muslim — such as the Western infidel — expect?