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The Islamic State and Islam

October 17, 2014   |  By Raymond Ibrahim

quran

“Absolutely nothing” is the answer almost every Western politician gives.   For example, U.S. President Obama adamantly stated in a televised speech that the Islamic State “is not Islamic.”

This begs the question: How does one determine what is—and is not—Islamic?

The traditional answer, the Islamic answer, has been as follows:

What do the core texts and scriptures of Islam say about the thing in question, call it “X”?  Does the Koran, believed by Muslims to contain the literal commands of Allah, call for or justify X?  Do the hadith and sira texts—which purport to record the sayings and deeds of Allah’s prophet, whom the Koran (e.g., 33:21) exhorts Muslims to emulate in all ways—call for or justify X?

If any ambiguity still remains concerning X, the next question becomes: what is the consensus (ijma‘) of the Islamic world’s leading authorities concerning X?  Here one must often turn to the tafsirs, or exegeses of Islam’s most learned men—the ulema—and consider their conclusions.   Muhammad himself reportedly said that “My umma [Islamic nation] will never be in agreement over an error.”

For example, the Koran commands believers to uphold prayers; accordingly, all are agreed that Muslims need to pray.  Yet the Koran does not specify how many times.  In the hadith and sira, however, Muhammad makes clear believers should pray five times.  And the ulema, having considered all these texts, are agreed that Muslims are to pray five times a day.

Thus, it is most certainly Islamic for Muslims to pray five times a day.

But while both Western politicians and Islamic apologists readily accept such methodology to determining what is Islamic—prayer is in the Koran, Muhammad clarified its implementation in the hadith, and the ulema are agreed to it—whenever the thing in question deals with anything that makes Islam “look bad,” then the aforementioned standard approach to ascertaining what is Islamic is wholly ignored.

Let us consider some of the most extreme acts committed by the Islamic State—beheadings, crucifixions, enslavements, sexual predations, massacres, and the persecution of religious minorities—and put them to the test, see if they fill the same criteria, see if they are Islamic or not, especially in the context of jihad, which has its own set of rules.

Beheadings

The Islamic State beheads “infidels,” including women and children.  This aspect of the Islamic State has provoked horror around the world.

Is it Islamic?

The Koran calls for the beheading of Islam’s enemies, especially in the context of war, or jihad: “When you encounter infidels on the battlefield, strike off their heads until you have crushed them completely” (47:4).  Another verse states: “I will cast terror into the hearts of infidels—so strike off their heads and strike off all of their fingertips [i.e., mutilate them](8:12).

As for the other criteria—the example or Sunna of the prophet and the consensus of the umma—Timothy Furnish, author of the 2005 essay, “Beheading in the Name of Islam,” writes:

The practice of beheading non-Muslim captives extends back to the Prophet himself. Ibn Ishaq (d. 768 C.E.), the earliest biographer of Muhammad, is recorded as saying that the Prophet ordered the execution by decapitation of 700 men of the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe in Medina for allegedly plotting against him.  Islamic leaders from Muhammad’s time until today have followed his model. Examples of decapitation, of both the living and the dead, in Islamic history are myriad…For centuries, leading Islamic scholars have interpreted this verse [decapitation verse, 47:4] literally…. Many recent interpretations remain consistent with those of a millennium ago.

Crucifixions

As for crucifying people, which the Islamic State has been doing regularly, Koran 5:33 asserts that “the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land.”

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