Daesh’s Identity Crisis: More Than Just the Name

After yet another attack in Brussels by the so-called ‘Islamic State,’ following on from previous attacks in Turkey and others around the globe, Student Review offers its thoughts, prayers and condolences to those affected. In this article, we cast an eye on the terrorist group itself and its contrast to the conduct of the earliest Muslims.

There exists today two faces of ‘Jihad.’

On the one hand we have ISIS/ISIL/IS – a brutal rebel group that has massacred thousands of Muslims and non-Muslims alike, calling youth to join their territorial conquests with a Qur’an in one hand and a gun in the other.

“The flag of Khalifah will rise over Makkah and al-Madinah, even if the apostates and hypocrites despise such. The flag of Khalifah will rise over Baytul-Maqdis [Jerusalem] and Rome, even if the Jews and Crusaders despise such. The shade of the blessed flag will expand until it covers all eastern and western extents of the Earth…”

On the other, we have the early Muslims, labouring under years of intense persecution, led by a man preaching a religion that literally means ‘peace.’ Here, a distinguished companion describes their circumstances:

“‘When the Holy Prophet (sa) and his Companions migrated to Madīnah, and the Helpers gave protection to them, all of Arabia collectively stood up against the Muslims. In that era, the Muslims would not even put off their arms at night and during the day they would walk around armed in case of a sudden attack. They would say to each other, ‘let us see if we live till such a time when we might be able to sleep in peace at night without any fear except the fear of God.’”

Why this disparity? What was the real cause and character of the wars of early Islam, and how do they differ from that of modern-day self-styled ‘jihadi’ groups?

At the inception of Islam, at a time when it was at its most pure, the Prophet Muhammad taught that the principal meaning of Jihad was: “The best Jihad is that a man should strive in the cause of Allah against his own person and his passions,” (1). The only instances in which Jihad could ever be compatible with physical warfare is in situations of self-defence, in retaliation for aggression, and those in which freedom of conscience is systematically denied and converts are routinely killed. This principle of defending freedom of conscience applies to any people, of any faith. (2) Hence it was only after a dozen years of forbearance, migration and attempted reconciliation that the early Muslims were permitted to take up arms against their persecutors. In essence, they were fighting to uphold the Qur’anic commandment that, “There should be no compulsion in religion.”

As the early Muslims were then plunged into war, the victorious side would naturally claim spoils from the defeated enemies. As such, a man once came before the Holy Prophet and asked about the fate of one who fought genuinely in the cause of God, but also was mindful of potential income. The Prophet replied, ‘There is no spiritual reward whatsoever for such a person.’  (3) In surprise, the man asked him this twice more, each time receiving the same response: that fighting for materialistic gain is opposed to the spirit of the faith, and can never be termed Jihad.

Contrast this to ISIS. Firstly, their justification for fighting is basically non-existent. None of the afore-mentioned conditions of intense unrelenting persecution on the basis of faith exist. Instead, they began life as an armed uprising against Assad, already losing any ‘Islamic’ legitimacy, whilst being funded by the Western powers they have now conveniently decided to hate (4).

Scratch the surface of their Islam, and out spills a spring of black gold. ISIS made over $100 million from selling oil on the black market in 2014. They also have hundreds of millions of dollars from looting banks and taking control of buildings and military bases (5). In their propaganda films, they show women and children with luxury BMWs and men relaxing in swimming pools and beaches, attempting to lure recruits through materialistic promises. In his public speeches, their leader Al Baghdadi has worn a watch estimated to cost £3500, prompting ridicule. It becomes clear then that ISIS uses religion as a convenient excuse to win power and territory, rather than to establish freedom of religion as the Prophet Muhammad did. They may call it Islam, some of them may even think it’s Islam, but the Qur’an and the Prophet disavow them entirely.

Like all religions, Islam seeks to give its followers spiritual peace rather than material territory. When asked which practice of Islam was best, the Prophet replied, ‘the practice of the person from whose tongue and hands others are safe.’ When we examine the example of the Prophet and his early followers we find that it is the antithesis of the warmongering, materialistic creed of ISIS. Islam came to create order, not destroy it, and whilst we may all seek contentment, belonging and truth, some are simply lost, putting their faith in criminals like ISIS, rather than in true spiritual guides. Therefore, defeating the ideology of ISIS requires a true understanding of Islam in the way that the Prophet Muhammad taught it. Only when the thirst for power and the material greed that envelops some Muslims today is replaced by a love of God and a true, peaceful, spiritual Jihad, can Islam win the hearts of the world once more.

By Damir Rafi & Umar Nasser



1. Hadith, Kanz al-’ummal, part four
2. Holy Quran: 22:40-41
3. Sunanu Abi Dawud, Kitabul-Jihad, Babu Fi Man Yaghzu Wa Yaltamisud-Dunya, Hadith No. 2516
4. ‘Now the truth emerges: how the US fuelled the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq,’ The Guardian Online, June 2015, Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/03/us-isis-syria-iraq
5. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/05/19/world/middleeast/isis-finances.html?_r=1

 The header image was initially posted by digitalain, and can be found here

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