Jihadi-Salafism: The Islamic ideology of ISIS


By Nithin Sridhar

A map included by BBC reporter Andrew Hosken in his new book “Empire of Fear: Inside the Islamic State” reveals that the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) has plans to take over large chunks of the world including Indian subcontinent, Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Europe within next five years.

Photo credit: theguardian.com
Photo credit: theguardian.com
Though ISIS’s present sphere of influence is limited to Middle East, the threat it poses to India or the entire world should not be underestimated. If it indeed brings its jihad (religious war) to Indian soil, the government and the people must be ready to face it, challenge it, fight it and defeat it. This is only possible when the ideology from which it derives its strength, which guides its every action, is properly understood.

ISIS—a self-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate

In June 2014, the ISIS declared the revival of Islamic Caliphate and named Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as Caliph Ibrahim. Therefore, when dealing with ISIS, it is important to understand that one is dealing with Islamic Caliphate.

Caliphate is basically a Muslim government headed by a Caliph who is both religious and political head of the state and the leader of the entire Muslim community, and he is also considered as the successor to the Prophet Mohammed.

Therefore, a Caliphate is basically a transnational Islamic state which claims allegiance from all Muslims irrespective of their geographical origins. It also implies a strict implementation of Sharia and Islamic mandate in its controlled area and a thrust on waging a Jihad against all nations and people who are against such a Caliphate and its violent interpretation of Islam.

The revival of Caliphate has been doing the rounds among some sections of Muslim population throughout the last century. The Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, founded in 1928, believed that an Islamic caliphate is needed to unite all Muslims. Its founder Hasan al-Banna has been quoted as saying: “Islam requires that the Muslim community unite around one leader or one head, the head of the Islamic State, and it forbids the Muslim community from being divided among state.”

A similar view has been expressed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the new Caliph of ISIS, who appealed people thus:Those who can immigrate to the Islamic State should immigrate, as immigration to the house of Islam is a duty … Rush O Muslims to your state … This is my advice to you. If you hold to it you will conquer Rome and own the world, if Allah wills

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has further spoken about carrying offensive Jihad to the home territory of unbelievers. He has been quoted as saying: “going after the apostate unbelievers by attacking [them] in their home territory, in order to make God’s word most high and until there is no persecution.

Regarding the violent methods adopted by the ISIS against non-Sunnis and non-Muslims, Joseph Farah, editor in chief of WND says: “Brutality difficult for Westerners to even imagine is the modus operandi of ISIS. It calls for a scorched-earth policy against its enemies—which includes Christians, Shiites, Alawites, Jews, non-believers and all non-Sunnis. ISIS leadership advocates and practices barbarism designed to strike fear into the hearts and minds of its opponents and anyone who doesn’t stand with them in their strict Sharia Sunni code.”

ISIS and the Jihadi-Salafism stream of Islam

The ideology of the ISIS can be classified as “Jihadi-Salafism”, a term coined by scholar Gilles Kepel in 2002. The leaders of ISIS have also used the term by addressing its adherents and supporters as “al-Salafiyya, al-Jihadiyya”. It refers to a particular religious and political ideological movement rooted in Sunni Islam and its extremist reading of the Islamic scriptures.

In the “Islamic State”, Richard Barrett comments: “Aside from a lust for power, the driving ideological force behind The Islamic State comes from ….. fundamentalist canon of Islamic opinion that stretches from the 14th Century scholar Ibn Taymiyya through Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al Wahhab, who died in 1792, to modern day Salafist ideologues. Essentially their interpretation of Islam demands the harsh and absolute rejection of any innovation since the times of the Prophet. They argue that any diversion from puritanical precepts that they draw from a literal reading of the Quran and the Hadith is blasphemy, and must be eradicated. It follows therefore that Shi’ism, Sufism or essentially anything and anyone, that does not conform to their interpretation of Islam, should be destroyed….The Islamic State therefore claims legitimacy for its violence by arguing that all its actions are in the interest of reviving Islam, returning it to its pure form, uniting the Muslim world under truly Islamic rule, and so restoring the dignity and greatness of its people while fulfilling the orders of God.”

This extreme ideological Islamic movement has two components: Jihad and Salafism. Salafism was historically a theological movement within Sunni Islam, which aimed at purifying the Islamic faith. It aimed to do so by returning to the pure form of Islam as practiced by Prophet and by eliminating idolatry and affirming the oneness of God. It considers all those who are perceived as worshiping stones, saints, tombs etc. as “shirk” (idolaters) and hence as deserters of one true religion. They even consider Shia’s as shirks because of their giving importance and reverence to Prophet Mohammed’s family members. Salafism was also intimately related to the extremist Wahhabi movement of Saudi Arabia.

On the other hand, various Jihadi movements emerged during the latter half of 20th century that aimed to establish Islamic rule in Muslim-dominant countries. Further, many jihadi organizations waged “defensive” jihad against what they perceived as oppression by western countries.

ISIS which adheres to Jihadi-Salafism not only practices defensive jihad, but it also propounds “offensive” jihad using which it intends to uproot shirk (idolatry) from the globe. In a 2007 speech, the ISIS Caliph explained the purpose of jihad by quoting a Wahhabi scholar thus:The end to which fighting the unbelievers leads is, no idolater remaining in the world.

Cole Bunzel in “From Paper State to Caliphate: The Ideology of the Islamic State” summarizes the doctrines of ISIS thus:

  1. All Muslims must be associated exclusively with fellow “true” Muslims and disassociate with anyone not fitting the definition of “true” Muslim. (The ISIS considers as “true” Muslim only those who adhere to its Jihadi-Salafism interpretation of Islam)
  2. Failure to rule in accordance with God’s law constitutes unbelief.
  3. Fighting the Islamic State is tantamount to apostasy.
  4. All Shia Muslims are apostates deserving of death.

Further, being rooted in Salafism, ISIS also considers all later interpretations of Islamic scriptures as “bidah” (innovation) and hence un-Islamic. Therefore, ISIS implements sharia in a literal and historical sense as it was practiced in medieval Arabia. It is for this reason that ISIS is also involved in taking women as sex-slaves.

Therefore, if ever the ISIS comes knocking at the doors of India, it is clear that its intentions are to make India a part of its Islamic Caliphate, implement Sharia rule over Indian population and convert or kill all those people who do not adhere to its Jihadi-Salafism brand of Islam. ISIS poses dangers not only to the non-Muslim Indian majority, but also to non-Sunni Muslims present in India. In fact, all those Muslims including Sunni Muslims who do not accept its Caliphate and who do not adhere to its extremist interpretation of Islam would be branded as non-Muslims and punished accordingly.

Hence, it is important for India to recognize ISIS as a legitimate threat from an Islamic Caliphate rooted in literal and violent interpretations of Islam and not undermine it as a threat from a non-religious terrorist organization.