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Jihadi-Salafism: The Islamic ideology of ISIS

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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.

Next Story

More than 1mn Afghan Children Deprive of Polio Vaccinations Because of Taliban and IS Militants

Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria are the only three countries in the world where polio is still not eliminated and continues to threaten the lives of millions of children

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polio vaccination, taliban, IS
FILE - A child receives polio vaccination drops during an anti-polio campaign in Kabul, Afghanistan. VOA

Some information in this report came from Reuters.

More than 1 million Afghan children, particularly in conflict-stricken regions of the country, were deprived of polio vaccinations in 2018 because of actions taken by Taliban and Islamic State militants, Afghanistan health officials tell VOA.

“Overall, 1.2 million children were deprived of vaccinations in the country,” Dr. Gula Khan Ayoubi, public affairs director of the mass immunization program at the Afghan Ministry of Public Health, told VOA. “And the hope this year is to bring down the number to about 200,000 children. The remaining 200,000 children are living in areas where the Islamic State terror group has a strong presence and does not allow any vaccinations.”

“To a large extent, the southern provinces of Zabul, Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan, and in the east, Kunar, have been affected the most due to the Taliban’s opposition,” Ayoubi added.

Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria are the only three countries in the world where polio is still not eliminated and continues to threaten the lives of millions of children. In 2018, Afghanistan had the most cases of polio among the three, with 21 cases reported across the country.

Afghan officials charge that contentious fighting, unrest, and the Taliban, IS and other armed groups are the main obstacles in the hard-to-reach areas in southern, southeastern and eastern Afghanistan.

polio vaccination, taliban, IS
FILE – An Afghan health worker administers the polio vaccine to a child during a vaccination campaign on the outskirts of Jalalabad on March 12, 2018. VOA

Immunization ban

The Afghan Taliban last week told Reuters the group had banned the activities of World Health Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross in areas under their influence until further notice.

“They [vaccinators] have not stuck to the commitments they had with Islamic emirates, and they are acting suspiciously during vaccination campaigns,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

Polio vaccinators often go house to house to vaccinate children, and they mark the doors of houses where members are not present at the time to ensure the residents are vaccinated at a later date.

The Taliban consider these vaccinators spies for the government and foreign forces, and are sensitive to their presence in areas under their influence.

Conditional agreement

Afghan health officials told VOA this month that they had reached a conditional agreement with the Taliban to continue their vaccination campaign in Taliban-controlled areas.

“With the help of religious leaders and local influential elders, local Taliban commanders have agreed to allow the children under their controlled areas to be vaccinated,” Ayoubi said at the time. “Their condition, however, is that the mass vaccinations take place at a mosque or a similar place. Our vaccinators would not be allowed to go house by house and mark the doors.”

WHO reaction

In a statement issued last week, WHO said the Taliban’s ban would negatively affect its operations across the war-torn country.

“We are deeply concerned that the temporary ban will negatively impact delivery of health services to affected populations,” the organization said. “WHO has been supporting health activities in all parts of Afghanistan, including primary health care, response to health emergencies, vaccination and polio eradication.”

polio vaccination, IS, taliban
FILE – An Afghan health worker vaccinates a child as part of a campaign to eliminate polio, on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, April 18, 2017. VOA

Sanela Bajrambasic, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, also said her organization was seeking clarification from the Taliban and that it would work with the group to find a solution to the issue.

“What we can say at this point is that we have seen the same statement on their website, and we will be seeking to engage bilaterally with the Taliban on it,” she told Reuters.

Negative campaign

Some experts charge that in addition to militant groups, negative campaigns and rumors that swine are used to prepare the polio vaccine or that it has dangerous side effects have also made it difficult for vaccination campaigns to succeed in rural areas, which contribute to the spread of polio.

“The groups that spread these rumors are those opposing the mass immunization programs,” said Dr. Najib Safi, WHO program manager of health system development. “These groups have always been trying to confuse people. In 2016, Afghan religious scholars decreed that it is permissible to use the polio vaccine. In addition to that, there are Islamic decrees from Egypt’s al-Azhar University, [Saudi Arabia’s] Jeddah and India’s Deobandi Islamic school that the polio vaccine is permissible to administer.”

“Polio, and all other immunizing vaccines that are being administered to children, have no side effects. There are no links between the polio vaccine and impotency,” Safi added.

Dr. Alam Shinwari, a medical expert who follows health-related developments, including polio in Afghanistan, charges that public awareness is the key to overcoming this issue.

ALSO READ: India’s Success in Polio-Free World, the Most Significant Achievements in Public Health

“Polio is mainly endemic in areas around the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, where traditional conservative religious tribes are residing, who have been influenced by their local religious scholars and local traditions beliefs that have negatively impacted their perceptions toward polio vaccination,” Shinwari said.

“To overcome such barriers, we need to increase the level of public awareness by involving local religious scholars and imams, local educational experts, and finally, local leaders and elders. They have significant influence among people in tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan and can help overcome this problem,” he said. (VOA)