The Obligation of Jihad
“Allah hath granted a grade higher to those who strive and fight with their goods and persons than to those who sit (at home). Unto all (in Faith) hath Allah promised good. But those who strive and fight hath He distinguished above those who sit (at home) by a special reward,” Quran Chapter 4: The Women, verse 95
Graeme Wood’s The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State reminds us of something that ought to be obvious: Islamic State is very Islamic. “The reality is,” Wood wrote, “that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic.” “The notion that religious belief is a minor factor in the rise of the Islamic State,” he observes, “is belied by a crushing weight of evidence that religion matters deeply to the vast majority of those who have travelled to fight.”
Pankaj Mishra, someone so pro-Islam it must hurt. Someone so pro-Islam that he is in complete denial about the very real effect of the ideology upon its devotees. Someone so pro-Islam the BBC would inevitably want to exploit his thinking.
We’ve already had a look at Pankaj Mishra’s first outing on Book of the Week and concluded that it’s no coincidence that his pro-Islam, anti-Trump, anti-Brexit, anti-Hindu rhetoric gets pride of place on the BBC and that perhaps ‘Butterflies and Wheels’ is correct when they conclude about his writing that….‘It’s ugly, nasty, bullying, innuendo-laden stuff…. patronizing clueless nonsense.’
Listening to today’s serving and it just confirms my initial thoughts as we get a determined defence of Islam and the usual narrative that is peddled by the BBC and Muslim activists in the UK trying to distance ISIS from their own radical activities.
What we got was an attempt to airbrush Islam out of the picture as he tried to suggest that Muslim terrorists had no religious intentions but were in fact religiously illiterate and driven by globalisation not religion….there is no scriptural imperative…which kind of ignores the facts on the ground. He tells us that ISIS recruits are all petty criminals with a liking for drink, drugs and women and whose knowledge of Islam is limited to what they can glean from ‘Islam for Dummies’. That’s of course a narrative pushed by the likes of Mehdi Hassan, who as a Shia has no liking for the Sunni ISIS but is himself an Islamist. A narrative that deliberately ignores all the highly educated and devout recruits who head out to Syria to join ISIS….the same sort of people who, had they remained in the UK, would be fêted by the BBC as devout Muslims in need of protection from the Islamophobes.
So all those Muslim terrorists who do it in the name of Islam, all those terrorists who shout Allah Akbar as they pull the trigger, all those Muslims who rush to join a fundamentalist Islamic State, they’re none of them real Muslims.
But again we’ve looked at this many times…and that’s a narrative that’s a huge lie…it has everything to do with Islam and until you accept that truth you will never find a solution.
Salafism today is probably the fastest-growing Islamic movement in the world. The interpretation that Isis applies to Muslim scripture may be exceptional for its savagery – but not for its literalism. Islamic State, in its conceit that it has trampled down the weeds and briars of tradition and penetrated to the truth of God’s dictates, is recognisably Salafist. When Islamic State fighters smash the statues of pagan gods, they are following the example of the Prophet; when they proclaim themselves the shock troops of a would-be global empire, they are following the example of the warriors of the original caliphate; when they execute enemy combatants, and impose discriminatory taxes on Christians, and take the women of defeated opponents as slaves, they are doing nothing that the first Muslims did not glory in.
Such behaviour is certainly not synonymous with Islam; but if not Islamic, then it is hard to know what else it is.
Then how about an expert on ISIS? Could he tell us if the religion of peace is the source of so much trouble? You betcha…
Graeme Wood’s The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State reminds us of something that ought to be obvious: Islamic State is very Islamic.
Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future. In Islamic State’s propaganda, they certainly are. Sayings attributed to Muhammad that foretold how the armies of Islam would defeat the armies of the Cross serve their ideologues as a hall of mirrors. What happened in the Crusades is happening now; and what happens now foreshadows what is to come.
How much does Islamic State actually believe this stuff? The assumption that it is a proxy for other concerns – born of US foreign policy, or social deprivation, or Islamophobia – comes naturally to commentators in the West. Partly this is because their instincts are often secular and liberal; partly it reflects a proper concern not to tar mainstream Islam with the brush of terrorism.
“The reality is,” Wood wrote, “that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic.” The strain of the religion that it was channelling derived “from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam” and was fixated on two distinct moments of time: the age of Muhammad and the end of days long promised in Muslim apocalyptic writings. Members of Islamic State, citing the Quran and sayings attributed to the Prophet in their support, believe themselves charged by God with expediting the end of days. It is their mandate utterly to annihilate kufr: disbelief. The world must be washed in blood, so that the divine purpose may be fulfilled. The options for negotiating this around a table at Geneva are, to put it mildly, limited.
“The notion that religious belief is a minor factor in the rise of the Islamic State,” he observes, “is belied by a crushing weight of evidence that religion matters deeply to the vast majority of those who have travelled to fight.”
When Wood asks Hamza Yusuf, an eminent Berkeley Sufi, to demonstrate the group’s errors by relying only on the texts revealed to the Prophet, he struggles to do so: “Yusuf could not point to an instance where the Islamic State was flat-out, verifiably wrong.” This does not mean that it is right but it does suggest – despite what most Muslims desperately and understandably want to believe – that it is no less authentically Islamic than any other manifestation of Islam.
The achievement of Wood’s gripping, sobering and revelatory book is to open our eyes to what the implications of that for all of us may be.