ISIS is not Islam, nor its own state
The world is outraged by the acts of brutality committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS. The jihadist group has publicly beheaded innocent hostages from the West and Japan and burned alive a captured Jordanian pilot.
Additionally, a group under ISIS in Libya kidnapped and beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians in the country after accusing them of discriminating against Muslim women. It’s even more savage that ISIS is using social networking services to maximize the impact of its brutality.
Ironically, they are not Islamic, nor is the group a state, as its name would suggest. Its members claim that their goal is to reconstruct the seventh century-style caliphate through jihad. But Islam is a monotheistic religion that has its roots in the holy books of the Old and New Testaments and the Quran. Muslims also acknowledge the prophets - including Jesus, Moses, Abraham and Muhammad - the angels, the Last Judgment and the afterlife.
In Islam, the ultimate goal is finding peace in one’s soul through absolute submission to Allah, the one God, who is merciful and benevolent. ISIS, which rejects the basic Islamic tenants of mercy, benevolence and peace, is clearly anti-Islamic.
Although it claims that it is a state, ISIS not a state. It has seized control of some regions in Iraq and Syria, but no member of the international community actually sees the group as a sovereign country. They kidnap innocent people to demand ransom and do not treat their captives in accordance with international law. How can they be called a state?
They are also far from the caliphate from the seventh century. The system, which started after Muhammad died, was about military discipline and the democratic election of leaders through shura, a process of community consultation. It was an era of economic prosperity and equality. Most of all, tolerance toward other religions was the driving force behind the system. That’s why the era of the caliphate was often considered a utopia for the retro-Islamic fundamentalists. But ISIS has frequently committed acts that are clearly in violation of not only the governing philosophy of the Caliphate era, but also the legal system of Shariah, Islamic law.
ISIS seeks participation by other Muslims, too, calling its acts a part of jihad, but that is also problematic. In Islam, there are two types of jihad - the greater jihad (al-jihad al-akbar) and the lesser jihad (al-jihad al-asghar). The first aims to strengthen faith and promote Islam to the world, while the latter is a fight to defend the Muslim community from outside attacks.
If we have to insist, what ISIS is promoting is the lesser jihad, but if the process taints the prestige of Islam and prevents the propagation of the religion, it can never be justified.
Despite worldwide hope, it won’t be easy to defeat ISIS in a short time. Its power is expanding day by day, and the physical retaliations, such as military attacks, cannot root out its origin. ISIS has placed its roots down in wretched societies in failed countries like Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen. Therefore, eradicating ISIS depends on how fast those countries can be normalized and effectively exercise their public authority.
But that is not enough. Most youngsters who join ISIS are often victims of political, economic and social discrimination and violent oppression. So efforts to fundamentally cure those systemic illnesses must be carried out simultaneously.
On the other hand, direct military intervention by the West has its limits. Hasty intervention is a shortcut to rationalize the justification that ISIS members are jihadists who fight against 21st century crusaders. That will only empower ISIS, and its supporters will grow exponentially.
The clash of civilizations that political scientist Samuel Huntington warned about could become a reality. That is why the international community should counter ISIS by first halting its financial supply and exchanging information while focusing on supporting military actions indirectly.
In the end, the key is left in the hands of Arab countries and the Muslim communities there. Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Al-Azhar’s grand imam, who is considered the highest Islamic authority, has said before that ISIS is a foe of God and the prophet.
Among the 1.6 billion-plus Muslim population, reactionary extremists like those in ISIS account for less than 0.01 percent. Leaders of the Arab world and in Islam must find a way to isolate and diminish the presence of these extremist groups. They must remove ISIS with their own hands, as these people came from their society.
The international community’s best countermeasure, then, will be to persuade and encourage them.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 23, Page 31
*The author is a political science professor at Yonsei University.
by Moon Chung-in