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A Muslim is a person who practices a religion of Islam which is monotheistic and based on the sacred book, the Koran. Muslims regard the Koran as the word of God as it was dictated to Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel and written down in the Arabic language. They also practice the teachings of Muhammad, which are recorded in Hadith and, with accounts of his daily practice, called the Sunna, constitute the main source of guidance for Muslims apart from the Koran. In Arabic, the word ‘Muslim’ means ‘the one who submits to God’. In the Arabic world, there exists the custom which lies in the fact, when a woman or a man, or everyone, who is above fifteen years of age, miss numerous Jumu’ahs (Friday prayer) without solid excuse, then he/she is no longer thought out to be a Muslim. Also, one more gnostic thing is that when Muslims accept anyone as a Muslim on the assumption of the pronouncement of shahadah – the declaration of faith. The faith of Muslims is guided by the five Pillars of Islam which are daily prayers, keeping the fast during Ramadan, Ramadan itself as a month of fasting, almsgiving and hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca, which is accomplished at least once during lifetime.
Nowadays, the situation in the Muslim world is rather tense, because of the conflict between various militant organizations and groups. The leading position among such organizations is taken by the Islamic State with abbreviations such as ISIS and ISIL (Cockburn, 2014). Thoughts and opinions about ISIS are discrepant, but the majority of Muslims is against the severe cruelty which is promoted by the organization in all spheres of life. To understand what ISIS is and which material and spiritual values are practiced by this militant organization, it is worthy to learn about the characteristic features of ISIS itself.
ISIS is the Salafi extremist group, based mostly in such countries as Iraq and Syria. The word ‘Salafi’ in this definition brightly reflects the main aim of ISIS, because it means a member of a strictly orthodox sect, consisted of Sunni Muslims; the sect advocates the return to the early Islam of Sunna and the Koran. The origin and the beginning of the group’s activities date back to the first decade of the 21st century; Abu Musab al-Zargawi – the first leader of the organization – began to be occupied with the training of extremist fighters. Those extremist fighters, headed by Zargawi, became the main force of the rebellion in Iraq during the period of the occupation by the USA. The first name of the group was Jama’at al-Tawhid wa’al-Jihad, the name under which they acted for the establishment of a caliphate. Then, when the allegiance had been sworn to the extremist organization Al Qaeda, ISIS began to act in Iraq under the name of Al Qaeda (“The Islamic State”).
In the course of time, the activity of ISIS was met with a rebuff from the side of community and the combined forces of the USA and Iraq. That backlash caused the decline of the organization till the time, when ISIS started to recommence its activities by means of participation in the civil war of Syria. During 2013, the group witnessed one more change of its name, which, at those days, turned out to be the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (“The Islamic State”). During 2013-2014, ISIS occupied some territories in Iraq and Syria. At the same time, while expanding own territory of influence, ISIS attracted worldwide attention through beheadings of prisoners from Western countries and the big amount of foreign soldiers. As the militant organization, the Islamic State used extremist measures towards forces of Syrian government and rebel factions, military forces of Iraq and pesh merga of Kurdistan. A lot of human lives was taken away and it was not only military men, but also the civilian population. On the basis of those events, in autumn 2014, the USA forces started air strikes against ISIS.
The history of the Islamic State can be divided into three periods, where each period is marked with the presidency of the separate leader. ISIS began to act under the leadership of Zargawi, who headed the group till 2006, the year of his death. This event was contiguous to the first change of the organization’s name from JTJ to AQI. The second period of ISIS continued from 2006 to 2011 and was marked as the period of decline. The third period of ISIS has started in 2012 and carries on today (“The Islamic State”).
Abu Musab al-Zargawi, the first leader of ISIS, was a terrorist with Jordanian roots. He began his extremist ‘career’ having an intention to join the military operation, against the occupation by the Soviet Union, in Afghanistan, but as that conflict had ended when he arrived, Zargawi started his way in Peshawar – the city, which borders with Pakistan. There was the city, where Zargawi became the follower of a Salafi sect ideology together with his extremist mentor Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi. Later, Zargawi with his mentor travelled to Jordan and were put in custody there on the grounds of plots, directed towards the dynasty of Hashemites. In 1999, Zargawi was set at liberty; this event was observed by Osama bin Laden. Although, interests of bin Laden and Zargawi were appreciably different, taking into account the fact that bin Laden had the aim to fight against ‘distant enemies’ – the USA, while Zargawi had the goal to fight against Israel and the government of Jordan, the so-called ‘close enemies’.
The first militant operation of ISIS, at that time JTJ, was organized in Jordan and consisted in murder of Laurence Foley – the American officer. Though, after the invasion of the USA in Iraq, ISIS began to be active there (“The Islamic State”). JTJ very quickly reached the reputation owing to its ‘targets’, consisted of native Iraqis and aid workers. The violent tactics of JTJ were marked, at the same time, with beheading videos, kidnapping and murders of foreigners in Iraq. In 2004, Zargawi formally joined the organization of Al Qaeda and renamed his own group as Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn Zargawi, known as AQI in the English language.
At first, a lot of Sunnis in Iraq was disposed to AQI, but then extremely violent tactics of the organization became the reason which caused the alienation of potential supporters (Cockburn, 2014). Zargawi was killed during the American airstrike in 2006. From this time, in the history of ISIS, was the period of decline. The new head of AQI became Abu Ayub al-Masri. During his direction, Masri persuaded several other militant groups to merge into AQI and after this amalgamation, he announced about the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). The policy of ISI didn’t change a lot and it caused the cooperation of the Anbar Awakening, a movement of Sunnis in the province of Anbar, with the U.S. forces in order to resist to AQI. This resistance was rather effective and led to the decline of the group (Cockburn, 2014).
The third period of ISIS history dates back in 2012; this time ISIS is headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who continues to support the extremist activity of his predecessors. The absence of foreign security gave the possibility for ISIS to return to its flourishing. For example, AQI used the Syrian Civil War by ways of the training site and as a tool for expansion. In 2013, Baghdadi announced about the conduct of operations in Syria and changed the group’s name once more, to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). ISIS conquered a large number of territories, starting from January 2014, when the group, at the first time, struck Iraqi forces and gained control over Fallujah. In June 2014, after the considerable territorial gains in Syria and Iraq, the organization was renamed as the Islamic State (IS), announcing the establishment of a caliphate with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the caliph (“The Islamic State”).
In November 2014, the territorial gains of ISIS slowed down. Since its beginning, the group tried to create a caliphate, using the extreme and violent interpretation of Islam and Shariah. At the earliest stage of its activities, the organization was aimed at such specific goals as driving foreign forces from Iraq; though, with own growth, ISIS became able to focus on the establishment of the caliphate.
The Islamic State funded itself owing to the sales of oil, firstly stealing it in order to sell and today exploiting oil refineries, which have been taken over by the group. The Islamic State also receives the part of its financing from foreign donors and such unlawful actions as smuggling and kidnapping. The organization relies on networks, based in Syria, in order to funnel money, goods and people into its territory (“The Islamic State”).
The external influences of ISIS are not so broad; the group had a complex relationship with Al Qaeda, being both an ally and later an affiliate with the latter. Zargawi’s reign wasn’t marked with the involvement of external influences at all; the period of ISIS decline witnessed the collaboration with Iran, concerning the issues connected with the funding and the supply of weapons. The third and present period of ISIS, which is expansion under Baghdadi, saw the reversion of the policy of the Iranian government. Earlier, the Iranian government helped the group, now it offers assistance to the USA counterterrorism efforts against the Islamic State (“The Islamic State”).
Tactics and targets of ISIS were aimed at coalition and American forces during the Iraqi war; ISIS also fought against Sunni Iraqis and Shiites, who spoke out against the group. When coalition forces were withdrawn from the country, ISIS focused on targeting Maliki government. Finally, the Islamic State expanded into Syria and started to establish their own state, targeting, at this time, other rebel factions in Syria and every group or individuals, who dared to resist rules set up by the group. ISIS is also engaged in kidnapping foreigners in Syria, mostly these foreigners are aid workers and journalists and, in demanding ransom from the home countries of the kidnapped. When the organization understands that it can’t get a ransom, then it resorts to the public execution of captives (“The Islamic State”).
ISIS never dealt with legal politics, but the paradoxical thing here is the group tried to establish their separate state with own rules and regulations. Since the Islamic State has taken over the territories in Syria and Iraq, it creates own models of government regime with its further adaptation within the occupied territories (“The Islamic State”). The political activities of the militant organization began from the period of its decline. In 2006, AQI focused on the idea of the establishment of institutional infrastructure appointed for a Shariah-run Iraq. Such significant step was made by the group in order to gain more support by means of positioning itself as more Iraqi. The organization formed ISI in an attempt to set order in the controlled regions, giving religious instructions and organizing a cabinet, including among others even the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. Although, the whole intention, connected with a state, failed in 2007 because of its inability to provide the sufficient level of security or to force into the severe and extreme interpretation of Shariah.
During the period of expansion under Baghdadi, which carries on till today, the group formed the governmental structures on the territory of the controlled areas. On the level of ‘state’, there exist three councils which rule over the work of government. Such three councils are the following: the Security and Intelligence Council, the Shura Council and the Military Council. The Shura Council consists of a cabinet which, in its turn, includes from nine to eleven members. Baghdadi, being ‘caliph’, controls religious and temporal life in the Islamic State. ISIS always establishes own administrative control on the occupied territories; such administration lies in the foundation of an outreach center and the simplest court system. Often, the group takes control even over vital basics like water treatment plans, bakeries etc (“The Islamic State”).
ISIS not once worked with the other militant groups; the most notable was the cooperation of the group with Al Qaeda, but AQ disowned the Islamic State taking into account their ideological differences. Since that time, the organization had few relationships with other smaller groups and, instead to fight against other extremist organizations, it tries to occupy some new areas in Syria and Iraq and set there their own rules of administration. The group uses various languages in order to spread its beliefs and persuasions. ISIS shoots the professional recruitment videos; at the same time, it also possesses the online magazine which one can read in English and other European languages. This magazine, titled ‘Dabiq’, consists of the administrative information and articles, which tell about the establishment of the Caliphate and its religious basis.
The separate interest in the Islamic State is given to the figure of its leader – Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In a short space of time, he managed to take his stand as the number one jihadi leader in the world. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is also known under the name of Abu Dua, emerged and consolidated his position as the person who determines the future of Syria, Iraq and the Middle East (Cockburn, 2014). As the considerable personage on the political arena of militant organizations, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi begins to appear from shadow in 2010. After the death of the previous AQI leader, al-Baghdadi headed the organization and turned it into well-organized structure which even issued detailed reports with the indications of operations, held on territories of every province in Iraq. Having considered the reason of his predecessors’ destruction, being the AQI leader, al-Baghdadi paid attention to the extreme secrecy and only the limited number of people knew about his location. Prisoners of AQI tell that they never saw him and, when they had the possibility to see him, that he had the mask on his face. With the advantage got from the civil war in Syria, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ordered some fighters to come to Syria for the support of Jabhat al-Nusra. Al-Baghdadi moves very quickly in the direction which will give him an opportunity to establish himself in the capacity of Emir in the Islamic State (Cockburn, 2014).
ISIS is a militant organization and everyone understands that its activities are illegal. Moreover, the armed struggle, to gain new territories and establish own laws, affects not only military men, but civilian population as well – ordinary people who suffer from the extremist views of members of the Islamic State. ISIS has its supporters, but, at one time, the majority of Muslims denies that the group is a part of Islam. It is worthy to mention several reasons which cause the denial and also to emphasize how this denial is expressed.
The Islamic State has introduced not a little discord of people’s sense towards Islam. The majority of Muslims interprets the Koran peacefully, but taking into consideration the fact that the group perpetrates more and more dreadful and ruthless murderous deeds, the point, that the Koran allows to interpret its teachings by means of cruelty and mercilessness, has started to make progress. Here, it emerges the question whether the Koran is just a matter of interpretation, when it is only the line which divides an ordinary peaceful Muslim and a member of an extremist organization (Walker, 2015). Although, the Koran cannot be conceived only as a matter of interpretation, because it gives Muslims clear-cut instructions in order to interpret it correctly.
The Koran clearly shows that it includes two types of verses, which are context-dependent and context-independent verses. Context-independent verses are those, which consist of timeless principles and have the possibility to be used to characterize every situation. Context-dependent verses are those, which are adapted to particular situations; such verses cannot be taken out of context and read in isolation. The sacred book of Muslims condemns people who interpret verses of the Koran in the way, which satisfies their own selfish interests and greed.
‘Peace’ is the ultimate aim of Islam and it teaches that there is no place for compulsion in those issues, connected with faith. Islam teaches that Muslims shouldn’t be the instigators of war, but they are allowed to fight defensively. This ‘permission’ is given only to those, against whom military operations are directed, because people, who start a war, are mistaken and, Allah possesses the power to help them and give them the possibility to correct their mistakes (Walker, 2015). Concerning the argument, how Muslims have to treat people with other beliefs, the Koran has the clear answer, which lies in the fact that Allah teaches one to be kind and act fairly towards people who have other convictions, different from those, adopted in Islam.
Having learnt the characteristic features of ISIS as a militant Salafi organization and having come to know the distinctive features of the Koran interpretation, it can be said that just ISIS, in this case, is the group where its members interpret the Koran, paying attention only to their own extremist interests.
There is no reason to have doubts of the fact that the majority of Muslims denies that the ISIS is a part of Islam. This denial is expressed, firstly, by the military resistance, which is put up by the combined efforts of Iraqi and American forces. The aggressive policy of ISIS also meets with a rebuff of those population groups, which live on the territories of Syria and Iraq, but don’t practice the faith of Islam.
The important part of the denial of ISIS as a part of Islam is embraced in the so-called ‘informational opposition’, which is provided through various statements, made by prominent Muslim activists, clerics and scholars. A constellation of famous Muslim figures reprobates the formation of the caliphate by ISIS on the territories, which are under its control in Iraq and Syria. According to the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq, the announcement about the establishment of the caliphate is a mistake, which tarnishes the reputation of Islam. Top clerics, in such countries as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, expressed their anxiety that the group is a menace for peaceful Muslim citizens (“Muslims Against ISIS Part 1: Clerics & Scholars”).
The Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq is strongly concerned with the act, made by ISIS with respect to Mosul – a city in northern Iraq, on the River Tigris, opposite the ruins of Nineveh. The group ordered Iraqi Christians to clear off the city from the presence of the latter till 21 Ramadan 1435 AH. This unlawful order is already executed; in such a way, it’s the first time in the Islamic history when Mosul is free from Iraqi Christians. The Association gave voice to disapproval of such action, which is thought out to be the affront to the innocent by them. The Association also states that these activities of ISIS don’t meet the way, recommended by Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam.
Grand Imam of Egypt’s al Azhar Sheikh Ahmed al Tayeb considers the Islamic State to be the organization, which commits inhuman crimes under the name of the caliphate. He also remarks that the group commits its activities in the name of Islam, which is merciful religion among Muslims and Westerners, humans and animals, believers and atheists. Sheikh Ahmed al Tayeb thinks that ISIS and other similar groups are colonial products, which serve Zionism in its new modification and make schemes in order to ruin the East and break the Arab region to pieces (“Muslims Against ISIS Part 1: Clerics & Scholars”).
Abdul Rahman al Sudais, Imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, speaks about the Islamic State as the group, consisted of ignorant Muslims who misinterpret the veritable sense of Islam by their ghostly actions and create the distorted image of Islam for the rest of the world. The International Union of Muslim Scholars observes that the announcement about the establishment of the caliphate is not enough to create this caliphate, because the caliphate means a lot for all Muslims and to be established it needs the consensus and accidence among all Muslims in the whole world (“Muslims Against ISIS Part 1: Clerics & Scholars”).
Cockburn, P. (2014). Who are ISIS? The rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/who-are-isis-the-rise-of-the-islamic-state-in-iraq-and-the-levant-9541421.html
Walker, A. (2015). Are peaceful Muslims in denial about their religion? The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/are-peaceful-muslims-in-denial-about-their-religion-10084960.html
Muslims Against ISIS Part 1: Clerics & Scholars. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.wilsoncenter.org/islamists/article/muslims-against-isis-part-1-clerics-scholars
The Islamic State. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://web.stanford.edu/group/mappingmilitants/cgi-bin/groups/view/1
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