By Abdelmajid Belrhiti and Badr-Edin El-Hmidi
By Abdelmajid Belrhiti and Badr-Edin El-Hmidi
Ifrane, Morocco – ISIS is believed to have started officially in 2006 with Abu Umar al-Baghdadi as its founding leader. Al-Baghdadi was originally a member of Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi’s militant group. Based on this, ISIS members claim to represent the philosophy of Salafist Jihadists.
In reality, they represent the complete opposite of the philosophy they claim to embody. As they do not represent the Salafist ideology, what are the doctrines they espouse?
ISIS’s ideology is similar to the principles of the Kharijite, which are considered some of the most extreme and dangerous in Islam. This paper explores the meaning of two significant concepts of khilafah [the caliphate] and jihad [struggle] for both ISIS and the mainstream Muslim community. Using al-jihad as a tool of proclamation for reviving the khilafah Islamiyah helps to explain the quick rise of ISIS propaganda, especially across a younger generation. But does ISIS employ the concept of khilafah and jihad the same as the mainstream Sunni Muslim community?
Assuming the reports about ISIS are true, more questions are raised regarding their real goals from such a proclamation. They claim that their purpose is to bring people back to the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, and yet their actions are in direct opposition to this supposed objective. Using the concept of khilafah is only a method to attract people to join their movement, as explained by Yassir al-Qadi. According to hadiths that describe common characteristics of Islam’s most fanatic groups, their speech is often flowery but their actions have nothing to do with Islamic principles.
When searching for a deeper understanding of this group in the Sunnah of the Prophet PBUH, one can easily find a hadith that tells of the general situation of the Muslim community. The Prophet said that the Muslim community would be split into more than seventy groups. One group represents the true Islam, while the others do not. These authentic hadiths specifically describe the most extreme groups whose characteristics can be applied to Kharijites.
Kharijites were a former Muslim group who set themselves apart from Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims with their radicalized ideology. There were many Kharijite movements in the past, but most have dissipated except for Ibadi, the most pacific version of classical Kharijates that still fully operates today. Ibadi can also be applied to any group that resembles Kharijites’ behaviour regarding religious issues. One particular characteristic of Kharijites is their excommunication of any Muslim who commit major sins (kaba’ir) or any Muslim who does not agree with them. This characteristic is the main reason for their split from mainstream Islam ummah and their revolt against caliphs.
Thus, the split of Kharijites from Muslim ummah was the first sect in Islam. The mentality of the classical Kharijites is quite similar to that of the modern Kharijites’ (ISIS). Both use the methodology of a black or white world, meaning you are with or against them. There is no room for disagreement within these fanatic groups; anyone who does not agree with their methodology of interpreting Islamic sharia is automatically threatened.
In fact, Muslims have a tradition of holding different opinions. However, according to the Famous Hanbali scholar Ibn Taymiyya, Kharijites were the first to use excommunication processes against the rest of the Muslim community. Committing sin is viewed by Kharijites as a justifiable reason to excommunicate any Muslim who is not in accordance with their framework of interpreting major Islamic texts. They then find it lawful for them to fight supposed Muslim sinners and kill them.
In this context, it can be argued that they use a perverted system of justice to justify their war against Muslims, whereas mainstream Muslims believe committing a sin should not make Muslims lands a Dar al-Harb (house of war). Hence, it is appropriate to note that the Kharijites have a different understanding of the concept of jihad compared to Sunni Muslims. Likewise, because of the skewed methodology ISIS uses to interpret Islamic texts, they wrongly declare the rise of a caliphate in the twenty-first century as the salvation of Muslims from political chaos.
More importantly, it sounds that both the classical Kharijites and the modern Kharijites (ISIS) have a mutual understanding of khilafah and jihad. For example, ISIS uses the takfiri approach in order to declare war against anyone who is not in accordance with their ideals. It is through this process that they consider all rulers in the Muslim world to be kafirs (unbelievers). ISIS then finds it religiously justifiable for them to fight political leaders and entire nations in effort to force membership into their organization. In the past, the Kharijites’ claims were dangerous because they were not clear to the average Muslim, allowing for ambiguity in interpretation that led to radicalized doctrines and general conflict amongst members. Additionally, they could easily create confusion amongst members of Muslim societies. Their claims of fighting corruption and transgression attracted many people at that time.
ISIS tries to sell the same claims today. When critically considering ISIS’s claims, one is able to see that this group use the same language, concepts, and treatment of religious affairs as classical Kharijites. This may explain the phenomenon of garnering relatively massive support throughout the Muslim world in a considerably short amount of time, especially in regions that are plagued by unstable political, social and economic situations.
We should not ignore the fact that the majority of ISIS’s members are young people, meaning there is an absence of wise leaders who can provide members with necessary pieces of advice to make appropriate decisions. Accordingly, the danger of such a group is tremendous because the young are full of energy but lack critical knowledge of religious affairs or even history from which to learn. They are then easily manipulable by others to fulfil their private goals. These important factors help explain the attractiveness the group holds for young people from across social classes.
However, based on the prophetic hadiths that warn Muslims about extremist groups, most Muslims do not accept the notion of a caliphate revival at the hands of a fanatic group that only distorts the image of Islam. Many hadiths of the Prophet clearly state a detailed description of the most dangerous group that could arise amongst Muslims. In one of these hadiths, the Prophet predicts that this cult will fluctuate in power until the Day of Judgment. It is therefore not surprising in the modern era to see a small radicalized group emerge, proclaiming the revival of the caliphate.
As has been noted by modern Muslim scholars, ISIS leaders have wrongly announced the reestablishment of the caliphate in the modern day because of a misinterpretation of the khilafah concept. Technically speaking, there are many conditions that must be met in order to establish the khilafah rule. One of the conditions to re-establish the caliphate is unachievable in the modern era: to be convened by ahl al-hal wal `aqd (those who have binding authority). Therefore when al-Baghdadi declares himself as a caliph from al-Mosul Mosque, Muslims are correct in questioning the justification for his self-proclaimed authority.
In the past, appointing the caliph was done by ahl al-hal wal `aqd. Today there is a massive amount ambiguity associated with the correct identification of ahl al-hal wal `aqd. This is explains how al-Baghdadi was appointed while a major division in the Muslim world questioned his authority. An open letter from Muslim scholars to the ISIS leader reprimands him saying, “It is forbidden in Islam to declare a caliphate without consensus from all Muslims.” 
The same resounding message has been delivered by Ahmad al-Rayssoni, a Moroccan scholar who critiques al-Baghdadi’s appointment. He discredits those who appointed him because he believes they could not have achieved a consensus in order for the caliphate to be convened. The open letter also stresses that, “Jihad in Islam is a defensive war. It is not permissible without the right cause, the right purpose and without the right rulers to conduct.”
One could conclude that the rise of ISIS is a continuation of the fanatic classical Kharijites. In light of current political issues in Iraq and Syria, one can notice the similarity between the classical Kharijites, who appeared at the time of Imam Ali, and ISIS. In addition, one can also recognize the similarity of the two groups with the beheading of Western journalists and the killing and torturing of innocent people. Both Shi’ite and Sunni sects oppose their ideology and their understanding of Islam.
For the sake of achieving their political purposes, ISIS does not differentiate between Muslims and non-Muslims, men and women, adults and children. These acts are not in accordance with Islamic teachings regarding the rules of jihad. Among these rules is the prohibition on forcefully converting non-Muslims to Islam, as the Prophet and his successors did. Unfortunately, ISIS opposes the principles of jihad when they kill for no reason. Their actions clearly indicate that this new Kharijite group has misinterpreted the concepts of jihad and khilafah.
Edited by Elisabeth Myers and Jack Stanovsek
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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Abdelmajid Belrhiti and Badr-Edin El-Hmidi are Master students at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco.
 . Sh. Yasir Qadi : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozxC1TbGZQ0.
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. The Open Letter, P. 1.
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