The speed and rapidity with which the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was established occupying a large chunk of territory, in Iraq and Syria, including Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, was really amazing and mind boggling. The rulers of this State exercise full administrative and political control and execute all state functions in the territories occupied by them. It appears that they have stabilized themselves and it will be difficult to dislodge them from the territories under their control.

The founders of ISIS claim that they are strictly adhering to the commands of the Qur’an and the methodology of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) while implementing the basic tenets and Shariah of Islam. Let us dispassionately examine the authenticity and validity of this claim.

The ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been succinctly summed up by Bernard Haykal, a leading authority on Islam. He states that, “the group is trying to recreate the earliest days of Islam and is faithfully reproducing the norms of war.” He further states that, “what is striking about them is not just the literalism but also the seriousness with which they read their texts. There is an assiduous, obsessive seriousness that Muslims don’t have normally.” Hence the main ideology of ISIS is to revive the practices of the tribal culture of the 7th century, which they assert were used by the Prophet (saw)- in the incipient stage of the foundation of Islam, such as slavery, sex with female slaves was legitimate, killing of captives captured during the course of a war, crucifixion and revenge against individuals and enemy tribes. Further, they want revival of the Caliphate (Khilafat) and predict the imminent occurrence of the Apocalypse or Yaumul Qiamah or the Day of Resurrection (Graeme Wood: What ISIS really wants, The Atlantic, March 2015)

The founders of the Islamic State ignore the fact that these were tribal practices some of which the Prophet (saw) could not reform in the early stage of the development of Islam. However, even in its initial phase of development, Islam emerged as a progressive religion and introduced many significant reforms in tribal society. For instance, women were given the right to property, granted freedom of speech and equal rights to grant protection to an acquaintance in distress as enjoyed by men. The Prophet’s daughter, Zainab, used this right to give protection to her polytheist husband Abul As. Islam abolished usury or exorbitant interests on loans. One of the most significant achievements of Islam was to abolish and dispense with the institution of priesthood which is still prevalent in most other religions. Similarly many other evil practices in the tribal society were abolished within the territory under the jurisdiction of the Islamic state of Madinah.

The rulers of ISIS assert that the following are the genuine Islamic practices which must be vigorously pursued:

  1. Islam Rejects Peace as a Matter of Principle;
  2. Forcible Conversion of Non-Muslims to Islam;
  3. Revival of Slavery;
  4. Crucifixion;
  5. The Institution of Caliphate;
  6. The Apocalypse;
  7. Apostasy (Takfeer );
  8. Other Crazy Ideas Advanced by founders of the Islamic State.


  1. Islam Rejects Peace as a matter of Principle: This perverts the fundamental principle of the mission of Islam which is renowned as a religion of peace, compassion and justice. It is an inconceivable travesty of truth. This is a blatantly false statement not supported by the Qur’an and the Traditions of the Prophet (saw). On the contrary, the Qur’an categorically states that “so long as they honour the treaty they have entered with you, have faith in them, Allah loves the righteous”. (At-Taubah (9), Verse 7). The Prophet (saw) signed the Treaty of Hudaibiya in 6th Hijri which even contained some unfavourable clauses. He had declared Jews as citizens of the Islamic state established in Madinah and granted them equal rights with the Muslim citizens. The Prophet was designated in the Qur’an as “Mercy unto world” and not as “Tyrant unto world” which according to ISIS leaders he was. The Prophet (saw) strictly adhered to the principle of peace and invariably followed it. This is evident from the fact that he did not initiate any aggressive war except against the Jews of Khyber who had conspired with the polytheists of Makkah, in the Battle of Uhad, to destroy the state of Madinah. Most of the wars were imposed upon him by polytheists of Makkah. Bernard Haykal incorrectly states that “it is true that all Muslims acknowledge that Muhammad’s earliest conquests were not tidy affairs”. Unfortunately he has not cited any example. The conquest of Makkah was a bloodless affair where the Prophet declared general amnesty to all whether they had accepted Islam or not. The Non-Muslims were allowed to participate in the Battle of Hunain and also received their share of the spoils of war.
  2. Forcible conversion of people to Islam: A large number of Non-Muslims have been forcibly converted to Islam by ISIS. This contravenes the basic principle of Islam. The Qur’an categorically states “No compulsion in religion,” (Al-Baqarah (2) :verse 256). The Prophet Muhammad (saw) strictly adhered to this divine command. He conveyed the message but did not force any one to convert to Islam even after the conquest of Makkah. The peaceful missionary role of Islam was stressed by a distinguished scholar, Thomas Arnold, who stressed that “even where the Muslims ruled there was no complaint of any organized attempt to force the acceptance of Islam on Non-Muslims or any systematic execution to stamp out the Christian religion.”
  3. Revival of slavery: The custom of slavery was the norm in the 7th century and even prior to that. It was customary even in the Roman and Persian empires. It is true that the Prophet (saw) did not abolish slavery because of the prevailing practice in the then tribal society. But he did encourage the freedom of slaves. Many of the freed slaves attained prominent positions in Islamic society such as Bilal who became Muezzin (calling people to come to prayer five times a day). The custom of slavery and trade in slave was abolished in a Geneva Convention held in 1926. Abolition of slavery stands for the restoration of human dignity. Islam is committed to it because of its inherent humanitarian nature. Thus the very idea of revival of slavery is reprehensible and denial of the progressive character of Islam. The Prophet (saw) was totally against oppression. He had joined an association called Hilful- Fudul formed in Makkah to prevent the elite of Makkah from committing oppression, tyranny, injustice and bullying against traders and businessmen coming from outside Makkah. He was proud of his association with this organization even after he was divinely commissioned as a Prophet. Finally the Qur’an unambiguously states “Cooperate with each other in performing pious and righteous deeds, do not cooperate in sinful and malicious deeds´(Al-Maeda (5):verse 2).The revival of slavery will be a malicious and repulsive act. The very concept of its revival is repugnant to Islam because it violates principle of human equality which is fundamental to Islam.
  4. Crucifixion: It is totally misleading to state that “the Qur’an specifies crucifixion as the only punishment permitted for enemies of Islam.” This was valid only for the then tribal society provided they were participating in a war Thus, it applied only to the combatants who were involved in the act of war. The civilian population was not to be touched. The terms and conditions for crucifixion prevailing in the seventh century cannot be superimposed in the 21st It is totally irrelevant to even conceive of it in the modern context. Moreover, the Prophet did not apply it after the conquest of Makkah. All the prisoners of war after the Battle of Badar, were released on payment of ransom
  5. The Institution of Caliphate (Khilafat): There is no reference to the institution of Caliphate in the Qur’an. In fact it does not reveal anything about the political system that should govern an Islamic country. The Prophet (saw), in one of his Traditions, did speak about 12 Caliphs (Khulafa), 7 of them are clearly identified including Mahdi, the last of them who is most likely appear just prior to Apocalypse. However, this Hadith (Tradition) clearly indicates that there is no permanency to the institution of Caliphate ( Khilafat). Moreover, Abu Bakar (r.a) who succeeded the Prophet Muhammad (saw), as the ruler of the State of Madinah did not adopt the title of a Caliph. Omar (r.a) adopted the title of Amirul Mominin. His successors Othman and Ali (r.a) were also addressed by the same title. It may be observed that Muslims, across the world, are now divided into various nationalities and sovereign states, each with its own system of government. It is impossible to pool them together into a single nation under the political jurisdiction of a Caliph (Khalifa). The concept is irrelevant in the contemporary context. It amounts to polytheism to suggest that “caliphate is not just a political entity but also a vehicle for salvation.” And to attribute to the Prophet (saw) such a statement that to “ die without pledging allegiance to a caliph is to die a Jahil (ignorant) and in disbelief”, is calumnious. Salvation is subject to observing the commands of Allah (swt) regarding the obligatory rituals with sincerity and devotion and not by offering allegiance or Bayah to a Caliph.
  6. The Apocalypse: It refers to the Day of Reckoning or Resurrection when all the dead bodies will be brought back to life. All the human beings shall have to account for their earthly deeds. The Day of Reckoning is repeatedly stressed in the Qur’an and the Traditions of the Prophet. However, no one knows when it will happen. The Qur’an only reveals that the entire universe will be rudely shaken, mountains will be torn to pieces and the earth will be completely flattened. There is no controversy about the Apocalypse. What is questionable is their prediction about its imminence. It is meaningless to stress about its immediate occurrence because this catastrophic event is entirely in the domain of Allah (swt). No one knows when it will happen. The Prophet warned the people about this cataclysmic event but never predicted its period of occurrence.
  7. Apostasy (Takfeer): The concept of Apostasy or Takfeer, calling a Muslim a non-believer, has been used very loosely and lightly by the ideologues of the ISIS. They cannot condemn any Muslim a Kafir or non-believer if he or she believes in the Unity of Allah, the divine revelations, in all the Prophets commissioned by Allah((swt) and that Muhammad (saw) was the last Prophet, the Qur’an is the last and final revealed book, and in the Day of Resurrection. To call such a person Kafir or Non-believer will be a sinful act. In order to proclaim a Fatwa of Kufr (religious ruling on Apostasy), Islamic scholars have to be very circumspect. They must bear in mind that Allah (swt) has reiterated in the Qur’an that He may forgive all sins except that of Shirk (Joining other gods with Allah (swt) ). IIt will be pertinent for the Muslim theologians to keep in mind the following two Qur’anic verses while issuing a ruling on Takfeer (declaring a Muslim as unbeliever); An-Nisa (4): verse 48: “ Allah does not forgive for partners to be set up with His worship. But He may forgive other sins. It is a grievous sin to associate partners with Allah”; also see verse 116 in An-Nisa); Al-Zumar (39): verse 53 “Say O my servants who have transgressed themselves by sinning do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed Allah forgives all sins (of those who sincerely repent and seek forgiveness). Indeed it is He Who is the forgiving and the merciful”. Remember how the Prophet (saw) tolerated the Munafeqin (Hypocrites) who pretended to be Muslims while they were secretly intriguing to undermine Islam.
  8. Other crazy ideas advanced by the followers of ISIS: One of the prominent ideologues of the Islamic State called upon the Muslims in western countries to find the infidel, smash his head with a rock, poison him, run him over with a car or destroy his crop” even when he has not hurt the Muslims in any way. This is clear incitement to violence which violates the Divine command. The Qur’an categorically states that if you “kill an innocent person you have killed the entire community. If you saved a life you have saved the entire community (Al-Maeda (5) verse 32). The Prophet (saw) and his companions (Sahabi) firmly adhered to this noble principle enunciated in the Qur’an.

There are numerous other bizarre ideas expounded by the leaders of the Islamic State. For instance the Caliph must wage Jihad at least once a year even without any provocation. Obviously they do not appreciate the meaning and significance of Jihad. Maarcel Brosard in his book “Jihad a Commitment to Universal Peace”, wrote about the Prophet’s battle with the enemies of Islam: “It is just in its causes, defensive in its initiative, decent in its proceeding, pacific in its treatment of the conquered enemy.” Thus Jihad cannot be launched unless it is just in its cause.

They make a mockery of Islam when they assert that “to recognize the United Nations and send an ambassador to this organization is polytheism”. It is meaningless and insensible to state that “a Muslim will cease to be a Muslim if he “wears western clothes, shaves his beard, and votes in an election even for a Muslim candidate.” A Muslim is not identified by his/her dress but by his/her deeds. By expounding of the aforesaid weird and irrational ideas the leaders of the Islamic State expose their narrow mindedness and total ignorance of the fundamental principles of Islam as enunciated in the Qur’an and the Traditions of the Prophet (saw).

Islam was a progressive religion in its incipient state and it ought to maintain this character in the modern context. The Prophet (saw) himself initiated the concept of Ijtihad (independent thinking) so that Islam may maintain its progressive character. The Prophet (saw) had realized that with the evolution of human society, it may be observed that the Qur’an and Sunnah (Traditions of the Prophet) may not offer complete guidance in the conduct of human life. He asked Moaz bin Jabl, whom he had appointed Governor of Yemen, as to how he would deal with the problems in such a situation. Moaz bin Jabal said that he would apply his intelligence and ingenuity and make decisions which, while resolving problems of human society, also do not violate the fundamental principles of Islam as enshrined in the Qur’an and Traditions of the Prophet (saw). He agreed with him.

The Prophet (saw) and the four Rightly Guided Caliphs (Khulafa), always preached and practiced a compassionate, just and tolerant Islam. The Prophet was an epitome of tolerance. He allowed the Christians of Najran who had come to meet him to offer their prayer with the Cross facing east right in the Prophet’s Mosque. Omar (ra), the second Caliph, offered generous terms of treaty to the vanquished Christians of Palestine. He allowed them complete freedom to celebrate their festivals with full pomp and pageantry. The Qur’an also encourages Muslims to repel evil with good deeds which may dramatically change the relationship between feuding parties. It proclaims that “the evil deeds and good deeds cannot be equal, repel evil with good deeds, then he, between he and you is enmity will become as though he was a close friend”,( Ham Mim As-Sajdah (41): verse 32).

The leaders of the Islamic State must remember and reflect that Islam was not spread by the sword. It was promoted by generous acts of rulers like Salahuddin Ayyubi. In order to regain control of Palestine the Third Crusade was launched in 1187 by the Pope and rulers of France, Spain and Germany. They were routed by Salahuddin Ayyubi, governor of Egypt, in the battle of Hattin. The leaders of Christian forces, kings, princes, cardinals and bishops fled back to Europe leaving behind their soldiers. Salahuddin Ayyubi treated these soldiers with compassion and generosity and they all voluntarily converted to Islam. It is the humanitarian values of Islam, as preached and practiced by the Prophet (saw), that shall have universal relevance, not the obsolete and inhuman tribal culture of the 7th century. The Muslims should avoid brutal and repulsive actions that cause aversion to Islam. The Prophet (saw) emphasised to“treat the people with ease, do not be hard on them, give them glad tidings, do not fill them with aversion, love each other and do not differ” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir Vol.1, p.503).The Prophet (saw) and his companions displayed love and compassion, justice and honesty, tolerance and peace, and patience and perseverance to attract non-Muslims to Islam. These were the methods used by the Prophet which Muslims should sincerely try to emulate. This Prophetic method conforms to the commands of Allah (swt) as enshrined in the Qur’an.