Ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Part of a series on the
| Islamic State of Iraq
and the Levant history
Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (1999–2004)
Mujahideen Shura Council (2006)
Islamic State of Iraq (2006–13)
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (2013–14)As "Islamic State" (June 2014–present)
The ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Daesh), which controls territory primarily in Iraq and Syria, has been described as being based on Salafism, Salafi Jihadism, and also on Islamism and Wahhabism.
Important doctrines of ISIL include its belief that it represents the restoration of the caliphate of early Islam, and that all Muslims are required to pledge allegiance to it; that a "defiled" Islam must be purged of apostasy, often with bloody sectarian killings, that the final Day of Judgment by God is near and will follow the defeat of the army of "Rome" by ISIL; that a strict adherence to following the precepts "established by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers" is necessary, surpassing even that of other Salafi groups.
Experts disagree on the importance of ideology in ISIL. According to Cole Bunzel, not all members of ISIL are aware of the ideology of the group they support. On the other hand, Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, who specializes in the study of ISIL, argues that many Western observers fail to understand the passionate attachment of ISIL—including to its rank and file—to religion doctrine: “Even the foot soldiers spout" Quranic verses "constantly. They mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion, and they do it all the time.”
A Salafi based ideology
The ideology of Islamic State is based on Salafi-Jihadism, "a distinct ideological movement in Sunni Islam", according to Cole Bunzel of the Brookings Institution and Graeme Wood of The Atlantic. The Guardian defines the organisation's ideology as "generally viewed as identical to al-Qaida’s or the Saudi version of Salafism – adherence to fundamental Islamic tenets."
Tenets of ISIL ideology
Salafi Jihadists such as ISIL believe that only a legitimate authority can undertake the leadership of jihad, and that the first priority over other areas of combat, such as fighting non-Muslim countries, is the purification of Islamic society. For example, ISIL regards the Palestinian Islamist Sunni group Hamas as apostates who have no legitimate authority to lead jihad and it regards fighting Hamas as the first step before confrontation with Israel.
Names used to describe the group
USA Today writes that "The Islamic State is a group of Sunni militants" that "believes in the strict enforcement of Sharia law." According to some observers, ISIL emerged from the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, the first post-Ottoman Islamist group dating back to the late 1920s in Egypt. In a conversation with a Western journalist (Thomas L. Friedman), a deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia (Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud), described ISIL's message to Saudi and other Arab Muslims as: “The West is trying to enforce its agenda on you — and the Saudi government is helping them — and Iran is trying to colonize the Arab world. So we — ISIS — are defending Islam.”
However, other sources trace the group's roots to Wahhabism. The New York Times wrote:
For their guiding principles, the leaders of the Islamic State ... are open and clear about their almost exclusive commitment to the Wahhabi movement of Sunni Islam. The group circulates images of Wahhabi religious textbooks from Saudi Arabia in the schools it controls. Videos from the group’s territory have shown Wahhabi texts plastered on the sides of an official missionary van.
ISIL aims to return to the early days of Islam, rejecting all innovations in the religion, which it believes corrupts its original spirit. It condemns later caliphates and the Ottoman Empire for deviating from what it calls pure Islam, and seeks to revive the original Wahhabi project of the restoration of the caliphate governed by strict Salafist doctrine. Following Salafi-Wahhabi tradition, ISIL condemns the followers of secular law as disbelievers, putting the current Saudi government in that category.
According to The Economist, dissidents in the ISIL capital of Al-Raqqah report that "all 12 of the judges who now run its court system ... are Saudis". Saudi Wahhabi practices also followed by the group include the establishment of religious police to root out "vice" and enforce attendance at salat prayers, the widespread use of capital punishment, and the destruction or re-purposing of any non-Sunni religious buildings. Bernard Haykel has described al-Baghdadi's creed as "a kind of untamed Wahhabism". Alastair Crooke describes ISIS as adopting Wahhabi "puritanism," but denying the "Saudi Kingdom any legitimacy as founders of a State, as the head of the Mosque, or as interpreter of the Qur'an. All these attributes ISIS takes for itself."
The BBC defines the group's ideology as "radical Islamist," that "aims to establish a "caliphate", a state ruled by a single political and religious leader according to Islamic law, or Sharia." Furthermore, the BBC adds that "IS members are jihadists who adhere to an extreme interpretation of Sunni Islam and consider themselves the only true believers. They hold that the rest of the world is made up of unbelievers who seek to destroy Islam, justifying attacks against other Muslims and non-Muslims alike."
"Global Jihadist ideology"
Sunni critics, including Salafi and jihadist muftis such as Adnan al-Aroor and Abu Basir al-Tartusi, say that ISIL and related terrorist groups are not Sunnis, but modern-day Khawarij—Muslims who have stepped outside the mainstream of Islam—serving an imperial anti-Islamic agenda.
Ideological implications of the Caliphate
Having declared itself to be a new Caliphate, and al-Baghdadi to be the new Caliph, ISIL has declared support for itself obligatory for all Muslims. Al-Baghdadi has declared "We inform the Muslims that, with the announcement of the caliphate, it has become obligatory for all Muslims to give Bay'ah and support him", and "O Muslims in all places. Whoso is able to emigrate to the Islamic State, let him emigrate. For emigration to the Abode of Islam is obligatory". This hold true for all other jihadi groups including Al-Qaeda which (ISIL believes) has lost its reason for existing independently.
According to Hayder al Khoei, the central importance of the restoration of the caliphate of early Islam to ISIL's philosophy is symbolised by the Black Standard ISIS has adopted, a variant of the legendary battle flag of Muhammad displaying the Seal of Muhammad within a white circle, with the phrase above it, "There is no God but Allah".
Without a caliphate, there can be no offensive jihad, according to traditional Islamic law. According to jihadist preacher Anjem Choudary, “Hitherto, we were just defending ourselves,” but now ISIL can fight to the forcible expansion into countries that are ruled by non-Muslims. Waging of war to expand the caliphate is an essential duty of the caliph, so according to its ideological supporters like Anjem Choudary, ISIL is not just allowed to fight offensively but forbidden not to.
Importance of Salafism
Author Graeme Wood has noted the importance of the "governing precepts that were embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers", from which ISIL insists it "cannot waver".
Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail.
While other jihadis are salafist in doctrine, ISIL been more exacting in following early practices by "embrac[ing] slavery and crucifixion without apology," as well as a jizya tax on Christians.
Takfiring (declaring self-proclaimed-Muslims apostates who must be killed) large numbers of Muslims has been a point of difference between itself and other jihadis such as Al-Qaeda. ISIL is "committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people". Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of ISIL predecessor group al‑Qaeda in Iraq from roughly 2003 to 2006, expanded "the range of behavior" that could make large number of self-proclaimed Muslims infidels (kafir) -- including "in certain cases, selling alcohol or drugs, wearing Western clothes or shaving one’s beard, voting in an election—even for a Muslim candidate—and being lax about calling other people apostates".
One example of the willingness to takfir is a statement not only calling for the revival of slavery (specifically of Yazidi) but takfiring any Muslim who disagreed with it.
Yazidi women and children [are to be] divided according to the Shariah amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operations … Enslaving the families of the kuffar and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Koran and the narrations of the Prophet … and thereby apostatizing from Islam.
Importance of violence
ISIS has been noted for what most have called "appalling" or "horrifying" brutality, its release of videos and photographs of beheadings, shootings, caged prisoners being burnt alive or submerged gradually until drowned. Among other effects, the group's mass killings and publicizing of them led to a split between it and Al Qaeda.
ISIL's violence is "not some whimsical, crazed fanaticism, but a very deliberate, considered strategy", according to some analysts, who often quote a 2004 work published online entitled Management of Savagery (Idarat at Tawahoush), which is described by several journalists and analysts as influential to ISIL, and intended to provide a strategy to create a new Islamic caliphate,
Management of Savagery asserts that “one who previously engaged in jihad knows that it is naught but violence, crudeness, terrorism, deterrence and massacring.” While "savage chaos" is unpleasant it has to be remembered that even "the most abominable of the levels of savagery" are better "than stability under the order of unbelief," i.e. any regime other than ISIL.
One observer has described ISIL's publicizing of its mass executions and killing of civilians as part of "a conscious plan designed to instill among believers a sense of meaning that is sacred and sublime, while scaring the hell out of fence-sitters and enemies." Another describes it purpose as to "break" psychologically those under its control "so as to ensure their absolute allegiance through fear and intimidation", while generating "outright hate and vengeance" by its enemies.
One difference between ISIL and other Islamist and jihadist movements, including al-Qaeda, is the group's emphasis on eschatology and apocalypticism—that is, a belief in a final Day of Judgment by God, and specifically, a belief that the arrival of one known as Imam Mahdi is near. ISIL believes that it will defeat the army of "Rome" at the town of Dabiq, in fulfilment of prophecy. Following its interpretation of the Hadith of the Twelve Successors, ISIL also believes that after al-Baghdadi there will be only four more legitimate caliphs.
The noted scholar of militant Islamism William McCants writes:
References to the End Times fill Islamic State propaganda. It's a big selling point with foreign fighters, who want to travel to the lands where the final battles of the apocalypse will take place. The civil wars raging in those countries today [Iraq and Syria] lend credibility to the prophecies. The Islamic State has stoked the apocalyptic fire. [...] For Bin Laden's generation, the apocalypse wasn't a great recruiting pitch. Governments in the Middle East two decades ago were more stable, and sectarianism was more subdued. It was better to recruit by calling to arms against corruption and tyranny than against the Antichrist. Today, though the apocalyptic recruiting pitch makes more sense.
Women and sex roles
ISIL publishes material directed at women. Although women are not allowed to take up arms, media groups encourage them to play supportive roles within ISIL, such as providing first aid, cooking, nursing and sewing skills, in order to become "good wives of jihad".
A document entitled Women in the Islamic State: Manifesto and Case Study, released 23 January 2015 by the media wing of ISIL's all-female Al-Khanssaa Brigade, (issued in Arabic and not translated by ISIL but by an anti-Islamist Quilliam Foundation) emphasized the paramount importance of marriage and motherhood (as early as nine-years-old) for women. Women should live a life of "sedentariness", fulfilling their "divine duty of motherhood" at home: "Yes, we say ‘stay in your houses,’ ....." Under "exceptional circumstances," women may leave home—doctors, teachers, women studying Islam are exempt from confinement, as are women if they are needed to fight jihad and ordered to do so by religious leaders when there are not enough men around to protect the country from enemy attack.
In education, the document author envisions a system where girls complete their formal schooling by age 15. Women are encouraged to study, provided the content is not "worldly" knowledge, but religious, for example Shari'ah, (Islamic law). Women should not study
these worthless worldly sciences in the farthest mountains and the deepest valleys, ... She travels, intent upon learning Western lifestyle and sitting in the midst of another culture, to study the brain cells of crows, grains of sand and the arteries of fish!
If instead she studies fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), "there is with no need for her to flit here and there to get degrees and so on, just so she can try to prove that her intelligence is greater than a man’s."
The treatise decries Western feminism and the blurring of lines between the roles of each sex, which has caused Muslims to forget how to worship God properly. “Women are not presented with a true picture of man”, and men have become emasculated.
Equality for women is criticized on the grounds that
"Women gain nothing from the idea of their equality with men apart from thorns ... Under 'equality' they have to work and rest on the same days as men even though they have ‘monthly complications’ and pregnancies and so on, in spite of the nature of her life and responsibilities to their husband, sons and religion."
Following the announcement of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIL's predecessor) in 2006, there was much celebration on Jihadist websites. A number of popular forums added counters that counted the number of days that had passed since the Islamic state’s establishment, with a statement underneath: "[a certain number of] days have passed since the announcement of the Islamic State and the [Muslim] community’s coming hope…and it will continue to persist by the will of God." However, outside of jihadists online, it was not considered by people as an official state. Abu Umar al-Baghdadi and Abu Hamza al-Muhajir both insisted that the Islamic State of Iraq was not simply a new name for Al Qaeda in Iraq, but was an actual state. When other Iraq-based Salafi factions like the Islamic Army in Iraq refused to recognize it as a state and give it their allegiance, Abu Umar al-Baghdadi called them “sinners”.
U.S. Secretary Of State John Kerry said in statement that "[ISIL] is not Islamic", and denied it was a state, instead calling it a terrorist organization. Neither governments nor peoples recognize it as legitimate government.
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