Review: Refuting ISIS: A Rebuttal of Its Religious and Ideological Foundations, by Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi, (Sacred Knowledge press, 2015), £6.95.
Reviewed by Mansur Ali
This is an easy to read book written in clear English prose. Shaykh Muhammad Yaqoubi’s methodology is to present a scholarly robust and yet simple rebuttal of the ISIS methodology without resorting to academic pedantry. Unlike similar books on the abstract subject of terrorism, this book is written by keeping in mind those people whose encounter with ISIS is not a distant news report but their bitter ground reality. The book is to appeal to five types of audiences: (1) the vulnerable Muslim youth who sees in the ISIS propaganda a religiously sanctioned outlet for his machismo; (2) The ISIS neophyte who is in dire need of weaning out of his terrible liminality by demonstrating that the ISIS ‘gangster’ methodology has no place in Islam; (3) the average Muslim who is perplexed by some of the theological and legal challenges brought about as a result of the emergence of ISIS; (4) fighters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), to pacify their conscience that not only is it Islamically legitimate to fight ISIS but it’s a religious obligation for those in the region to do so; finally (5) to silence the annoyingly clanging crescendo of Western politicians and critics that Muslim scholars are not speaking out against ISIS. One only needs to enter the search criterion ‘Muslim scholars condemn ISIS’ in to Google search to see how far from the truth their contention is.
The crux of the book, which really is a fatwa is simple: ISIS is a modern mutation of the terrorist group which emerged in the formative period of Islam known as the Khawarij. There are differences of opinion regarding the Islam of the Khawarij, however the author opts for the opinion that they are not Muslims ( ch. 2, 5); therefore deems it impermissible to pledge allegiance to ISIS’ self-appointed pseudo-caliph al-Baghdadi (ch. 8). The fatwa, then, is not dissimilar to the fatwa issued by Shaykh Tahirul Qadri previously on extremism and suicide bombing.1 The implications of the fatwa is far reaching for the FSA. Not only are they allowed to fight ISIS without the niggling fear of raising arms against fellow Muslims, but if they die in the process they will be graced with the lofty rank of martyrdom (ch. 6, 7). A logical corollary of this is that in order to bring back peace in the region, it is permissible to accept the helpful hand extended by non-Muslim governments against ISIS (ch. 9). This is argued by resorting to well-established Prophetic precedence like the pact of the virtuous (hilf al-fudul) as well as more contemporary fatawa like that of Shaykh Bin Baz, the highest Saudi religious authority in his time. The author further adds two helpful chapters, which although not directly related to the issue at hand, are beneficial nevertheless: chapter 10, legal rulings regarding Muslims in Western countries and chapter 11, legal rulings regarding non-Muslims in Muslim countries.
One may argue that the author is pandering to the sensibilities of Western governments in his critique of ISIS. This is far from the truth. Where the book on the one hand is a refutation of ISIS, on the other hand, it is a plea to the international community to look into the causes of violent extremism and to address those conditions which function as fertile grounds for the grooming of terrorists. Unlike the British government’s official narrative of the cause of violent extremism (the conveyor belt theory), the author is nuanced in his examination of these causes. Sustained academic research has revealed that radical extremism leading to terrorism is a construct which culminates in a vicious regress of action and reaction from government and terrorists (Kundnani 2015). Shaykh Yaqoubi’s razor sharp analysis of these causes of terrorism confirms this body of academic literature. In his conclusion, the author identifies four conditions which function as fodder for violent extremism. These conditions should not be construed as a justification of terrorism, but an explanation of why it happens. The first is that the Iraqi government must recognise that alongside the Shia community, Sunnis also reside in Iraq. They must be given their rights in order to flourish as good citizens. Secondly, Bashar Assad must cede authority and stop bloodshed with immediate effect and let the Syrian people decide how they should be ruled. Third, the oppression of Muslim minorities must stop, such as in the case of Muslims in Myanmar. And finally The West must be more responsible and sensible and must not use its powers to disrespect the values and cultures of those who are less militarily and technologically superior to them. They must not hurt deeply-held beliefs of others just because they can. A cursory glance at these four causes reveal that all of them are related to genuine political grievances. These grievances are garbed in the rhetoric of religion which not only gives terrorists the permission to negotiate in the only language they know: violence, but it gives them the blessings from heaven. The author argues that addressing these conditions will go a long way in pruning the growth of violent extremism.
For this reviewer, the original contribution and the most interesting part of the book is its first chapter: ‘In the words of ISIS’. In this chapter, the author is quoting, evaluating and critiquing quotations taken directly from ISIS literature. The media bias against Muslims has created a deep suspicion amongst Muslims regarding anything which the media reports about Islam. This has led many Muslims to take a non-committed position regarding the atrocities of ISIS as they are reported in the media. Shaykh Yaqoubi’s critical interrogation of ISIS literature, his political activism and intimate knowledge of the conditions in the Levant coupled with his deep understanding of the Islamic scholarly tradition should leave no doubts in the minds of Muslims that the way of ISIS is not the way of Islam.
Abu Aaliyah Surkheel Sharif (2015), Khawarij Ideology, ISIS Savagery, in The Humble ‘I’, http://thehumblei.com/2015/08/23/khawarij-ideology-isis-savagery-part-one/
Arun Kundnani (2015), A Decade Lost: Rethinking Radicalization and Extremism (London: Claystone) http://www.claystone.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Claystone-rethinking-radicalisation.pdf
Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti (2005), Defending the Transgressed: Mudafi' al-Mazlum: Fatwa Against the Targeting of Civilians, in http://www.livingislam.org/maa/dcmm_e.html
Sherman Jackson, Al-Gama’ah Al-Islamiyah (2015), Initiative to Stop the Violence: Sadat’s Assassins and the Renunciation of Political Violence, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press).
Yasir Qadhi, Daniel Haqiqatjou (2015), What Is “Islamic”? A Muslim Response to ISIS and The Atlantic, in http://muslimmatters.org/2015/02/23/what-is-islamic-a-muslim-response-to-isis-and-the-atlantic/
1. 1. For my review of Shaykh Tahirul Qadri’s fatwa see: http://mansys.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/review-fatwa-on-terrorism-and-suicide.html