It’s become pretty much routine these days to hear about the Jihadists of the world committing horrendous crimes – massacring civilians, beheading aid workers, burning someone alive, or something similar. Inevitably, the following things are said in response:
Moderate Muslims and apologists say, ‘ISIS are not true Muslims and ISIS are perverting Islam’.
ISIS say, ‘we are the only true Muslims, you lot are actually apostates’.
And others might say, ‘there’s no such thing as a true Muslim because Islam doesn’t have a centralised religious authority like a pope. People can interpret Islam in different ways’.
So who’s right? How are we to decide between these claims?
Well, luckily, there is in fact a right answer to this question. There was one man that literally every Muslim alive today agrees was a ‘true Muslim’. Indeed, most Muslims take his life to be the very manifestation of Allah’s revelation. I’m talking, of course, about the Prophet Muhammad.
So, we are able to analyse claims such as ‘ISIS aren’t true Muslims’ by reference to the Prophet. If, in fact, Muhammed did do these things, ordered them to be done, or supported their being done, then we can conclude that these claims are incorrect. If ISIS are simply doing what the Prophet instructed Muslims to do (through his word or by his example) then you cannot claim that they are not ‘true Muslims’.
Before we continue, it is worth mentioning that in Islam there’s something called the ‘principle of abrogation’. This means that if there’s a disagreement between two of Muhammed’s revelations, the later one overwrites the earlier one. If the Prophet wrote conflicting things on Wednesday and Thursday, then Thursday’s writings act as a correction to Wednesdays. Therefore, there are no standing contradictions in the Quran, although some schools of Islamic jurisprudence disagree that the Hadith can abrogate parts of the Quran.
Having said that, there are still parts of scripture that can (and are) used to justify peaceful, tolerant and pluralistic interpretations of Islam. Clearly Muhammad didn’t have a peaceful interpretation though. If Muhammed had really intended his words to mean ‘don’t behead people’ (as so many would claim) then why did he behead so many people. And again, if we accept that Muhammad was a true Muslim, then we can conclude that a true Muslim could (and did) do these awful things.
So what did Muhammad think of some of the things ISIS are doing? Let’s have a look….
This one time, the Prophet had between 600 and 900 men, women and children beheaded in one go. He also said things like ‘strike off the heads of the unbelievers’. One point to ISIS.
Stoning people for adultery
Muhammad specifically ordered stoning as punishment for people who confessed extramarital sex. Two points to ISIS.
(Even in relatively moderate modern-day Indonesia, 42% of Muslims still support stoning for adultery, and figures are much higher elsewhere, up to 82% in both Egypt and Pakistan).
Killing people who criticised/satirised him
Muhammad had several people executed for the heinous crime of writing a poem that criticised him. He also said ‘kill whoever insults the Prophet’ (according to At-Tabarini). One point to the Charlie Hebdo killers.
(Even in Britain, 78% of Muslims think that cartoonists should be arrested and prosecuted if they depict the Prophet, and 27% sympathized with the Charlie Hebdo killers, and 10% saying the cartoonists deserved it).
It’s not clear that Muhammad ordered anyone to be killed specifically for being gay. However, he did order [ch 29] that if anyone was engaging in homosexual acts, both the ‘giver and the receiver’ should be killed. An oddly specific revelation, but there you go. Islam’s early-years big namers like Abu Bakr (Muhammad’s successor) used to burn gay people alive, and Ali (Muhammed’s son in law) used to execute gay people by chucking them off roofs – ISIS style. These days, almost all sharia scholars consider homosexuality to be a punishable crime, as well as a sin. Out of the ten places in the world where you can be executed for being gay, 9 of them are imposing Sharia law.
(Again, even in Britain, 61% of Muslims think homosexuality should be a legally punishable offence).
Jihad, martyrdom, and terrorism
The prophet himself was a fairly brutal Genghis Khan-esque warlord, and he was very clear that fighting and dying for Islam was the absolute best thing you could do with your life. He himself constantly waged war in the name of Islam, and during breaks said things like ‘kill the unbelievers wherever you find them‘ and ‘Whoso fighteth in the way of Allah, be he slain or be he victorious, on him We shall bestow a vast reward‘. These verses are reflective of much of the tone of the scripture.
(Within the muslim world, the question ‘is suicide bombing of civilian targets justified in defence of islam?’ generally gets between 20-40% ‘often/sometimes’ responses, with about 10-30% saying ‘rarely’, the remainder saying ‘never’. Support for ISIS itself varies from around 1% in the Shi’ite population of Lebanon, up to about 16% in France. Also, going by terrorism stats on Wikipedia, about 92% of all terrorist deaths in 2015 have been at the hands of Islamists).
Islam’s founder had some colourful views on women. To touch on a few, he said that men should beat their wives if they were disobedient, that women should inherit only half as much as their male siblings, that men can have multiple wives, that marital rape doesn’t exist, that the testimony of a woman in court is worth half that of a man (on account of the ‘inferiority of her intellect’), and that the taking of sexual slaves after a battle was absolutely fair play.
The Prophet himself had 11 wives, one of whom he married when she was 6 and had sex with when she’d reached the ripe old age of 9. Another of his wives was a lady he took as a sexual slave after capturing a town, who he later married.
I could go on to talk about a host of other issues, but I think you get the point. So let’s stop pretending ISIS are perverting Islam, and start accepting that they are in fact following a similar interpretation of Allah’s revelation to the Prophet Muhammad. In fact, I think it would be difficult to find something that ISIS are doing that Muhammad didn’t do or approve of. And to moderate Muslims who ignore Muhammad’s example on the issues above – this just means you’re better people. It does not unfortunatly mean that your interpretation is any more valid.