Is the Islamic State (ISIS) Islamic? The question would be on the order of “Is the Pope Catholic?” were it not for the fact that Barack Obama, Joe Biden, John Kerry, David Cameron, and virtually every other authority in the Western world insist that the answer is no.
A steady stream of articles by Muslim and non-Muslim academics and commentators maintain that, despite appearances to the contrary, ISIS has nothing to do with Islam. But this avalanche of reassurances only leads a new question: if the Islamic State so brazenly violates the Qur’an and outrages Muhammad’s example, why is it so appealing to the most devout young Muslims that over 20,000 Muslims from all over the world have now joined it in Iraq and Syria, with 5,000 joining its Libyan wing?
The answer is not complicated, despite intense and ongoing efforts to complicate it. These young Muslims have Qur’ans. They read them. They believe them. When they see the Islamic State beheading people, they read in the Qur’an: “When you meet the unbelievers, strike the necks” (47:4). When they see the Islamic State kidnapping infidel women and pressing them into sex slavery, they read that Muslim men can take “captives of the right hand” (4:3, 4:24, 33:50) and that these captives can specifically be used for sexual purposes, as men are to “guard their private parts except from their wives or those their right hands possess” (23:5-6).
When the world recoiled in horror at the Islamic State’s burning alive of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh, young Muslims who had joined the Islamic State might have mused that al-Kaseasbeh had dropped incendiary bombs on Islamic State holdings, and the Qur’an directs Muslims: “So whoever has assaulted you, then assault him in the same way that he has assaulted you” (2:194).
They might have noted with approval that the Islamic State was enforcing upon the Christians of Mosul and elsewhere the Qur’anic directive that they “pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” (9:29). To those who protested that ISIS was killing Muslims, in apparent defiance of the Qur’an (4:92), pro-ISIS Muslims might have responded that the Qur’an also directs Muslims to kill those who “turn away” from Islam (4:89), which the Islamic State reasoned that those they had killed were doing by rejecting its authority.
There is, of course, no end to the articles assuring Americans that these verses don’t mean what they appear to mean, and claiming that the Islamic State is misunderstanding and misinterpreting them, but this message has not gotten through to the 10,000 Muslims from Europe who are expected to join ISIS by the end of this year, or to the 15,000 others joining it from around the world.
Those who glibly dismiss these numbers as only a minuscule percentage of the billion-plus Muslims worldwide are missing the point, perhaps deliberately. If 25,000 young Christians had flocked from all over the world to join a terror group, no one would wave the phenomenon away by pointing out that there are over a billion Christians in the world.
Clearly, if the Islamic State is not Islamic, it represents a massive failure on the part of Muslim authorities. They have failed, and failed spectacularly, to communicate the true, peaceful tenets of their religion, teachings that are so obvious to non-Muslims such as John Kerry and Joe Biden, to tens of thousands of their young people. They are presiding over a catechetical disaster of proportions unknown in the history of the world: never before has such global havoc been wrought by people acting upon a massive misunderstanding of what they claim as their core beliefs and primary motivation.
The thing is, those young people can read the Qur’an. They can see what it says, and see that the Islamic State is acting in accord with the plain words of the book that repeatedly tells its readers that it is clear (6:114, 11:1, 16:89, 41:3), as well as with the example of Muhammad and the rulings of traditional Islamic jurisprudence. Articles explaining how the Qur’an really means something quite different from what it appears to say keep appearing, but they have not managed to staunch the flow of foreign jihadis into the Islamic State.
It would be refreshing if their authors, instead of devoting their efforts to calming jittery infidels and convincing them that there is no problem within Islam that anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, need address, would formulate programs designed to convince young Muslims that the Islamic State’s understanding of Islam was wrong – no such programs exist in mosques in the U.S. or anywhere else at this time. But that would require them to confront what no one anywhere on the political spectrum seems willing to examine: the Qur’anic roots of the Islamic State’s “extremism.”
Nothing is gained, however, by ignoring and avoiding uncomfortable questions – and meanwhile, the only beneficiary of all this denial is the Islamic State.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His next book, The Complete Infidel’s Guide to ISIS, is coming this summer. Follow him on Twitter here, or like him on Facebook here.