4 ways ISIS grounds its actions in religion, and why it should matter (COMMENTARY)

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The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a Jihadist militant group, published an annual report of its violent activities, including car bombing, sniping and stabbings during 2013. An infographic outlining these acts appears on the second page of the report.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a Jihadist militant group, published an annual report of its violent activities, including car bombing, sniping and stabbings during 2013. An infographic outlining these acts appears on the second page of the report.

(RNS) The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, labeling them the “first of the storm.” The terrorist group affirmed, in a statement issued in Arabic, French and English, that it chose the targets “accurately,” identifying Paris as the “capital of prostitution” and France, because of its participation in the war against ISIS, as the Crusader.

This tragedy took 129 lives so far, with more than 300 wounded. There are four critical observations on the ISIS-issued statement, and one general conclusion.

1. ISIS based its actions on a literal reading of the Quran.

The statement begins with the Islamic basmala: “In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, and the Most Merciful.” This phrase is found in the beginning of all the chapters of the Quran, except one. ISIS applies a specific literal reading of the Quran. It views itself as truly Islamic and claims its actions are supported by the Quran. Contrary to common wisdom, ISIS maintains that the Paris attacks reflect the compassion and mercy of Allah through the destruction of French infidels. In fact, the statement begins and ends with the Quran: The attacks are a fulfilment of the Quran in which Allah himself expelled the unfaithful infidels or unbelievers of ahl al-kitab (Jews and Christians) from their homes, and a manifestation of the Quran, in which Allah himself will surely expel the abased from the city.

2. For ISIS followers, France is at war with Islam.

The statement portrays France (and its allies) as Crusaders, literally “the holders of the Cross,” portraying the war in purely religious terms. For ISIS, according to the issued statement, France did not wage war against the Islamic State, but rather against Islam itself. France is one of the leaders of “the Crusader campaign,” which cursed Muhammad, and struck “Muslims in the land of the Caliphate.”

3. The attacks were meant to imitate seventh-century raids led by the Prophet Muhammad.

The statement identified the Paris attacks using the Arabic term “ghazwa.” This term is primarily used in the biography of Muhammad to refer to his raids and expeditions against the non-Muslims in the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century. By using this unique Arabic term, ISIS signifies its claimed noble religious cause, imitating the military campaigns in the earliest Islamic period. This use of sacred terms addresses devout Muslims who know the history and the life of their prophet in its original text. They identified the attacks as a successful ghazwa, emphasizing that Allah is the one who “facilitated the reasons for its success.”

4. The terrorists viewed themselves as martyrs for Islam.

The Islamic State’s statement refers to the attackers as martyrs for the sake of Islam, identifying them as young men who “divorced the worldly life” to die in the path of Allah and for his cause. They died, the statement said, to support the cause of the true religion and in fulfillment of the charges of the Prophet Muhammad to humiliate enemies, rubbing “their noses in the dusty ground.”

Ayman S. Ibrahim is Bill and Connie Jenkins Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies and senior fellow of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Photo courtesy Emil Handke, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Ayman S. Ibrahim is Bill and Connie Jenkins Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies and senior fellow of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Photo courtesy Emil Handke, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

One cannot erase the effects of such horrible attacks executed under the banner of religion. To claim that all Muslims are terrorists is far from correct, but to deny or underestimate the significant power and influence of some Islamic texts and specific interpretations of them is not prudent, either.

To suggest that this is the true Islam and that these attacks reveal the true face of Islam would also be wrong, as Islam is far from monolithic and there are plenty of Muslims who sincerely condemn such atrocities.

To adopt a politically correct discourse and suggest these attacks had nothing to do with religion and that Islam is the religion of peace (as if other religions are not?) would be also naive and inaccurate.


READ: Packers’ Aaron Rodgers denounces anti-Islamic fan who ruined moment of silence


Religious texts in the hands of religious exegetes can be lethal. One can avoid or ignore the reality of the Islamic reasoning and interpretation of ISIS, but we all will be affected by such avoidance and ignorance.

In grieving and mourning those killed in the Paris attacks, Christians must not let hatred against Muslims dwell in their hearts. They must not perceive all Muslims as terrorists. Instead, we must pray for France and its people. She will never be the same.

(Ayman S. Ibrahim is the Bill and Connie Jenkins Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies and senior fellow of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.)

  • Bernardo

    There are easy and peaceful solutions to the major global problem. One of the them is to follow The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths.
    Interested?

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  • Todd

    Sounds very good to me.

  • Deacon John M Bresnahan

    It is totally unfair to other religions for Moslems to talk about Islamic terrorism under the covers all word “religion.” Most of the violence between Christians and Moslems has been caused by the need for Christians to act in self defense like what we are witnessing in our own time let lone in times past when Islamic armies were constantly trying to conquer Europe from Spain to Vienna to Krakow to Constantinople to the Levant to North Africa.

  • Jennifer

    You need a history lesson. And put Inquisitions in your favorite search engine, Deacon Oh-Self-Righteous-And-Ignorant.

  • Loren Haas

    The professor is doing what he was hired to do at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Consider the source.

  • Neon Genesis

    It seems a bit rich to me for a Southern Baptist theologian of all people to be chastising liberals for failing to understand the literal reading of the Koran. Pot meet kettle?

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  • Don

    I see your point. A PhD who teaches at a Baptist seminary must be lying. Did you actually read the article, or was it too much work?

  • Don

    Not at all. Who would better understand how a conservative in religion thinks than another conservative.

  • Don

    It seems that the pot is calling the kettle black here. Muhammad died in 632. By 732 the Muslim armies had conquered the Persian empire, the Middle East, North Africa, Spain, half of Italy and were trying to overrun what is now France. How many people died in the Inquisition?

  • Jennifer

    No this time Don is getting scorched yet again by his own hot pot. Neon has a very good point.

  • Jennifer

    Obviously Loren read the article, and more. You should try doing so yourself.

  • Don

    Almost 400 years of Inquisition estimated death toll about 3,000 (upper end). Sound’s like a good morning number for the Religion of Peace. Get a good education and try again.

  • Don

    I’m pursuing a PhD in Islamic studies. What are you doing these days?

  • Don

    Wow, one zinger after another. Neon’s point is that the source is biased? Should I accept a genetic fallacy as suddenly valid in your universe?

  • Jon

    Self defense? Like when the Pope convinced armies of Christians to travel over to Islamic lands and attack them? When the Christians cooked and ate captured Muslims? As others have noted, it sounds like you need a history lesson.

    But I’m willing to bet that you already know about the crusades and so many other acts of aggression, and have rationalized them into your “defense” view – just as Christians in the US today have decided that when people object to having Christianity forced on them, they are “oppressing” the Christians.

    If that’s the case, then it’s yet another example of how terribly religion addles minds across the globe.

  • Don

    Sure, it’s “religion” that causes problems when it’s Muslims or Christians, but was it “religion” when the secular, atheistic regimes of the twentieth century killed 100 million people? I suggest that you read “The Black Book of Communism.” It is very enlightening to this with an open mind.

  • Larry

    Throw in the Catholic and Lutheran church enabled Holocaust, hundreds of thousands killed in witch hysteria, 8 million dead in the 30 Years War because Christians could not get along with different sects of the same faith, millions killed in genocidal actions to colonize the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australia, and the last genocidal acts done in the name of Christian sectarianism was in the late 1990’s.

    Lets face it, there is no sane argument from the Christian fundamentalist side on this subject. Their attempt to apologize or whitewash the history of their faith is laughable in its mendacity.

  • Larry

    “Most of the violence between Christians and Moslems has been caused by the need for Christians to act in self defense”

    Notwithstanding acts of genocide in the colonization of North Africa by the French, Italians and British, the use of poison gas against Arabs in Mesopotamia in the 1920’s, and the invasion of Iraq.

  • Larry

    Yep. Religion WAS the problem. Those communist dictators replaced religious fanaticism with a religion of the state. The same murderous cliches and methods, just transferred to a different leadership. Calling it secular is not really accurate.

    It is the problem with religious morality. Religious morality entails outsourcing one’s moral thinking to leaders who interpret what is right and wrong for you. Once you are used to doing that for religious authorities, it is easy to adapt it to an autocratic government.

    Secularism is what preserves religious freedom. The notion as codified by our 1st Amendment which protects free exercise of religion while maintaining separation between church and state. Secularism is not atheism. In fact it began as a religious concept. Minority faiths did not like the idea of official sectarian discrimination against them nor desired to inflict it on others. Hence secular government to preserve the rights of all faiths.

  • Larry

    Bemoaning the decline in academic rigor of whatever institute of higher learning you are attending. 🙂

  • Don

    So religion is the root of all problems … very interesting. So what definition of religion are you using? It sounds very idiosyncratic to me. Are you saying that religion means any ideology?
    As for your statement that “Religious morality entails outsourcing one’s moral thinking to leaders who interpret what is right and wrong for you.” You are simply applying your own “truth” to other’s beliefs. How is your definition objective? Is it supposed to be?

  • Larry

    Not really, but I see strawman arguments are really all you seem to be good for. But your attempt to attack atheism and secularism by association with communist autocracies deserved a rebuttal.

    Religion is different from most other ideologies in that it demands faith. Faith defined as belief in the absence of evidence. An acceptance of what has to be considered irrational.

    Religious belief is not reasoned nor based on evidence. It it were, faith would be unnecessary. People believe in a given religion because they want to believe (or are raised to believe). There is no such thing as “proof” in a religious belief. This makes its “truth” entirely subjective in nature. “Your mileage may vary” is the only way to evaluate religious claims.

    Religion becomes problematic when people use it to substitute for other things such as moral thinking and rational thinking. When it inspires irrational and harmful behavior. When it is not tempered by secular and rational controls.

  • Larry

    The Southern Baptists know a thing or two about using religion to justify acts of terrorism as they were the official church of the KKK for a good amount of the 20th Century.

  • Bernardo

    The start:

    From the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi————–

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using “The 77 Branches of Islamic “faith” a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true “faith” (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings.” i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    “1. Belief in Allah”

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

    “2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence.”

    Continued below I hope:

  • Bernardo

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the “Gib Gnab” (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the “akas” for Allah should be included if you continue to be a “creationist”.

    “3. To believe in the existence of angels.”

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No “pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies” ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and “tin–ker be-lls”. Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    “4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore.”

    Continued below:

  • Bernardo

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    “5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings
    be upon him) alone.”

    Mohammed spent thirty days “fasting” (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a “pretty wingie thingy”. Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic violence i.e. turning Mohammed’s “fast, hunger-driven” hallucinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

  • Morality is doing what is right no matter what you are told.
    Religion is doing what you are told no matter what is right.

    May rationality survive.

  • Jack

    PhD in Islamic Studies? You must be getting that from a cereal box, on top of your BA in Basket Weaving. Along with a lot of B—S—.

  • Jennifer

    Don just keeps unloading one fallacious statement after another on us. See his stack of appeals to authority above and other wrongs. Don, you lose.

  • Jennifer

    Larry: Excellent response to Don’s latest falsehoods.

  • Jennifer

    Seems like Don needs another history lesson. Nice job at ignoring all the other Christian murders across Europe.

    And then there were your witch trials…

  • Don

    Hi Jennifer, thanks for your advice. I am just curious how you would quantify what percentage of Christian violence is offensive vice defensive? Since you mocked the deacon’s first message for that “error.” Please help me to see the light.

  • Don

    Are you guys seriously trying to equate Christian violence with Muslim violence? On which planet? I suggest starting with the Life of Muhammad by Ibn Ishaq, or a few volumes of al-Tabari’s “History of Prophets and Kings,” then move on to a biography of “The Sword of Allah” (Khalid Bin Al-waleed). Perhaps “The Middle East” by Bernard Lewis, the former Princeton historian. Compare the life and teachings of Muhammad to the life a teachings of Jesus. Please do a little reading before acting as though the two are on equal footing.

  • @Don,

    “are you…trying to equate Christian and Muslim violence?”

    Yes.
    “Execute my enemies in front of me” – JESUS (Luke 19:27):

    RWANDAN GENOCIDE – Catholic murderers slaughtered 800,000 innocent people. Father Anatole Serromba personally killed 2000 by himself.

    “Do waste on people who are unholy…they are dogs..and pigs” – JESUS (Matthew 7:6)

    Tai Ping Rebellion in China – 45 million dead (Christian Fascists)
    Franco, the Spanish Civil War (Catholic Fascists)

    Witch Hunts – 500,000 dead (Christian Fascists)

    “Deem them unworthy” – JESUS (Matthew 10:13)

    “We eagerly cooperate with the Nazis..send them all of our Jews.”
    – Father Joseph Tiso, President of Slovakia 1944.
    “May the Regime of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party be blessed” – Catholic Konkoradat – Hitler’s first Peace Treaty was with the Church. 1933

    “AVOID THEM” – (Romans 16:17)

  • Jennifer

    Welcome. You’re almost there, Don. Good for you. Keep at it. Give some more careful thought to “Christian violence”.

  • Moses

    You are purposely misquoting biblical text and taking them out of context. Perhaps you need a religion to provide you with some morality.

    “Do not give what is holy to dogs nor throw your pearls before swine, so that they may never trample them under their feet and turn around and rip you open.

    Matt 7:6

  • Moses

    Luke 19:11

    . . . While they were listening to these things, he told another illustration . . .

    Who is the “me” in the illustration? who are the “enemies”? Were those to be executed in the illustration innocent or were they guilty of something?

    It is one thing to say that Religions or specifically the Catholic church has supported genocide and a great amount of killing. But, it is absurd to say that Jesus taught that his follower should engage in such conduct.

    Matt 26:52 Then Jesus said to him: “Return your sword to its place, for all those who take up the sword will perish by the sword.

    Matt 5:43 “You heard that it was said: ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 However, I say to you: Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may prove yourselves sons of your Father who is in the heavens,since he makes his sun rise on both the wicked and the good and makes it rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous.

  • Charles

    When Jesus went through the horrible beating and crucifixion, he said to God his father ” Forgive them for they know not what they are doing” Luke 23;34. Has any other man shown that kind of love for his tormentors. Sounds kind of Divine to me.

    Charles