The problem of terrorism and the associated inadequate perception of Islam in the world is a growing concern. However, portraying Muslims as radical religious fanatics who deny other religions and violently fight dissent has nothing to do with true Islamic ideology. The knowledge that is presented in Islam and used by Muslims to build their worldview system is exploited in a misinterpreted form. This is transforming the perception of Islam around the world as a radical religious system that supports intolerance and conflicts. In particular, the narrative of the Islamic State (IS) uses distorted concepts about jihadi, Sharia, shahid, Caliphate, kuffar, and al-Qiyāmah to promote aggression and violence. The leaders of radical Islamic movements lack the wisdom to take a deeper look at existing knowledge and interpret it in the modern context.
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Islamic ideology offers a formed view of certain events, which in the narrative of extremist organizations such as IS take a distorted form. This assumption can be illustrated by the way IS perceives and speaks about jihad. In particular, the religious war is promoted as an act aimed at spreading religious beliefs outside the Muslim territories. Sandberg and Colvin cite as an example the idea of one of the respondents about this concept. He notes that “Jihad is when you are being attacked for being a Muslim and you defend yourself in God’s name and for yourself” (Sandberg and Colvin 1591). Another respondent also emphasizes that jihad is more of an internal spiritual war, which every Muslim wages within himself (Sandberg and Colvin 1591-1592). However, in the minds of most people, especially in the West, this concept is associated exclusively with terrorism in its radical form, thus generating cultural prejudices about Islam and Muslims. In particular, this perception is associated with the activities of members of radical organizations performing acts of self-sacrifice through the explosion of bombs in crowded places.
This phenomenon also has its roots in Islamic ideology but has acquired a different meaning within the narrative of IS. In particular, the practice of jihadi is associated with criminal activities that lead to the death of many people. In the Islamic ideology, there are shaheeds or martyrs who died or sacrificed themselves for the sake of Allah. Within the framework of radical rhetoric, this concept is used to kill innocent people, which is contrary to Islamic doctrine (Sandberg and Colvin 1593). The martyrs are promised a place in paradise, but only for righteous deeds (Sandberg and Colvin 1593). When a suicide bomber hurts oneself and some other innocent people, he turns into a criminal. Killing is a sin in the Muslim faith, so such acts of self-sacrifice show that “jihadi narratives are criminogenic” (Sandberg and Colvin 1593). Thus, in combination with distorted notions of holy war, radical organizations also justify mass murder through the narrative of self-sacrifice absolution from sins.
The activities of terrorist organizations are often associated with Sharia law, the set of rules that lays the moral foundations of Islamic ideology. In particular, the use of this concept is common among IS militants (Sandberg and Colvin 1595). Muslims perceive Sharia “as a combination of the five pillars of Islam and being a good person” (Sandberg and Colvin 1595). One part of this law is the Hudud punishments, which are applied to Muslims for violating certain rules. It is these aspects of the Shariah that are emphasized by members of radical organizations, while most modern Muslims doubt their relevance (Sandberg and Colvin 1595). Hudud punishments are described as penalties for certain actions such as drinking alcohol or stealing and also apply exclusively to Muslims. Moreover, this concept implies the symbolic meaning of these punishments, as well as belonging to the historical context.
However, members of terrorist organizations use Sharia as an excuse for their criminal actions. They extend the application of Hudud punishments to people of other cultures and religions who are not required to abide by the doctrines of Islam. Within the narrative of IS, violations of the Sharia are a fault not only for a Muslim but also for a person who did not know about the existence of such rules. Additionally, radical rhetoric emphasizes the importance of certain points rather than the perception of the person’s picture. Most Muslims understand Sharia as rules that call for a respectful attitude towards people and God (Sandberg and Colvin 1595). However, in the context of a distorted view of martyrs and holy war within a radical narrative, the use of Sharia again leads to a contradiction. The killings and violence practiced by members of terrorist groups are not examples of good relations with people and also violates the doctrines of Islam.
Another important rhetoric for IS, in particular, is the concept of Caliphates, which are presented as ideal Islamic states under leading by the Islamic ruler. Radical organizations use this notion to justify their aggression in Syria and Iraq and also perceive themselves as the Caliphate (Sandberg and Colvin 1596). However, this concept functions within certain social and historical frameworks that are currently not relevant. Caliphates, according to one of the Muslims, “were important in previous times, during the time of the Prophet, but in today’s society, I don’t think they are important at all” (Sandberg and Colvin 1596). Muslims also emphasize that the Caliphate can be created by God but not by man (Sandberg and Colvin 1596). Thus, IS members misinterpret information from the Qur’an, taking it literally, but not applying it in accordance with modern realities. Members of radical organizations are “naïve readers of religious stories and purveyors. of wrong knowledge” (Sandberg and Colvin 1597). Despite widespread speculation about the ideal truly Islamic state, more considerate Muslims understand that this is just an idea and a dream that is beyond human control.
Another term associated with Islamic ideology and its interpretation by radical organizations is kuffar or infidels. This concept is also used to support the aggression of their members towards representatives of other religions or beliefs. However, the Islamic religion not only respects other denominations but strictly judges non-believers. Muslims emphasize that in Islam, one “should be nice to everyone, whether they are believers or non-believers, or Christians” (Sandberg and Colvin 1598). Muslim extremists, as in the case of the Hudud punishments, use the negative side of the rhetoric but ignore the main aspects. By declaring representatives of other religions as non-believers or kuffar, they reject Islamic ideology, which emphasizes respect for the views of other people.
In the case of extremist Muslim organizations, knowledge turns into a propaganda tool and is transformed in such a way as to meet the perception of its leaders. The described concepts were misinterpreted by members of IS, turning into blind adherence to what is written in the Qur’an and other sacred texts. However, in this regard, the assumption may arise that such misuse and interpretation of knowledge is a deliberate act that satisfies the needs of certain people in aggression. At the same time, the propaganda of extremist organizations uses the concept of Al-Qiyāmah or the Day of Reckoning as a conviction for the need for action (Sandberg and Colvin 1599). Their entire rhetoric is built around a literal interpretation of Islamic ideology, selectively deformed to justify terrorism.
When analyzing the concepts, it was often mentioned that a particular term in Islam functions in a social or historical context. In this case, modern Muslims who oppose themselves to the narrative of extremist organizations show real wisdom in adapting concepts to new realities. At the same time, radical organizations perceive the knowledge presented in Islamic ideology as an invariable truth, which is the main misconception. According to Dr. Ramzi, ‘knowledge allows you to make a bomb, but wisdom prevents you from using it’ (The 99). This statement correlates with the situation described, as members of IS use religious concepts to justify cruelty and aggression. However, in this way, they form their own narrative, which is only distantly related to what real Islam is. They use the knowledge that has no relevance in the modern world without having the wisdom to rethink it.
Thus, misinterpretation or deliberate distortion of knowledge by Islamic radicals leads to tragic consequences. Not only do they promote and perform violence, but they also transform the world’s understanding of Islam in a negative way. Wisdom in using the knowledge provided to them would allow finding peaceful ways to strengthen their religion and not incite hatred and hostility towards it. IS members have used the available spiritual resources unwisely and misled themselves. Now they use physical force to establish their truth, which only has an opposite effect.
Sandberg, Sveinung, and Sarah Colvin. “ISIS Is Not Islam’: Epistemic Injustice, Everyday Religion, and Young Muslims’ Narrative Resistance.” The British Journal of Criminology, vol. 60, no. 6, 2020, pp. 1585-1605. Web.
The 99. Created by Naif Al-Mutawa, Endemol Productions, 2011-2012.