Why Muslims should stop repeating that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam

In the beginning of the conflicts and the uprise of ‘IS’ in the media, comments from Muslims stating that IS has nothing to do with Islam and that their members aren’t Muslims started to appear. Now, with the recent attacks on Paris, these statements are  the most common response from the Muslim community.

Debates are being silenced by Muslims and non-Muslims are left with a lot of questions: Members of IS read the Quran, believe in Allah and His Prophet, fast during Ramadan and have Islamic names. So what makes them not Muslims? What makes their belief, which relies on Islamic texts, different than yours? What makes you a true Muslim?

The problem with stopping the debate

While almost all Muslims are brought up with entirely different Islamic values than the values IS has, it is still important to take a deeper look onto their belief. To fight an ideology, you have to speak the same language. When they are using quranic verses, Muslims should analyse these verses as well and look into their context. Why is their interpretation of these verses wrong? What kind of context are they missing? A historic context? A metaphoric one? Are they using a verse as a rule of law an sich, while cutting off a very important tafsir, explanation, of it like in the case of the crucifixion of Ali al-nimr by the Saudi regime

But then again, we as ‘ordinary Muslims’ don’t have enough knowledge of the Quran to make up strong arguments against them. This is why we need scholars, who are familiar with the Quranic science, from all over the world to sustain us in this difficult time. We aren’t having enough access to outspoken Islamic scholars, while the internet is filled with propaganda of IS. In Syria, some of the most influential and outspoken scholars have already been killed or are being prosecuted.

So what exactly is the problem with stopping the debates with our fellow humans, yet non-Muslims?

We can’t expect that some people won’t feel threatened by a – for them – foreign ideology that is constantly being linked with terrorism.

The moment we don’t participate in these debates, the debates will mainly include outsiders that read some ‘Islam for dummies’ books in the past few weeks and pretend to be scholars on the matter.

“Well, if you as ‘moderate Muslims’ claim that they are abusing quranic verses, while they seem to know them better than you do…Maybe you are the one not understanding Islam? Maybe Islam truly is an evil religion?”

Following the opinion pieces with eagle eyes, I have remarked an uprise of distrust against Islam. Not by the usual islamophobes, but by rational and tolerant non-Muslims. And I think that we, as Muslims, are indeed expressing that we are not like them, but we aren’t disarming their arguments convincingly. Because, just like IS can cherry-pick verses, outsiders can do the same and interpret them in the exact same way IS does, to ‘prove’ that Islam does promote these cruelties.

What can we do about this in the meantime?

While hoping that scholars will not only reassure us with ‘IS isn’t like us’, but truly educate us on the same level of text analyses, we have to be active members in these debates, even though we are not quite used to a direct confrontation of criticism against our religion.

God gave every human a natural aversion to specific acts like murder or injustice. It’s a way of not committing sins without needing texts to confirm that it’s about prohibited acts. So is it truly that hard to prove that what those terrorists are doing – for them, in the name of our religion – is wrong, by using the exact same verses that they use?

We also have to discuss this subject more within our community. While hating on IS, we are forgetting an important thing: The youngsters that left – and are still leaving – us to join them, were part of our Muslim community a community they didn’t want to be a part of anymore. How is it possible that they were brought up with us, with the same values, but could choose radically for something so different? Have we, as a community, failed to keep our members? Have we failed within our community by not talking about socio-religious issues enough? By not hearing the critiques of the possible misinterpretation some verses could have? Why did they have the urge to search for other kinds of information? 

And are we finally going to accept that we have shortchanged our Muslim community and ignored our duty to be responsible for one another?

Written by Mayada Srouji

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Mayada Srouji is a 23-year-old student Gender and Diversity at the UGent and has a bachelor in Arabic and Islamic Sciences, with a minor in political and social sciences. She is interested in women rights, philosophy, literature and history.