An Objective Look Into the Religion of Islam and Muslim Sects: Their Theologies and Differences


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His foot soldiers navigated the modern world confidently. There is a temptation to rehearse this observation—that jihadists are modern secular people, with modern political concerns, wearing medieval religious disguise—and make it fit the Islamic State. In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.

They often speak in codes and allusions that sound odd or old-fashioned to non-Muslims, but refer to specific traditions and texts of early Islam.

The Atlantic Crossword

But Adnani was not merely talking trash. His speech was laced with theological and legal discussion, and his exhortation to attack crops directly echoed orders from Muhammad to leave well water and crops alone—unless the armies of Islam were in a defensive position, in which case Muslims in the lands of kuffar , or infidels, should be unmerciful, and poison away. The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe.

But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. In November, the Islamic State released an infomercial-like video tracing its origins to bin Laden. Zawahiri has not pledged allegiance to Baghdadi, and he is increasingly hated by his fellow jihadists.

His isolation is not helped by his lack of charisma; in videos he comes across as squinty and annoyed. But the split between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State has been long in the making, and begins to explain, at least in part, the outsize bloodlust of the latter. On most matters of doctrine, Maqdisi and the Islamic State agree. In time, though, Zarqawi surpassed his mentor in fanaticism, and eventually earned his rebuke.

In Islam, the practice of takfir , or excommunication, is theologically perilous. The punishment for apostasy is death. And yet Zarqawi heedlessly expanded the range of behavior that could make Muslims infidels. Denying the holiness of the Koran or the prophecies of Muhammad is straightforward apostasy. But Zarqawi and the state he spawned take the position that many other acts can remove a Muslim from Islam.

Being a Shiite, as most Iraqi Arabs are, meets the standard as well, because the Islamic State regards Shiism as innovation, and to innovate on the Koran is to deny its initial perfection. The Islamic State claims that common Shiite practices, such as worship at the graves of imams and public self-flagellation, have no basis in the Koran or in the example of the Prophet. That means roughly million Shia are marked for death.

So too are the heads of state of every Muslim country, who have elevated man-made law above Sharia by running for office or enforcing laws not made by God. Following takfiri doctrine, the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people. The lack of objective reporting from its territory makes the true extent of the slaughter unknowable, but social-media posts from the region suggest that individual executions happen more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks.

Exempted from automatic execution, it appears, are Christians who do not resist their new government. Baghdadi permits them to live, as long as they pay a special tax, known as the jizya , and acknowledge their subjugation. The Koranic authority for this practice is not in dispute.

Centuries have passed since the wars of religion ceased in Europe, and since men stopped dying in large numbers because of arcane theological disputes. Hence, perhaps, the incredulity and denial with which Westerners have greeted news of the theology and practices of the Islamic State.

Many refuse to believe that this group is as devout as it claims to be, or as backward-looking or apocalyptic as its actions and statements suggest. Their skepticism is comprehensible. Look instead, these scholars urged, to the conditions in which these ideologies arose—the bad governance, the shifting social mores, the humiliation of living in lands valued only for their oil. Without acknowledgment of these factors, no explanation of the rise of the Islamic State could be complete.

Many mainstream Muslim organizations have gone so far as to say the Islamic State is, in fact, un-Islamic. It is, of course, reassuring to know that the vast majority of Muslims have zero interest in replacing Hollywood movies with public executions as evening entertainment.

Shi’i | History & Beliefs | Britannica

Of partial Lebanese descent, Haykel grew up in Lebanon and the United States, and when he talks through his Mephistophelian goatee, there is a hint of an unplaceable foreign accent. According to Haykel, the ranks of the Islamic State are deeply infused with religious vigor. Koranic quotations are ubiquitous. This behavior includes a number of practices that modern Muslims tend to prefer not to acknowledge as integral to their sacred texts.

What's the Difference Between Sunni and Shiite Muslims?

The Koran specifies crucifixion as one of the only punishments permitted for enemies of Islam. Leaders of the Islamic State have taken emulation of Muhammad as strict duty, and have revived traditions that have been dormant for hundreds of years. They conquered most of what is now Saudi Arabia, and their strict practices survive in a diluted version of Sharia there.

If al-Qaeda wanted to revive slavery, it never said so. And why would it?


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Silence on slavery probably reflected strategic thinking, with public sympathies in mind: when the Islamic State began enslaving people, even some of its supporters balked. Nonetheless, the caliphate has continued to embrace slavery and crucifixion without apology. A study group of Islamic State scholars had convened, on government orders, to resolve this issue.

Tens of thousands of foreign Muslims are thought to have immigrated to the Islamic State. Many have come to fight, and many intend to die. Peter R. Online recruitment has also widened the demographics of the jihadist community, by allowing conservative Muslim women—physically isolated in their homes—to reach out to recruiters, radicalize, and arrange passage to Syria. Through its appeals to both genders, the Islamic State hopes to build a complete society.

For three years he was a televangelist on Iqraa TV in Cairo, but he left after the station objected to his frequent calls to establish a caliphate. Now he preaches on Facebook and Twitter. Cerantonio—a big, friendly man with a bookish demeanor—told me he blanches at beheading videos.

Primary Sources

He hates seeing the violence, even though supporters of the Islamic State are required to endorse it. He speaks out, controversially among jihadists, against suicide bombing, on the grounds that God forbids suicide; he differs from the Islamic State on a few other points as well.

He has the kind of unkempt facial hair one sees on certain overgrown fans of The Lord of the Rings , and his obsession with Islamic apocalypticism felt familiar.

He is stuck in Melbourne, where he is well known to the local constabulary. If Cerantonio were caught facilitating the movement of individuals to the Islamic State, he would be imprisoned. Cerantonio grew up there in a half-Irish, half-Calabrian family.


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On a typical street one can find African restaurants, Vietnamese shops, and young Arabs walking around in the Salafi uniform of scraggly beard, long shirt, and trousers ending halfway down the calves. Cerantonio explained the joy he felt when Baghdadi was declared the caliph on June 29—and the sudden, magnetic attraction that Mesopotamia began to exert on him and his friends.

Baghdadi spoke at length of the importance of the caliphate in his Mosul sermon. He said that to revive the institution of the caliphate—which had not functioned except in name for about 1, years—was a communal obligation. Unlike bin Laden, and unlike those false caliphs of the Ottoman empire, he is Qurayshi. The caliphate, Cerantonio told me, is not just a political entity but also a vehicle for salvation.

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Islam and other religions

They are neither obviously saved nor definitively condemned. Similarly, Cerantonio said, the Muslim who acknowledges one omnipotent god and prays, but who dies without pledging himself to a valid caliph and incurring the obligations of that oath, has failed to live a fully Islamic life. I pointed out that this means the vast majority of Muslims in history, and all who passed away between and , died a death of disbelief.

Cerantonio nodded gravely. This last criterion, Cerantonio said, is the hardest to fulfill, and requires that the caliph have territory in which he can enforce Islamic law.

Edited by Mark Juergensmeyer

He and others spoke quietly to those in power and told them that further delay would be sinful. They prepared a letter to various powerful members of ISIS , airing their displeasure at the failure to appoint a caliph, but were pacified by Adnani, the spokesman, who let them in on a secret—that a caliphate had already been declared, long before the public announcement.

They had their legitimate caliph, and at that point there was only one option. His report, among others, suggests a still-steady inflow of foreigners, ready to give up everything at home for a shot at paradise in the worst place on Earth. They all expressed desire to emigrate to the Islamic State, as many of their colleagues already had, but the authorities had confiscated their passports.

Like Cerantonio, they regarded the caliphate as the only righteous government on Earth, though none would confess having pledged allegiance. He frequently appears on cable news, as one of the few people producers can book who will defend the Islamic State vociferously, until his mike is cut.

An Objective Look Into the Religion of Islam and Muslim Sects: Their Theologies and Differences An Objective Look Into the Religion of Islam and Muslim Sects: Their Theologies and Differences
An Objective Look Into the Religion of Islam and Muslim Sects: Their Theologies and Differences An Objective Look Into the Religion of Islam and Muslim Sects: Their Theologies and Differences
An Objective Look Into the Religion of Islam and Muslim Sects: Their Theologies and Differences An Objective Look Into the Religion of Islam and Muslim Sects: Their Theologies and Differences
An Objective Look Into the Religion of Islam and Muslim Sects: Their Theologies and Differences An Objective Look Into the Religion of Islam and Muslim Sects: Their Theologies and Differences
An Objective Look Into the Religion of Islam and Muslim Sects: Their Theologies and Differences An Objective Look Into the Religion of Islam and Muslim Sects: Their Theologies and Differences
An Objective Look Into the Religion of Islam and Muslim Sects: Their Theologies and Differences An Objective Look Into the Religion of Islam and Muslim Sects: Their Theologies and Differences
An Objective Look Into the Religion of Islam and Muslim Sects: Their Theologies and Differences An Objective Look Into the Religion of Islam and Muslim Sects: Their Theologies and Differences

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