Magazine article The Christian Century

Muslim Scholars Challenge 'Islamic State' in Open Letter

Magazine article The Christian Century

Muslim Scholars Challenge 'Islamic State' in Open Letter

Article excerpt

More than 120 Muslim scholars from around the world endorsed an open letter to the "fighters and followers" of the so-called Islamic State, denouncing them as un-Islamic in the most Islamic of terms.

Relying heavily on the Qur'an, the 18-page letter released in late September picks apart the extremist ideology of the militants, whose bid to establish a transnational Islamic state in Iraq and Syria has left a wake of brutal death and destruction.

Even translated into English, the letter will still sound strange to most Americans, said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who released it in Washington with ten other American Muslim religious and civil rights leaders.

"The letter is written in Arabic," Awad said. "It is using heavy classical religious texts and classical religious scholars that ISIS has used to mobilize young people to join its forces."

Even mainstream Muslims, he said, may find it difficult to understand. A translated 24-point summary of the letter includes the following: "It is forbidden in Islam to torture"; "It is forbidden in Islam to attribute evil acts to God"; and "It is forbidden in Islam to declare people non-Muslims until he (or she) openly declares disbelief."

Awad said its aim is to offer a comprehensive Islamic refutation, "point by point," to the philosophy of IS and the violence it has perpetrated. The letter's authors include well-known religious and scholarly figures in the Muslim world, including Sheikh Shawqi Allam, the grand mufti of Egypt, and Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem and All Palestine.

This is not the first time Muslim leaders have joined to condemn IS. The chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek, for example, told the nation's Muslims that they should speak out against the "terrorists and murderers" who fight for IS and who have dragged Islam "through the mud."

But the Muslim leaders who endorsed the letter called it an unprecedented refutation of IS ideology from a collaboration of religious scholars. It is addressed to the group's self-anointed leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and "the fighters and followers of the self-declared 'Islamic State.'"

But the words Islamic State are in quotes, and the Muslim leaders who released the letter asked people to stop using the term, arguing that it plays into the group's unfounded logic that it is protecting Muslim lands from non-Muslims and is resurrecting the caliphate--a state, governed by a Muslim leader, that once controlled vast swaths of the Middle East. …

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