A new project to counter IS's narrative with religious expertise is commendable and neccessary
Imams and Muslim scholars gathered in London today for the launch of a new online magazine designed to ‘reclaim’ the digital space from extremists. Haqiqah, which translates as ‘the reality’ is aimed at young people who may be vulnerable to the radicalisation attempts of groups like ISIS.
Created by British Muslim scholars, Haqiqah is a direct response to the online recruitment tactics used by extremists. It aims to battle Islamist propaganda and promote a counter-narrative of a faith ‘whose voices of justice are being drowned out by the sounds of gunfire’.
Shaukat Warraich, the chief editor of imamsonline.com where the magazine is published, said:
“If imams are going to remain relevant, they cannot ignore the digital environment and if they disconnect from the digital space, it’s do or die.”
This represents a very positive step in the drive by the Muslim community to counter extremism, a drive which must take place in coordination with the police and security services.
The first issue of Haqiqah describes how the likes of IS have distorted Islam; nevertheless, it is open about the fact that ISIS does draw on religious texts to rationalise its acts:
“The justifications are drawn from words we hold most dear.”
This is something that many western liberals are not prepared to admit, claiming instead that ISIS has ‘nothing do with’ Islam. This is counter-productive; rather than denying any connection we need to create a space for other Muslims to criticise, engage with and dismantle the beliefs which lead people to acts of violence and terrorism.
The authors of the magazine are clear on the point that IS do draw their justification from Islam, but through a warped understanding of it backed up by propaganda and the desire for power.
The magazine begins by undermining the existence of the ‘Caliphate’ that ISIS claim to represent, noting that the appointment of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as Caliph did not comply with Qu’ranic conditions. Dr Musharraf Hussain Al-Azhari says:
“Let us be absolutely clear here: calling themselves a “state” does not make them a state. Calling himself a “Caliph” doesn’t make him one.”
The message to would-be jihadis is direct; one of the contributers Dr Mohamed el-Sharkawy, principal of the Al-Azhar Academy, says:
“It is very important to know that there is no basis to abandon your homes and leave to join these groups for ‘Jihad.”
Dr el-Sharkawy also describes how both the Qu’ran and the Hadiths contain warnings against extremism:
“God says in his Book, warning of exaggeration in the religion:
“O people of the scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning Allah save the truth…”
“A Hadith narrated by Ibn Mas’oud (God Bless him) says: “Exaggerators are doomed”—[The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said it 3 times].”
Dr Qari Muhammed Asim MBE, the head imam of Leeds’ Makkah mosque, describes how the Qu’ran characterises extremists as ‘young enthusiasts without much vision, strategy or experience. They will be full of anger and frustration.’ The vanity and narcissism of ISIS are captured in a Hadith narrated by Musnad Ahmad: ‘The people will be amazed by them and they will be swollen with pride’.
There are also sections showing textual prohibition of killing and religious coercion, and explicated passages which extol human rights for all.
Imamsonline is a collective of respected scholars from around the world, Muslim leaders revered for their religious learning as well as their work within their communities. These are the only people who can really be expected to change the minds, and change the course, of young people at risk of radicalisation.
Hate preachers and extremist clerics strive so hard to create a ‘them and us’ situation that it is unrealistic to expect Muslims who have become deeply religious to heed the advice of non-Muslims on matters of faith, whatever their approach may be.
As Eric Pickles said in his January letter to British mosques, Britain desperately needs the support of religious leaders in helping steer young people off the path of extremism and back to a non-violent Islam.
The ISIS members who have become recruiters for the group through social media are usually very young people who were pursuing non-religious paths prior to their departure for Syria. There is an urgent need for strong opposition voices from people who have a far deeper understanding of the history, theology and application of Islam than teenage recruits to guide young Muslims through sometimes complicated texts, and the Haqiqah magazine is a good start.
Haqiqah, and other projects like it, will need to become far more sophisticated if they are to compete with ISIS; a US study claims there are at least 46,000 Twitter accounts operating on behalf of the group.
But the launch today is an act of hope and solidarity, sending a clear message to people of all faiths and background that murder and brutality have no place in Islam.
Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.