ISIS defeat in Mosul is not an end to the extremist Islamic ideology

The ISIS cult will loom large in the region threatening peace and stability and creating geopolitical dangers, especially to the common masses across the Arab world.

Defeat of ISIS in Mosul

The ISIS leader Abu Bakr Baghdadi has reportedly acknowledged his defeat in his ‘farewell sermon’ (Khutba al-Wida’a), which was addressed to the religious preachers of the Islamic state.

Consequently, Baghdadi has ordered the closure of the ISIS office regulating the non-Arab jihadist fighters asking them to ‘either return to their countries or detonate themselves’. But the crucial question is: does the defeat of ISIS in Mosul mean the complete closure of the global jihadist cult and other terror outfits run by its ideological supporters in different parts of the Muslim world?

The parallels between the present and the past history of Islam answer this question in a clear negation. They demonstrate that the Islamic State will usher in a new era just as the Kharijites, Takfirists, Ikhwanis, Qaramatians and the Hashashins (a group of Syrian assassins) ideologically flourished in every age under different garbs, though they were militarily defeated. An objective probe into the Islamic history buttresses the point that the fanatical religious cults thrived on the narratives underpinned by the political Islamist ideologues. Therefore, a military crackdown never worked as antidote to their existence and influence in the Muslim countries.

Kharijites—the first incarnation of religious extremism in Arabia

The Khawarij or Kharijites (seceders from Islam) were the foremost champions of the violent religious extremism. It was a group of Islamist rebels who challenged the authority of the fourth Islamic caliph, Hazrat Ali and eventually killed him while he was offering the dawn prayer (fajr). They originated in the earliest Arab history and gained momentum in the Ummayad dynasty. Though they were temporarily crushed down in the Abbasid period, however, their ideological prowess continued to inspire the hardcore Islamists even in the later periods. Today most Islamic intellectuals including Grand Mufti of the Arab world, Sheikh Abdul Aziz, declare the ISIS “an extension of the Kharijite movement”, as Ali Mamouri writes in his article for Al-monitor.

The Khawarij propounded the theology of takfirism based on the two jurisprudential principles: (1) Muslims who commit the grave sins (al-kabaair) or reject any principles of the Islamic faith, go beyond the pale of Islam and, thus, join the rank of apostates.  Therefore, they deserve the capital punishment of flogging. (2) It was forbidden to peacefully coexist with those professing ‘un-Islamic’ thoughts or opinions. The two most authoritative Islamic historians, Ibn Kathir and Imam Tabri wrote these points.

Throughout the Islamic history, the Khrijite ideology of takfir (declaring others infidel), hijrah (Islamic migration), hakimiyah (establishing the divine regime) and other exclusivist doctrines urged the Islamist movements to take up arms against their rulers. In this crazy war, they also fought the “unbelievers” and “deviants” among the Muslims—both combatants and non-combatants. Rejecting any kind of reconciliation with people of other faiths, they believed in the total elimination of other religions, doctrines, sects, regimes, education systems, cultures and traditions.

The Khawarij were financially supported by the then Arab government of the Umayyad dynasty, something which is called “state-sponsored terrorism” in the modern terminology. But later, when the group turned into a rebellious Islamist movement challenging the ‘un-Islamic’ system of governance, the Umayyads launched a military crackdown on it. But it had gained an ideological influence in the region. Therefore, it remained a permanent challenge to the ruling governments in the later period.

The same period witnessed a violent wave of the various extremist outfits like the Hashashins (the assassins) who emerged as a result of the political fights between the Sunni Abbasids based in Iraq and the Shia Fatimids of Egypt. They birthed the profound crisis in the Islamic societies—the Sunni-Shia sectarianism.

Qaramatians—Second revolt of ideological extremism in Islam

After the Khawarij, there emerged another movement of violent ideological extremism in Islam— the Qaramatians who founded a religious utopian republic in the year 899. They are known for their tragic revolt against the Abbasid dynasty. Based in Bahrain, they were small in number, but with a very acute grip on the misguided Muslim youths.

The Qaramatians started wreaking the destruction of cultural Islamic heritage which is now led by the ISIS and its affiliates in the Muslim counties like Pakistan. They razed down numerous historical structures and went to the extent of attacking the holiest Islamic sites in Makkah and Madina. They massacred the Hajj pilgrims, sacked Makkah and Madina and carried off the Black Stone (Hijr al-Aswad) to Bahrain. According to the historical accounts of Imam Tabari, the Qaramatians introduced the dangerous terror tools which were not known earlier. A Qaramatian leader owned the slaves who would slaughter only ‘misguided’ Muslims (mubtadi’een). While vandalising the Syrian and Iraqi culture heritage structures like in Hama, Maratun Noman, Baalbek and Salmiya, they cruelly annihilated the inhabitants of these cities.

Wahhabism-Salafism— the strongest extremist movement in Islamic history

The strongest extremist movement in the Islamic history was laid down in the Wahhabism-Salafism propounded by the Saudi scholar of the Najdi tribe, Ibn Abdul Wahhab. Based on the puritanical Islamism, it emerged in the 18th century Saudi Arabia and turned into the global jihadist movement inspiring the earlier extremists of the Ikhwan al-Najdiyyun and the present-day jihadists of the ISIS and the ilk. Karen Armstrong has candidly exposed this historical ideological correlation. She writes: “Although ISIS is certainly an Islamic movement, it is neither typical nor mired in the distant past, because its roots are in Wahhabism, a form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia that developed only in the 18th century”.

Ideological linkages of the ISIS

Exactly like the ISIS, the theoretical source of Ikhwan Al-Najdiyyun emanated from the teachings of Ibn Abdul Wahhab. The key in his teachings was the doctrine of “loyalty and disavowal” (al-wala wal bara). It encouraged religious bigotry and peddled hatred against all those who did not follow the Wahhabi doctrines. The main postulates of this Islamist narrative were: (1) Exclude the non-Wahhabi Muslims from Islam (2) Migrate from the non-Muslim societies and change them through force (3) Kill the people of those countries, if they do not covert.

A detailed historical account of all such exclusivist teachings of the Wahhabi-Salafi ideologues can be traced in the authoritative Arabic text books like Majmu’a al-Fatawa al-A’ama, a collection of fatwas or theological decrees of Ibn Abdul Wahhab and Tafseer Kalimah Tauheed, an exegesis of the Qur’anic verses on Tauheed (Islamic monotheism). In his decree on this fundamental Islamic belief, Ibn Abdul Wahab stated:  “The polytheism of the people in the pre-Islamic era of ignorance (known as Jahiliyyah) was less intense than that of today’s people, because of two reasons: First, the former polytheists used to invoke other deities including Allah, when they were in comfort. But during the calamities, they used to call only Allah. Second, the polytheists of the era of ignorance used to call the sinless non-living things. But today’s people call even the transgressors and deviants as God.” This decree declared all Muslims (of that time) as polytheists and also considered their alleged ‘polytheism’ to be greater and more sinful than that of the pre-Islamic ‘pagans’ in the Arabian lands. Such hardcore religious teachings of the Najdi-Wahhabi ulema like Ibn Abdul Wahhab were the drivers of the extremist Saudi-Wahabi theocracy which propelled Muslims into the hardline Islamist militancy in the wider Islamic world. They waged war of takifir declaring the various Arab tribes as infidels and idolaters, looted their properties and lands, captured and distributed their women as “maal e ghaneemat” (war booty). The Arab historian Usman bin Bashar Najdi has noted all this in his book on the history of Wahabism “Unwan al-Majd fi Tareekh al-Najd”.

When Ibn Abdul Wahab issued the fatwa calling Muslims to migrate from the so-called polytheist communities, a few Wahhabi followers couldn’t reconcile with it. They were also brutally murdered as other Muslims who were declared ‘kafir’ (disbelievers). The height of the folly of those religionists was that they declared non-Arab Muslims who didn’t tie the turban as ‘anti-Islam’. The Wahhabi militants were recruited and trained by the Al-Ikhwan Al-Najdiyyun—a group of religious fanatics inspired by the rigid and desiccated teachings of Islamist thinkers like Ibn Taimiyah. The Saudi-backed Wahhabi militias were so cruel in their mass killings that their savagery was unmatched even in times of the Khawarij and the Qaramatians.

Political Patronage and Terror Financing

The Wahhabi movement received huge support not only from the A’al-e-Saud (the Saudi dynasty), but also from the British government. Substantial evidences prove this historical fact. Most notably, both the Saudi and the British governments were hostile towards the Ottoman Caliphate. Therefore, the western imperialists not only ignored all the violent events which were carried out by the Wahhabis throughout the Arabian Peninsula, but also helped them further their nefarious designs. After the defeat in the First World War, the Ottoman Empire lost its control and suffered a sudden decline. Inevitably, the Arab world came under the acute grip and influence of the nexus between the Saudi Wahhabism and the Western imperialism. In his book, “Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden”, Steven Coll, a noted writer and journalist, gives the inside story of the CIA’s covert funding of the ‘jihad’ against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. He also recounts as to how the die-hard Wahhabi adherents castigated the “decorous, arty, and drum pounding Egyptian and Ottoman nobility who travelled across Arabia to pray at Mecca.”

Return of the Jihadist dragon

With the rise of the Islamic state in Mosul and Raqqa in 2014, non-combatant civilians in the region —both Muslims and others—were frightened and systematically targeted. But not many were completely taken by surprise. They were familiar with the earlier lethal incarnations of the violent jihadist cult. The Damascus-based Syrian Islamic intellectuals like Shaikh al-Yaqubi drew parallels between the ISIS and the two violent historical movements in Islam, Kharjism and Salafism. In his effort to offer a first-hand rebuttal to the ISIS’ theology, he presented a brief historical study coupled with an analysis from the authentic Arabic sources. In his famous book “Refuting ISIS: A Rebuttal of Its Religious and Ideological Foundations”, al-Yaqubi wrote: “Several elements in the ideology of ISIS contribute to its extremist views and practices. Some may be derived from Sayyid Qutb’s works and the hardline Muslim Brotherhood (MB); others may have stemmed from the Salafi movement, which gave birth to what is known today as Salafist Jihadism (al-Salafiyah al-Jihadiyah)”….“The brutality, savagery, and barbarity we have witnessed from this group is a testimony to the inherent danger of giving ignorant fanatics the authority to do the job of the great independent legal authorities (mujtahids), a status which even Ghazali and Nawawi and other earlier Islamic scholars of great stature could not claim”.

Several other Syrian, Iraqi and Saudi scholars have done an empirical research to show as to how the self-imposed Islamic state caliph, al-Baghdadi’s language fully replicated the expressions of Ibn Abdul Wahhab. Significantly enough, Baghdadi constantly used the extremist doctrine of Ibn Abdul Wahhab “al-Wala wal Bara” (loyalty with Wahhabi Muslims and disavowal against others). Near all adherents of Wahhab consider it “an integral part to Iman-e-Kamil” (perfect faith in Islam).

To seriously analyze the interplay between the pernicious ideology of ISIS and its perennial growth and influence in the Muslim world, one should not skip these ideological linkages rooted in the Islamic history. Even though the extremist ideologies were physically defeated a number of times in different phases of the Islamic history, they thrived in various names and garbs—Kharijites, Qaramatians, Hashshashins, Najdis and Wahhabis. Clearly, the cult of Daesh or ISIS will continue to prevail in some or the other parts of the Muslim world. It is defeated only for the time being until some other Islamic names and Arabic titles are coined.

Deplorably enough, the ideological power of the ISIS continues to prevail without being directly challenged. Inevitably, the ISIS cult will loom large in the region threatening peace and stability and creating geopolitical dangers, especially to the common masses across the Arab world.

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The author is a scholar of comparative religion, classical Arabic and Islamic sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in media and communication Studies. He tweets at @GRDehlvi and can be contacted at [email protected]