The United Front of ISIS, Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda vs. ‘Peaceful Islam’ in Africa to the Middle East and to the West

_77966129_77959544Just recently I received a painful email from a Christian brother in Nigeria. He sent a few pictures of over 1000 Christians being slaughtered by Boko Haram in a recent merciless attack on the Christian village of Gwoza. Some were butchered, others were shot, slashed to death, or burned alive. If you’re wondering why you didn’t hear of this, shockingly the news didn’t make it to main stream media, perhaps because it was not deemed as important of an issue as the ISIS crisis in the Middle East. The government of Nigeria is calling Boko Haram a militant Islamist terrorist organization who has declared a caliphate in all areas under Abubakar Shekau’s control.

Don’t call Islamic terrorist groups Islamic or Islamists:

That same day I watched some of our political leaders and media representatives calling for reform and using the word Islamist or Islamic terrorists in the media when referring to various terrorist groups who happened to be Islamic groups. One of the spokespersons on Wolf Blitzer’s ‘The Situation Room’ program condemned the use of Islamic terrorists in the wake of the killing of a Jordanian pilot Lieutenant Moath Youssef al-Kasasbeh. Her argument was based on the simple logic that since the pilot was a Muslim, then ISIS, which is a terrorist organization, cannot be an Islamic organization because a Muslim would not kill a Muslim. Alongside this, many leaders of the Islamic world have been denouncing ISIS in the media and assuring the world that Islam is a religion of peace. For example, Reuters reported on February 4, 2015 that the Saudi King calls the pilot’s killing “a heinous’ violation of Islam.” King Abdullah of Jordan called ISIS’s action un-Islamic when he said in a nationally televised statement, “The killing was a cowardly act of terror by a criminal group that has no relation to Islam.” What the spokesperson in Wolf’s show failed to recognize is that within Islam there are many factions and each considers it’s teaching to be the true Islamic teaching. Therefore, more Muslims are being killed by fellow Muslims due to the religious sectarianism.

Here are a few critical observations and suggestions for your consideration in order to evaluate whether ISIS, Boko Haram, and many other Islamic groups throughout the world who are calling for Jihad are following Islam or they are simply mistaken. Furthermore, is it a coincidence that different Islamic groups in different parts of the world are claiming to fight for the same cause,—Islam—or do they stem from the same tree?

The Origin of ISIS, Its Relation with Al-Qaeda and Its Expansion:

In his recent speech addressing the State of the Union, Present Obama used the term “ISIL” rather than ISIS, IS (Islamic State) or ISI. Even though all these terms refer to the same group, they does not necessarily mean the same thing. The founder of the Islamic State, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi named the group “Jamaat al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad in 1999, and used the acronym JTJ. In 2004 he changed the name from JTJ to AQI, standing for for Al-Qaeda in Iraq and in 2006 he changed the name of the group again and called it the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). Later, the group invaded some of the Syrian territories and named the group the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (In the Qur’an al-Sham consists of some of the areas of present day Syria). Therefore, in English the name would be the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) whereas the acronym ISIS drags the whole of Syria into the name. This is why the Obama administration intentionally chose the term ISIL rather than ISIS to avoid the notion that the name of the group is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

However, recently the group (probably considering the unexpected expansion of the group and the confusion between ISIS vs. ISIL) adopted the name ‘the Islamic State’ (IS). This demonstrated that the Islamic State no longer sees herself as a small group which was growing under the shadows of Al-Qaeda, but ideologically and theologically it is to revive the caliphate like the one Islam enjoyed for centuries up until the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the hand of Western powers.

The Genesis of Boko Haram in Africa:

Boko Haram is an African organization founded in Nigeria by Mohammed Yusuf and succeeded by Abubakar Shekau after Yusuf’s death in 2009. Haram means forbidden, therefore their ideology is based on what is forbidden in Islam. Boko Haram can be translated as meaning that Western education is forbidden, but its agenda includes many other things that the group claims are forbidden in Islam. Therefore, they enforce and forbid voting in elections because they do not believe that democracy is in accordance with Islam. They forbid western style clothing, along with secular education, as well as the sending of women to school. This is why they kidnapped and “converted” 300 girls in Nigeria just last year. The group has become well known because of their regular bombings, assassinations, abductions, and direct confrontation with the governments in Africa especially in Nigeria. First, it presented itself as an offshoot of Al-Qaeda, but now the infamy of ISIS has changed their allegiance and recently the group has been seen using ISIS’s flag to validate their identity as ISIS in Africa.

This is precisely why the group has been declared a caliphate in areas under Abubakar Shekau’s control. The group claims to be influenced by the Quranic verse, “Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among the transgressors” (Quran 5:44). The Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan continues to preach and believe the same message, therefore the recent attack in Peshawar, which claimed the lives of 141 people (mostly children) at a military school in Pakistan was justified by the Pakistani Taliban as Jihad. Al-Qaida, the Taliban, ISIS, Boko Haram and various other small Islamic organizations continue to believe, claim and preach the message of Jihad, Sharia and an Islamic government in the world. Internally their objectives unite them, even though externally they are working under different names.

The Reason Behind the Teachings and Practices of ISIS and Boko Haram:

To evaluate the true nature of these groups it is essential to understand their claims, beliefs, preaching and practices in the context of Islamic literature (the Quran, and Hadith).

  1. They claim:
  • That they are the true followers of Islam and are willing to kill and die for Islam.
  • That all the other Islamic states must implement Sharia law, or else be ready to be invaded by the soldiers of Allah. Muslim countries in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan have been warned along with a recent statement by one ISIS commander that they will start spreading ISIS in India as well.
  • That their actions are fully justified by Islamic teachings, including the killing of other Muslims (Musharikeen) who are the friends of infidels (Kafir).
  1. They believe:
  • That Muslims all over the world are suppressed (even though many of theses Muslim countries are prosperous and blessed with oil and minerals) by non-Muslims because they are not following true Islam.
  • That Allah has called them for times such as these to fight back to revive the former glory of Islam and to establish Sharia law.
  • That the only law and government that can eliminate injustice and eradicate poverty is Islamic Sharia law and the Islamic government.
  1. They preach and practice:
  • That Allah demands sacrifice for the sake of Islam and offers rewards to His obedient servants (slaves) in the world hereafter. They see the fast expansion of ISIS against all odds (the Arab and Western correlation to fight ISIS) as signs of victory from Allah.
  • That Jihad is the spirit of Islam and Allah has appointed true Muslims (Momeens) to defend Islam. Therefore fighting (killing and dying) is an honor and a privilege.
  • That Western powers are behind everything bad happening to Muslims, and the rulers of the Islamic world follow their directives, thus both the Western and the current rulers of the Islamic world are un-Islamic must be fought against. They believe that rulers of Islam should not be friends with the non-Muslim world, especially the West because the Qur’an teaches that “O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily God guideth not a people unjust” (5: 51).

The Influence of the Quran, Hadith and Jihad.

  • The Quran, the Holy book of Islam:
    • They believe that there are more verses about Jihad and fighting in the Quran than there are peaceful verses that the current rulers of the Muslim world use to defend their un-Islamic governments.
    • “And Jihad has been prescribed for you while it is hateful to you; perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you and perhaps you lose something and it is bad for you; Allah knows and you do not…” (2:216).
    • “Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among the transgressors” (5:44).
    • There are 164 verses on Jihad calling Muslims to”… fight in the way of Allah with those who fight with you… And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of the unbelievers (2:190-191).
  • The Hadith, the saying and actions of the Prophet of Islam:
    • I asked the Prophet, “What is the best deed?” He replied, “To believe in Allah and to fight for His Cause.” (Sahih Bukhari, 3:46:694, Sahih Muslim, 1:149)
    • “Kinana b. al-Rabi`, who had the custody of the treasure of B. al-Nadir, was brought to the apostle who asked him about it. He denied that he knew where it was. A Jew came (T. was brought) to the apostle and said that he had seen Kinana going round a certain ruin every morning early. When the apostle said to Kinana, ‘Do you know that if we find you have it I shall kill you?’ he said Yes. The apostle gave orders that the ruin was to be excavated and some of the treasure was found. When he asked him about the rest he refused to produce it, so the apostle gave orders to al-Zubayr b. al-Awwam, ‘Torture him until you extract what he has,’ so he kindled a fire with flint and steel on his chest until he was nearly dead. Then the apostle delivered him to Muhammad b. Maslama and he struck off his head, in revenge for his brother Mahmud” (Ibn Ishaq 515).
    • “Certainly I decided to order the Mu’adh-dhin (call-maker) to pronounce Iqama and order a man to lead the prayer and then take a fire flame to burn all those who had not left their houses so far for the prayer along with their houses” (Bukhari 1.11.626).
  • The Purpose of Jihad:
    • Allah’s Apostle said: “I have been ordered (by Allah) to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s Apostle, and offer the prayers perfectly and give the obligatory charity, so if they perform that, then they save their lives and property from me except for Islamic laws and then their reckoning (accounts) will be done by Allah” (Sahih Bukhari, 1:2:24, also 4:52:196).
    • It is reported on the authority of Abu Huraira that he heard the Messenger of Allah say: I have been commanded to fight against people, until they testify to the fact that there is no god but Allah, and believe in me (that) I am the messenger (from the Lord) and in all that I have brought. And when they do it, their blood and riches are guaranteed protection on my behalf except where it is justified by law, and their affairs rest with Allah (Sahih Muslim, 1:31, also 1:130, 1:32, 1:33).
    • The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: I am commanded to fight with men till they testify that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is His servant and His Apostle, face our qiblah (direction of prayer which is the Kabba), eat what we slaughter, and pray like us. When they do that, their life and property are unlawful for us except what is due to them. They will have the same rights as the Muslims have, and have the same responsibilities as the Muslims have (Sunan Abu Dawud, 14:2635).
    • A man came to the Prophet and asked, “A man fights for war booty; another fights for fame and a third fights for showing off; which of them fights in Allah’s Cause?” The Prophet said, “He who fights that Allah’s Word (i.e. Islam) should be superior, fights in Allah’s Cause” (Sahih Bukhari, 4:52:65, also 9:93:550 and Sahih Muslim, 20:4684, 20:4685, 20:4686, 20:4687).


If all terrorist organizations are justifying their actions in Islamic teachings and are willing to kill and die for the cause they believe in, then in my humble opinion calling them un-Islamic is not going to help. They have more power and more of a voice than those Muslims who promote and believe in peace and love for all. I leave the conclusion upon each reader because I do believe that there are many Muslims who are peace-loving people, but the dilemma every Muslim faces is that the Qur’an and Hadith teach on the subject of Jihad intensively and leave room for interpretation.

Suggestion no. 1: Unfortunately, Islamic teachings certainly imply that Muslims should not be friends with non-Muslims, and that the way of life is Islam, and that the only expectable government is an Islamic government. Therefore, I believe that there is a need for reform in Islam. Islam needs her Martin Luther, who introduced the protestant reformation in the 16th century that challenged Catholic Christianity religiously, politically, intellectually and culturally. Islam must experience her reformation.

Suggestion no. 2: It is the need of our times that people from all religious and non-religious sectors work together to get along with each other and try to resolve conflict with genuine dialogue. Interfaith dialogues merely stating that, “Islam is a religion of peace” will not help unless sincere efforts are made to answer the controversial portions of the Qur’an by Islamic scholarship. It can begin with introspection and putting aside the differences to move forward.

Suggestion no. 3: Countries like Saudi Arabia should open centers and educational schools to allow people to understand the true teachings of other religions while at the same time putting an end to violations of human rights and religious freedom.

Suggestion no. 4: Islamic countries must amend their curricula regarding anti-Judaism, anti-Christianity, anti-western teaching and intentionally work on promoting peace and harmony from primary schools onward. Besides this, sectarianism must be addressed to protect minority Muslims in the Islamic world.

Suggestion no. 5: All Islamic countries must unanimously ban all kind of Jihadi groups, their funding and activities. They should also work together to fight back rather than always calling upon western powers, especially the United States, to fight the extremists. At the same time, the West must not abuse its freedom of expression; rather it should be used responsibly and should avoid offending one’s personal beliefs at any cost.

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