A published letter to the Islamic State (ISIS) signed by 126 international Muslim leaders and scholars, including top American leaders, is getting major press for rebutting the theological arguments behind the actions of Islamic State. Unfortunately, the same letter endorsed the goal of the Islamic State of rebuilding the caliphate and sharia governance, including its brutal hudud punishments.
Point 16 of the letter states, “Hudud punishments are fixed in the Qu’ran and Hadith and are unquestionably obligatory in Islamic Law.” The criticism of the Islamic State by the scholars is that the terrorist group is not “following the correct procedures that ensure justice and mercy.”
The Muslim “moderates” who signed the letter not only endorsed the combination of mosque and state; they endorsed the most brutal features of sharia governance as seen in Iran, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
An example of a hudud punishment is the death penalty for apostates (Muslims who leave Islam). The letter does not dispute or oppose that. It says that labeling Muslims as apostates is only permissible when an individual “openly declares disbelief.”
The signatories are not condemning the execution of apostates, only how the Islamic State is deciding who qualifies as an apostate.
Point 7 states that Islam forbids the killing of diplomats, journalists and aid workers, but it comes with a very important exception.
“Journalists—if they are honest and of course are not spies—are emissaries of truth, because their job is to expose the truth to people in general,” it reads.
This is actually an endorsement of targeting journalists that Muslims feel are unfair. Islamists, including Islamic State supporters, often claim that the journalists they kill are propagandists and/or spies, meeting the letter’s standards.
Point 22 of the letter states, “There is agreement (ittifaq) among scholars that a caliphate is an obligation upon the Ummah. The Ummah has lacked a caliphate since 1924 CE. However, a new caliphate requires consensus from Muslims and not just from those in a small corner of the world.”
A caliphate is a pan-Islamic government based on sharia; virtually all Islamic scholars agree that this objective requires the elimination of Israel. It is also fundamentally (and by definition) expansionist.
Again, the “moderate” signatories endorse the principles of the Islamic State and other jihadists but criticize their implementation.
Point 5 states, “What is meant by ‘practical jurisprudence’ is the process of applying Shari’ah rulings and dealing with them according to the realities and circumstances that people are living under.”
It continues, “Practical jurisprudence [fiqh al-waq’i] considers the texts that are applicable to peoples realities at a particular time, and the obligations that can be postponed until they are able to be met or delayed based on their capabilities.”
This is an endorsement of the Islamist doctrine of "gradualism." This is an incremental strategy for establishing sharia governance, supporting jihad and advancing the Islamist cause.
The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), whose leader is a signatory of the letter, preaches this concept in its own publications. An ICNA teaching guide published by the Clarion Project preaches gradualism as its strategy for implementing sharia governance and resurrecting the caliphate.
ICNA’s manual directs Muslims to use deception and infiltrate the government. The gradualist strategy is part of a jihad that includes war with the ultimate goal of conquering the world.
A weakness in the letter is the vague terminology that gives room for terrorist groups like Hamas to justify their violence.
For example, point 8 states that “Jihad in Islam is defensive war. It is not permissible without the right cause, the right purpose and without the right rules of conduct.”
The letter goes into detail about these qualifications in order to condemn the tactics of the Islamic State, but the terms of a “defensive war” are not spelled out. All Islamist terrorists consider their attacks “defensive.”
Muslim-American activist Michael Ghouse pointed out the need for clarification in a conversation with me about the letter. He said:
“Define the right cause. Is fighting against India in Kashmir a jihad? Was the war between Iraq and Iran two decades ago a jihad? This group needs to continue to update these situations to let the common Muslim know what is right and what is wrong, lest he commits himself to the jihad.”
Islamists regularly redefine words like “clear disbelief,” “democracy,” “justice,” “peace” and “terrorism” on their own terms. The use of subjective language like “innocents,” “mistreat,” “defensive” and “rights” leave much room for interpretation.
This is what enabled a terrorism-supporting cleric named Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah to sign the letter. He is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, has called for attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq, supports Hamas and seeks the destruction of Israel.
The Islamist leaders behind the anti-Islamic State letter are still endorsing Islamic sharia law, which is oppressive and incompatible with Western values. The implementation of sharia is what drives all Islamic extremism.
The letter also utilizes Islamist thinkers that formed the intellectual foundation for today’s extremism. For example, it cites Ibn Taymiyyah. Terrorism expert Atto Barkindo writes, “Some scholars suggest there is probably no other Islamic theologian, medieval or otherwise, who has had as much influence on radical political ideology of Islam as Ibn Taymiyya.” This includes the leaders of Al Qaeda.
Ghouse told the Clarion Project that shari,a as encoded by such scholars, needs revising. “Classical texts that are referred to in the list are part of the problems,” Ghouse said. “We need to make a commitment to question and revise the exegeses of the Ulemas [scholars] like Ibn-Kathir, Ibn Taymiyyah, Maududi, Hassna al-Banna and others. We cannot equate them to Quran and Hadith.”
The letter does make a much-needed rebuttal to the murdering of diplomats, noncombatants, labeling of Yazidis as apostates, attacks on Christians, forced conversions and torture. It states that Arab Christians are exceptions to the “rulings of jihad” because of “ancient agreements that are around 1400 years old.”
The letter also does tries to persuade Muslims to reject the Islamic State because of its tactics and procedures; however, it reinforces the Islamist basis of those actions.
Far from proving that the Muslim-American signatories are “moderate,” the letter actually exposes them as Islamist extremists because of their endorsements of sharia governance, its brutal hudud punishments and the resurrection of the caliphate.
These 18 leaders include:
- Naeem Baig, President of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA)
- Azhar Azeez, President of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)
- Nihad Awad, National Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
- Hatem Bazian, chairman of American Muslims for Palestine
- Oussama Jammal, Secretary-General of the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations
- Sheikh Mohamed Magid, Executive Director of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center and former President of ISNA
- Hamza Yusuf, President of Zaytuna College
- Yasir Qadhi, Dean of Academic Affairs at Al-Maghrib Institute and Professor of Islamic Studies at Rhodes College
- Zulfiqar Ali Shah, Executive Director of the Fiqh Council of North America and director of religious affairs at the Islamic Center of Milwaukee
- Jamal Badawi, Executive Councilman of the Fiqh Council of North America and a founder of the Muslim American Society (MAS)
- Omar Shahin, Secretary-General of the North American Imams Federation Imam Talib Shareef, President of Masjid Muhammad (The Nation’s Mosque) in Washington, D.C. and National Chaplain of the Muslim American Veterans Association
- Ihsan Bagby, General Secretary of the Muslim Alliance in North America, councilman of the Fiqh Council of North America and Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Kentucky.
- Mohamad Adam El-Sheikh, Executive Councilman of the Fiqh Council of North America and former imam of Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center and founder of the Muslim American Society.
- Yusuf Kavakci, councilman of the Fiqh Council of North America and scholar-in-residence of the Islamic Association of North Texas
- Muzammil Siddiqi, a founder of ISNA and Fiqh Council of North America Executive Council Chairman
- Ahmad Shqeirat, member of the North American Imams Federation and Imam of the Islamic Community Center of Tempe (Arizona)
- Professor Joseph E.B. Lumbard, Assistant Professor of Classical Islam at Brandeis University