The gruesome incineration of the Jordanian Pilot by Da’ish (ISIS) in Iraq has shocked many around the world. However, more than countering merely the violence and the mayhem, the current challenge posed by ISIS uprising is how to clearly define the factors and the actors. We need to understand that the prominent ideological factor that seems to motivate ISIS –and its Jihadist brethren from Mali to Indonesia- revolves round the concept of political authority in Islam. This ideology is not only driven by the teachings of the medieval Islamic scholar, Ibn Taymiyyah, but has also encouraged political violence and extremism in the name of Islam. Hence, it is important to examine the extent to which this ideology has predisposed the jihadist mindset of ISIS and others. So, let’s examine the radical political ideology of Ibn Taymiyyah and its influence on the ideological motivations of ISIS as well as the implications of his ideas for ISIS agenda.
And so the method on how to kill Al-Kassasbeh was not some dreamed up concoction, but stemmed from Islam as the quest on how to execute him circulated the Muslim world. In the burning scene video (see 1:00 above) ISIS gave the Islamic edict straight from the top Islamic authority of Ibn Taymiyya’s jurisprudence:http://shoebat.com/…/watch-horrific-video-isis-burning-pow…/
Several competing theories abound to explain the ISIS uprising, broadly revolving round socio-economic, political, and religious issues and the politics of post-colonial dominance and impunity, with despotic regimes motivating resistant movements to transform themselves into violent armed groups. One discourse that has remained less well examined is the theoretical claim that ISIS and all other Deobandi and Salafi jihadists have been deeply influenced by the religious and ideological teachings of the radical medieval Islamist, Ibn Taymiyyah. Let’s focus on the influence of Ibn Taymiyyah because there is no other Islamic theologian who has had as much influence on radical political ideology of Islam as Ibn Taymiyyah. The ideology itself is constructed on the concept that a legitimate political authority must be based on the Quran and the Sunna. Thus, it becomes a duty for all Muslims to ensure that Islamic law is implemented in society. As such, it is argued that most Islamic theologians, including reformers, revivalists and Islamists either from the Sufi or Sunni tradition, from the Wahhabis to Sayyid Qutb to Maududi and to Osama Bin Laden have in one way or the other attacked the validity of secular political authority. They have also questioned the authority of Muslim but secular political leaders who have failed both in their personal and political lives to uphold correct Islamic ideals.
How do we relate the concept and practice of Ibn Taymiyyah’s political ideology to the ISIS call for an Islamic state? Let’s make an attempt to examine the development of the concept of legitimate political authority in Islam, followed by an analysis of its radical and violent implications, how it was transited down to ISIS and why such ideology is a potent tool for Jihadist mobilisation efforts. Some of the lessons that ISIS and other contemporary Jihadists have drawn from Ibn Taymiyyah are as follows:
Ibn Tamyiyyah and Political Islam:
Ibn Taymiyyah was born in Harran, an old city within the Arabian Peninsula between Sham and Iraq (Al-Sham is an old name that represents the areas of Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Lebanon) in the year 1263. Ibn Taymiyyah became a professor of Islamic law. His political ideology was very unpopular with political leaders at the time and he was imprisoned in both Syria and Egypt. He portrayed Islam as a political ideology by which Muslims ought to explain and justify the ends and means of all organized social action. In this sense the ideology of political authority in Islam is more than merely a religion in the narrow sense of theological belief, private prayer and ritual worship. Ibn Taymiyyah picked up some religious elements in Islam and turned them into an ideological precept.
While in Medina, the Prophet drew up a pact known as misāq al-Madina (the Treaty of Medina). This particular treaty was very significant because, it guaranteed full autonomy to all tribes and religious groups like the Jews, the Muslims and other pagan tribes. In addition, it went beyond tribal structures and laid down the principle that if an outside force attacks Medina all will defend it together. This shows that the fundamental intention of the Prophet was to establish a religious community tolerant of diversity and responsive to political problems, but not a sovereign political authority. Ibn Taymiyyah argued that any exercise of authority, be it political or religious, “must be based on the law of Allah”. The development of this ideology by Ibn Taymiyyah must be understood against the socio-political context of Ibn Taymiyyah’s life during a period of profound spiritual and political upheaval. In 1258, the Abbasid Empire was defeated by the Mongol armies and Bagdad was captured. For most Muslims, the defeat of the ruling dynasty was an unmitigated disaster. Bagdad, a renowned city of Islamic learning, suffered the fate of being looted and pillaged. This experience forced Ibn Taymiyyah into active politics. The basic principle of this theory is that human beings must, individually and collectively, surrender all rights of lordship, legislation and exercising authority over others. For him the command to participate in jihad and its merit are crystal clear in the Quran, deserving no further discussion. With this in mind, he advocated a society where only the law of Allah was to be applied. The application of the law of Allah therefore was the only prerequisite for legitimate political authority and the valid means of defending and reforming all societies and for this purpose Ibn Taymiyyah legitimized the use of force.
Ibn Taymiyyah and Abdul Wahhab:
Ibn Taymiyyah also inspired the Wahhabi ideology based on Abd al-Wahhab’s Jacobin-like hatred for the putrescence and deviationism that he perceived all about him. Hence, his call to purge Islam of all its heresies and idolatries. He borrowed his ideas from Taymiyyah who, like Wahhab, had declared war on Shi’ism, Sufism and Greek philosophy. He spoke out, too against visiting the grave of the prophet and the celebration of his birthday, declaring that all such behaviour represented mere imitation of the Christian worship of Jesus as God (i.e. idolatry). Abd al-Wahhab assimilated all this earlier teaching, stating that “any doubt or hesitation” on the part of a believer in respect to his or her acknowledging this particular interpretation of Islam should deprive a man of immunity of his life and his belongings. One of the main tenets of Abd al-Wahhab’s doctrine has become the key idea of takfir. Under the takfiri doctrine, Abd al-Wahhab and his followers could deem fellow Muslims infidels should they engage in activities that in any way could be said to encroach on the sovereignty of the absolute Authority (in this instance, the King). With the advent of the oil bonanza, Saudi goals were to reach out and spread Wahhabism across the Muslim world … to “Wahhabise” Islam, thereby reducing the multitude of voices within the religion to a “single creed” — a movement which would transcend national divisions. Billions of dollars were — and continue to be — invested in this demonstration of soft power.
Ibn Taymiyyah’s Political Ideology and Today’s world:
The particular implication of Ibn Taymiyyah’s political ideology is that it runs absolutely contrary to the demands of the fundamental principles of democracy. He insisted that the source of law that governs society must be derived from the Quran and Sunna of the Prophet. Both the ruler and the ruled are subject to the law of Allah that no person, class or group, not even the entire population of the state as a whole, can lay claim to sovereignty. The doctrine of Ibn Taymiyyah completely repudiates the idea of popular sovereignty, any system of governance where the selection of leaders and public officers and the making of laws can be left in the hands of the people. Hence, the government of the day then becomes only a political agency set up to enforce the law of God. Ibn Taymiyyah forbade the separation of state and religion. What is considered as a civil right in democratic society, Ibn Taymiyyah saw as a religious duty. This is manifested in the way most Islamists see it as a religious duty to enforce not just the implementation of Islamic law but also to force others to accept it by whatever means, including the use of violence. In general terms, if the concept of legitimate political authority as proposed by Ibn Taymiyyah has to be literally implemented, there are far-reaching consequences not just for Islamic countries, but more importantly for emerging democracies across the developing nations where Muslim populations are growing. The reason is that the foundation of democracy in modern times lies in the sovereignty of the people. However, the extreme ideology of ISIS and other Islamists does not give space for the plurality of cultures, religions and institutions.
The Transition from Ibn Taymiyyah to ISIS
Ibn Taymiyyah’s views on legitimate political authority in Islam greatly influenced the prototype of Takfiri ideology and influenced uprisings that called for the establishment of Islamic governance; such as the Jihad of Muhammad Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab 1744-1773; the Jihad of Abd al-Qadir in Algeria from 1808-1883 and the Jihad of Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda affiliates. Thus his influence within Sunni Islamists like Osama Bin Laden could be seen as a link between global takfiri ideology and local contemporary grievances. It is necessary to concede that this form of jihad espoused by Ibn Taymiyyah’s ideology is different from other forms of jihad based on mainstream Sufi traditions like the Jihad of the Mahdi in the Sudan from 1844 -1885, the Jihad of Imam Shamil in Russia from 1834 -1859 and that of Othman Dan Fodio in Northern Nigeria in more recent times. These were protagonists of the Sufi tradition whose forms of jihads were also defensive. Unlike the Taymiyyan jihad, they were built upon consensus and analogy. In light of these distinctions, evidence suggests that his ideology regained prominence in the Jihad waged against the Russians in Afghanistan and then continued to live on in Mujahedeen, Taliban, and the activities of Osama bin Laden. Osama often cited Ibn Taymiyyah in his sermons and communiqués. On one occasion he said:
The most important religious duty – after belief itself – is to ward off and fight the enemy aggressor. Šayḫ al-Islam (Ibn Taymiyyah), may Allāh have mercy upon him, said: “to drive off the enemy aggressor who destroys both religion and the world – there is no religious duty more important than this, apart from belief itself. This is an unconditional rule.”
It is therefore not surprising that the Middle East was not left out in the whirlwind of Ibn Taymiyyah’s far-reaching influence with the emergence of ISIS. According to Abū Abd Allah Al-Sa’dī, one of the leading figures of Al-Qaeda:
The state of šayh Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahhab (Saudi Arabia) arose only by jihad. The state of the Taliban in Afghanistan arose only by jihad. It is true that these attempts were not perfect and did not fill the full role required, but incremental progress is a known universal principle. Yesterday, we did not dream of a state; today we established states and they fall. Tomorrow, Allah willing, a state will arise and will not fall.
The feelings expressed in the above extract show the fact that extremists like the followers of Al-Qaeda and ISIS are not lying low in their effort to establish Islamic rule and that the ideological influence of the writings of Ibn Taymiyyah cannot be overlooked. The core leaders of ISIS read the teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah and have been deeply influenced by it. There are many recordings of their leaders’ sermons in circulation where they directly quote Ibn Taymiyyah.
In what looks like an impressive furtherance of Ibn Taymiyyah’s ideology, today’s Jihadists declare democracy as a system contrary to true Muslim beliefs and give out a clear-cut message to fight the democratic governments in Muslim countries. Like Maulana Abdul Aziz in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, they are clearly contemptuous of the state and its agents and agencies and they openly say so in their sermons. They abuse other Muslims whom they consider to have abandoned the paths of Islam. They reject the corrupting influence of the secular world and they rail against the corruption within the so called Islamic community. They abuse the political class openly. They speak and look forward to a future of living in an Islamic state. They believe that a truly Islamic state is possible even though they are ignorant of the real world beyond them. Like Ibn Taymiyyah, they believe that the reformation of Islam and the implementation of Islamic law remains the only valuable option for social justice and prosperity. It is in this backdrop that all the Jihadism on display today can be viewed essentially as a corrective movement to contemporary Wahhabism through an extension of Ibn Taymiyyah’s original Salafist ideology.