The ISIS Ideology

  • | Tuesday, 22 October, 2019
The ISIS Ideology

     ISIS, as a terrorist militant entity, cannot be viewed separately from its ideological identity, on which its members base their practices and orientations. Like almost all the other so-called jihadi groups, ISIS adopts the doctrine of Jihadi-Salafism, also termed “Jihadism” for short. In an audio broadcast in 2017, the ISIS spokesman then, Abu Umar Al-Baghdady, addressed the “Sunni Muslims and young people of Jihadi-Salafism all over the world”. In the same year, his deputy described the Islamic State fighters as being a part of the Jihadi-Salafism doctrine. The Jihadi-Salafism movements emerged in the late seventies of the 20th century. There are certain hallmark constituents that shape the Jihadi-Salafist ideology of ISIS, the most prominent of which are the following:


Takfir is a major component of terrorist ISIS’ ideology. It is technically the branding of a Muslim as kafir (infidel). The origins of takfir may be traced back to the late 7th century, when the early Khawarij sect split from the Sunni Muslims and began to exercise takfir against the community. ISIS applies Takfir freely and does not hesitate to label with apostasy and disbelief entire movements, communities or sects.

In a published response, Al-Azhar Observatory for Combating Extremism explained that, in Islam, the case of belief and disbelief is a matter between man and his Lord, and that our Prophet (PBUH) taught us to deal with people based on what they declare, and not what they hide in their hearts. Besides, we should not conduct inquisitions into the status of a person in terms of being a believer or a disbeliever. Allah is the only one that knows what lingers in people’s hearts. We judge according to appearances and Allah accounts for the secrets.


In June 2014 the so-called Islamic State again made a surprise move in Iraq. The group swept into western Iraq, conquering most of the country’s Sunni territories, including the city of Mosul. On June 29, it finally declared itself the caliphate in a triumphant audio address by Abu Muhammad al-‘Adnani. Henceforward the group was to be known simply as “the Islamic State”. Five days later, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his first-ever public appearance, delivering a sermon from the pulpit of the great mosque of Mosul. Quoting the accession speech of the first Sunni Muslim caliph, he channeled the memory of the early Islamic caliphate. Terrorist groups, including ISIS, claim that Caliphate is a legal obligation and that no other political system apart from it is approved under the Sharia.

However, this claim may be refuted on several grounds. Linguistically, the word “Caliphate” is derived from the Arabic verb “Khalafa”, that is to succeed. Technically, it means administering the worldly affairs of people according to the Sharia of Allah. Guided by the teachings of Islam, the first and foremost task of the caliphate is to administer the affairs of Muslims in this worldly life, and to preserve and spread the religion. Thus, he who claims to be a caliph without fulfilling theses duties is a liar. From the Islamic perspective, caliphate is a political system that is not sought for itself but rather for attaining specific objectives and outcomes.

A “Khilafa”, from a linguistic standpoint, signifies any ruler who succeeds a previous one. Al-Tirmidhi, Al-Nasaai, Abu Dawud and Ahmed b. Hanbal reported that the Messenger of Allah said, “Caliphate will be in my Ummah for thirty years and then there will be monarchy after that.” The Term “Caliphate” in this hadith refers specifically to the period of the rightly guided Caliphs, namely Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali and al-Hassan ibn Ali (may Allah be pleased with them all). As such, all the regimes that came into existence after these rightly guided caliphs shall thus fall under the classification of kingship and not the religious caliphate inherited from the Messenger of Allah (PBUH). However, today’s rulers may be called “caliphates” on a linguistic basis, because they succeed other rulers in assuming the office of rule.

Further, ISIS believes that Muslims must not work under any political system other than the Caliphate. In response, it could be said that Muslims are allowed to choose the system of ruling which fits their customs and traditions on condition that it does not contradict the Sharia of Allah. In this regard, it is of paramount importance to know that there is no single decisive text in Islam that obliges Muslims to establish a particular political system. They are rather commanded to maintain justice and run the affairs of people in a manner that pleases Allah, the Almighty. All the regimes that came after the era of the rightly guided caliphs cannot be called “Caliphates” except on a linguistic basis. In reality, they were different from one another in such a way that clearly indicates that the ruling regimes in Islam differ according to people’s customs, cultures and circumstances.


ISIS and other terrorist groups cherish the concept of al-Hakimiyyah, which, according to them, means that there is no legislator except Allah, and this thus assumes – based on that opinion - that rulers who enact laws adaptable to new incidents are disbelievers.

This is an erroneous thought because Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) himself gave his companions the right to make ijtihad at a time where movements and relations were very simple. The Prophet did not forbid them from coming up with new solutions to the emerging problems. Now, Muslim lands have largely expanded, and countless new issues and incidents which require Shar’i responses have emerged. The issue of al-Hakimyyah resulted in conflicts between sects such as al-Khawarij, Shia and Takfiris (those who declare Muslims as disbelievers) of our time. They misunderstood it and applied it out of its right context. Accordingly, sovereignty turned from being to Allah to be for the groups and sects which claimed to be vicegerents to Allah and spread corruption and bloodshed and on earth in His Name.

We finally affirm that Islam is a religion of tolerance, peace, coexistence with others. It warns its followers against Takfir, allows them to choose any system of rule that suits their life, and does not prevent them from practicing personal reasoning to arrive at solutions for the newly-emerged incidents.

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