“… since September 11th event, in many occasion I always come forth, with a defense of Islam. Islam is like any other major tradition. I think the very praising Allah means love, infinite love, compassion, like that. I understand Islam, they usually carry rosary, all 99 beads, different name of Allah, all refer compassion, or these positive things.” – Dalai Lama
The Shia-Sunni stifles
Islam is an Arabic word meaning peace, purity, submission and obedience. In the religious sense, Islam means submission to the will of Allah (God) and obedience to His law.
The Shias, Sunnis and Christians have lived peacefully for centuries but the post 9/11 period has produced deep cracks not only across the Middle East, but Pakistan and Afghanistan also felt the heat. The region is seeing the worst chaos, bloodshed and anarchy in its history.
The Ottoman Caliphate, headquartered in Istanbul, ruled the Arab world for centuries. However, in the early 1900s, the Arab revolt backed by the British ended the long era of the Caliphate and made ways for the creation of many individual Arab monarchs. Moreover, the Sykes-Picot Agreement (post-Ottoman Arab world map) also attempted to divide the Middle East between British and French: Iraq, Kuwait, and Jordan were to be given to the British, Syria, Lebanon, and southern Turkey to France under the Agreement.
The security situation of the Middle East has worsened in the last decade or so and the region seems to be falling back into the old age of tribalism in which every tribe was fighting every tribe.
Moreover, in the absence of any effective democratic rules and the incompetency of rulers, the extremist and jihadi groups continued to surface to fill the gap and establish strongholds in the region. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Lebanon, Pakistan and Afghanistan in what historians call the worst sectarian killings in centuries.
ISIS wants to abolish all borders in the Middle East and establish an Islamic State or Caliphate and enforce Islamic Law. Analysts reckon that among many Jihadi groups that have operated in the last decade or so, ISIS are the most barbaric and brutal and worse than al-Qaida.
Reports coming from the Middle East would suggest ISIS considers random killings, suicide bombings, looting, kidnappings, torture and beheadings as an integral part of the holy struggle against the infidels.
A quick look at ISIS history
According to Egyptian history, ISIS was the goddess of the sky and nature, the wife of Osiris and the mother of Horus. She was originally depicted wearing a throne-shaped headdress. Today, however, ISIS also known in Arabic as Da’ash, which is considered to be a stigma on the forehead of the Muslim world.
Before the sudden capture of Tikrit and Mosul in Iraq in June, the world didn’t know much about ISIS. A recent statement by ISIS in which it rebranded itself as the “Islamic State,” declaring the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate in Iraq and Syria, sent strong shock waves through not only the Middle East but the West as well.
People were stunned, perplexed and shocked over ISIS’s sweeping victories in such a short span of time. They now control a third of Iraq and a quarter of Syria, or approximately 90,000 square kilometers. “Isis now presents itself as an ideologically superior alternative to al-Qaida within the jihadi community,” says Charles Lister of the Brookings Doha Center.
ISIS used the Shia-Sunni conflict to their advantage and ran over Mosul and other Sunni majority areas in Iraq before controlling the major border crossings between Iraq and Syria. Earlier, Shias leaders blamed the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey for igniting the deadly civil war in Iraq and Syria and supplying weapons and money to ISIS and al-Qaida fighters in a bid to overthrow Assad’s regime.
ISIS started in 2004 and grew out of Iraq as an offshoot of al-Qaida. However, Al-Qaeda denounced its affiliation with ISIS earlier this year for it being too extreme and brutal. Some critics directly blame the Saudis (a Sunni state), and western countries led by the US for creating ISIS.
According to a report prepared by the Center for International Interest,”the ideological roots of ISIS can be traced back to the Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, which was established in Iraq in 2004 by the Salafi-jihadi Jordanian Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi. Al-Zarqawi soon pledged his allegiance to Al Qaeda’s founder Osama bin Laden, and changed the name of his organization to Tanzim Al Qaeda fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (Al Qaeda Organization in the Country of the Two Rivers)”.
Forty-three-year-old Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (his real name is Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai), a Sunni, born in Baghdad is leading ISIS. He claims he is a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, comes from a religious family, and holds a PhD in Islamic studies from the University of Baghdad. According to the Guardian newspaper, Baghdadi was a captive of US forces from 2005 to 2009 and on the UN terrorist list in 2011.
ISIS Inc. finances
It all began when money and weapons started flowing freely from the Gulf States and West to the rebellions, including al-Qaida and ISIS operators, engaged in overthrowing Assad’s regime. They were trained by foreign experts as well. Intelligence reports say ISIS is now equipped with all sorts of weapons supplied by the West and in use by Iraqi and Syrian forces.
The oil smuggling network that runs over northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, southern Turkey and parts of Iran is believed to be the single most important source of income for ISIS today. According to Maplecroft, the risk-management firm, ISIS now controls six out of 10 of Syria’s oilfields, and four small fields in Iraq. Iraq Energy Institute estimates that ISIS is making $3.2 million a day by laundering up to 80,000 barrels.
ISIS by the numbers
No one really knows the exact number of ISIS fighters engaged in Syria and Iraq. Colin Clarke, an associate political scientist at the Rand Corporation, says the figure may range between10,000 and 20,000. The CIA report, however, puts the number around 31,500. According to Souffan Group, a US-based think tank, ISIS has successfully recruited foreign fighters from at least 81 countries. Watching the videos uploaded by ISIS on the social media suggest they enjoy considerable support by people in Iraq and Syria, which may be either because of fear of ISIS’s terror or because they truly love and believe what ISIS are doing.
The use of social media has played a major part in the ISIS recruitment process. They have used news releases, magazines, videos and the Twitter account to update its supporters and do an online recruitment campaign.
Thousands of foreign fighters from Europe and North America have flocked to the banner of ISIS to fight against the “infidels.” France seems to be the hot ground for ISIS recruiters followed by the UK. The Canadian government claims, however, there are at least 130 of its citizens fighting in Syria.
US President Obama says, “Our intelligence community believes that thousands of foreigners — including Europeans and some Americans — have joined them in Syria and Iraq.”
Implications for the Arab world and west
There seems to be no immediate direct threat to Europe and North America, but analysts believe that when ISIS foreign fighters return to their home countries, they might carry out deadly attacks. Also a borderless Islamic State in the center of the Middle East means ‘the end’ for Arab monarchs, autocrats and theocrat rulers. On the flip side, Iran, Iraq and Syria (where Shias are in majority) understand that for them, living under Sunni ISIS rule would be no less than living in hell.
Hence to counter the increasing threat, the collective assault by the US, European countries, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Iraq on ISIS has just started. In addition, Australia and Canada also have joined the assault in various ways. Iran is acting independently and helping the weak Shia Iraqi government to deal with the ISIS threat.
Abu Muhammad Al-Adnani (whose original name was Taha Subhi Falaha), the official spokesman and a senior leader of the ISIS, issued a statement recently urging ISIS supporters to kill Canadians, Americans, Australians, French and other Europeans, regardless of whether they were civilians or members of the military.
What the Muslim religious scholars say about ISIS?
Going forward, the majority of Muslim scholars would disagree with the ISIS approach. They would argue that Islam is a religion of peace and denounces violence in any form. They view ISIS crimes as unparalleled in recent Islamic history and these have brought only a bad name to the religion.
The Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al al-Sheikh, the highest religious authority in the country, issued a new fatwa or legal ruling that the militant groups Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda were “enemy number one of Islam.” Australia’s grand mufti, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammad, also condemned ISIS ‘horrors conducted overseas’.
On September 24, more than 100 Muslim clerics released a detailed refutation of claims by ISIS that its actions in Iraq and Syria are in line with Islamic law. The letter, signed by 111 prominent clerics from around the world, demonstrates many ways in which the clerics assert that ISIS is consistently violating Islamic law.
Canada reacted strongly to the ISIS statement and Jason MacDonald, the director of communications for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said, “ISIS represents a threat not just to stability in the Middle East, but to global security.”
In the meanwhile, the Canadian Immigration Minister Chris Alexander confirmed that the government has indeed denied passports to applicants deemed to have been interested in leaving Canada for the purposes of participating in terrorist activities. Canada is part of a U.S. led alliance that has also mobilized resources to crush ISIS.
The reactions of the local Muslim community in Surrey are also not unexpected. The community seems unhappy with what is happening in the Middle East, consider ISIS actions to be extreme views of a particular group and not that of the majority of the Muslim world and that their actions are against Islamic teachings.
In sum, ISIS’s sudden but strong emergence on the global arena has shocked the world. Although ISIS is not a direct threat to the West today, analysts believe that if resources are not mobilized to crush ISIS now, they may become a global security threat soon. Moreover, the oil-rich Gulf States are very much scared of the ISIS threat because one borderless Islamic State across the Middle East would mean the collapse of the Arab monarchs. Furthermore, the Sunni-Shia stifles is central to the broader conflict that has seemingly put the entire Middle East beyond hope of stability.
“Declare your jihad on thirteen enemies you cannot see – egoism, arrogance, conceit, selfishness, greed, lust, intolerance, anger, lying, cheating, gossiping and slandering. If you can master and destroy them, then you will be ready to fight the enemy you can see.”
– Abu Hamid al-Ghazali
BY SYED ASAD HUSSAIN