Leading British Muslims have published a fatwa against the group that calls itself "Islamic State." The imams are hoping to change the minds of some of the militant group's supporters.
A group of British imams couldn't have been more unequivocal in their condemnation of the group that calls itself the "Islamic State" (IS).
"IS is a heretical, extremist [organization] and it is religiously prohibited (haram) to support or join it; furthermore, it is an obligation on British Muslims to actively oppose its poisonous ideology, especially when this is promoted within Britain," the group wrote in its fatwa that was published in the Sunday Times.
The decree was drafted by Sheikh Usama Hasan, a former east London imam and now head of the Quilliam Foundation, a think-tank that focuses on challenging religious extremism. It has also been endorsed by the head imams of Leicester and Manchester Central Mosques.
"By murdering prisoners of war, journalists and civilians, including mosque imams who refused to endorse their campaign, and by enslaving the women and children of their opponents, [IS] has violated international agreements such as the Geneva Conventions and conventions on slavery that everyone, including Muslims, have signed up to," the fatwa reads.
The fatwa could have various implications, according to Stephan Rosiny, a research fellow at Hamburg's GIGA Institute of Middle East Studies. The fighters and supporters of IS, for one, will most certainly disregard it: "According to these people, anyone who doesn't recognize their caliphate is blasphemous, and, as such, they will reject the authority of the imams who drafted this fatwa."
Other Muslims, however, who support the political message at the heart of IS, could be more amenable to the decree. Any theological discussion it prompts could undermine the credibility of IS, Rosiny told DW.
"From an ideological perspective, the 'Islamic State' could only be demythologized by the Sunni community, by Sunni religious authorities," he said. "In religious terms, the only way to do this would be to scrutinize the criteria for the caliphate, and the religious justification for the violence perpetrated in Iraq and Syria."
Religiously inspired ideology
Usama Hasan, who authored the fatwa, is convinced it will be effective in changing the minds of those Muslims who abide by traditional Sunni authority. However, there are people fighting for IS who have far different objectives, the imam told DW, and these are chiefly concerned with power.
"These people see a great advantage of combining forces with religiously motivated fighters, people who truly believe in the religion," he said. "When this happens, politics joins forces with religion, and the fight becomes one dictated by the struggle for power."
Hasan said he the role of religion in IS as subordinated, or rather utilized as a guise to achieve far different goals: "We are talking about an ideology that is merely inspired by religion. This could be called a very extreme version of political Islam - one that justifies the use of violence in the endeavor to found an Islamic state."
Rosiny concurred with this analysis, adding that IS has built its dominion on a "pseudo-religious foundation" of early Muslim tenets.
"These include the declaration of a second Rashid caliphate, which links with the four 'righteous' Rashid caliphs from early Islam, from 632 to 661. 'Caliph Ibrahim' [head of the Islamic State, al-Baghdadi, eds.] made frequent reference in his first Friday prayer to these early symbols in a bid to create a semblance of religious authority," he said.
These religious emotions are finding confirmation and reinforcement the group's military advances throughout northern Iraq and Syria. The success is seen as proof that these fighters are doing God's work.
Two things are needed in order to defeat IS, according to Rosiny: "On the one hand, military force is required to put an end to this chronology of success. And on the other hand, theological authority is needed to call into question the religious legitimacy of the group's pursuits."