Friday, May 1, 2015

"What Does ISIS Want?"

The Atlantic has a great article giving the run down. Some key points:
Baghdadi spoke at length of the importance of the caliphate in his Mosul sermon. He said that to revive the institution of the caliphate—which had not functioned except in name for about 1,000 years—was a communal obligation. He and his loyalists had “hastened to declare the caliphate and place an imam” at its head, he said. “This is a duty upon the Muslims—a duty that has been lost for centuries … The Muslims sin by losing it, and they must always seek to establish it.” Like bin Laden before him, Baghdadi spoke floridly, with frequent scriptural allusion and command of classical rhetoric. Unlike bin Laden, and unlike those false caliphs of the Ottoman empire, he is Qurayshi.

The caliphate, Cerantonio told me, is not just a political entity but also a vehicle for salvation. Islamic State propaganda regularly reports the pledges of baya’a (allegiance) rolling in from jihadist groups across the Muslim world. Cerantonio quoted a Prophetic saying, that to die without pledging allegiance is to die jahil (ignorant) and therefore die a “death of disbelief.” Consider how Muslims (or, for that matter, Christians) imagine God deals with the souls of people who die without learning about the one true religion. They are neither obviously saved nor definitively condemned. Similarly, Cerantonio said, the Muslim who acknowledges one omnipotent god and prays, but who dies without pledging himself to a valid caliph and incurring the obligations of that oath, has failed to live a fully Islamic life. I pointed out that this means the vast majority of Muslims in history, and all who passed away between 1924 and 2014, died a death of disbelief. Cerantonio nodded gravely. “I would go so far as to say that Islam has been reestablished” by the caliphate.

I asked him about his own baya’a, and he quickly corrected me: “I didn’t say that I’d pledged allegiance.” Under Australian law, he reminded me, giving baya’a to the Islamic State was illegal. “But I agree that [Baghdadi] fulfills the requirements,” he continued. “I’m just going to wink at you, and you take that to mean whatever you want.”

To be the caliph, one must meet conditions outlined in Sunni law—being a Muslim adult man of Quraysh descent; exhibiting moral probity and physical and mental integrity; and having ’amr, or authority. This last criterion, Cerantonio said, is the hardest to fulfill, and requires that the caliph have territory in which he can enforce Islamic law. Baghdadi’s Islamic State achieved that long before June 29, Cerantonio said, and as soon as it did, a Western convert within the group’s ranks—Cerantonio described him as “something of a leader”—began murmuring about the religious obligation to declare a caliphate. He and others spoke quietly to those in power and told them that further delay would be sinful.

Cerantonio said a faction arose that was prepared to make war on Baghdadi’s group if it delayed any further. They prepared a letter to various powerful members of ISIS, airing their displeasure at the failure to appoint a caliph, but were pacified by Adnani, the spokesman, who let them in on a secret—that a caliphate had already been declared, long before the public announcement. They had their legitimate caliph, and at that point there was only one option. “If he’s legitimate,” Cerantonio said, “you must give him the baya’a.”

After Baghdadi’s July sermon, a stream of jihadists began flowing daily into Syria with renewed motivation. ...

Before the caliphate, “maybe 85 percent of the Sharia was absent from our lives,” Choudary told me. “These laws are in abeyance until we have khilafa”—a caliphate—“and now we have one.” Without a caliphate, for example, individual vigilantes are not obliged to amputate the hands of thieves they catch in the act. But create a caliphate, and this law, along with a huge body of other jurisprudence, suddenly awakens. In theory, all Muslims are obliged to immigrate to the territory where the caliph is applying these laws. ...
Fr. Dwight Longenecker makes some interesting points:
the literalism of their interpretation of the Quran is fused with a frightening apocalyptic mindset. To the uninitiated, Muslim end-times prophecies seem just as complicated as the predictions in the Book of Revelation and the complex explanations given by apocalyptically minded Christians and Jews. Islamic prophecies envision that the armies of Rome will meet the armies of Islam in northern Syria, and after a near defeat, the stragglers of the Islamic army will go to Jerusalem to meet their messiah.

As some Christians see Armageddon as the plain where the final battle takes place, the Muslims see the Syrian city of Dabiq near Aleppo. Wood explains, “It is here, the Prophet reportedly said, ‘that the armies of Rome will set up their camp.’ The armies of Islam will meet them, and Dabiq will be Rome’s Waterloo or its Antietam.”

This is the conquest of Rome that the Muslim fundamentalists anticipate. Having taken Dabiq, the ISIS leadership has proclaimed, “The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify … until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq.”

The prophecies say that the enemy is “Rome,” but as Rome has no army, interpreters have different ideas of who “Rome” is. Some think it refers to the Eastern capital of the ancient Roman Empire, meaning Istanbul. Neighboring Turkey, then, is the “Rome” the ISIS murderers plan to conquer.

Other Islamic commentators suggest that “Rome” is shorthand for any infidel army, which could be made up of apostate Muslims allied with Christians and Jews. Others believe “Rome” is a synecdoche for any Christian power or alliance. Therefore, when the terrorists say they will “conquer Rome,” it is unlikely that they are referring to a literal attack on the capital of Italy and the Vatican.

Nevertheless, the secular political leaders in the West need to understand the deeply religious nature of the Islamic State group and take stock. ...


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