Theological Ideology of the Islamic State

Humans rarely consider themselves irrational and beliefs that seem wildly implausible on their face often make perfect sense if you accept the premises of the argument.  The ideology of the Islamic State while seemingly barbaric actually has a lot in common with the more theocratic varieties of Christianity.  After all, any individual’s condition in the mundane world is trivial and transitory compared to the eternal glory and reward the faithful will receive before the throne of [insert preferred deity here].  The New York Times has an interesting piece-

ISIS’ Harsh Brand of Islam Is Rooted in Austere Saudi Creed


SEPT. 24, 2014

For their guiding principles, the leaders of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, are open and clear about their almost exclusive commitment to the Wahhabi movement of Sunni Islam. The group circulates images of Wahhabi religious textbooks from Saudi Arabia in the schools it controls. Videos from the group’s territory have shown Wahhabi texts plastered on the sides of an official missionary van.

This approach is at odds with the more mainstream Islamist and jihadist thinking that forms the genealogy of Al Qaeda and it has led to a fundamentally different view of violence. Al Qaeda grew out of a radical tradition that viewed Muslim states and societies as having fallen into sinful unbelief, and embraced violence as a tool to redeem them. But the Wahhabi tradition embraced the killing of those deemed unbelievers as essential to purifying the community of the faithful.

All of the most influential jihadist theorists are criticizing the Islamic State as deviant, calling its self-proclaimed caliphate null and void, and, increasingly, slamming its leaders as bloodthirsty heretics for beheading journalists and aid workers.

The upstart polemicists of the Islamic State, however, counter that its critics and even the leaders of Al Qaeda are all bad Muslims who have gone soft on the West.

The Islamic State’s founder, Mr. Baghdadi, grafted two elements onto his Wahhabi foundations borrowed from the broader, 20th century Islamist movements that began with the Muslim Brotherhood and ultimately produced Al Qaeda. Where Wahhabi scholars preach obedience to earthly rulers, Mr. Baghdadi adopted the call to political action against foreign domination of the Arab world that has animated the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda and other 20th century Islamist movements.

Mr. Baghdadi also borrowed the idea of a restored caliphate. Where Wahhabism first flourished alongside the Ottomon Caliphate, the Muslim Brotherhood was founded shortly after that caliphate’s dissolution, in 1924 – an event seen across the world as a marker of Western ascent and Eastern decline. The movement’s founders took up the call for a revived caliphate as a goal of its broader anti-Western project.

Adhering to Wahhabi literalism, the Islamic State disdains other Islamists who reason by analogy to adapt to changing context – including the Muslim Brotherhood; its controversial midcentury thinker Sayed Qutb; and the contemporary militants his writing later inspired, such as Ayman al-Zawahri of Al Qaeda. Islamic State ideologues often deem anyone who supports an elected or secular government to be an unbeliever, even Islamists, and subject to execution by beheading.

Some experts note that Saudi clerics lagged long after other Muslim scholars in formally denouncing the Islamic State, and at one point even the king publicly urged them to speak out more clearly. “There is a certain mutedness in the Saudi religious establishment, which indicates it is not a slam dunk to condemn ISIS,” Professor Haykel said.

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