He starts by pointing out that this drive to do away with the clutter of centuries of interpretation and clerical additions to go back to the Pure Unsullied Original is how Protestantism started.
The same impulse that prompted Luther to affirm the primacy of scripture over Catholic doctrine has also long been at work in Islam.
As far back as the 13th century, a scholar based in Damascus by the name of Ibn Taymiyya proposed that the surest way to know God’s purpose was to study the practices of the first three generations of Muslims: the “forebears”, or “Salafs”. Reports of what Muhammad and his earliest followers had done, so he argued, should always trump subsequent tradition. Like Luther, Ibn Taymiyya was condemned as a heretic; but he also, again like Luther, blazed a momentous trail.
Salafism today is probably the fastest-growing Islamic movement in the world. The interpretation that Isis applies to Muslim scripture may be exceptional for its savagery – but not for its literalism. Islamic State, in its conceit that it has trampled down the weeds and briars of tradition and penetrated to the truth of God’s dictates, is recognisably Salafist.
Calvin’s Geneva was a pretty harsh place too, you know.
When Islamic State fighters smash the statues of pagan gods, they are following the example of the Prophet; when they proclaim themselves the shock troops of a would-be global empire, they are following the example of the warriors of the original caliphate; when they execute enemy combatants, and impose discriminatory taxes on Christians, and take the women of defeated opponents as slaves, they are doing nothing that the first Muslims did not glory in.
Such behaviour is certainly not synonymous with Islam; but if not Islamic, then it is hard to know what else it is.
Quite. Other kinds of Islam are possible, but they’re far from inevitable. Quakers are one kind of Protestantism, and Westboro Baptist is another.
Admittedly the actions of those signed up to Islamic State are unlikely to have been inspired exclusively by religious teachings. Many of those fighting for Isis may indeed, as Hasan points out, be varnishing their taste for violence or power with a sheen of piety. But the same was true of those inspired by Luther’s teachings – not to mention the early Muslims themselves.
Luther’s teachings ended up leading to a lot of wars and slaughters. Religion just is a super-powerful brand of the kind of organizing principle that helps such things to happen.
To imagine that religious motivation can somehow be isolated from the complex swirl of ambitions, fears and desires that constitute human nature is to fall for an illusion: that religions, contingent as they are, and as subject to evolution as any other manifestation of culture, exist platonically as abstract ideals.
Engrave that somewhere. I just engraved it on Facebook.
It is not merely coincidence that IS currently boasts a caliph, imposes quranically mandated taxes, topples idols, chops the hands off thieves, stones adulterers, executes homosexuals and carries a flag that bears the Muslim declaration of faith. If Islamic State is indeed to be categorised as a phenomenon distinct from Islam, it urgently needs a manifest and impermeable firewall raised between them. At the moment, though, I fail to see it.
And if there were such a firewall…again, what about Saudi Arabia? Doesn’t that need a firewall too? And then on down the line? Boko Haram; Al-Shabaab; the Taliban; ad infinitum?
This may take some time.