Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) inspecting vehicles of the Iraqi army after they were seized at an undisclosed location near the border between Syria and Iraq. Image Credit: EPA

Here’s the news from the “Islamist” front — Islamist being a term that one likes to believe refers exclusively to Muslim militants who have appropriated Islam and, through their bizarre interpretation of its tenets, rendered it incomprehensible. And is there something in these putative Muslims’ equally bizarre practice of our religion that is meant, cryptically, to reveal some profundity there that has perhaps escaped the rest of us under-educated mortals over the last 1,400 years? Because I tell you, neither these folks’ interpretation nor their practice of Islam rings true with people who have made their original leap to consciousness as Muslims.

Let’s start with the Caliphniks from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil). In their drive through Iraq in recent weeks, they have singled out for retribution not only Christian but also non-Sunni citizens. Soon after they overran Mosul in early June, for example, Isil forces went about expelling tens of thousands of the city’s Christians, followed by the vengeful destruction a month later of its ancient religious shrines, including the most iconic landmark there, the 800-year-old mosque housing the tomb of the prophet Jonah, revered in Islamic, Christian and Jewish scriptural lore as the young man swallowed by a whale.

And last Sunday, after they overran the ancient Iraqi town of Sinjar, an ancestral home of the Yazidi minority, the Caliphniks’ first order of business was to blow up a Shiite shrine — complete with its library, that contained several handwritten copies of the Quran dating back centuries — and later demanded that the Yazidis, whom Isil had branded devil worshippers, “convert or die”. The Yazidis predictably did not wait around to find out if the threat was serious — for it was, very much so. Caliphniks have not shown themselves to be above beheading people they deemed not sufficiently or genuinely Muslim.

A week ago, in the city of Gujranwala, in eastern Pakistan, a woman and two of her granddaughters were burned to death by a mob after a young member of their Ahmadi sect, which is rooted in Islam, was accused of posting blasphemous pictures of the Kaaba on Facebook. Houses in the Ahmadi neighbourhood were set on fire and at least eight other people were injured. In Somalia two weeks ago, near the southern town of Hosingou, Al Shabab, another self-styled Islamist group that purports to speak as and for Muslims, killed a young woman for not wearing a veil, after she had been warned to do so but failed to comply.

In the Philippines on July 29, Islamist militants from the Abu Sayyaf group, armed with assault rifles, opened fire on villagers travelling on a road on their way to visit relatives celebrating the end of Ramadan, leaving 23 dead, including women and children. And Boko Haram, a blustering group that by now needs no introduction, continues to commit one outrage after another, even after its recent kidnapping of 200 children from their school, presumably because the “Western education” they were receiving was allegedly, well, “haram”, or forbidden, in Islam.

And, yes, consider this: Early on during the carnage unleashed on Gaza by Israeli forces, shortly after well over 200 Palestinian civilians had been killed in the shelling, Mousa Abu Marzouk, the deputy chief of the Hamas political bureau, asked reporters rhetorically, though quite earnestly (some would say even flippantly): “What are 200 martyrs compared with the lifting of the blockade?”

And so goes. So it goes with this phenomenon of dimwitted folks who advance themselves as Muslims, fighting in the name of Islam, on behalf of Muslims. Would it be unreasonable to ask at this juncture whether our faith has been hijacked? Since when do Muslims evince intolerance towards other Peoples of the Book? Did not our Prophet (PBUH), in the Hadith, warn his disciples: “He who hurts a zumiyan [one who embraces a faith other than Islam] hurts me”?

There has always existed within the Muslim community, from antiquity to modern times, a body of thought that sought to achieve in concert a mature response to what Islam’s tenets were all about, for only then could a Muslim work with that measure of consent that lends to one’s faith a communal sense of reference. Religion, I say, is a supreme act of community. The commanding axiom in Islam, as those of my generation grew up believing it to be, is the conviction that there is a close relationship between believers’ capacity to truly understand the Word and their general fitness for humane existence.

Where does it say in the Quran, the Hadith or anywhere in our Islamic culture, stretching back centuries, that freelance Muslims could go out there, kidnap children from their schools, gut religious shrines, force believers of other holy books to “convert or die”, expel Christian Arabs — our own flesh and blood — from their ancestral homes, and be ready to callously sacrifice 200 souls, from amongst one’s own people, in order to see to it that your miserable tunnels are re-opened for trade again? To the best of my knowledge, and I’m sure yours, nowhere.

When we subvert Islam, which to Muslims is both a faith in God as well as a moral roadmap on one’s manners of ceremonial exchange in social life, we heap scorn on our very own sense of ownhood. Genuine Islam, even to those who will confess to you shamefacedly that they are non-practising Muslims, is the root and mould of the energies of spirit that keep us defined not just as individuals but as a community as well.

Today, sadly, there is between psuedo-Muslims running around with guns, and those who support them, an alliance of brisk vulgarisation of our faith. Put simply — and bluntly — Caliphniks and other Islamists of their ilk are idiots. And the Athenians, who coined the word, defined an “idiotis” as he who “takes no interest in the life of the mind”. The Arab world today faces a lot of challenges, but confronting these idiots should be on the top list of its priorities.


Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.