Article Op-Ed

The One Word That's Not Used to Describe ISIS

The One Word That's Not Used to Describe ISIS

Author Alaa Elassar by

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Jihad: an Islamic word that is now defined by people from various backgrounds, religions, and political beliefs as synonymous with terrorism. But how does the Quran actually define the term jihad?

“The true believers are those who believe in God and His messenger, then attain the status of having no doubt whatsoever, and strive (jahadu) with their money and their lives in the cause of God. These are the truthful ones.” Quran 49:15.

“Those who believe, and emigrate, and strive (jahadu) in the cause of God with their money and their lives, are far greater in rank in the sight of God. These are the winners.” Quran 9:20.

“As for the messenger and those who believed with him, they eagerly strive (jahadu) with their money and their lives. These have deserved all the good things; they are the winners.” Quran 9:88.

Jihad entails struggling for justice, both inwardly and outwardly. It means enjoining peace, charity, and kindness. It manifests through our sincerest intentions. In fact, Muslims constantly undergo jihad in our daily lives by pushing ourselves to do good and resisting our desires to do evil, all for the sake of Allah.

In other words, the definition of jihad is not violent, aggressive warfare.

Despite Muslim efforts to use da’wa (calling to Isam) and knowledge to spread the true meaning of jihad, ISIS--yet another militant group--has interrupted the progress of our ummah. Worst of all: their influence has reached us locally, in the heart of Atlanta.

On August 23rd, 2014, just after ISIS decapitated American journalist (and reported convert to Islam) James Foley in Syria, FBI Director James Comey addressed the Atlanta Muslim community. During his remarks, he delivered a shocking revelation. ISIS recruiters were targeting students of local universities and some Georgians were attempting to leave and assist the terrorist organization.1

As a major international city, Atlanta presents challenges, not only for law enforcement, but also for local Muslims struggling to dispel harmful suspicions against the American Muslim community.

In order to stop local ISIS recruitment and eliminate negative stereotypes, Muslims must first educate our own community, particularly our youth. We must rebuild the barriers which have been broken down through the murder of the innocent, leading to a completely new definition for “jihad.” This is the best way to stop our youth from blindly fighting and dying in the supposed name of our religion.

How do we do this?

First, by distinguishing between true jihadists and Khawarij. “Khawarij” directly translates to “those who went out.” It comes from the Arabic word “khuruj” or “revolt.” This term is therefore commonly used to describe those Muslims who subscribe to extremist beliefs. The Khawarij are considered to be the first sect to split from mainstream Islamic teachings.

Understanding the differences between Khawarij and true Mujahideen is imperative when evaluating ISIS.

As students of Islamic history may know, the Khawarij are members of a sect which broke off from mainstream Islamic groups in the late 7th century. After the murder of the third Caliph, Uthman, a series of controversial debates among the Muslim community arose over the future Caliphate. Some believed that Mu’awiyah was entitled to be the fourth Caliph, due to his lineage from the same clan and family as Uthman.

However, Ali was deemed the official Caliph, causing tension among each leader’s supporters. The Khawarij opposed Ali’s arbitration with Mu’awiyah, living strictly by the rule that “judgment belongs to God alone” (6:57) and “if one party rebels against the other, fight against that which rebels” (49:9). This led them to create their own group: the Khawarij. Opposing the remaining leaders, the Kharijites became known for terrorizing other Islamic groups and Caliphates.

There are seven main methods of recognizing modern Khawarij. They execute believers. They do not battle their own oppressors. They concoct Islamic laws. They appear to be very devout in worship, but are juvenile and immature. They do not benefit Islam, and through these factors, leave the religion entirely.

Within the first five months of 2014, ISIS reportedly murdered 5,576 civilians, and wounded another 11,665. Almost 1.2 million people were forcibly removed from their homes and fled to surrounding countries.3 ISIS slaughtered 1,500 Iraqi soldiers and continuously bomb Shia mosques as well as Sunni masjids which belong to members who have refused to submit themselves to the teachings of ISIS.4

These victims include members of Shia Muslims as well as Muslim and Christian Kurds, Yezidis, and non-conforming Sunnis. Between their embellished Quranic speech and their ironically hypocritical (and un-Islamic) violence, ISIS fits each of the seven major descriptions of the Khawarij.

On the other hand, although there are also many categories of Jihad, there are five fundamental forms: jihad of the heart, the tongue, the pen, the hand, and the sword (self-defense and fighting evil/injustice). ISIS arguably does not fit any of these five major categories.

Our Muslim brothers and sisters, especially youth in Atlanta, are often questioned and picked on by outsiders. Even their beliefs and intentions are doubted because of harmful stereotypes. Such stereotypes continuously evolve and add to the difficult burden we must carry as Muslims in America.

Although being Muslim is a blessing, living within a non-Muslim community that does not accept many of our practices, such as hijab (headscarf), presents challenges. The Khawarij can be blamed for many of the issues American Muslims face.

Thus, we must strive to educate our youth, and other members of our community, by actively distinguishing between Jihadists and Khawarij. Only by understanding difference between the two may we prevent terrorist recruitment, locally and nationally.

Our Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) said: “There will be differences in my Ummah, and a group of people will have good speech but their actions will appear terrible.”

The words of ISIS sound beautiful: constant quotation of Quran and hadith and words of support for all Muslims. But these words are empty, for their actions do not follow, and their terrorism goes against the beautiful speech.

The Prophet (s.a.w.) also said, “They will recite Quran but the sound will not leave their throats.” This means they will seem pious but will not act upon the religion. He added, “They shall depart this religion like an arrow which goes through its prey.”

They call to the book of God, but have nothing to do with it.


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