Connect with us

#Current Affairs

What is “Islamic”? A Muslim Response to ISIS and The Atlantic

Graeme Wood’s “What ISIS Really Wants,” published in the March 2015 edition of The Atlantic, has quickly become the most widely read article on the militant group. Indeed, it is becoming the most read article ever published by The Atlantic.

Popular as it is, Wood’s essay is deeply flawed and alarmingly tone-deaf – dangerously so. What is so objectionable about Wood’s essay is encapsulated in his statement: “The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic.” While Wood acknowledges that “nearly all” Muslims of the world reject ISIS, ultimately his thesis is that the atrocities committed by the group have a theological basis in Islam. In support of his thesis, Wood cites Princeton academic, Bernard Haykel, who not only agrees that ISIS is “very Islamic,” but even goes so far as to say that those Muslims who denounce ISIS as un-Islamic are either ignorant about Islam or are simply being politically expedient by deliberately whitewashing the legal and historical dimensions of their religion.

By characterizing ISIS as Islamic, Wood and Haykel in effect, if not intent, attribute cruel beheadings, wanton massacre, and all other manner of savagery to Islam. In their minds, such an attribution is neither factually incorrect nor particularly damaging to “nearly all” Muslims who reject ISIS. But are Wood and Haykel too naïve to understand that by making such attributions to Islam, they ipso facto implicate and foment suspicion about all those who subscribe to Islam?

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Of course, their attributions are factually incorrect and conceptually confused as we will discuss below. But their mistakes are especially egregious given the current climate of anti-Muslim bigotry. In light of the recent hate crimes directed towards the American and European Muslim communities, Wood’s piece is tantamount to shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre and, therefore, deserves a thorough rebuttal, if nothing else.

Below are twenty-one points that not only critique Wood’s essay and ISIS’s ideology but also take stock of the larger discourse surrounding Muslims, the War on Terror, and the intersection of government policy and the study of Islam in Western academia.

1. The Banality

By now, the McCarthyist script should be mind-numbingly familiar. Group A argues that Muslim crazies – in this case ISIS – are acting in accordance with the tenets of Islam, i.e., they’re “very Islamic.” Group B – in this case Muslims along with non-Muslim specialists – denies this, marshaling all manner of theological, historical, and sociological evidence. Group A, without skipping a beat, accuses Group B of being apologists for extremism and demands that Group B denounce the crazies (ignoring the copious denunciations Group B has already made in the past).

2. The Witch-Hunt

This is the back and forth playing out over and over again ad nauseum since 9/11, and, much like the McCarthyism of the past, its primary purpose is to restrict dissent and silence political criticism of government authorities. Few realize that an integral strategic component of the “Global War on Terror” and the invasion and occupation of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan by Western powers is the Islamophobic witch-hunt at home, which stigmatizes and prosecutes actual and would-be opponents to such foreign policy and shores up public support for more war against the “Muslim enemy.” That was the raison d’être of McCarthyism during the Cold War, and now American Muslims are the new communists in our midst.

3. The Profiling

Even as President Obama solemnly declares that ISIS and terrorism have nothing to do with Islam and the Muslim community at large, his administration still oversees a “Countering Violent Extremism” summit that primarily focuses on the American Muslim community. Despite the fact that only a tiny fraction of the extremist violence in the US is perpetrated by Muslims, the Obama administration and other federal and local agencies have made it crystal clear that it is primarily the average American Muslim who is the object of their spying, surveillance, entrapment, etc. And for some, this is still not enough.

4. The Diversion

shutterstock_218485873Speaking of President Obama, remember how just a couple of weeks ago he sparked controversy by drawing parallels between ISIS and historical Christian violence, e.g., the Crusades, Jim Crow, etc.? How convenient for the President to highlight Christian violence in previous eras while ignoring all the more recent, salient examples of violence, death, and destruction wrought by, among other things, his drone program. By focusing on the crimes of others and the threat from without, the administration is able to maintain a façade of innocence in the face of all the injustice rocking the nation, e.g., the burgeoning prison population, an increasingly brutal and militarized police force, the slow death of the American middle class, the widening wealth gap in the face of Wall Street lawlessness, the increasing influence of money in elections and public policy, and a host of other injustices eating away at our country. But pay no attention, people. There is a grave threat over yonder!

5. The Racism

At some point in American history we, as a society, decided it was unseemly, hateful, and downright false to attribute the bad actions of a few to an entire minority race or demographic. Though some have yet to get the memo, it is ludicrous to try to understand, for example, disproportionately high black incarceration rates by arguing that black culture has a violent strain, and, even though “nearly all” blacks denounce criminal activity, nonetheless muggings, gang violence, drug dealing, etc., is “very black.”  No one in academia, media, or elsewhere would make such attributions in the case of African Americans vis-a-vis blackness or Jews vis-a-vis Judaism, but, in the case of Muslims vis-a-vis Islam it is, apparently, still open season.

6. The Fear

Segregation Cells, Abu Ghraib, Iraq. Photo Credit: Richard Ross

Segregation Cells, Abu Ghraib, Iraq. Photo Credit: Richard Ross

Going back to The Atlantic piece, it is hard to tell how Wood’s argument differs substantively from those of bona fide anti-Muslim bigots like Pamela Geller or Steve Emerson, who profit handsomely from their crass fear-mongering. Of course, Wood is savvy enough to package his conclusions in the veneer of objective reporting – quoting heavily from a single Princeton scholar as well as interviewing a handful of colorful would-be militants “in the field,” i.e., coffee shops in London and Melbourne. But for all the gravity Wood tries to muster, references to Orwell and Hitler notwithstanding, the takeaway in the end is still essentially “Islam is the problem.” Is it any wonder that the biggest Islam and Muslim haters of the world have been tripping over themselves to gush over Wood and his “unparalleled expertise”?

7. The Sowing

Wood insists that ISIS’s apocalyptic theology is pivotal in understanding the origins and behavior of the militant group. But, beliefs don’t arise in a vacuum. Isn’t it just a little bit relevant to consider the hellish conditions the US, UK, and other Western powers created in the region in the last thirty years, by way of the First Gulf War, the years of economic sanctions on Iraq, the 2003 invasion, and subsequent military occupation? Isn’t it slightly pertinent that many ISIS militants were captives in US detention centers, like Abu Ghraib, experiencing all kinds of lurid humiliation, abject torture, and vile sexual abuse at the hands of their “liberators”? Isn’t it at least somewhat germane that many eventual ISIS militants witnessed their communities decimated, their family members raped and massacred, and their newborns disfigured with nightmare-inducing birth defects caused by the US military’s use of depleted uranium weapons against civilians? And beyond Iraq, isn’t the proxy war in Syria that has resulted in the brutal massacre of hundreds of thousands of civilians apropos to the spread and support of ISIS in that region?

8. The Reaping

In short, ought it be surprising that if we rain down a veritable apocalypse upon a people, they just might start adopting apocalyptic views? A simple question: Why has a group like ISIS come to power in lands that have been subjected to continual political strife, civil war, and bloodshed? All else being equal theologically, had the US not pummeled that region for decades, would ISIS have ever arisen? Normally, there would be nothing inherently objectionable about Wood focusing on ISIS’s religious beliefs in lieu of these historical and sociological considerations. But, in this case and given the political climate, Wood’s omission purely serves the interests of power and effectively exonerates US war-mongering at the expense of its victims, namely Muslims at home and abroad.

9. The Deflection


Along those lines, it is not surprising that the same Washington punditry and policy analysts that cheered on the 2003 Iraq invasion would now, in 2015, much prefer us to think of the rise of ISIS as having everything to do with archaic religious interpretations and nothing to do with the grossly incompetent, highly immoral foreign “intervention” they supported that tilled the soil for the seeds of ISIS’s extremism to take root.

10. The Coffee Shops

Wood can’t be bothered with that wider context. What interests him is chatting theology with armchair militants over lattes. Isn’t it notable that Wood couldn’t find ISIS supporters in the US, but had to travel across the world to meet them in the UK and Australia? Isn’t it notable that, for someone who is so interested in theology, Wood couldn’t be bothered to meet with a single mainstream Muslim theologian of repute? Isn’t it notable that Wood conducted his interviews in coffee shops and not mosques? Maybe it is because self-taught, fringe cartoon characters like Anjem Choudary and Musa Cerantonio don’t have mosques or any kind of institutional presence, let alone authority, in the Muslim community. Not that that is what Fox News wants you to think, as it parades these agent provocateurs on national media instead of allowing them to asphyxiate into anonymity.

11. The Sophomore

Wood ultimately admits, “[ISIS supporters] lectured me garrulously and, if one accepts their premises, convincingly. To call them un-Islamic appears, to me, to invite them into an argument that they would win.” Perhaps Wood does not have the humility to recognize that it really doesn’t say much that he, personally, can’t win an argument with ISIS fanboys about the Islamic-ness of ISIS. Perhaps Wood should leave such arguments to people in the know. One would expect the fact that not a single Muslim scholar of repute, from across the theological schools of Islam and spanning the entirety of the Muslim world, has ever issued a fatwa sanctioning ISIS should carry weight in determining legitimate application of the word “Islamic.”

12. The Academic

Wood quotes Princeton academic, Bernard Haykel: “People want to absolve Islam,” [Haykel] said. “It’s this ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ mantra. As if there is such a thing as ‘Islam’! It’s what Muslims do and how they interpret their texts.” Wood could have saved everyone a lot of time by starting his essay with this. If Islam is nothing above and beyond what particular Muslims do and the idiosyncrasies of how they interpret religious texts, then, by that definition, it is trivially true that ISIS is Islamic. If the Queen of England became Muslim and somehow interpreted the Quran as telling her to record a rap album, would we then consider the release of “Royal Hustling LP” an Islamic act?

13. The Bait and Switch

To make matters worse, there is a central conceptual inconsistency in the essay that undermines Wood’s entire thesis. The problem is Wood and Haykel equivocate on the word “Islamic.” Wood uses “Islamic” in an explanatory sense – by characterizing ISIS as “Islamic,” Wood means that studying Islam and its “intellectual genealogy” will explain ISIS’s origins and behavior in a way that can inform policy decisions and military strategy. This is because, in his view, ISIS’s theology, in some sense, proceeds from the broader Islamic paradigm, so by understanding the latter, one gains insight into the former. Haykel, in contrast, uses “Islamic” in a descriptive sense. For Haykel, ISIS being “Islamic” merely amounts to: “They are Muslims and they have an interpretation of Islamic texts.” But, this vanishingly thin descriptive notion of Islam says nothing about whether ISIS’s theology proceeds from or is even connected to a broader Islamic paradigm. In fact, Haykel explicitly denies that such a broader paradigm even exists. So that explanatory dimension upon which Wood’s entire essay is based disappears. By equivocating on these two senses of the word “Islamic,” Wood attempts to gain academic legitimacy from Haykel while also positioning his essay as politically and strategically significant – in essence, having his cake and eating it too.

14. The Goatee

The Bernard Lewis Plan for the Middle East.

The Bernard Lewis Plan for the Middle East.

By the way, what a colorful picture Wood paints of Haykel, with his “unplaceable foreign accent,” his “Mephistophelian goatee,” standing there in front of an array of Arabic tomes, gazing into the abyss with all the solemnity of a man who knows too much. Coincidentally, Haykel is not the first “Bernard” to come out of Princeton with his fingers on the pulse of Muslim fanaticism. While Bernard Lewis did a fine job advising Bush in all the success that was the Iraq War, maybe Haykel can curry enough favor to win an advisory role in America’s next great excursion.

15. The Sacred Way

The present debate about the Islamic-ness of ISIS is premised on a fundamental confusion about the nature of Islamic Law. Islamic Law is not enshrined in one particular text or the opinions of one particular medieval scholar. In fact, rather than characterizing Sacred Law as textual — akin to codified law on aged parchment or commandments on stone tablets sent from on high —it is far more accurate to understand it as a methodology that synthesizes a variety of textual and non-textual indicants. While a text is stagnant, a methodology is dynamic. By emphasizing Islamic Law as methodology, several things are accomplished:

16. The Literal

First, we avoid the cliched “literal vs. non-literal” dichotomy used to reductively and inaccurately characterize “extremists” and “moderates.” To understand how useless this distinction is, consider this. What does it mean to be a “literalist” about the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution? Should America maintain its “literalism” about the 2nd Amendment given that the US has one of the highest rates of gun violence out of all developed nations? Or, is North Korea being “literal” or “figurative” in its interpretation of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and which interpretation is most consistent with enlightenment?

17. The Medieval

Second, we also avoid the confusion about “medieval vs. modern.” As a methodology, Islamic Law is inherently (and, in certain cases, necessarily) sensitive to a variety of contemporary local and global variables. Certain juristic legal opinions (fatwas), for example, are invalidated if present day conditions differ from the cultural context in which the opinions were originally issued. In this way, Islamic Law as a methodology is inexorably contemporaneous. (Of course, all legal systems are inexorably contemporaneous in that they have to keep up with social developments and accommodate novel legal scenarios that continually arise. It’s no different for Islamic Law.)

18. The Inconsistency

ISIS's biggest victim is Islam.

ISIS’s biggest victim is Islam.

Third, if Islamic Law is a methodology, with well-defined principles and a consistent internal logic, then it becomes clear who is objectively Islamic and who is not. For Wood and Haykel, all it takes for a Muslim group to be “very Islamic” is that they use the language of the Quran and hadiths in articulating their interpretation of Islam. But consider this analogy. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Liberia, the UAE, China, Syria, and Iran have signed and ratified many international human rights treaties. Their political leaders also wax poetic about the importance of freedom and democracy with a fervor that would make Thomas Jefferson himself blush. But does the use of such liberal democratic language make these political regimes, in actuality, liberal or democratic? Of course no one would agree with this, but using the logic of Haykel and his cohorts in the academy, who’s to say otherwise? The underlying bias is that religions, like Islam, have no objective existence above and beyond the beliefs and actions of individual adherents, whereas Western normative systems, like secular liberalism, do have objective content that is not open to limitless interpretation. This is the bald-faced double standard that allows the ivory tower to remain coyly noncommittal about the un-Islamic-ness of ISIS.

19. The Methodology

Finally, then, how is ISIS decidedly not Islamic? Well, what characterizes ISIS’s approach to Islamic Law is a glaring lack of methodology beyond textual cherry-picking. They cite broadly, scanning classical Muslim texts for whatever expediently fits their agenda. But this post hoc scrapbooking is the exact reverse of legitimate juristic methodology. The proper derivation of Islamic legal opinions, as practiced for centuries by Muslim jurists, begins from general methodological principles (usul al-fiqh), takes into account the relevant scriptural and extra-scriptural indicants, and then arrives at specific rulings. ISIS, of course, has no usul al-fiqh, no consistent methodology, and, hence, no connection to Islamic Law. And this is precisely what Muslim scholars around the world have been saying in denouncing and debunking ISIS’s “McSharia.” A casual observer, like Wood, may be impressed with all the citations ISIS propagandists have up their sleeves, but anyone with a basic understanding of the way Islamic Law works will know better.

20. The Point

Finally, before anyone accuses us of “missing the point” of Wood’s expose, let us clarify something. As Professor Haykel intimated, and we agree, Islamic Law as a comprehensive legal system is not going to perfectly align with all dictates of liberal secularism. And why should it? Islam may be illiberal in certain respects, but so is classical Confucianism, historical Jainism, traditional Catholicism, Orthodox Judaism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Sub-Saharan Fulani Tribal code, and countless other moral and legal systems that don’t share the idiosyncrasies of one particular philosophical outlook developed by a handful of seventeenth-century British and French thinkers.
That doesn’t mean Muslims or Catholics or Orthodox Jews cannot live peacefully in secular liberal democracies. Even so, some take it as a given that to be even slightly illiberal is to be a barbarian. This, of course, smacks of ethnocentrism and dehumanization of the “other,” things we would think card-carrying liberals would elide. Nonetheless, we should understand that, as a point of fact, there is a vast and categorical distance between those certain illiberal areas of Islam and the atrocities of ISIS, and no amount of hermeneutical gymnastics can bridge that gap.

21. The End


American Sniper

As much as commentators want to portray ISIS as authentically Islamic, the facts tell a different story. Instead of insight, The Atlantic peddles the same stereotypes of the “Muslim savage” and Islamic Law while pretending to do serious journalism. The Christian conservative mob was just recently riled up by the feature film of a certain Mr. Eastwood. Now, thanks to another Wood, the other side of the socio-political spectrum can join the madness.




Daniel Haqiqatjou was born in Houston, Texas. He attended Harvard University where he majored in Physics and minored in Philosophy. He completed a Masters degree in Philosophy at Tufts University. Haqiqatjou also studies traditional Islamic sciences part-time. He writes and lectures on contemporary issues surrounding Muslims and Modernity.

Dr. Yasir Qadhi has a Bachelors in Hadith and a Masters in Theology from Islamic University of Madinah, and a PhD in Islamic Studies from Yale University. He is an instructor and Dean of Academic Affairs at AlMaghrib, and the Resident Scholar of the Memphis Islamic Center.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.



  1. Avatar

    Mattias Abdullah

    February 23, 2015 at 10:29 AM

    I had great hopes for this text. I suppose it proves in so many ways that the author is right but I don’t comprehend what it’s saying. That surprised me because I am usually okay with reading academic texts.

    For me, I see ISIS as not very Islamic because they have apparently no fear of the Day of Judgment. They kill innocents unapologetically, yet don’t fear the wrath of Allah for their crimes.

    If they pray, how can they say “Maliki Yawmiddin” 17 times (as we recite the first chapter of the Qur’an at least this many times a day) and have no fear of it?

    • Avatar


      November 14, 2015 at 9:43 PM

      #7 (The Sowing) is the most important “rebuttal”. ISIS’ interpretation of Islam is mainly about an epic war waged against “non-believers”. Historical Western policies in the Middle East: coup, destabilization, oil, etc, sowed the seeds of today’s extremism. The Koranic verses have not changed, only how they are recently interpreted to justify jihad.

  2. Avatar


    February 24, 2015 at 2:30 AM

    Essentially this article seems to be saying that a large part of the Quran is ignored by “methodological, dynamic” Islamic jurisprudence.
    So it’s nonsense to say that ISIS is “very Islamic” because their approach to enforcing the law and the rules of warfare doesn’t agree with the “broader Islamic paradigm”?
    I’m an English speaking anglo-celtic atheist, so naturally I’m no scholar of Islam, but I’m really interested to know if Allah or the Prophet ever said anything about not taking their words literally in the future, or, in the case of Muhammad, not seeing every one of his actions as exemplary.
    Is there anything in the original texts (Quran and Hadiths) that says that the shariah should be adapted in the future to sync with the social values of the time?
    The article seems to be saying it is more Islamic to follow the direction Muslim jurispredence has taken in the last 1400 years than to take the words of Allah and the Prophet literally.
    Which begs the question, if it isn’t “Islamic” to take the words of The Almighty literally, why was Allah speaking allegorically and metaphorically? He had one chance to pass on his message to the humans about how he wanted it to be. I would have thought eternal clarity would be a priority.
    I don’t mean to sound facetious. I am yet to hear a sufficient answer to that question.
    For example, the Quran (70:29+) says ” And those who guard their private parts Except from their wives or those their right hands possess, for indeed, they are not to be blamed” will be “laden with honours, in fair gardens”. Is it Islamic or un-Islamic to interpret that to mean it is ok to have sex with your wives and slave girls, but no-one else? Is ISIS cherry-picking the scriptures by justifying the sexual enslavement of Yazidi girls with Quranic verses?
    I genuinely would like to know how that passage, and many others, fit into the “broader Islamic paradigm”.
    It’s all well and good to make vague statements like “it is far more accurate to understand it as a methodology that synthesizes a variety of textual and non-textual indicants”.
    It’s the nitty gritty I want to hear about.

    • Avatar

      Daniel Haqiqatjou

      February 24, 2015 at 2:55 AM

      If you want the nitty gritty, then make the time and effort to study it. Islamic Law and interpretation is at least as complex and intricate as any modern Western legal system — but for some reason, people like Graeme Wood think they can chat over coffee about it a couple of times and glean enough thereby to start making ponderous reflections. Be that as it may, there are plenty of academically rigorous resources out there if you’re serious. You might want to start off with:

      • Avatar


        February 24, 2015 at 3:17 AM

        So what’s your interpretation of verse 70:29 to 70:31? Do scholars disagree on the meaning and/or translation of “right hand possesses”?

      • Avatar


        February 24, 2015 at 2:04 PM

        I found the rebuttal to indicate that the authors are just getting defensive about remarks about Islam in a general sense while the original article was only giving insight into the ISIS theology. I didn’t read anything that stated ISIS doesn’t want a caliphate and caliph followed by apocalypse. It is possible to have varying interpretations of the same text, ISIS has one and there are several others that gather popular acceptance. It seems undeniable that the ISIS theology can be gleaned from reading the Koran and interpreting it as they have.

      • Avatar

        Gabriel Chavez

        March 25, 2015 at 1:47 PM

        In repsonse to “t”, and in reference to grobbins’ reply:

        While Daniel’s response could be percieved as being defensive by someone with no experience related to discussing Islam on the internet, I can assure you that he didn’t mean for it to come off that way.
        The problems with trying to answer individual questions every time someone raises a point of contention are many. Communicating through text in comments below an article is a very poor communication method (for numerous reasons), and is certainly not sufficient to address an issue such as this without writing an entire article.
        Islam is very complex, and trying to answer your question without providing context and background would certainly be a futile effort. Answering individual questions over the internet is a never-ending struggle that nearly every Muslim has tried more than once in their life.

        Daniel’s response was meant to indicate to you that if you truly want answers, and are not just trolling, then there are much better resources available than to ask a question in the comment section of an article. First and foremost, the best thing you can do would be to go visit your local mosque and talk to the Imam there. They will certainly be more educated on all aspects of Islam than the people in the comment section of a website usually are. This is the best thing to do, and stands far above all other suggestions.
        Most poeple will not actually go this route though, for one reason or another. The next best thing to do it to try to educate yourself so that you are not rehashing matters that have been addressed multiple times. Islam has been around for over 1400 years. Every question, every issue, every “clever thought” by a non-Muslim has been answered repeatedly. This is available in many books, and in some cases even online or in pdf format. However, for most non-Muslims, these resources will contain too much information which they are unaccustomed to, and will be overwheming to them. Without having background knowledge of Islam, and education on how certain things work, utilizing these resources will be very labor intensive. So again, the best thing to do is to contact an Imam – it’s quite likely that they have already read the resource in question, as well as the interpretation of the meaning of said resource by other scholars. Islamic scholars check and re-check each others work and Imams read these during their studies.
        So yeah, Daniel didn’t answer your question. He told you instead to go do your homework, and I don’t blame him.
        Its a great way of helping those who geniunely have an interest, whie weeding out those that just want to cause trouble.

        Best wishes to you both, and I hope you go talk to your local Imam(s)!

      • Avatar


        April 29, 2015 at 8:57 AM

        You should study more about islam like: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (leader of ISIS), who has a doctorate in Islamic studies from an Islamic university in Baghdad.

      • Avatar

        tina fiedler

        November 13, 2015 at 9:20 PM

        One only needs to see the way Islamic men treat women….you don’t need to know any more than that to see islam is still back in the sixth century…

      • Avatar


        November 14, 2015 at 12:52 AM

        @tina fiedler more women are accepting Islam than men. Please stop watching Fox News.
        Islam doesn’t allow anyone to use women as society butterflies so yes in this sense you can say that it is from 6th century.

      • Avatar

        Richard Hertz

        November 15, 2015 at 8:58 AM

        Putting the words “complex” and “intricate” in a defense of ANY religion is intellectually corrupt.

        The fact is that ALL religions have texts that can be absolve fundamentalists of ANY anti-human actions.

        The problem isn’t Islam. The problem is religion.

    • Avatar


      February 28, 2015 at 3:19 PM

      Although the Qur’an did not completely abolish slavery, it did make it abundantly clear that it was wrong, that human beings should not exalt themselves over others, and that emancipation is a virtuous deed. So yes, ISIS is cherry picking scripture.

      It’s important to remember that Islam is not merely a legal code, but a religion. Unlike with common law, issues of right and wrong, value and worth are extremely important. Islam values the intelligence and reason of humanity, so that intelligence and reason must be applied to matters of religion. Failure to account for changing circumstances would be a rejection of reason, so changing circumstances must be taken into account.

      Likewise, selling women and children into slavery is not only wrong because it contradicts the clear and evident intent of other parts of the Qur’an; it is wrong because it is an act of oppression, and Islam condemns oppression. Even if it did fall within the letter of the law, the fact that it was done to inspire terror in the hearts of the peaceful, who had done ISIS no wrong and who posed them no threat, is enough to make it a vile and repugnant deed.

      • Avatar

        tina fiedler

        November 13, 2015 at 9:23 PM

        sharia law IS oppressive…

      • Avatar


        November 14, 2015 at 12:56 AM

        @tina fiedler oppressive for thieves, rapists, slander, murderers, disrespectful people, and so on. I don’t see why any sane person will oppose it.

      • Avatar


        November 14, 2015 at 4:49 PM

        @Sufian: Yes, and also stoning women for adultery while letting men, who are also just as guilty get a free pass.
        Scratch that, men only need to accuse women for adultery and have a “witness” to nod their head without any real proof to sentence poor women to be stoned.
        That is an Islam at its finest. Religion of peace, that’s for sure.

      • Avatar


        November 15, 2015 at 3:23 AM

        @Andrew first of all stop following Fox News and anti-Islam websites. Secondly, the punishment might be given just on accusation in your Western civilisation but in Islam if you can’t backup your claim/accusation with set number of eyewitnesses then you will yourself be punished with lashes and disqualification of your future accusations (and in cross-investigation if you fail, it applies to all the accusers).
        By the way, punishment of stoning is in Jewish scriptures, so you will have to criticise it first but kindly be aware that Zionists might not like you living on the planet Earth after you do it.

      • Avatar


        November 16, 2015 at 7:16 AM

        do i trust muslims….NO. do i believe anything a muslim says….NO. do i consider muslims my enemy….YES. do i think muslims should be forced out of the west…regardless of long they’ve lived amongst us….YES. should the borders of europe be made impervious to muslims and others not compatible with western all from africa..white south africans excepted. western society is not perfect…but having peoples like muslims and africans who a totally incompatible with western a huge mistake…remove them and all the crimes and diseases they bring and they be gone. hopefully the majority of the host populations of europe will see through the socialist betrayal and vote for parties that promote and defend the rights of the hosts…..

      • Avatar


        November 16, 2015 at 7:44 AM

        well Shaun, without malice I would note that you appear very similar in mindset to an average ISIS, Apartheid, Natzi and KKK member, just the opposite side of the coin. The only thing missing in your writeup is a little “killin’ “! The average Muslim anywhere in the world would welcome you into their home for dinner, never let you stay in a hotel, and treat you like a celebrity, likely even if they knew what you had just posted. Not fanning internet hate here, just saying there is a lot more to this that most folks see on the news. The percentage of radical Muslims in organizations like Al Qaeda and ISIS is tiny compared to the 1.2 billion on the planet. Failing to understand the difference actually helps foster the climate for more terrorism. Luckily they don’t judge Americans by our tiny number of White Supremacists.

    • Avatar


      March 1, 2015 at 3:12 AM

      @”So what’s your interpretation of verse 70:29 to 70:31? Do scholars disagree on the meaning and/or translation of “right hand possesses”?” It’s clear that it’s off-topic. There are places where you can find answers to those questions and people who can explain anything about Islam face to face. Anyway, the answer has been given here: or (both are same videos)

      • Avatar


        November 15, 2015 at 2:43 PM

        What is your Real Problem with Fox News.
        Peo[ple do have the Right to Not agree with you, without being ignorants or idiots.
        Thank you to answer, in the future, with more respect when adressing to Tina Fiedler.
        She is neither your slave no your women !

      • Avatar


        November 16, 2015 at 12:14 AM

        @Archibald Fox News is awfully biased.
        Where did I show disrespect to the said lady? Can you point out the sentence?
        I don’t have any slaves but thanks for the friendly reminder. But next time please reply against the correct comment.

    • Avatar

      Chicken noodle soup

      April 13, 2015 at 4:36 PM

      When Allah says: ” And those who guard their private parts Except from their wives or those their right hands possess” you are right that this ayah is referring to a mans slave. you also have to take into consideration that these verses were sent down more than 1400 years ago today. In a time where slavey was very prominent in their society. If a man did have a slave and ended up having a child with her than her status would be increased, and would not be a slave. Men weren’t allowed to have sex with all of their slaves for fun. Obviously what ISIS is doing is wrong because slavery doesn’t exists today

  3. Avatar


    February 24, 2015 at 3:14 AM

    Furthermore, seems like a strange move to compare Saudi Arabia and China “waxing poetic about the importance of freedom and democracy” to ISIS claiming to be following the ways of the Prophet and the words of Allah. On the one hand, those countries are preaching values codified in human rights treaties and generally considered positive (or at least very difficult to argue as negative in terms of universal human material and emotional needs), but failing to practice those values, and on the other hand ISIS say they are truly Islamic and are engaged in brutal barbarism that, on a literal reading, is actually codified in the texts.
    Saudi Arabia and China etc are saying ‘yeah we’re reading the text literally, and doing what it says, no worries” but are actually failing to do a lot of that stuff, but ISIS are saying “yeah, we’re reading the text literally, and doing what it says to do, ” and are actually doing those things.

    It is not remotely possible that by reading an international human rights treaty literally and doing exactly what it says you will arrive at sexual slavery and amputation of limbs for petty crimes.
    It is well within the realm of possibility that by reading the foundation texts of Islam literally and doing exactly what it says you will arrive at those things.

    • Avatar


      February 26, 2015 at 5:23 PM

      To answer your question, this verse should not be interpreted as Islamic justification for sexual slavery. That is ridiculous. Since slavery was an accepted practice at the time, then intercourse with a slave was deemed permissible. That does not mean that now, when slavery is no longer an accepted cultural practice, it is okay in Islam to enslave someone for the purpose of sex. This is the difference between knowing Islam, and reading a few lines and deciding what they mean to you, without any context whatsoever.

      • Avatar


        February 27, 2015 at 9:12 AM

        Yet this is precisely what ISIS is doing which was the point of Graeme’s article.

      • Avatar


        March 1, 2015 at 12:00 PM

        no actually. it is not permissable in the sense of forcing those women who are in one’s custodianship, as a result of war, to have sex. We are talking about a system where, when a war took place, women were often on the battlefield. Those women were not allowed to be killed, according to Sharia. so they were taken captive. They were not mistreated, but they were now part of a society in which women didn’t just go set themselves up in their own apartment and get a job at the local coffeeshop. They would remain in the household and supported financially by the men of the community they had been at war with. This verse is simply stating that to enter into a relationship with them, the way any man and woman might become interested and attracted to one another, is not forbidden. It is not a wrongdoing if a relationship starts to happen between the two people. But this is a far cry from using someone as a sex slave or forcing them. the words in arabic do not mean “slave.”

      • Avatar


        March 2, 2015 at 8:12 AM

        Is the Quran the exact words of the Creator of the Universe? And does he know all that has happened and will happen?
        If so, then why is the Quran so ‘old-fashioned’?

      • Avatar


        August 25, 2015 at 11:47 AM

        “To answer your question, this verse should not be interpreted as Islamic justification for sexual slavery. That is ridiculous. Since slavery was an accepted practice at the time, then intercourse with a slave was deemed permissible. ” Wow did you write that above stuff with a straight face? I have heard and read score of hundreds of apologists talk about Quran being a shining light for humanity. It prescribes that muslims must pray 5 times a day with a threat of divine wrath on judgement day. Mind you in the day it wasn’t a normal practice to pray 5 times to any deity in Arabia. Yet your sky daddy saw fit to require upon ya’ll that. Yet you claim he did not see it fit to outright banis slavery and banging your female slaves, and let it to the 1400 year evolution of human zeitgeist to rid of that blight off of humanity. Is that what you are saying? Also isn’t your oft claim that Quran was the final and absolute guidance to humanity by your sky daddy. That sounds like there is not room for any evolution beyond such guidance. Yet, with that very same mouth you are telling us that there is room for evolution via the human zeitgeist. Which is it, now? While I am at it, I had this lingering question ever since I read al kittab for the first time. What is the guidance from Sura – Abu Lahab, that I could not find in the rest of al kittab? Tyer are indeed scores or ayahs that for sure admonish me never to piss off your sky daddy. What additional guidance does the sura in question provide? I really want to know, and lots of enquiring minds too?
        “That does not mean that now, when slavery is no longer an accepted cultural practice, it is okay in Islam to enslave someone for the purpose of sex.” Could you please tell me where in your dear dear al kittab does it admonish folks to follow the current cultural practices of the day, or sanctify them. If that were true, then the cultural practices of Quraysh should have been acceptable, as they were the current for the day. Yet MO railed at them and there were plenty of ayahs that supported MO. So what is the escape clause there? By your argument from expediency, is it OK for muslim to drink alcohol, without suffering the eternal wrath of your sky daddy, as it is a cultural practice of the day in amany a geography? No with human zeitgeist, there is one nettling detail, it comes about opposing order of the day and it is slow – glacially slow. yet it somehow takes place slowly, by convincing one person at a time, appealing to their sense of fairness, empathy and what have you. So your position when extended means al kittab supports opposing the rising trends with all your might, until you are overwhelmed by the force of zeitgeist that you jump sides, as good moslem. SO what you are saying, i f you can’t beat them join them. Is that right?

        “This is the difference between knowing Islam, and reading a few lines and deciding what they mean to you, without any context whatsoever.” Mom of 4 seems to me according to your unbounded wisdom, you couldn’t draw any conclusions by read a portion of a book to make any judgment on that portion of the book. One must read the entire book to understand it. So one must synthesize the whole book or none at all. Wow!! what an extraordinary book is this one that its meaningful only in its entirety are not at all. I have never seen such exquisite pile of dung as your thesis. So when I learn Legendre polynomials, it is of no use unless I also learn Ber & Bei functions, etc, etc. Thanks for your elaboration on Islamic epistemology.

      • Avatar


        November 14, 2015 at 8:45 PM

        Slaves that were taken in aggressive expansionist religious war? It’s okay to have sex with them to, as I heard one commentator say, elevate their social status with resulting children? Wow. Why can’t we just say it’s wrong, it’s always been wrong and no one in any historical paradigm should have been taking slaves and having sex with them? This is all rationalisation with 1400 years of hindsight. Every now and then I come across a Christian or Jew who can just say this is wrong and always had been and their ancient depictions of a violent God and justifications of abborant behavior in their scriptures are the wrong headed ideas of an ancient people who had not progressed to an understanding of a God who is not evil. I prefer this to people performing feats of mental gymnastics to arrive at a reason this kind of behavior was really benevolence on God’s part.

    • Avatar

      naveed shaikh

      July 22, 2015 at 5:12 PM

      Yes. The Prophet warned about people who would read his writings literally
      and wreak havock.
      Eg the khawarij

      An issue discussed by Abdal Hakim Murad
      Aka Tim Winters

  4. Avatar

    Mohammed Khan

    February 24, 2015 at 3:20 AM

    A scholarly and brave rebuttal to a malicious article on the ‘Atlantic’.
    I read both articles and the one written in the ‘Atlantic’ has no authenticity and it is apparent that it has been written with malicious motives. A disservice to mankind. An average reader can sense the cheap malice and bias apparent throughout the article on the Atlantic. Mr. Wood does not care to reach out to any Scholar in Islam but to few average citizens who do not care and understand what they say.
    Truth has been told in this article by Dr. Yasir Qadhi and Daniel Haqiqatjou.

    • Avatar


      February 24, 2015 at 3:52 PM

      I feel the opposite. The rebuttal was off point and the original was quite succinct.

    • Avatar


      August 25, 2015 at 11:55 AM

      What scholarly rebuttal. It is just full of innuendo and nonsense. There is no scholarly rebuttal, presented to Woods contention that ISIS was islamic. One needs to at the least go to the sura & ayahs ISIS uses for justification for their actions and show that those verses do not mean what ISIS is concluding. Not one such rebuttal is found. It is such a lousy rebuttal, that if I were making it, I would at least out of embrasment not attach my name to it.

      • Avatar

        Mohammad Patrick Rocka

        September 17, 2015 at 1:02 PM

        The Atlantic Article was Wrong and was a particular bent of the Author.
        A better Rebuttal was done on Think Progress by Jack Jenkins who actually went back and did an interview with the “Islamic Expert” , Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University whose quotes were cherry picked to support the view expressed in the Atlantic’s original article, this same viewpoint expressed in the Atlantic falls apart when one hears the complete opinion and ideas of the Professor Haykel, expert source.

  5. Avatar


    February 24, 2015 at 3:29 AM

    I suppose what is needed is a definition of “Islamic”. I would assume the most accurate definition would have Allah and the Prophet at the very core of the definition. So if Muhammad returned tomorrow and said “scrap all that, Me and Allah are starting afresh”, then it would be Islamic to go along with the new program, whatever it may be, because Allah and the Prophet are the essence of Islam. The Quran would no longer be worth anything.
    However as that hasn’t happened, and Muslims universally agree that the Quran are the actual words of Allah as spoken to Gabriel who then spoke them to Muhammad, then the Quran is the closest thing we have to the core of a definition of “Islamic”.
    Are you saying that 1400 years of Muslim scholarship has gotten closer to the ultimate core of Islam (Allah) than the Quran?
    Or are you simply saying 1400 years of Muslim scholarship has gotten closer to the core meaning of the Quran? Perhaps the “framers intent” of the Quran?

    • Avatar


      February 27, 2015 at 11:00 AM

      Thank you for your question. Muslims generally have more consensus when it comes to certain theological matters of belief (compared to legal matters). It appears your questions here are ignoring theological matters (which are more important for Muslims and without which legal matters mean nothing), and you are concerned specifically about the interpretation of legal matters in which there are more diverse opinions.

      If you are trying to understand legal aspects of Islam, you might want to draw an analogy with the Constitution of the United States. If you’re familiar with constitutional law, you will find that judges can interpret some parts of the constitution in entirely opposite ways when applied to individual circumstances. Even today, we have court cases which are appealed, reversed by a higher court, and reversed once again by a higher court based on varying interpretations of the constitution.

      That is the nature of humanity. Interpreting legal matters in different ways is part of the beauty and diversity of humanity. Out of respect for the legacy of our heritage and to abide by the law, a judge’s interpretation of the constitution is generally backed up by previous supreme court cases to reach a conclusion, and they will often try to understand the spirit of the law to do so.

      Now, let’s remove the entire American judiciary history, and try to interpret the constitution without two hundred years of judgements. There are a few major problems:
      * The authors of the constitution are not accessible, so we cannot ask them what they intended exactly.
      * The context in which the constitution was written is no longer here, so we cannot entirely grasp the intention behind the laws.
      * The language of the constitution ‘meant’ something else to the people of the time because language and culture is constantly changing.

      Now let’s think about Islamic law. In comparison, we have 1400 years of history across numerous nations, cultures, and languages that we would need to ignore instead of 200 years of history in one country. There were contextual sub-cultures, dialects, and circumstances that the original revelation encountered that we have even less of an idea about.

      Thus, most Muslims choose to resort to hundreds of years of interpretive history from knowledgeable and trustworthy people. If someone claims that they are literalistic, unfortunately, they are denying the fact that they cannot be literalistic in an ever-changing world. It is literally impossible to ignore the interpretive history, and will often result in misconstrued ideas because words are used in different contexts today. Even the Quran and Hadith that we read have been passed down to us by people that interpreted it, so to invalidate their trustworthiness would result in invalidating the authority of the hadith/Quran. How can we trust that the Quran and Hadith are authentically passed down to us if we ignore the interpretive history of those same people that passed it down to us? They were closer than us to the Messenger both in relation to time and circumstance than we are now.

      We still have people in the world today that have teachers that pass down interpretive traditions going all the way back to Muhammad. Even they have very different opinions. So in summary, we find that through diverse opinions in history, there is a rich spirit of the law that benefits the human condition of people in the world. There are also opposite interpretations that are harmful. Muslims generally disagree with or ignore examples of interpretations that are obviously oppressive and blameworthy because it has nothing to do with their individual tradition.

      • Avatar


        March 2, 2015 at 8:04 AM

        I think ‘progressive’ Muslim scholars throughout history should be applauded for attempting to remove the barbaric practices of the 7th century from the Muslim legal tradition. More power to them. Of course the big difference between the US constitution and the Quran is the former was created by a bunch of men (philosophers and thinkers steeped in the values of the enlightenment and trying to improve upon European monarchy and theocracy), and the Quran was supposedly dictated by the Creator of the Universe to an Arabian merchant via an angel.
        I doubt the Founding Fathers would have expected future generations to worship them and their work as the final and eternal solution to humanity’s problems for all times. I would be very surprised to hear a Muslim say that Allah, Muhammed and the Quran AREN’T the final and eternal solution to humanity’s problems for all times.
        Also, there is overwhelming evidence to support Darwin’s Theory of Evolution By Natural Selection. Anyone who claims otherwise is ignorant of the evidence and the theory. Humans share a common ancestor with chimpanzees that lived about 7 million years ago. Life has been evolving on this planet for over 3 billion years, the planet itself is about 4.6 billion years old, and the Sun is roughly the same age.
        Scientists now know that every atom in all our bodies (in the entire universe, in fact) larger than Lithium was created in a supernova, as the immense energy required to fuse atomic nuclei, thereby forming the heavier elements, is only present in the core of exploding stars.
        This is the universe we live in. The fact that humans are able to create hydrogen bombs is ample evidence of just how much scientists know about it.
        Given that the neither the Quran, nor the Bible, not the Torah, nor the Bhagavad Gita contain any solid, practical information about the true physical nature of the universe we live in – despite the fact that they all claim to – doesn’t it seem like somewhat of a wild goose chase to build a legal system on any of those books, and expend so much energy debating the “true meaning” of their words?

      • Avatar


        March 2, 2015 at 10:53 PM


        I’m sorry for your personal crisis in missing God. Most Muslims, if any, that read your posts probably think that you just have a personal problem with misinterpretations of legal aspects of Islam. But I think that you might be sincere in your quest to understanding life and Truth for what it really is.

        Regarding your post on March 2 applauding ‘progressive’ Muslims – these scholars are actually getting closer to the spirit of the practices of the 7th century, not removing them. I understand that from your perspective it might be perceived as ‘removal’ due to your personal rejection and bias against Islam and religion, so I invite you to read more history about the reality of the context in which certain laws were implemented and reach out to some trustworthy scholars face to face about your individual concerns. Honestly, these legal details are not nearly as important as your personal crisis. And they are not worth my time to individually address them. Most Muslims don’t care about random posts about them either. Why? Because these attacks are coming from someone that is already biased. Given a cup half full, a biased person will not drink the water in the cup emphasizing the empty half. You can always look for flaws in history based on your own personal morals to point to, and it won’t make a bit of difference to Muslims because their foundation is in knowing God.

        Regarding your comment about the Founding Fathers and comparing them to Muslim beliefs: There are two issues being mixed up here: there is the legal dimension of Islam and there is knowing God. These are two separate things. Let’s put the legal aspects aside because without a foundation in which one knows God, there is no use for the legal aspect.

        Your crisis is ultimately one of missing God. So we may ask, who is it that Muslims worship? Muslims worship the Sustainer of the observed phenomena that you admittedly witnessed and described. So let’s challenge ourselves and go further where science dare not go – what is the Ultimate Source of this all? What is existence? Has anyone solved the mystery of existence? How does something exist? How do you exist? Do you know where you were before you were born? Do you know what will happen to you when you die? Can you prevent yourself from dying? The things you described – atoms, evolution, supernovas, etc – for every answer that we find, there are tons of more questions. Without the Creator, science is simply going in circles trying to answer these. Let’s open our minds and our hearts. The One thing Sustaining all of this is the Truth. That Truth is Powerful. It is Omniscient. Science is always pointing to that Truth because when we choose to ignore it, then we only end up going in circles – asking more questions than we started with. Who created time? Who created space? Who created matter? The One who created these is Uncreated, and is not subject to time, space, or matter. Well, we might ask, if He is Uncreated, how can that be? The answer is so simple that illiterate Bedouin Arabs from the 7th century understood. Without time, there is no chronology or causality. He creates time as you experience it.

        Muslims worship the Sustainer (aka God) of everything that we experience. Muslim worship the Truth (aka God) of reality. I hope you find God, and you will find Him if you sincerely seek Him. His proofs are everywhere you look. If you open your heart, God will bless you to find Him. No one can guide you but Him.

      • Avatar


        March 3, 2015 at 8:36 PM

        Do you agree with the Saudi ‘scholar’ Sheikh Bandar al-Khaibari who said a couple of weeks ago that the Earth doesn’t rotate and is orbited by the Sun? I haven’t looked into it, but I’m also assuming he wasn’t laughed out of town and sacked by the religious establishment for voicing such monumental ignorance.
        I hope you are more enlightened than that confused man. And with that hope in mind, I have a further question for you: do you agree that all humans belong to a species of animal, are a product of billions of years of evolution, and are all cousins (in the broad sense of sharing a common ancestor) to all other animals and ultimately all other organisms on Earth?

      • Avatar


        March 4, 2015 at 3:33 AM

        If you could provide the same rigorously tested evidence for the existence of Allah as an evolutionary biologist could for the process of evolution and the age of the Earth, then I would agree with you, and I would be a Muslim already.
        But the fact of the matter is that you can’t provide that evidence. All you can do is redefine ‘evidence’ to mean occurrences of thoughts in your own mind (as you say “knowing God”). Science is not based on that sort of evidence. Nor should any legal system. The certainty you have for the existence of Allah, based on the ‘evidence’ apparent to you (the thoughts that occur in your mind) is a perfect example of why religious faith can be so frightening. Almost as frightening as the idea of US-Russian tensions getting out of hand, or the coming climate catastrophes.

      • Avatar


        November 16, 2015 at 8:20 AM

        @shaunthebrummie if non Muslims believe that you’re a Muslim then surely it would be like that.

    • Avatar


      February 27, 2015 at 1:28 PM

      In Allah’s omniscience, does He not love us as He did at the time of Gabriel? It does not seem plausible that He would reveal His word then, as well during all eras before, and then stop – leaving us and all future generations dependent upon current and evolved interpretations of the 1400 year old last word. The love of Allah is not terminal, nor is revelation. Only debate and interpretation is fallible.

      • Avatar


        February 27, 2015 at 3:21 PM


        Yes, Allah’s continuing love is obvious. “What do we love?” is the question! Do we love knowing Him, or do we love fighting over legal details and ignoring belief? They are two separate things, but knowing Him does influence our interpretation of legal matters.

        Knowing God (Allah) is a personal matter – not based on which country we live in or what rights our laws grant us – no country or law can grant us that freedom. It is a God-given freedom – we can believe in whatever want, no matter who tortures us or who rewards us. Knowing God (Allah) internally and freely is the essence of Islam.

        When it comes to legal matters, however, there can be debate, and conditions change. As you say, it is fallable because it is part of our creation, but God does not clearly direct us in all legal matters. He allows us the liberty to learn and grow as humanity. It is up to us as humans to put our belief in practice by respectfully debating and interpreting. No one can claim knowledge from any written text or speech without interpretation. Imagine if all legal matters and knowledge had been decided…how monotonous would life be? Even in that case, there will be interpretation. What would be the purpose of life after reaching the status of worshipping God if everything had been decided?

        Talking about interpretation brings up another point, which is knowing God (Allah) directly through experience, which is closer to us than written text. The text serves as a guide for us, as do spiritual teachers. When we reach the point of being guided to know Allah through experience, it is beyond words, and the words grow ever more meaningful to provide richer experiences as we recite the Quran.

      • Avatar


        November 13, 2015 at 9:41 PM

        Religion seems to put God in a shoebox…as if the creator of all is incapable of manifesting again in a future time…Human beings put their interpretation on old writings to subjugate other human beings and profit by doing so….

  6. Avatar


    February 24, 2015 at 3:47 AM

    Nice article, bit misses-as Grobbins stated-nitty gritty. Philosophically eloquent but lacking substantive rebuttal to the Atlantic article. In the words of a fast food chain commercial, “Where’s the beef?”

    1. Is Jihad spiritual and allegorical, or us literal in nature?
    2. Is jihad only defensive?
    3. Are the Koranic verses vis-a-vis slavery, sexual booty-no pun intended-seized in jihad only metaphorical? Are they literal?
    4. How does one reconcile some Koranic practices of tolerance-“People of the Book”-vs intolerance, i.e., exhortations to wipe out infidels?
    5. What of cultural practices common to Islam.but not directly located in the Koran? Beards? Burkas?
    6. Can Islam support anything other than a theocracy under Sharia law in terms of civil government? Is it not the duty of faithful Muslims to advance the same?

    • Avatar


      February 26, 2015 at 6:30 PM

      Hi Ted – I’ve put together some basic info regarding your questions below.

      For question 1 &2 about jihad, I’d suggest taking a look at this short video (~7 min):

      With regard to question 3 about slavery, Islam neither outlaws nor encourages it. If it exists, Islam dictates that certain rules must be followed so as to avoid any mistreatment (e.g. feed them from what you eat, clothe them from what you wear, etc.) Since slavery is now abolished, it’s a moot point.

      For question 4, Islam preaches tolerance. If you objectively study the prophet’s life, he was an astonishingly tolerant person. Truly. A great Christian historian, Karen Armstrong, wrote a biography on him – worth a read if you’re truly interested in learning about Islam.

      When violence is referenced, there’s always a context. For example, the verses 2:191-193 that say to kill them where you find them refer ONLY to a specific situation the prophet encountered during his life. Once that situation was over and certainly once the prophet died, they were no longer applicable. An excellent video was done by Nouman Ali Khan about these verses (~10 min) – if you want more depth, I’d suggest watching that (just type in “Nouman Ali Khan kill them verse” in YouTube). This illustrates why it’s very dangerous to cherry-pick verses, and the importance of looking to reputable scholars for information.

      For question 5, beards for men are commendable but not required. For women, a hijab (head/hair covering) is required, but a niqab (face covering) or burqa is not. There is some debate between scholars about this, but my understanding is that this is the majority opinion.

      For question 6, the majority of Islamic history has seen Islamic civilizations under secular governance. There’s absolutely no requirement for a theocracy, and no such duty upon Muslims to strive for one. Here’s a short video with Sheikh Hamza Yusuf confirming this point:

      If you want more in-depth information, I’d suggest searching around YouTube. If you do, I’d highly recommend doing so with the following scholars: Hamza Yusuf, Yasir Qadhi, Nouman Ali Khan, Omar Suleiman, and/or Suhaib Webb (of course there are other good ones as well, but these are the ones I’m personally most familiar with). So, for example, you could type in “Yasir Qadhi slavery,” or “Hamza Yusuf jihad,” depending on whatever topic you want to look up.

      Hope this is helpful.

    • Avatar


      March 1, 2015 at 12:04 PM

      Where did you get the idea that “those who your right hands possess” means slave? and that having a relationship with them means forcing them into sex slavery? you are projecting certain practices onto the Quran. God is saying that if an attraction and interest starts to take place between a man and the female captive he is in charge of the upkeep of, that is allowed. Why? she has no other options in terms of fulfilling her intimate needs in a society in which she is a foreigner and cannot just go out and find a boyfriend. But this is a far cry from using someone as a sex slave or forcing them. the words in arabic do not mean “slave.”

      • Avatar


        March 2, 2015 at 9:10 AM

        “Where did you get the idea that “those who your right hands possess” means slave?”
        Maududi, for starters.
        “Maududi was the first recipient of the Saudi Arabian King Faisal International Award for his service to Islam in 1979”

      • Avatar


        March 7, 2015 at 8:55 AM

        Please don’t feed the trolls.

      • Avatar


        March 9, 2015 at 8:06 AM

        Yeah, good point. I agree. I should probably stop feeding the trolls.

      • Avatar


        March 10, 2015 at 5:39 PM

        Yes please stop feeding yourself. That’d be great.

      • Avatar


        March 12, 2015 at 9:00 PM

        Oh, you were talking about me? Sorry. My mistake.
        What’s you opinion of Ali A. Rizvi?

        Just a filthy apostate?

      • Avatar


        August 25, 2015 at 12:03 PM

        Yet another apologist is born. Pray shed upon us your grand wisdom about “right hand possesses”

  7. Avatar

    Umm Abdullah

    February 24, 2015 at 9:49 AM

    I have a lot of respect for Dr. Yasir Qadhi, but I think this response is way off the mark. It mischaracterizes what Graeme Wood wrote; I don’t think it was malicious.
    As a Muslim, I’ve been reading the ‘experts’ for years and always thinking that anyone who doesn’t understand Islam cannot understand what’s going on in the Middle East and cannot understand ISIS – which is why most of them are clueless, no matter how celebrated they are and whether or not they have Muslim-sounding names. It is relevant to know that ISIS uses Islamic sources, and Wood doesn’t claim that they are mainstream or that many Muslims support them.
    But any knowledgeable Muslim who does not acknowledge that they recognize where many (not all) of the ISIS opinions come from is being disingenuous. I’m not saying that we agree with their opinions; they are often extreme and distorted, using quotes that are taken out of context and misinterpreted – but we recognize where they get the ideas.
    For example, contrary to what many ‘progressive’ Muslims are claiming, the signs of the end times are mainstream beliefs; the difference is that we are not supposed to make them the center of our lives or think that we can bring them about by our own efforts. (To make my point, I’ll contrast ISIS to Boko Haram; when I hear what they do, I’m baffled and can’t imagine where they get their ideas – assuming that news reports are accurate).
    As a Muslim leader, you cannot answer someone’s questions or persuade them not to engage in violence if you just say that ISIS is not Islamic and that therefore there’s no point in discussing it in those terms.

    • Avatar


      February 24, 2015 at 1:50 PM

      The essence of the problem with Wood’s article is that it’s out of its depth. And while Dr. Qadhi and Daniel’s piece does not respond point-by-point, which personally I had kind of hoped it would, it does a pretty good job of articulating why this is a problem.

      As a healthcare professional, I see this happen all of the time in my field, where would-be experts without real scientific/medical knowledge make what appear to a casual observer as compelling arguments for dangerous practices, a case in point being the anti-vaccination movement. If you want to prioritize the health of yourself and your family, talk to your physician, or another healthcare professional. Similarly, if you want to dive into the question of what is or is not Islamic, talk to reputable Islamic scholars.

      Wood’s article only addresses one scholar, and spends most of its time and energy focusing on the musings of the three “fringe cartoon characters.” Even the one scholar who he does quote spoke in another article about how a number of important points he made to Wood were intentionally left out of the piece, and that some of it was taken out of context.

      I won’t personally judge the intent as malicious or not, but to me, it was without question biased, which damages the credibility it could have had. There’s no doubt that this is an important topic, and shifting towards an academic and solutions-driven discourse is more constructive than the sensationalized “journalism” we often see, but there needs to be honesty and objectivity in the conversation from all sides.

      • Avatar


        February 24, 2015 at 3:47 PM

        I believe Woods article was spot on. I understand that many Muslims reject the ISIS interpretations but clearly they are derived from an ancient view and interpretation of the Koran. To deny this seems silly, all of Islam is not responsible for the ISIS interpretation and are not seen as such, all I’m hearing from “moderates” is a defense of Islam as a whole, let’s deconstruct the ISIS interpretation rather than Wood’s article.

      • Avatar


        February 24, 2015 at 5:17 PM

        Hello t —

        To say that this is an ancient interpretation of the Qur’an is misleading — more accurately, it’s intentional cherry-picking of particular verses to suit an agenda, ignoring the historical and situational context in which they were revealed, and not taking into account other verses and hadith that may be related.

        That being said, you’re right that the response is one that needs to deconstruct their argument on theological grounds. The scholars have done this a number of times: the letter to baghdadi (Google it); lecture on extremism by Dr. Yasir Qadhi (YouTube it); sermon on ISIS by Sheikh Hamza Yusuf (YouTube it); among others. And the conversation needs to continue, and hopefully garner more mainstream attention.

        This is where Wood’s article really falls short. It was a brilliant opportunity to highlight many of these important theological arguments presented by the scholars, above-mentioned as well as others — arguments that, as you point out is necessary for us to do, deconstruct ISIS’s interpretations. If he wanted to present the thesis that ISIS is Islamic, that is of course his right. But if you want academic credibility, you need to discuss the counter-arguments, and why they’re less significant than the argument you’re presenting.

        Wood’s article doesn’t even mention them. It’s so one-sided that it reads almost like an academic expose written by an ISIS propagandist. I know that’s harsh, and I’ll of course give him the benefit of the doubt that that was not his intent, but what the article really accomplishes more than anything else is that it lends religious legitimacy to ISIS’s actions by confirming their narrative. Not only is this giving them credibility that they do not deserve, but it alienates the everyday Muslim by essentially saying the core of his/her beliefs are more accurately defined by fringe extremists.

        What we need to be doing is the opposite: alienate the extremists by delegitimizing them via the significant theological, textual arguments that have been made, and that continue to be made, against them.

      • Avatar

        Umm Abdullah

        February 25, 2015 at 3:38 AM

        Well, for a while I’ve been reading the people known as analysts and ‘experts’, and almost none of them know much at all about Islam. Recently a few of them (like Will McCants and Alistair Crooke) wrote some articles about ‘Wahhabis’ or Islamic prophecies about the end times, and everyone else was very impressed. What they said was partially right and partially wrong, because they have no background – but since the others had so much less knowledge, they thought these were amazing. So in that context, Wood’s article offers information that is pretty much accurate, and I don’t see it as malicious. A point-by-point analysis would be more effective, but maybe it wasn’t done because most of his points are accurate.

        (By the way, I don’t know about anyone else, but I couldn’t post a comment from Chrome, but the I was able to from Internet Explorer. There may be lot of people who are trying to comment here but can’t.)

    • Avatar


      August 25, 2015 at 12:06 PM

      Well put Umm, despite your respect for Mr. Qadhi. I applaud your intellectual honesty. The only kind I recognize.

  8. Pingback: In the News: The Crusades, Anti-Vaxxers, Chocolate Gods & more! | The Revealer

  9. Avatar

    Ghulam Mohiyuddin

    February 24, 2015 at 3:28 PM

    All we can say is that the ISIS ideology is inconsistent with and abhorrent to Progressive Islam or Modern Islam. Trying to say more may lead us into areas in which either side can come up with a litany of valid-sounding arguments.

    All religions need to be more humble about their past.

    • Avatar


      February 24, 2015 at 3:50 PM

      I believe that Woods was describing the ISIS interpretation as saying the modern version is too far removed from the original to the point of no longer being a true representation of what Islam really is meant to be. This should be the discussion not so much Woods’ article.

      • Avatar

        Ghulam Mohiyuddin

        February 24, 2015 at 4:28 PM

        There is enough corroboration in the Quran to validate Progressive or Modernist Islam. Sudanese religious thinker Mahmoud Mohammed Taha believed that the Meccan verses, making up the “Second Message” of Islam, should form the “basis of the legislation” for modern society.
        True Shariah law, Taha believed, was not fixed, but had the ability “to evolve, assimilate the capabilities of individual and society, and guide such life up the ladder of continuous development”. While the Medina Qur’an was appropriate in its time to form the essence of the Sharia, he believed the “original, uncorrupted form” of Islam was the Mecca Qur’an. It accorded, (among other things), equal status to people – whether women or men, Muslim or non-Muslim. Taha preached that the Sudanese constitution should be reformed to reconcile “the individual’s need for absolute freedom with the community’s need for total social justice.”

    • Avatar

      Umm Abdullah

      February 25, 2015 at 3:27 AM

      How are you defining ‘Progressive Islam’ and ‘Modern Islam’?

      • Avatar

        Ghulam Mohiyuddin

        February 25, 2015 at 4:06 AM

        Progressive, Liberal, Moderate, Reformist and Modernist are qualifications of Islam which are not rigidly defined but generally carry the meaning of freedom from obscurantism and dogmatism, opposing coercion and supremacism and supporting inclusiveness and respect for the religions and sects of others.

  10. Avatar


    February 24, 2015 at 7:09 PM

    “The head of Sunni Islam’s top university (Egypt’s Al-Azhar university) has branded the Isis militants who burned a Jordanian pilot to death the “enemies of Mohamed” – and said they should be crucified or have their arms chopped off.” The Independant.
    Seems like it isn’t only ISIS getting their penal code from the 7th century. A significant portion of the Ulama are too.
    In saying that, just chopping arms off seems a bit lenient, no? Arms AND legs, at least.
    I wonder what Ahmed al-Tayeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar, thinks about blasphemy and apostasy.

  11. Avatar


    February 25, 2015 at 9:03 AM

    The psychology at work with groups such as ISIS is to use religion (in this case, of course, Islam) to justify rapine and rape and therefore add a layer of deceptive and distortive righteous outrage to their piratical appropriation of what they had no hand in building or preserving. Such rapacity characterizes, in a more sophisticated form, the plunder of economies and polities by globalized financial industries (inextricable from the global drug trade and other illicit and antisocial activities), but also that of many ancient Roman usurper emperors, who, having bloodily achieved power, would establish themselves as the center of a renewed imperial cult and proceed to terrorize, rob, and murder arbitrarily or systematically, but always with an assumed (though often self-convinced) zealous righteousness born of innate or engendered psychopathy given sustenance and coherence by the technologies of ideology. Chaos was inserted into the Middle East not by Islam, which abhors it, but by Western imperialism which has never overcome its fascination with the Caesarean strategy of ‘divide et impera.’

    • Avatar


      February 25, 2015 at 8:00 PM

      The Mongols contributed a fair bit of chaos to the Middle East, as did the West. Islam might abhor chaos (at least within the Ummah) but you can’t argue Allah is opposed to brutal corporal and capital punishments for those that fail to believe in him. Hell-fire is mentioned more than a few times in the Quran.
      Of course, Sargon of Akkad (or the Sumerians) got the imperial ball rolling in the 3rd millenium BC. And the Assyrians were the masters of epic brutality. Seems to go with the territory.

  12. Pingback: The extremely violent empire | NEWYORKUSTAN: American Muslim Series

  13. Avatar


    February 27, 2015 at 9:10 AM

    I read the article out of curiosity to see if it lived up to the title What is Islam. I was disappointed but not surprised to see it didn’t really even try to do this. It seems easier to say it seems what is not Islamic than what is and it seems many people who call them selves Muslim are considered non Islamic by many other Muslims. Given the lack of a supreme authority its hardly a surprise. But for a non-Muslim it gets confusing.

    • Avatar


      March 2, 2015 at 1:55 AM

      Confused, you won’t see that. Religious people only want to take credit for the good stuff then label the bad stuff as “oh, that’s not OUR religion.” Much like the subjugation of women into subservient roles

  14. Pingback: إمبراطورية شديدة العنف | ما العمل؟

  15. Avatar


    February 28, 2015 at 11:17 AM

    Shaykh Salih Al-Fawzan has stated that “Slavery is a part of Jihad, and Jihad is a part of Islam until the Day of Judgment, and whomever disagrees is not a scholar, he is only a writer” (sic). The problem here is that Shaykh Fawzan is not one of the “scholars” of ISIS. Rather, he is from the Kabir Al-Ulama (the major scholars) of KSA. His rulings hold vast sway among the adherents of Saliffiyyah and to a lesser extent, among mainstream adherents to Sunni Islam. KSA is a modern nation state, a member of the UN, and is rightfully viewed as the birthplace and, because of Makkah & Madinah, the “heart” of Islam. So, the question which has been asked many times in the comments here, and which is dealt with in in some detail in the Atlantic article (but conveniently avoided in this MM piece) is whether or not Islam permits, allows, dictates, or even encourages the taking and keeping of slaves under the circumstances of war? Said another way, when the legal requirements for a legitimate war have been satisfied, does slavery (where one human legally owns the person & labor of another human) become a Islamically legal interaction? I think this question should be answered straightforwardly by the authors here. As was pointed out, neither Wood, nor Choudary, nor Cerantonio are qualified to issue that opinion (from a legal standpoint), but Sh. Yasir Qadhi most certainly is.

  16. Avatar

    a brother

    February 28, 2015 at 12:40 PM

    This was a pretty good attempt at trying to explain some of the faulty and dodgy logic that the author in The Atlantic used. However, the authors of this article did not go into detail using the Quran and Sunnah, explaining the various reasons how ISIS and their acts are so 100% haraam, evil, and totally un-Islamic. Personally, although I’m by no means an expert, I do know the many ways in which they are totally wrong, including their twisting and cherry picking of various Quranic ayahs and ahadeeth, but IMO, you need to explain all of this stuff in detail, just in case any of their dense, jahil fanboys might ever read it, along with the various anti-Muslim ziocon/neocon trolls that will inevitably leave comments here trying to “disprove” the conclusions of the article.

    Also, what the authors of this article have not done (although I know that wasn’t the goal of their article), and to be honest it seems that no mainstream, English speaking shaykh or imam has done, is to explain that ISIS fits in perfectly, 100%, to a tee with the the warped, twisted, and un-Islamic, so-called “SJ” (i.e. AQ) philosophy or manhaj. Everything that ISIS “SJs” are doing in the “name of Islam” is really no different than what AQ “SJs” or any “SJs” have done for the past 10-20 years, although they are maybe a bit more extreme, irrational, and crazy. True, ISIS have also brutally and heinously k*lled in the most barbaric of ways, dozens of mujahideen and of course even many respected shuyookh that had been fighting the tyrant Assad regime from the get go, also at times brazingly making mass takfeer of many of these groups (and I’m not even talking about the secular rebels, if there is such a thing) and this is something that the AQ “SJs” pretty much never previously did (meaning the targeting of other Sunni fighters and/or militants, although they both believe in k*lling innocent Shi’a non-combatants and b*mbing their temples, etc.). However, ISIS is basically just a newer AQ (an AQ 2.0 if you will), and ten years ago, anyone with a basic knowledge of the “SJ” manhaj, philosophy or mentality could only see them getting worse, and doing way more totally unIslamic and haraam things, at the same time of course claiming all of these things were halaal, and part of the deen, etc. In fact, ISIS uses (misuses) the same exact Quranic verses and pretty much tries to give the same exact “daleel” that the older generation of “SJs” and/or AQ used. For instance, they both (mis)use (and all “SJs” do this) all of the various “Qisaas” verses in the Quran to justify pretty much EVERYTHING and anything done to non-Muslims.

    According to their twisted concept of al-Qisaas, “SJs” claim that people other than the actual “perpetrators” (the actual criminals) of crimes can be punished, and innocent people CAN and SHOULD be punished by Muslims for the crimes of OTHER people. According to their twisted, evil and heinous logic, people who k*ll children or babies are not to pay for their crimes. NO. What the “SJs” believe, is that children and babies of the original k*ller, or children and babies who share the same nationality, ethnic background or religion of the original k*ller, can and should instead be the ones k*lled (BTW, anyone who doesn’t believe me, please check their various “fatawa” on the concept of al-Qisaas). And the “SJs” have caused nothing but pure evil and dhulm in the world with this kind of philosophy and their many evil acts (maybe I’m wrong, but one could maybe count on their hands the times that they have ever even targeted actual “combatants”), assuming that they are really behind all of these acts, although many times, they may have been “useful idiots” (knowingly or unknowingly) of various intelligence agencies. (And as a side note with regards to al-Qisaas, is it true that other Salafis, including the “Madkhalis” and other non-violent, peaceful Salafis, think that people other then the actual “criminal” or the actual “perpetrator” of a crime can be punished for this crime? Or do Salafis claim that this is the belief of the Hanbali madhab? Do they state that any of the four schools of fiqh actually taught this very ajeeb, to say the least, belief? Sorry to digress…)

    Also, both groups of “SJs” (and all “SJs”) think that one of the greatest days in the history of this Ummah, not seen since the days of Salahadeen (ra), was the day that 9-11 was perpetrated. Heck, they praise every single haraam act (or attempted act) done by other “SJs” and/or AQ since, including what happened in Madrid, in London, in Bali, in Mumbai, the underwear b*mber, the targeting of Yahoodi toddlers and children in France a few years ago, the b*mbing of all churches, synogues, and Shi’a places of worship, the targeting of all western (i.e. “white”) tourists and humanitarian workers, and journalists in Muslim countries, all of the haraam of Boko Haraam (BTW, I believe their leaders gave bayah to ISIS, although I could be wrong) including when they k*lled one whole village recently, including one of the most evil, despicable, filthy acts that can ever be done, shoot*ng a pregnant woman in the head right when she was giving birth, etc., etc.

    They (and their fanboys) NEVER seem to think that the 9-11 act helped to push the Zionist dominated, western “crusaders” to destroy two Muslim countries, killing hundreds of thousands of Muslims in the process, handing one country (Iraq) over to Iranian backed, anti-Sunni, Shi’a militias. NO. These jahil, worthless, stupid “SJs” seem to think that this was one of the greatest days ever.

    Also, one more thing. It seems Salafis as a whole (whether “SJs,” “Madkhalis,” and others, no matter how moderate, nonviolent and/or peaceful), and many other non-Salafi Sunnis for that matter, seem to never believe in so-called “conspiracy theories” including “false flags” and psy ops that governments and groups have been doing in one form or another to others, for hundreds if not thousands of years. I mean seriously, I’m surprised that no “SJ” groups have not retroactively taken responsibility for the b*mbing of the King David Hotel in Palestine, the Lavon Affair, the b*mbing of the USS Liberty, etc. (these acts were all perpetrated by Zionists/Israelis, trying to make it look like “Muslims” were to blame, with the purpose and goal of trying to get western countries to fight and attack Israel’s “enemies”). These are only a few of the many proven false flags and conspiracies that many governments and intelligence agencies have used against other people, but for whatever reason (and I’m definitely not at all, in the least bit saying that I think everything is a conspiracy or a false flag), most Sunni Muslims IMO, seem to think that there are never false flags done by non-Muslims but then blamed on Muslims, or any false flags done by anyone against anyone else, regardless of religion…

    Anyway, thanks for letting me post my comment and give my opinion

  17. Avatar

    Muslimah DownUnder

    March 1, 2015 at 6:58 AM

    I must say, this is a well written article. I reckon a lot of the info in the article is a must-know for Muslims if we r able to rebut against the accusations thrown at us because of Isis. Honestly though, I reckon it’s pretty clear that Isis loves to cherry pick. And because of that it’s ideology is VERY inconsistent, not only with Islam but with itself as well.

  18. Avatar


    March 1, 2015 at 7:07 PM

    Islam is what muslims make of it and not a fairy tale which exists God knows where , Muslims insist Islam is the only true religion and thats where the whole mindset starts and evolves .Will Yasir Qadhi get up and accept Islam is just another ideology and is not perfect , once that happens only then healing will start. This is a muslim problem and we have to fight it.The other factors may contribute but we have to come up with a counternarrative which no serious scholar is coming up with .The more u guys cry islamophobia the more u guys r directly responsible for our youngsters losing the way. we need the truth all of it.

  19. Avatar


    March 1, 2015 at 10:36 PM

    “Regarding Judaism, Qadhi has said: “I am not advising any Muslim to waste his time studying Judaism. But I am saying, why are Jews studying Islam? There is a reason. Not that they want to help us, they want to destroy us.”
    AJ Weberman, History of Islamist Terrorism in America, p. 357

  20. Avatar

    Imran Khan

    March 2, 2015 at 11:52 AM

    As-salaam-alaikum. Excellent article. I have created a blog post related to ISIS, with links to many relevant articles, including this one.

  21. Pingback: Episode 50: ISIS Update; AP US History; Political (Acceptance) Speech

  22. Avatar


    March 4, 2015 at 10:59 AM

    You missed the reason for the Wood’s article: ISIS is Islamic. It might not be your view of Islam but it’s still Islamic none the less. I also find it odd that many Muslims take a few people, such as Fox news and Rupert Murdock and think they speak for everyone. Much like ISIS doesn’t talk for the majority of Muslims, Fox and Rupert don’t speak for everyone. And while the West has many problems following the spirit of their respective constitutions such as allowing the hijab, Muslim Majority countries have their problems that the West finds appalling such as stoning gay people, killing atheists, killing apostates. Blaming the women for adultery, stoning her, and giving the man a slap on the wrist. Blaming the West for atrocities while not admitting one’s own it hypocritical.
    Something else this rebuttal seems to miss is when it equates race with religion. One can choose religion but not race. And further more, when a black person commits a crime, their skin color has nothing to do with it. But when ISIS beheads someone, they are doing so because of their religion.
    Wood’s article does differ from any anti-Muslim articles in that he does not blame all Muslims for the crimes of a few. When this rebuttal tries to attach detainees in detention centers with ISIS fighters, it fails to account for all the ISIS fighters that weren’t in those facilities. The killers at Charlie Hebdo weren’t in those centers. And for a comparison, Blacks in America have had to endure some horrid stuff, they’re not out bombing places.
    Again, Wood’s article showed ISIS was indeed an Islamic group. Not your umma but Islamic none the less. One can think of ISIS as Fred Phelps is to Christians. Continuing to say ISIS isn’t Islamic is committing the No True Scotsman Fallacy.

    And one last point. If the US and other Western countries are to blame for the rise of ISIS, why would ISIS kill gay people who have no power or authority? If what the US did is so atrocious why haven’t the Saudi’s and other Muslim countries turned their back on the West?

    • Avatar


      March 5, 2015 at 11:24 PM

      Yeah, imagine if the Westboro Baptist Church and their ilk were 200 million strong in the “christian” world. I would imagine they would be up to a lot more mischief than picketing funerals. 200 million Old Testament literalists with a lot of guns and money. Maybe they would form an alliance with the 200 million or so Islamists in the Muslim world, and the apocalypse would be upon us.

      • Avatar

        Dr Robert Davidson

        March 11, 2015 at 7:50 AM

        Can you really insist on ignoring politics and the US’s massive role in this? Can it be possible to be so in denial?

      • Avatar


        March 11, 2015 at 11:37 PM

        Robert, no one is saying the west didn’t play a role in the formation of ISIS, but people act like ISIS is not Islamic, which they are. They don’t represent all of Islam, nor even a significant portion but they still get their reasoning from the Qua’ran.

      • Avatar


        March 12, 2015 at 8:55 PM

        Dr Davidson,
        US invasion of Iraq, massive corruption, recent drought, Sunni v Shia sectarianism, constant Western and Russian meddling, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, trade sanctions, foundational scriptures, Muhammad’s example of religious militarism, Hulagu Khan’s sack of Baghdad, Al-Ghazali’s anti-scientific ‘renewing of the faith’, the Curse of Oil, establishment of the state of Israel etc etc.
        So many causes of the bedlam in the Middle East. Some are traceable to US foreign policy. Some not at all.
        I challenge you to quantify them.

      • Avatar


        March 13, 2015 at 12:59 AM

        I should add to that list: the Petro-Dollar funded “Islamic Revival” creating a brood of brainwashed young Wahhabi/Salafi/Takfiri maniacs all over the joint.

    • Avatar


      March 5, 2015 at 11:26 PM

      Alliance maybe not the best word. An agreement, perhaps.

  23. Avatar


    March 5, 2015 at 10:32 PM

    People don’t get it. It doesn’t matter that much if the entire world proclaims ISIS incorrect, not true muslims, whatever. ISIS clearly believes in what they do and that’s what matters.

  24. Avatar

    Num Berone

    March 7, 2015 at 3:57 PM

    “War is peace.
    Freedom is slavery.
    Ignorance is strength.”
    ― George Orwell, 1984

    Islam is a religion of Peace
    ― those who have faith and no sense of reason

    • Avatar

      Dr Robert Davidson

      March 11, 2015 at 7:51 AM

      What’s your mantra? “US can do whatever atrocities it likes and expect people to just calmly take it, no problem”?

  25. Avatar


    March 7, 2015 at 4:03 PM

    Reading this response and the many Muslims who are attempting to support it, I end up with two impressions:
    1) The logical fallacy of “no true scotsman” – the argument is “ISIS are not Islamic, and those who say they are are wrong”. I ask, who is capable of telling them they are not? Certainly non of the commentators here – and they keep referring to videos, and (with a couple of laudable exceptions) avoid referring to the Quran in support of their stance.
    2) Will the true Muslim please stand up! Related to the above, but with the difference that those who stand up will vociferously disagree with most of the others about Shar’ia and what to make with all the barbaric, outmoded, statements in the Quran and Hadith collections (if they’re Sunni).
    As a atheist myself, I have to explore a simple question – Muslims claim the Quran is perfect, and yet it is the source of more confusion and its language (outdated Arabic) is used as an excuse to claim that non-Muslims cannot understand it (most non-Arabs don’t understand it either, and even Arabic Muslims refuse to examine it as a book – they don’t appear to dare). This seems disingenuous to me – either by Allah who authored a book that is so obscure, or by those who claim it can’t be understood. In either case, I think careful analysis of the statements by Sheikhs is more reliable than westernised Muslims who seem embarrassed by the contents of the book.
    I think this is part of the message that the Atlantic article sends, and, going on the comments above, I think he was right

  26. Avatar

    humans inc.

    March 7, 2015 at 9:39 PM

    Wow what a load of waffle. Not one piece of evidence the ISIS interpretation is incorrect, just the claim it is.
    ISIS read directly from the text, you sir have to dance around and make excuses for every second verse.
    Fact is, even if you could demonstrate the ISIS version is wrong, you still have to concede it’s the easiest interpretation to arrive at. That makes the author very irresponsible indeed. Especially if you’re claiming he’s divine.
    Grow up and lose your Bronze Age dogma.

    • Avatar

      Dr Robert Davidson

      March 11, 2015 at 7:52 AM

      Hmm, another troll without reading ability

      • Avatar


        March 13, 2015 at 12:40 AM

        I love how solid criticism of a profoundly flawed argument is referred to as “trolling” these days. If you say any old rubbish FIRST its OK, but if you reply to it, you’re a “troll”.
        Being 1400 years old shouldn’t and ‘sacred’ to hundreds of millions of people shouldn’t put a world-view (a universe-view, in fact) beyond criticism.
        By the way, I think Israel has always been a bad idea. They should have given the Jews Kansas.

      • Avatar


        April 6, 2015 at 8:51 PM

        @grobbins replying? I only find you jumping to unrelated questions every time. If you really cared, you’d have asked to a local Imam already. Have you?

        And please stop reading anti-Islam websites, you’re fooling yourself and misguiding others.

  27. Avatar


    March 8, 2015 at 3:09 AM

  28. Avatar

    Michael Tagg

    March 8, 2015 at 6:34 AM

    I work directly with a number of Muslims and a few of them are ‘fundamentalist’ zealots. Yes, they will not promote the actions of ISIS but they do not openly condemn them either. The fact is that ISIS and other fundamentalists Muslims like the Saudi Government are working within the framework of the Sharia. The only real difference is not the interpretation of Sharia law but as to what level that interpretation is taken, so yes in this case ISIS is very Islamic. If ISIS was genuinely going against the teachings of the Quran then how come so many people who like Jehovahs Witnesses seek a simple black and white code to live by want to join them from all over the planet. The only difference I can see between some of my colleagues and ISIS is that ISIS is able and willing to carry out the prescribed punishments as prescribed by Sharia and they do not, but they still agree with the overall principles.

  29. Pingback: Who’s Who in Islam: Bigots, Reformers, Moderates, Religious Sociopaths | Arguments Worth Having

  30. Avatar


    March 13, 2015 at 2:32 PM

    I think this website is going into a tangent on the ISIS issue. The question to all anti-ISIS scholars and muslims is-
    who is going to bell the cat? The need of the hour is an anti-ISIS jihad which breaks the moulds they are making,
    using the material of the Quran/ahadith.And perhaps a good time to teach the Ummah what real Jihad is.
    Obama was correct in showing that most major religions went into a violent streak to grab power,used the poverty card
    and misintepreted their religious texts etc-the church did that in the middle ages and the protestant church and martin luther king happened and hinduism had some saints who abolished inhuman black magic rituals in the 5th century etc. Similiarly,
    muslims themselves have to raise their army against this ISIS perversion.There are wealthy gulf private families which
    are funding the ISIS.Why? ISIS is techno savvy bcoz educated muslims are with them.Why?And these ‘deviants’
    are not just a handful for the level of expertise ISIS has displayed.Blaming poverty is nothing but an extortion technique.
    Looking at India or China which hold a billion plus each of non muslims,of which more than 60% still live in poverty
    and have much internal strife over the past 30 years,one cannot simply say poverty in middle east can be justified for excesses
    in the name of revolt.Blaming west is also self-indulgent because corporate interests of the west flourish in the
    middle east due to endemic corruption there.Germany and Japan,India and China have risen from the ashes of WW2 and
    colonialism by focussing inwards for cleanup.As Muslims we cannot blame the shaitan for our woes, we have to
    clean up our character with our deen.Let us do the same in our politics and administration too.

  31. Pingback: ISIS Aside: What Do Islamophobes Really Want? | Mohamad Tabbaa

  32. Pingback: Wither ISIS: What Do Islamophobes Really Want? | Mohamad Tabbaa

  33. Avatar


    March 18, 2015 at 6:04 PM

    Graeme Wood clearly has no bloody idea what he’s talking about:

  34. Avatar


    March 29, 2015 at 9:17 AM

    Islamic scholars issues a Open Letter to ISIS leader awhile back already. I’m surprise a few non muslims keep thinking that Islamic Scholars have not refuted ISIS by using the Qur’an or Hadith. This is because of the fact that the Western Media conveniently choose not to focus on muslims efforts of this kind. Our voices is not heard enough. So here is the link to the refutation from quran and hadith sign by over 120 + scholars from around the world and growing. The link to the online version and for the english pdf version is here.
    Read the whole document, the pdf is like 23 pages. So no non muslim have an excuse to say we simply avoiding it. ISIS is not Islamic for many reasons that a ordinary non muslim would not grasp right of the bat. Islam have a foundational creed, core believes and principals that if violated puts someone outside the fold of Islam. But let the scholars deal with that. It’s more complex then that.

    Go read the OPen Letter to Al Baghdadi of ISIS

  35. Avatar

    hazelmary jackson

    April 4, 2015 at 11:13 AM

    Can I raise, as a British resident, two issues which concern me. It is no coincidence that Graeme Wood found apologists for extremist interpretations of Islam in the UK. Here in the UK we have a large number of angry moslem young men who reject western values. Many UK Muslims choose to live in single community ghettos with little interaction outside of these communities and surveys indicate that up to 40% of Muslim men in the UK wish to see the introduction of shariah law. Many sympathise with the aims of ISIS and every week brings news that more have fled abroad to try to join ISIS. Shariah law is manifestly in complete opposition to our existing legal system and values in the UK (in particular in relation to the role and status of women in society) but the young men (and many are under 25) have been encouraged in their thinking by their religious and community leaders. (There are regular examples where religious leaders denounce the fundamentalists to the media, but turn a blind eye to imams preaching these values in their local mosque.)

    Some UK fundamentalists like Anjem Choudhary, demand the introduction of shariah law, demand that all muslim women wear the niqab and insist that it is not possible to divide church and state. They say democracy is wrong and forbidden to a good Muslim who should not vote or participate in politics as God makes the law not man. To justify this and similar demands they say that they are simply demanding a return to core Muslim values.

    These “core” Muslim values seem to boil down to those espoused by the Prophet when he was alive in the seventh century. They view IS challenged, but weakly, by their leaders. It has long seemed to me that those Muslims who claim to be the most observant and uncompromising in their interpretation of the Koran, are able to occupy the higher ground among their fellow Muslims who are made to feel they have reached some sort of demeaning compromise with the West. Those Muslims whose Islamic values are less rigorously observed, or who seek some accommodation with the values of the West where they live, are forced onto the back foot as a result. Furthermore the fundamentalists claim that they will be rewarded in the next life by following a narrow pure implementation of Islam. Now this may all be different in the USA but it is true in the UK.

    And there is another face of modern Islam which troubles me. The Wahhabism of Saudia Arabia. It is clear that Wahhabism is a very rigorous, some would say “pure” interpretation of Islam, one which seeks to return to older values and it too is uncompromising in its implementation of shariah (having medieval forms of punishment) and a very subservient role for women. Now if Saudia were an impoverished backwater maybe this would not matter so much (although it would still matter greatly in terms of human rights) but Saudia floats on a huge sea of oil money and it has used this to push Wahhabism to other more impoverished muslim countries. But Saudi Wahhabism, promoted with Saudi money, is pretty close in a lot of ways to the version of Islam which ISIS advocates.

    So yes I am sure there are plenty of Muslims trying to reconcile the demands of their religion with existence in a modern world and with the values of the Enlightenment, but there would seem to be a very very large number of Muslims who seek a return to the fundamentalists values which both Wahhabism and ISIS claim (and indeed to a lay observer appear to share.) I would add that I lived in an Islamic country for two years back in the 1980s and saw at first hand what I considered to be the pernicious influence of Saudi Arabian Wahabbism.

    • Avatar


      April 5, 2015 at 10:56 AM

      Hitler killed 6 million Jews. I believe you blame Chriatianity for that? Jews were mistreated all over the Europe while Muslim world didn’t humiliated them or put them in Jewish ghettos, you will blame Europe as well? Or will you bother saying something about King Edward II for kicking out Jews from England?

      Please do some research before questioning why people form small communities in UK, nobody cares that in US so quite clearly you have a long way to go before people start taking you seriously.

      Oh by the way, is stonning adulterer to death part of ‘wahabism’? If so, do you agree Jews and Christians are Wahabis too because their sacred books have the same punishment for adultery?

      • Avatar


        November 14, 2015 at 6:56 PM

        Hitler was not a Christian. His mother was Jewish. Not sure what his gripe was.

      • Avatar


        November 15, 2015 at 3:27 AM

        Yeah same debate as ‘was Hitler a man or a woman?’
        Bend facts to support baseless arguments.

      • Avatar


        November 15, 2015 at 3:28 AM

        @MiaZ yeah same debate as ‘was Hitler a man or a woman?’
        Deny facts to support baseless arguments.

  36. Pingback: » Ramadan vs. Ramzan: How to Do Things with Words

  37. Pingback: Más allá del “Estado Islámico” | Horizontal

  38. Pingback: Comment on What is “Islamic”? A Muslim Response to ISIS and The Atlantic by Mohammad Patrick Rocka | Souqhub | Blog

  39. Avatar


    September 20, 2015 at 11:21 AM

    Mufti Menk On ISIS & Extremism –

  40. Avatar


    November 14, 2015 at 6:53 PM

    Do we need to really care what they want? Killing innocent people is just wrong. That is why we have wars. Army’s kill Army’s. No matter what happened in history. It’s wrong. Although I am not a fan of organized war either. How ridiculous are we that we can’t have a fricking conversation without killing each other?? How about take 2 heads of countries and have them duke it out in a ring? Why the mass killings?

    • Avatar


      November 14, 2015 at 6:54 PM

      Why can’t I edit my post for grammar?

  41. Avatar


    November 14, 2015 at 9:58 PM

    “By characterizing ISIS as Islamic, Wood and Haykel in effect, if not intent, attribute cruel beheadings, wanton massacre, and all other manner of savagery to Islam.”

    Currently Saudi Arabia and Iran carry out beheadings, stonings, crucifixions, floggings, hangings, and other savage punitive measures on people accused of such things as apostasy, adultery or heresy.

    Are you trying to say that Saudi Arabia and Iran are not Islamic?

    • Avatar


      November 16, 2015 at 1:25 PM

      Those governments ought to execute people more politely, as we in the United States do.

    • Avatar


      November 17, 2015 at 1:05 AM

      Why would you want to steal, accuse without a proof, rape, murder or commit adultery? This sick mentality of committing such crimes has been destroying the humanity for a long time.

  42. Avatar


    November 15, 2015 at 1:41 AM

    Admittedly, studying Islam and the current Islamic-“Western World” political climate exceeds available personal energies as allowed by my corporate-“democratic” society, so I speak not with the academic awareness & precision represented in these writings and comments, rather with simple common sense.
    Modern Islam has a big P.R. problem.
    When Western Civilizations, not known at the popular level for their forward thinking and cerebral precision, AND the substantial Muslim World allow a corporate sponsored worldwide popular media to either inform or represent (read mis-inform AND mis-represent) each side of this massive issue respectively, ask yourself where the real power resides?
    I have known many Muslims and find them endearingly “Christian-Like”. Almost, in fact, persuasive enough in their sincerity and simplicity of belief as to give “good Christians” a bad name when it comes to living one’s faith. I consider myself lucky to have been given this window, but many Americans I know have not circulated more widely, which does not make them bad people, perhaps just less informed than they ought to be.
    Allowing ones opinions to be formed by contemporary pop-culture media is dangerous to liberty, but not to the powerful elite. In fact I would say that this ingested misinformation feeds the powerful elite quite well.
    Similarly, why is it that “the rest” of the Muslim World, (1.2 billion) Muslims scattered throughout all nations of the world, do not raise their voices in condemnation of ISIS at a level that the Fox News watchers can hear and understand?
    Boil these two perspectives down and ask yourself who gains from the chaos?

    • Avatar


      November 15, 2015 at 3:36 AM

      Because Fox News is awfully biased.
      If you are interested in watching a video where it is proven why ISIS is un-Islamic then please watch this video:

  43. Avatar


    November 15, 2015 at 8:28 PM

    Excellent interview, thank you for sharing! #Sufian . His voice and others like would be well placed in front of the mainstream (especially non-muslim) world population. Sadly this voice is severely underrepresented in the public media, hence Islams’ “PR Problem”.
    Thanks again for sharing, very good piece.

  44. Pingback: What is “Islamic”? A Muslim Response to ISIS and The Atlantic |

  45. Avatar

    David Hiersekorn

    November 16, 2015 at 3:35 PM

    It seems to me that the two sides are talking past each other here. When Wood says that ISIS is “very Islamic,” he does not mean that the group’s views are similar to those of other Muslims. He is saying that the ISIS theology is drawn exclusively from Islamic sources.

    Suppose I formed a religion that believed the fifth word of every Surah was divine. And, I taught that there is no truth except for truth contained in those words. In spite of the nonsense that might result, one would still have to concede that my religion would be VERY Koranic. Indeed, it would be EXCLUSIVELY based on the Koran.

    Likewise, ISIS has crafted a theology that is based exclusively on the Koran. It does not matter that they reject or misinterpret much of what is written. What matters is that the things they do believe are found in the book.

    In Christianity, we have had a number of “faith preachers” who claim that God can be manipulated by faith. If we believe something strongly enough, God will do it. Those preachers are grossly misinterpreting Christianity. They are heretics. Their entire religion is based on misreading about 100 verses, and ignoring the thousands of other verses that contradict their viewpoint. But, still, they draw large followings and have convinced many people that they are right.

    ISIS is the same phenomenon, albeit with murderous results. I realize that it’s uncomfortable for a peace-loving Muslim to be lumped in with ISIS, just as it’s uncomfortable for me to be lumped in with greedy faith preachers. But, at some point, we need to stop TAKING offense and start PLAYING offense.

    To me, the key points in The Atlantic article were:

    (1) many Muslims believe that the Caliphate must be restored;
    (2) many Muslims believe that the Caliph must come from the Koreish tribe;
    (3) many Muslims believe that the Caliph must control land in order to have authority; and
    (4) many Muslims believe they must pledge allegiance to a Caliph in order to be complete.

    Those beliefs represent the basis for ISIS’ recruiting efforts. Even Muslims who are appalled by the violence of ISIS may nonetheless be open to ISIS, simply because they have claimed the mantle of the Caliph and are led by a Koreishi.

    More importantly, the article points out that the key to defeating ISIS is to take away their land. Without land, their claim to authority evaporates.

    Truthfully, that may be our best hope of defeating these folks. And, we cannot afford to be distracted by someone who undermines that analysis by taking misplaced offense. If ISIS isn’t your religion, then stop pretending that everything people say about ISIS is about you. It’s really that simple.

    • Avatar


      November 16, 2015 at 4:35 PM

      Thank you for your level headed comment, one of very few.

    • Avatar


      November 17, 2015 at 1:11 AM

      Wrong interpretition of Islam is not Islam. Mr Wood completely went wrong with his assumption.
      If someone accuses Christianity for the actions of Hitler, Woods will be the first one to cry. People need to grow up and stay away from Islamophobes.

      • Avatar

        David Hiersekorn

        November 17, 2015 at 4:04 PM

        But, Mr. Wood is not blaming Islam for the actions of ISIS.

  46. Avatar


    November 17, 2015 at 1:53 AM

    ISIS I see as 99% politics 1% religion as their front.
    Remember when ISIS they were attacking Kobane in northern Syria- the Turkish tanks all lined up ordered not to shoot at ISIS thugs. In fact Turkey has been a main supply and trade line for ISIS yet Turkey is part of the European community. So again you have to ask what is going on.
    ISIS have openly travelled around across open baron land in their convoys- no drones to shoot them- they seem to have total run wherever they want.
    The house I lived in Damascus was owned by a family from the Golan Heights. They weren’t allowed to visit anymore since Israel seized control- yet ISIS has been able to flank Syrian forces using the Golan Heights. Why?
    Why is Saudi Arabia funding ISSIS and the cities they take control of?
    You think the west can’t fight a rag tag group of thugs- you think they can outfight the SAS and Delta, Rangers, Seals, SBS troops?
    Remember ISIS putting up their flags in Kobane- the worlds media could take pictures of them- yet the Turkish forces couldn’t shoot them- ever asked why?
    I just assume the rise of ISIS really has its foundations in some black ops hypothesis intended to achieve some agenda.

    • Avatar


      November 17, 2015 at 7:15 AM

      I wonder why can’t Facebook and other social networks not able to help the intelligence agencies (like they always do by selling private info of their users) and fix the ISIS once and for all? There can be no other reason than that they, the intelligence agencies, NATO, etc are funding/supporting them.
      Now, who could be funding ISIS?

  47. Avatar


    November 24, 2015 at 5:01 PM

    Islam is totally against Terrorisma nd Corruption.There are many Quranic verses which Proves it.Here is a list of Quranic verse which counter terrorism-

  48. Avatar


    February 15, 2016 at 11:42 AM

    I’ve set off to write a point by point comment on how disappointing this rebuttal piece was in the end but then I’ve read some of the arguments in the comments section and realized how fruitless such a comment would be. Beyond the knee-jerk defensive reaction liberally peppered with straw men arguments of “you’re no better really” (which is true but just as irrelevant to the general argument as parts of TheAtlantic’s piece are) there’s very little here in the way of addressing how the world should treat and deal with the reality of ISIS. Simply proclaiming them as unislamic does absolutely nothing apart from endlessly arguing who’s better at mental masturbation.

  49. Pingback: Making Sense of Islam and ISIS | ... and these Thy gifts ...

  50. Pingback: Making Sense of Islam and ISIS (1 of 2) | ... and these Thy gifts ...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas | Book Review

In the second decade of the 21st century in America, Muslims consider themselves “as American as apple pie,” don American-flag hijabs, and consider their presence and participation in American politics as a crowning achievement. There is little to no resemblance between the majority of the American Muslim population today, and the very first Muslims who landed in America – not as privileged individuals, but as enslaved people at the hands of vicious white colonizers who had already decimated the Indigenous population and who had no qualms about destroying the lives of their slaves. Dr Sylviane A. Diouf’s book “Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas” tracks the journeys and experiences of African Muslims who found themselves shipped aboard slave-trafficking vessels and taken to the other side of their known world. From their induction into the Transatlantic slave trade, to their determination to uphold the five pillars of Islam – regardless of their circumstances – to the structure of the enslaved Muslim community, their prized (and dangerous) literacy, and their never-ending resistance against slavery, Diouf illustrates in incredible detail the powerful and painful experiences of enslaved African Muslims, and the legacy that they left behind in the Americas.

This review of “Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas” will focus on the unique qualities and formidable faith of the very first Muslims in the Americas, and the legacy that they left for Muslims in the Americas today.

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

In Chapter One, Diouf begins by answering the very first question that arises when considering the path of enslaved African Muslims: how did they end up enslaved in the first place? Slavery already existed as an institution in Africa, though vastly different from the horrifying standards of the European slavers. Between the existing slave trade, military conflicts that created prisoners-of-wars who were then sold as slaves, and the European propensity for kidnapping innocent people, many Muslims found themselves swept into the Transatlantic slave trade. These same Muslims were the ones who provided us with much of the knowledge that we have today regarding the American slave experience. Most African Muslims were literate, due to the religious and cultural importance of education; of those enslaved, many were religious scholars or students of knowledge. They described how they were captured, the torturous journey of the slave caravans across the continent, and the even more horrific experience of the slave ships themselves. These men also documented their lives as slaves, and indirectly, provided deep insight into their own inner nature. 

Despite the intense pressure and demands on African enslaved people to renounce their ‘heathen faith’ and be inducted as Christians, African Muslims demonstrated a commitment to Islam that should cause modern Muslims today to feel deeply ashamed in comparison. The very first words that Job ben Solomon (Ayuba Suleyman Diallo) uttered, after running away and then being discovered in Pennsylvania, were the shahaadah; Omar ibn Sa’id wrote numerous Arabic manuscripts, in which the shahaadah was always found (Diouf, 2013, p. 72-73). When Catholic priests tried hard to educate slaves about Christianity as part of the conversion process, the African Muslims were both resistant and unimpressed; they were already familiar with many Biblical stories, thanks to their Qur’anic education. Of those who seemed to have accepted Christianity, many did so only outwardly, while confirming their belief in Allah and His Messenger in every aspect of their lives. Indeed, in Brazil and other areas where there were large concentrations of Muslim slaves, the Muslims established underground madaaris to maintain and pass on their Islamic knowledge and education. Muhammad Kaba Saghanughu was a man whom the missionaries had thought was successfully converted when he provided all the right answers to their pre-baptismal questions – eleven years later, in a Baptist Missionary Society notebook, he wrote a 50-page fiqh manual in Arabic that encompassed the rulings of salaah, marriage, and other topics. 

Slavery did not stop the African Muslims from maintaining their salaah in whatever manner they could manage, considering their circumstances. Some did so in secret, while others insisted on upholding their salaah in public, to the extent that these incidents were recorded by the descendants of slaves and slaveholders alike. In Brazil, the African Muslim community – both enslaved and freed – held together so strongly that they were able to secretly establish Salatul Jumu’ah and attend gatherings of dhikr, even in the face of intense scrutiny (Diouf, 2013, p. 88-89). 

Perhaps one of the most greatly moving examples of enslaved African Muslims’ dedication to their Islam was that even in the midst of the utter poverty of slavery, they found a way to uphold zakaah, sawm, and Hajj. In Brazil, it was recorded that the Muslims would end Ramadan with the exchanging of gifts, no matter how simple they were; in truth, these gifts were zakaatul fitr and zakaatul maal.

In other areas, the descendants of Muslim slaves recalled that their parents and grandparents would make rice cakes called saraka at least once a year – saraka was a corruption of the Arabic word sadaqah, and the rice cakes were a Jumu’ah tradition in West Africa. (Diouf, 2013, p. 92-94) In Ramadan, many Muslims sought to fast; indeed, despite the incredible hardship and lack of nutritious food that the slaves already endured, there were those who fasted voluntarily outside of Ramadan as well, often by pretending to be ill. They knew that their situation meant that fasting – in Ramadan and outside of it – was not obligatory on them, and yet, to them, no circumstance was bad enough to warrant not even attempting to observe Ramadan. Hajj was another pillar of Islam that was both impossible and no longer obligatory on the enslaved Muslims; yet in Brazil, in a house that was used as a masjid, there were illustrated depictions of the Ka’bah – demonstrating the emotional bond that the African Muslims had with the Sacred House. 

Throughout Diouf’s book, the overwhelming theme that arises is the fierce commitment that enslaved African Muslims had to Islam. It was not superficial, shallow, or easily shrugged away in the face of difficulty. Instead, the African Muslims held onto their belief in Allah and their daily, lived practise of Islam, even when they had every excuse to relax their obligations. They upheld their Islamic and cultural dress code, not just at its minimum standard of modesty, but in a way that clearly demonstrated their religious identity (Diouf, 2013, p. 101-110). They found ways to make prayer mats and dhikr beads; they gave their children Muslim names in secret, when they were expected to present themselves as Christians; they even strove to observe whatever they could of the Islamic dietary code, by refusing to drink alcohol or eat pork – Ayuba Diallo went so far as to only eat dhabiha meat that he himself slaughtered (Diouf, 2013, p. 119-122). The enslaved African Muslims valued their Islamic identity above all. Even in slavery, they knew that their ‘izzah came from their Deen – and so did those around them, who noted their unique bearing in the face of the horrors of slavery. 

The story of the African Muslims who were enslaved and brought to the Americas is not merely a history lesson, or a token homage in honour of Black History Month. It is a story that echoes the persecution of the earliest Muslims in Makkah, and applicable to Muslims today. Muslim minorities in the West are often all too eager to complain of our difficulties and to seek religious exemptions for our minor inconveniences. Yet who are we in comparison to the earliest African-American Muslims, who endurable the unspeakable? Who are we, with our privileges, with our very freedom, in comparison to those Muslims who were stripped of everything and everyone they knew and loved, and who still held ever tighter to the Rope of Allah? One may say that it is unfair to compare us and them; that to recognize their struggles should not mean invalidating the challenges we face today. Certainly, we face numerous different fitan that are very different from what they experienced, but the truth is that we should compare our attitudes with those of our predecessors. We should be ashamed of our own weaknesses in times of privilege compared to their strength in times of oppression. More importantly, we must learn from them what it means to have such a relationship with our Creator and our Deen that we are capable of surviving and thriving in even the worst of circumstances. 

May Allah have mercy on the enslaved African Muslims who endured one of this Ummah’s historic tragedies, and may He make us of those who demonstrate their strength of love for Him through every tragedy of our own.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Continue Reading

Social Justice

Podcast: Priorities and Protest | On Muslim Activism with Shaykhs Dawud Walid and Omar Suleiman

Islam teaches us to stand up for justice, to enjoin good and forbid evil, and to help our brother whether he’s the oppressor or the oppressed, but how?

To help us fully understand the answer to this question, we have the honor of speaking to not one, but two subject matter experts on Muslim activism. Dr. Omar Suleiman and Shaykh Dawud Walid are both scholars, authors, and Imams internationally known for their work in civil rights and social justice.

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Excerpts from the interview:

“You can’t say I don’t believe any bad things about black people because I love Sayyiduna Bilal. We have to move past, and move beyond the tokenization of Bilal and talk about the haqeeqah (reality) of America and how the broader super culture really has influenced a lot of anti-black frameworks inside the Muslim community of those who are not black.” – Shaykh Dawud Walid

'We believe very deeply that our deen calls us to stand for the sanctity of life and to stand against oppression, and to stand against state violence and all that it represents in this regard.' - Imam Omar SuleimanClick To Tweet

“We can never elevate any other cause to where we equate it to anti-blackness in America, we can and rightfully should point to the fact that the same frames that have been used to justify state violence and white supremacy embedded in state policy towards black people in America is what guides America’s foreign policy and imperialism as well.” – Imam Omar Suleiman

'When the Muslim community stands up for the importance of black life, it is standing up for itself and with itself.' - Shaykh Dawud WalidClick To Tweet

“You know your name, and you know what land your family came from and you know the language that they spoke. Imagine the centuries of trauma that African Americans have gone through in this country, where we were brought here as chattel, like a cow or a chicken, our children were separated from our parents, our names were taken from us, our language, our culture, our religion, and then we were forced into the religion of Christianity, and the psychological warfare and violence of then having to look at a picture of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus that looked just like our slave-master, and to be told that our slave master looked more like the embodiment of civilization and purity of Jesus. And then we looked at ourselves and we saw the exact opposite. And then this dehumanization, being baked into every single system of the socio-political life of black people in America.

Anyone who is named Jones in America, it’s because their great, great grandfather was owned by someone named Jones. It has nothing to do with their lineage or their culture. And people like me, who are lighter skinned African-Americans – there’s no one from Senegal or Gambia indigenously who looks like me – it’s because my great grandfather’s mother was raped by a white man on a plantation in South Carolina. What we face in America isn’t just a moment or two of discrimination here or there.” – Shaykh Dawud Walid

'Why should cops with a list of seventeen prior violations of excessive force still be on the force? Why is it that penalizing of everyone but the police exists?' - Imam Omar SuleimanClick To Tweet

“Many Muslims feel very stressed when they’re driving across the border to Canada or flying back into the country. They’re very fearful about CBP or about being interrogated or held. Take that feeling, multiply it by about three, and imagine every day of your life living in America feeling that way. That’s about the best way I can explain it, but if you’re black AND you’re Muslim, that’s double trouble.” – Shaykh Dawud Walid

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Continue Reading


On British Muslims & Racism: Do Black Lives Matter?

Q. As Muslims, what should our stance be on racism or racial discrimination, and should we be supporting social justice movements like Black Lives Matter (BLM)? And isn’t all of this support for BLM privileging justice for black people over others, especially when we Muslims realise the increasing Islamophobia and injustices being perpetrated against our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters around the globe?

A. At the outset, let me be clear about how I intend to engage these concerns. And that is by rooting them in mainstream teachings of Islam so as to address the issue of racism in a manner that might be meaningful in a British context, and recognised as being Islamic in a Muslim one. I have divided the response into five parts: [i] Islam & racism; [ii] modernity & racism; [iii] Britain & racism; [iv] Muslims & racism; and [v] BLM & racism.

I. Islam & Racism

Although the following verse is not speaking of the modern social construct of racism per se, it is speaking to the pre-modern concept of groupings of people related by significant comment descent; in terms of location, language, history and culture. Thus we read in the Holy Qur’an: O mankind! We have created you from a male and female, and then made you nations and tribes that you might know one another. Truly, the noblest of you in the sight of God is he who is the most pious. God is indeed Knowing, Aware. [Q.49:13]

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

The Prophet ﷺ brought skin colour into the mix in these words: ‘O mankind! Indeed your Lord is one, and indeed your father is one. Truly, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab over an Arab; nor white (ahmar, lit. ‘red’ or ‘reddish’) over black, nor black over white – except by piety. Have I not conveyed [the message]?’1

In fact, the Qur’an doesn’t only negatively condemn such discrimination, but it positively and actively celebrates diversity too: And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the differences of your languages and your colours. In this are signs for people of knowledge. [Q.30:22]

The above verses and prophetic statement, then, were a total restructuring of the moral or ethical landscape prevalent throughout Arabia at the time. True worth would no longer be determined by skin colour, lineage, or even by grandiose shows of courage or generosity. Rather, true worth would be measured by taqwa – ‘piety,’ ‘godliness’ and ‘mindfulness’ of God’s commands and prohibitions.

Once, when one of the Prophet’s wives hurled a racial slur (or ethnoreligious insult, as we might say today) at another co-wife in a state of annoyance, disparagingly called her ‘the daughter of a Jew’, the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Indeed, your [fore]father [Moses] was a Prophet; your [great] uncle [Aaron] was a Prophet; and you are married to a Prophet. What can she boast to you about?’2 Again, when one companion insulted another person, by insulting his mother because she was a non-Arab, the Prophet ﷺ said to him: ‘You still have some pre-Islamic ignorance (jahiliyyah) in you.’3 Thus no Muslim has even the slightest right to resurrect the vile attitude of racism; xenophobia; tribal bigotry; or insulting people due to them being seen as the ‘Other’, when the Prophet ﷺ radically eliminated such attitudes from the believer’s worldview and relationships. Ibn Taymiyyah said: ‘There isn’t a single verse in God’s Book that praises someone or censures someone due to just their lineage. Instead, praise is due to faith and piety, while blame is because of disbelief, immorality or disobedience.’4

II. Modernity & Racism

In the 1830s, Samuel Morton, an American craniologist, amassed and studied hundreds of human skulls so as to measure differences in brain size between people from various ethnic backgrounds. Morton believed he had used science to prove that white people were intellectually superior to other ‘races’. In his Crania Americana, Morton declared that not only did white people have larger brains and thus were intellectually superior to all other races, but also that black people had the smallest brains sizes and were hence inferior to all others. Morton and others used this conclusion as a ‘scientific’ justification to continue slavery in the United States and negatively stereotype black people. Many hold Morton to be the founding father of scientific racism. It’s here that, based upon this pseudo-science and on certain superficial differences in physiological traits, the categorisation of people into distinct ‘races’ begins in earnest. And while the institutional racism, racial prejudice, and white supremacy that was to follow were directed at all races in Morton’s descending hierarchy, providing adequate grounds to treat other races differently, in terms of rights and privileges, it would be black people (at the supposed bottom of the heap) that would bear the greatest and most sustained brunt of it.

Of course, modern science has long since shown that brain size isn’t necessarily related to intelligence. Instead, brain size is tied to things like environment, climate and body size, while intelligence is more related to how many neurons, or how efficient the connections between neurons, are in the brain. Indeed, modern science has also largely debunked the biological basis of race, showing that there is as much genetic diversity within such racial groups as there is between them. Science now regards race as a conventional attribution; a social construct, but not a scientifically rooted or valid classification. And while today we tend to favour the term ethnicity over the arbitrary construct of ‘race’ based upon skin colour and physiognomy, race remains, for some, a focus of individual and group identity, particularly members of socially disadvantaged groups, like blacks, where it oftentimes is a source of pride and joy. All this has led many anthropologists to argue that since there is no scientific basis for race, we should just chuck the whole idea in the bin. Others say that if we’re going to continue to insist on the social fiction of racial differences, let it be based on ethical considerations that enhance justice, fairness and familiarity between peoples, not hatred, discrimination and xenophobia. In fact, this latter way of looking at ethnic or racial divides is probably more in keeping with what Islam wants for humanity. After all, God made of us nations and tribes lita‘arafu – ‘that you might know one another.’

The above, then, amidst the activities of European empires and colonialism is where such modern ideas of racial discrimination and racism were birthed; ideas and realities which still reverberate frustratingly down to these present times. Just how many ordinary white Britons internalised the racist pseudo-science over the past one hundred and fifty years or so, not because they were particularly bad or evil people, but because they believed the ‘science’, is anyone’s guess. Add to that the usual xenophobia that often exists against the outsider, the modern feats and achievements of white Western Europe which feed into the idea of white exceptionalism or supremacy, and the political utility of whipping up blame against immigrants in times of national difficulty and economic downturn, make for well-entrenched myths and discrimination against people of colour.

III. Britain &Racism

Although the history of the United States is drenched in racism; with the issue of race still being the most painful, divisive one for its citizens, it is racism in Britain – my home, and where I was born and raised – that I’d like to confine my remarks and anecdotes to. And in Britain, just as in America, while peoples of diverse ethnic minorities have undeniably been, and continue to be, victims of racism, it is discrimination against black people that is by far the more endemic and systemic.

The recent anti-racist protests that are taking place across the country aren’t just to show anger about the death of yet another black man, George Floyd, at the hands of yet another American police officer. They are also protests against the systemic racism here in Britain too. Long before racism against blacks, Asians, and Eastern Europeans, Jews as a people, and also the Irish, suffered racism in Britain. Jewish people still do.

Whilst structural or institutional racism is difficult to conclusively prove, the lived reality of people of colour, as well as statistics after statistics, or report after report, all point to similar conclusions: Britain has a race problem. It doesn’t just have a problem with casual racism (now called micro aggression; as experienced in schools, jobs or everyday life), or racism born from unconscious bias (snap decisions conditioned by cultural upbringing or personal experience); it has a problem of systemic racism too – racial discrimination and negative stereotyping within many of its key institutions: the police force and the criminal justice system deemed to be among the main culprits.

It is, of course, argued that although Britain does indeed have individual racists, and that acts of racism do tragically still occur here, but Britain itself; even if it may have been in the recent past, isn’t institutionally racist anymore. We have the Equalities Act of 2010, as one of the clearest proofs against any institutional racism.

Or the case has been put that, ever since the Macpherson Report of 1999, which came as a result of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, in 1993 – and the two words in it that stood out from the rest of the 350 page report, that London’s Metropolitan Police was ‘institutionally racist’ – Britain’s police forces have internalised the criticism and have come on leaps and bounds since then: individually and institutionally. So to describe Britain’s police forces as still being systemically racist is unjust and unfair; or so the argument goes.

Be that as it may; and while many positive changes of both mind and structure have been sincerely made, the stark, present-day statistics tell us another story. Modern Britain is a place where black people, in contrast to white ones are: 10 times more likely to be stopped and searched; 4 time more likely to be arrested; twice as likely to be temporarily excluded from school; and 3 times as likely to be permanently excluded from school; and twice as likely to die in police custody. From any unbiased standard, does this look anywhere like equality? And just as importantly, are we saying that institutional racism is totally absent from these numbers?5

For most of my life, I’ve lived on one council estate or another in East London. In my pre-teen years, I grew up on an estate in Chingford, where most of the people were white, with a few Afro-Caribbean families and a couple of Asian ones: my family being one of them. I, like many other non-whites of my generation, encountered my share of racist abuse; and for a short time, a little racist bullying too. On the whole, I got along with most kids on the estate and at its primary school, regardless of colour; and they got along with me.

For my entire teen years, I lived on another estate in Leytonstone, where this time most of the residents were black. It was the mid 1970s, and it was a time when many young black people were, I wouldn’t say suffering an identity crisis, but more that they were searching for an identity. For unlike their parents, they were neither Jamaican, Bajan [Barbadian], or Trinidadian, nor did they feel (or were made to feel) totally British. Instead, young black Britons were turning to their Blackness to make sense of their place in Britain, developing a sense of collective cultural identity in the process. I felt a greater affinity to that culture, than I did any other. Voices like Bob Marley, Burning Spear, the Wailing Souls and Black Uhuru spoke to our plight and our aspirations. But whilst their conscious lyrics of roots reggae was coming out of Jamaica, it was home-grown, British reggae artists that would tell our own specifically British story: artists like Steel Pulse, Black Roots, Mikey Dread or, particularly for me, Aswad (or early Aswad, from ’76-’82). Aswad sang of African Children (which I’d swap in my mind for ‘immigrant’ children) ‘living in a concrete situation;’ in ‘precast stone walls, concrete cubicles. Their rent increasing each and every other day; Structural repairs are assessed and yet not done; Lift out of action on the twenty-seventh floor; And when they work, they smell.’ All of us youths crammed into the estate’s small youth centre, smiled, nodded away approvingly, and perfectly identified with the message when we first heard such conscious lyrics booming out at us. Whilst Marley spoke of the daily ghetto struggles of growing up in the concrete jungle of Kingston 12; Trenchtown, for me, Aswad spoke of parallel struggles growing up in the concrete situation of Leytonstone E11. We all a feel it, yes we a feel it!

Back to racism. My one little anecdotal proof of black victimisation from the police comes from the time when I was living on Leytonstone’s Cathall Road Estate. Police raids were a fairly usual occurrence on our estate as well as in the youth centre; sometimes with actual justification. In the youth centre, the police (usually with their police dogs), would stomp in; turn off the music; stamp out any spliff that was lit up; and then we’d all be told to line up against the wall with our hands behind our heads. Every time this happened, without exception, when it came to searching me, they never did. They’d simply insist that I leave the centre, or go home, which I would. I’d then usually come back half an hour or an hour later, and resume playing pool, table-tennis or bar football; or just soak up the vibes (not the spliff). Once, after a raid had happened, I came back to the centre, only for one of my close Rasta friends to advise me that it would be best if I stay home for a few days. I asked why? He told me that some people who hang out at the centre, but who don’t really know me, nor live on the actual estate, are saying that it’s odd that I never get searched and that maybe I was a grass. It would be an understatement if I said that I was scared stiff. I took the advice, and stayed away from the centre for a week, till I got the nod that things were all okay. A month or so later, and yet another raid. But this time, for me it was a Godsend: they actually searched me! I felt relieved, vindicated, and took it as a badge of honour. My point being is that throughout the ’70s and ’80s, there were countless times when I saw specifically black people stigmatised and victimised by the police.

To be honest, by the mid 1980s, with the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism doing their thing against the far-right National Front; with Reggae and Two-Tone Ska bands and gigs more and more mixing blacks and whites; and with attitudes of the young positively changing, I thought (perhaps naively) that racism in Britain would liklely be a thing of the past by the mid ’90s. Optimism, of course, is entirely healthy, as long as it doesn’t become blind to realism.

IV. Muslims & Racism

Here I’d like to speak about something that some Muslims will find uncomfortable: which is that we [non-black]Muslims need to admit the anti-black racism that infects our own communities. Sadly, racism against black people – including fellow black Muslims – is all too common among British Asian Muslims of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent. Whether it is being stared at by elderly Asians in the mosque and so made to feel self-conscious, to the way we of South Asian descent use the word kala, ‘black’, in a derogatory way; or whether it’s about marriage, or thinking all black Muslims must be converts and then dishing out patronising praise to them over basic acts like making wudhu – this un-Islamic nonsense; this jahiliyyah, simply has to stop.

We must speak to our elders about their anti-black racism. We need to respectfully discuss why so many of our mosques continue to make black Muslims feel unwelcome, or drive them away, and what can be done about it? Yet while our masjids are undeniably masjids; ‘Most mosques function as “race temples” created as enclosures for single ethnicities, and their mono-ethnic and introspective leadership are generally unfamiliar with any novelty occurring outside their silos.’6 Such ‘race temples’ are where Ethnic Islam rules the roost, even at the cost of shari‘ah race equality, sirah hospitality, or sunnah unity.

But racism isn’t just an issue with South Asian elders? It lurks in the hearts and minds of my generation too; and maybe that of my children’s? It’s less the stares or the ignorance about Black achievements, and more the negative stereotyping; post-colonial complexes; desperation to whiten-up; or outright racism when it comes to marriage. Here as an Asian Muslim parent, I’m happy for my daughter or son to marry – religiously speaking – some adamant fasiq or fasiqah – especially if they are of a lighter complexion: but I could never accept them marring a godly, well-mannered, responsible Black person! But we convince ourselves we are not racist: after all, I love the sahabi, Bilal. I weep when I read Bilal’s life story. My good friend, Bilal, is black. But the proof is in the pudding, and the truth is that we need to move beyond tokenism; beyond Bilal.

Those Muslims who make an issue of colour; whose racist or tribal mindsets lead them to look down upon a person of darker colour or treat them unequally, let them consider the son-in-law of the Prophet ﷺ, and fourth Caliph, sayyiduna ‘Ali b. Abi Talib. The classical biographers all state: kana ‘ali adam, shadid al-udmah – ‘Ali was black, jet black.7 Or take our master ‘Umar who is also described in the same terms.8 The colour, adam may refer to skin complexion which is dark brown, like a native American; or darker still, like in native Australian aborigines; or jet black, like many Africans. When the phrase, shadid al-udmah is added, ‘extremely dark’, then there’s no mistaking what is meant: a person who, for all intents and purposes, is black. Such a description seems quite usual for the Arabs among the sahabah. Black skin is also the colour of the lady with whom the whole Muhammadan saga begins: our lady Hagar (Hajarah); she was a black Egyptian. Or consider the Prophet Moses, peace be upon him. Our Prophet ﷺ once said: ‘As for Moses, he was tall and dark brown, as like the men of al-Zutt.’9 The Zutt were a well-known tribe of tall dark men from the Sudan.10 After knowing the above, if we are still going to look down at people merely due to their darker complexion, then what ghustakhi; what mockery and disrespect will we be possibly drowning in?

Islam is neither racist nor colour blind. It wants us to understand that skin colour has no intrinsic worth, only piety does. Yet at the same time, it allows us to celebrate differences in a way that does not offend Heaven, and in a way that causes us to offer joyful thanks to the One Who is the Maker of all Colours.

Islam is neither racist nor colour blind. It wants us to understand that skin colour has no intrinsic worth, only piety does. Yet at the same time, it allows us to celebrate differences in a way that does not offend Heaven, and in a way that causes us to offer joyful thanks to the One Who is the Maker of all Colours.Click To Tweet

So let’s have the conversations. Let’s have some serious introspection. Let’s listen to what Black Muslims have to say. Let’s desire to be healers, not dividers. Let’s educate ourselves about the reality of Black lives in general, and Black Muslim lives in particular. Olusoga’s Black & British and Akala’s Natives are good places to start. Sherman Jackson’s Islam and the Problem of Black Suffering is, with its theological insights, a must read. Above all, let’s work towards not just being non-racist, but anti-racist.

Change, thankfully, is in the air. For urban, millennial Muslims, and those of a generation younger still, these older ethnic divides are more and more of an irrelevance in their lives (though I’m not sure how much this applies to those raised in ethnic silos in Britain’s less urbanised cities). Such millennials have heard the stories of the intra-ethnic fighting; the anti-black racism; the token hospitality to black Muslims, but without ever giving them a voice; and the fruitless attempts to make the ‘race temples’ more inclusive, and how after decades, it’s a case of banging heads and brick walls. So owing to this, they are seeking to create more inclusive, culturally more meaningful spaces; away from all this toxic, ethnic Islam. Surely that’s where the rest of us should be heading too?

V. BLM & Racism

The Qur’an says: Help one another in righteousness and piety, help not one another in sin or transgression. [Q.5:2] Between this verse and the hilf al-fudul pact the Prophet ﷺ upheld and endorsed even after prophethood, we have a solid religious basis for supporting any individual or group working for issues of social justice: be it for Muslims or non-Muslims; be it led by Muslims or non-Muslims.

The Black Lives Matter movement has proven itself to be a powerful and effective vehicle over the past five years to demand reform in terms of anti-Black racism; with their current focus on justice for George Floyd and his family. Thus, how can Muslims not support it? Of course, we cannot give any organisation carte blanche support. Religiously, we Muslims cannot give unconditional support to anybody save to God and His Prophet ﷺ. Given that BLM has a few stated aims that are inconsistent with Islam’s theology (‘freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking’ is one of them, for instance), our activism must be guided by sacred knowledge and illumined by revealed guidance. Our intention is not supporting BLM, as such. Instead, it’s a case of making a stand against injustice, in this case anti-Black racism: supporting those individuals or organisations that are likely to be the most effective in achieving this goal. (It should go without saying, that we can work for justice for more than one cause or more than one set of people at the same time). And this is what the above verse and the hilf al-fudul pact have in mind. And just like the BLM describes itself as ‘unapologetically Black’, perhaps some of us need to be a tad more unapologetically Muslim?

But let’s take our focus off such theological nuances for now, and tie a ribbon around the whole thing and say: Let us, at least in spirit and in principle, if not in body, fully support Black Lives Matter as a cause, more than as a movement, in seeking to resolve structural racism; get justice done for all the George Floyds and all the Stephen Lawrences; and to get people to reflect on their own attitudes to racism and the racial ‘Other’ – ensuring our knee isn’t on the necks of others. We should support the overall goals of any grassroots movement that is working for a fairer, more just and tolerant Britain for everyone: black or white. Of course, for that to happen, from a Black Muslim perspective, anti-Black racism as well as an ever-growing Islamophobia must be tackled. Currently in Britain, God forbid that you are ostensibly a Muslim and Black!

Racism affects all people of colour. But when it comes to Black people, they face a unique anti-black prejudice as the ultimate Other, propagated both by white majorities and even other ethnic minorities. As a marginalised community South Asians, no doubt, have their own prejudices thrown their way. But they are not the same lived experiences as that of Black people. And while it can be easy to lump everyone together and perceive ourselves as having a shared trauma, statistics show that this equivalence is not really true.

In closing, I’d like to thank my youngest daughter, Atiyyah, for inspiring me to revisit and renew my ideas on anti-black racism; and my friend, Dr Abdul Haqq Baker for prompting me to write this piece, offering invaluable suggestions, and then reviewing it for me.

Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.

1. Ahmad, Musnad, no.22978. Ibn Taymiyyah declared its chain to be sahih in Iqtida’ al-Sirat al-Mustaqim (Riyadh: Dar Ishbiliyah, 1998), 1:412.

2. Al-Tirmidhi, no.3894, where he declared the hadith to be hasan sahih.

3. Al-Bukhari, nos.2545; 6050.

4. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 35:230.

5. GOV.UK: Black Caribbean Ethnicity Facts and Figures.

6. Abdal Hakim Murad, Travelling Home (Cambridge: The Quilliam Press, 2020), 49-50.

7. See: Ibn ‘Asakir, Tarikh Madinat al-Dimashq (Dar al-Fikr, 1996), 42:24.

8. As per Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, al-Isti‘ab fi Ma‘rifat al-Ashab (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1971), 3:236

9. Al-Bukhari, no.3438.

10. Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari bi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Cairo: Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 2013), 8:61.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Continue Reading

MuslimMatters NewsLetter in Your Inbox

Sign up below to get started



you're currently offline