Why IS is Islamic but not Muslim


The problems about the debate of whether IS is or is not Islamic comes about when parties then attempt to extend the argument in the following seemingly logical ways:

1) IS’s interpretation and practice of Islam is “true”. This reveals fundamental flaws in its theology. Hence all Muslims are potential barbarians and should be treated as potential terrorists.

2) IS’s interpretation and practice of Islam is “false”. There is no need to focus on flaws in Islam as there are many interpretations of Islam. Besides, Muslims aren’t responsible for IS and should be treated as people (like everyone else).

Given the high stakes involved, it is no surprise that most Muslims and the Left tend to favour argument no 2) while pretty much everyone on the right tends to favour 1) without necessarily being quite so bald with the last sentence. More nuanced arguments tend to be lost in the usual shout-fest of the internet.

In particular, arguments tend to revolve around various quotations from the Quran, Hadith, Sunnah etc. To a large degree, I think these arguments are pointless. IS’s interpretation of Islam is likely to be theologically valid (see article) . There are multiple interpretations of Islam that are also likely to be theologically valid as well as arguments from scholars against IS’s interpretation of Islam. Personally, even though I believe that Islam is flawed (as are all religions BTW*), I am not terribly interested in that area.

IMO, the importance of what is written is only valid to the extent of how it is practiced currently and accepted as such by the majority of people, how it is embedded within their values and daily existence. In my experience, that gulf within theory and practice in Islam (as with all religions) is very wide. A Gallup study published in 2008 sheds some light as to what Muslims actually care about and how they act. To no great surprise, Muslims view violence with pretty much the same level of abhorence as everyone else.

What I do care about however, is any claims that IS’s fundamental and literal interpretation of Islam can be generalised to the beliefs and practices of Muslims on the whole either as they stand currently or where they could go potentially. This is irresponsible and verging on hate-speech. IMO, the only thing that can really be said of IS, Islam and Muslims in general is as follows:

 IS’s interpretation and practice of Islam is “true”. This reveals fundamental flaws in its theology. However, there are many interpretations of Islam and Muslims aren’t responsible for IS and should be treated as people (like everyone else).

* As an atheist I like to think I am even-handed in my criticisms of every religion.

EDIT: Turns out I have blogged about this far more succinctly in the past.

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