An important article about ISIS 
What ISIS Really Wants by Graeme Wood emphasises the millenarian worldview that ISIS has and its belief that it is positioned to precipitate apocalyptic events that very many Muslims will be familiar with. The article also gives examples of how ISIS uses methods of justifying its actions that will also be very familiar methods to the street-corner preachers of many of the UK's urban Muslim neighbourhoods.

Graeme Wood's article is extraordinarily important for tackling extremism in the UK. It, and another similar article, The secret world of Isis training camps by Hassan Hassan, describe the minhaj, the methods, by which ISIS propagates and justifies its actions in a theological context. Apart from the violent subject matter, the method itself is very familiar to anyone involved with the Salafi awakening that has taken place in the UK over the past three decades. Most UK Muslims will be very familiar with the methods as they have been applied to relatively trivial matters such as the wearing of gold or the number of units of salaah in tarawih in Ramadhaan. Usually they have been deployed by Salafis exhorting others to join them, by challenging traditional practices rooted in orthodox Sunni fiqh, Hanafi, Shafi'i, Maliki, Hambali, etc., and providing coherently argued alternatives that undermine the authority of orthodoxy in the mind of the potential recruit. Over those three decades, orthodox UK Asian Muslim imams and alims have completely failed to provide coherent counter arguments, due mainly to them being utterly ensconced in the century old Deobandi-Bareilvi argument. As a consequence, Salafi-ism has spread to become ordinary across the UK. While my statistics are not specific enough to demonstrate this, I believe that half of all new mosque projects in the UK in the last few years, are Salafi inspired.

There is nothing wrong with Salafi-ism per se, most Salafi jama'ats are many times better at community engagement and community responsibility than Deobandi, Bareilvi and Jama'at Islami (Maudoodi-ist, Islamic Movement) jama'ats and their organisers. But the method, the minhaj, has been one of antagonistic confrontation, using interpretations of source material intended to undermine the arguments of orthodoxy. ISIS use the same methods. Orthodox imams and alims will continue to fail to provide counter-instruction because, as I have said very publicly, they are completely unequipped to provide it - they simply do not have the knowledge.

For the last two decades, both individual and organised militants of the kind that have found their way into terrorism, have co-opted Salafi methods and twisted them to their own ends. Usually this has been done by individuals and small groups without the patience to analyse sophisticated tracts by advanced Al Qaeda theoreticians. ISIS, however, have as everyone has seen, packaged the mesasge up into very contemporary media, and are sitting in the very place where apocalypse-aware Muslims have been told to look. The more that comfortable westernised Muslim intellectuals decry ISIS without answering the specific theological challenges that ISIS makes, the more they look like the munafiqeen ('hypocrites' - traitors) that ISIS paint them as and that the apocalyptic prophecies foretold.

At this crucial point, Salafis have a vital job to do. They have to move from being the (mostly unintending) instruments of ISIS's rapid uptake, to being pivotal in undermining it. Shaikh Abdullaah al-Bukhaaree's fatwa is a start, but doesn't address the potency of the counter-claim that ISIS themselves are the force to end fitna. And it doesn't have much impact on the street corners of Whitechapel or Sparkbrook.

Countering ISIS's major impact on UK Muslims requires the following:

1. Salafis need to renounce the antagonistic methods they have used to garner support until now. They must replace it with tolerance and respect for different practices, which for them means, respect for the religious scholarship and authority that supports those practices. They must exhort their followers to do the same. They have a lot of burnt bridges to rebuild.

2. Proper, informed, educated debate has to take place across the Muslim community among its scholars and leaders, that puts aside sectarian differences and focuses on a corpus of argument that provides a sound, religiously based counter argument to the extremists. Bareilvis, Deobandis, etc, must recognise that their previous preoccupation with exclusive adherence to their own sect, has failed. They too must learn mutual tolerance and respect.

3. Salafis must produce, urgently, an emphatic and agreed document that clearly separates and opposes their doctrines to those of ISIS.

4. Government, security advisors and the media, must allow the Muslim community the space to debate extremist issues openly and fully without fear of being demonised or prosecuted. The theological debates that need to be had are complex and expose deep and controversial issues. Unless they are discussed with clarity and comprehensively, they will remain sources that ISIS and its ilk can exploit.

5. All masjids must end sectarian intolerance and exclusiveness. The Muslim community is plural, and that pluralism must be reflected in the way masjids are run, with full respect for differences and the masjid's resources shared between them. Sectarian exclusivity and sly briefing or rampant polemics against other sects creates the shadows which are used by extremists to nurture their beliefs and cultivate followers.


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