Muslim scholars present religious rebuttal to ISIL, denouncing barbarism

Over 120 Islamic scholars from around the world, many of them leading Muslim voices in their own countries, have issued an open letter denouncing so-called Islamic State (ISIL) militants and refuting their religious arguments.

An array of Muslim leaders and groups have publicly rejected the Islamist movement since it imposed its brutal rule over large areas of Syria and Iraq this summer. Five Muslim nations have also joined a US-led military campaign against it.

The 22-page letter, written in Arabic and heavy with quotes from the Qur’an and other Islamic sources, is just as clear as those groups in condemning the torture, murder and destruction ISIL militants have committed in areas they control.

“You have misinterpreted Islam into a religion of harshness, brutality, torture and murder,” the letter said. “This is a great wrong and an offense to Islam, to Muslims and to the entire world.”

Its originality lies in its use of Islamic theological arguments to refute statements made by self-declared Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani to justify their actions and attract more recruits to their cause.

The letter is addressed to al-Baghdadi and “the fighters and followers of the self-declared ‘Islamic State'”, but is also aimed at potential recruits and imams or others trying to dissuade young Muslims from going to join the fight.

Nihad Awad of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which presented the letter in Washington on Wednesday, said he hoped potential fighters would read the document and see through the arguments of ISIL recruiters.

“They have a twisted theology,” he said in a video explaining the letter. “They have relied many times, to mobilise and recruit young people, on classic religious texts that have been misinterpreted and misunderstood.”

The 126 signatories are all Sunni men from across the Muslim world, from Indonesia to Morocco and from other countries such as the United States, Britain, France and Belgium. Including Shi’ite or women signatories could have discredited the appeal in the eyes of the hardline Islamists it addresses.

Amongst those who signed were the current and former grand muftis of Egypt, Shawqi Allam and Ali Gomaa, former Bosnian grand mufti Mustafa Ceric, the Nigerian Sultan of Sokoto Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar and Din Syamsuddin, head of the large Muhammadiyah organisation in Indonesia.

Eight scholars from Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the highest seat of Sunni learning, also put their names to the document.

In the letter, the scholars not only denounced the killing of US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and British aid worker David Haines as murder, but also rejected it based on the Muslim custom of protecting emissaries between groups.

The letter described as “heinous war crimes” several cases of militants killing prisoners, totalling at least 2,850. To stress this point in an Islamic way, it gave several quotes from the Prophet Mohammad forbidding such practices.

It said that Arab Christians and the Yazidis, followers of an ancient religion derived from Zoroastrianism, were both “people of the book” meant under Islamic sharia law to be protected. Both groups were driven to flight as ISIL militants swept across northern Iraq.

“Reconsider your actions, desist from them, repent from them, cease harming others and return to the religion of mercy,” the letter concluded.

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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