Can the Islamic State ever be popular? Acknowledged?

By Zaher Mahruqi

The direct answer to that is YES.  If Islam as a religion is popular and no one doubt that to be the case then rule by Islam is bound to eventually be welcomed.  The other question is whether the Islamic State’s version of Islam is accurate.

Brutal but not all non-Islamic

As brutal as the Islamic State is, few of its actions are contrary to the teachings of Islam.  Apart from the online beheadings and the mass executions of opponents, the Islamic State is, believe it or not, for the most part implementing ISLAM.

Forcing women to cover their bodies in a certain way is wholly out of THE book. Enforcing an alcohol and music free territory is also part of Islam.  Executing for converting out of Islam is clearly very Islamic as per decree.  Imposing extra taxes on none Muslims is unequivocally of the principles of Islam.

Even some of the more “gruesome” acts such as chopping off a thief’s hand or stoning an adulterous to death are of the fundamental teachings of Islam.  One must be careful not to think that “powerful” people like Obama or the Saudi king or their mouth piece Imam’s are qualified to translate the Quran or Hadeeth.

They almost always selectively choose from the doctrine what fits their agendas at given moments in time;  for the politicians the aim is to exert control and for such Imam’s the goal is to remain safe from the wrath of those politicians. They do try tactically but futilely to send the message that if the Quran were to be adjusted and omit some of its directives, Islam would indeed be satisfactory to humanity.

The fact of the matter is however, all those who have chosen to be Muslims either by birth or by conversion, have to accept and live by the actual teachings of the religion.  The adjusted version might be more attractive to the majority but most of that majority realizes that ALLAH does not negotiate with humanity about his teachings; you either take it all or leave it.

That taking it all or leaving it all idea is what gives the Islamic state an edge over a more improvised version of Islam; fact of the matter is that Muslims have only tasted humiliation, poverty and ignorance under the improvised adaptation and the IS is utilizing that reality.  Another concrete fact is that the West doesn’t want to see fundamental Islam prevail for it is a threat to them in more ways than one; the least, a direct threat to lifestyle.

As it stands today, the Islamic State is bound to be world enemy number one because the world psyche is not yet ready to accept the dress code, hand chopping, lashing and stoning version of Islam.  The world prefers a softer version. A twisted version however doesn’t exist and such Muslims who wish to please their God were forced to choose camps between the watered-down version and the ultra strict, they would choose the latter.

IS Stamina Can Change the Equation

Events on the ground and discussions online already do prove that if the Islamic State can withstand for a few years, followers of Islam who stand somewhere between the improvised version and the literal version, would easily swear allegiance to the Islamic State if it manages to stand its ground long enough.

People standing in the middle always switch to the winning side. The astonishing pace of recruiting following territory takeovers does suggest that a significant number of “hard-line” Muslims are just waiting to see how things unfold.  More crucially, strict systems do paradoxically bring about other benefits as well; from economic to social justice and if the IS manages to bring that about all the more reason to enhance its appeal.

The recent coalition attacks too could help the IS recruit as innocent people among which the IS soldiers live would die in their thousands as a result of the ongoing aerial bombing campaign.  Moreover, this push by the West and her allies would inevitably push the different Jihadi groups to put their differences aside.  Jordanian Jihadists leader Muhammad al-Maqdisi is already calling for a truce between the different Jihadi groups in the conflict zone.

The Islamic State is presently fighting only for one thing and that is to survive as a state.  As difficult as that given the colossal opposition, if the Islamic State does stand just for a few months, support for it will increase. If months become years and the IS manages to establish itself then the world or rather Muslims who are shy to admit that their religion has some of the strictest laws and harshest punishments as a matter of policy will start to be more upfront with their support for the unfiltered version of Islam.

If the Islamic State perseveres, sermons in Mosques around the world would start to sound differently and those scholars holding back on telling it as it is would surely start to preach literal and unfiltered version of Islam and that is the slippery slope that frightens the world into a coalition unrivaled since World War II.

Then the Islamic State can, given the circumstances, become more moderate overtime.  Al-Qaeda has shifted gear towards moderation and the world seems to be warming up to it. Much the same as European conquerors who were exceedingly cruel during the conquests only to soften their approach afterwards.

Likewise,  the Americans were harsh during the Vietnam war for example to the extent of literally spilling poisonous chemicals from the sky unto the heads of women and children just to try to win the war, perhaps some of the Islamic State’s current actions would be viewed in hind site as simply war times necessities.   To the contrary, the atrocities that would be committed by the air bombardments would in weeks make the “allies” seem far more brutal than the IS could ever be. That is definitely a welcome development in the view of the Jihadists.

No one condones brutality nor does anyone accept violence but we have seen the West once and again demonizing groups or individuals when it suits them and turning them unto angels when it suits them.  Be it in relation to the Islamic State or North Korea or any other enemy of the West.  Bashar al-Assad is now their by-default-ally and as such no harsh words or propaganda against him in the mean time. It is therefore risky to take their word regarding what their enemies represent.  We all remember the rollercoaster relationship and the ensuing rhetoric the West and their allies had with the likes of Gaddafi and previously China.

If the Islamic State has stamina and does reach a point where it can implement the true version of Islam – which has really harsh laws- then it does indeed stand a chance for viability.  How? Most people living in the world today have never lived nor witnessed a Sharia-based system.  However, history clearly confirms that the might, affluence and most peaceful of times were enjoyed by Muslims only when “hardliners” ruled.  In which case, if the IS manages to be systematic, it is those very harsh and repulsive actions that will be its salvation.

Historically, the powerful leaders of Islam used harshness when the masses wouldn’t abide and it is clear that such strategy worked.  Al-Hajjaj Bin Yousuf Al-Thaqafi, the Umayyad Dynasty governor of Iraq addressing his enemies said: I see heads have ripened and the time for their cultivation has come.  That is the sort of leaders Islam has had, soft and gentle but could shift to other extreme just as easily.  Some analysts even believe that what the IS is doing is recruiting by using brutality to appeal to those wishing to join them by reminding them Islam stood high and strong when mercilessness against unyielding enemies was the practice.

If that firmness manages to bring back to their territories morality, peace and true justice, all that people will miss is the music, alcohol and the likes.  Few people wouldn’t be attracted to a nation where one can leave their shops unlocked and travel to the other side of the city to take care of other matters.

Battle for Hearts and Minds

Few Muslims who wouldn’t be attracted to a system that doesn’t give people a window for self destruction through drugs, promiscuity and other sources of pain and regret in our world today.  Most important of all, as a result of so many atrocities and injustices against Muslims, any group that does in deed take actions that appear pro Muslims is bound to continually attract supporters.  A people unjustly treated for too long would easily keep a blind eye to cruelty committed by those they perceive as defending their rights.

The battle for hearts and minds is between a world that accepts leaders who would use a moped and sneaks out at night from the palace to meet a mistress, and a world where such a leader is stoned to death.  That very leader, Hollande, is now bombing his would-be stoners.  That is the key here, Mr. Hollande is fighting to defend his “right” to do what he wants and the likes of the IS are telling the world enough is enough, albeit in a very brutal fashion. It is an interesting and fast changing world we are living in and it is hard to predict how it is going to turn out.

One thing is clear: The two extremes are engaged in a most decorated battle ever. The battle has just begun and the outcome of which will take decades to comprehend.  Contrary to the words of the IS trailer movie Flames of War, the outcome would not be “coming soon”.  And perhaps this war would bring this struggle of extremes to some sort of resolution.

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Zaher Mahruqi

Zaher Mahruqi follows world events, and seeks to shed light on the Arab and Muslim perspectives on regional and world events.

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