More than a hundred Muslim scholars and leaders from around the world released an open letter addressed to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on 24 September 2014, telling the self-proclaimed caliph in no uncertain terms that the group’s use of Islamic scripture is illegitimate and perverse.
The document, which was issued in Arabic and English on the website Letter to Baghdadi begins with a list of practices employed by the Islamic State that its authors say are explicitly forbidden by Islam. They include torture, slavery, forced conversions, the denial of rights for women and children, and the killing of innocents.
The letter emphasizes that Baghdadi’s claims to a caliphate spanning eastern Syria and western Iraq are void.
“Who gave you authority over the ummah [Muslim people]?” the letter asks. “Was it your group? If this is the case, then a group of no more than several thousand has appointed itself the ruler of over a billion and a half Muslims. This attitude is based upon a corrupt circular logic that says: ‘Only we are Muslims, and we decide who the caliph is, we have chosen one and so whoever does not accept our caliph is not a Muslim.’ ”
The Islamic State’s call to jihad is also impermissible.
“You have killed many innocents who were neither combatants nor armed, just because they disagree with your opinion,” the letter says, addressing Baghdadi and his followers directly. “There is no such thing as offensive, aggressive jihad just because people have different religions or opinions.”
As for the Islamic State’s conduct in war, the letter notes that Islamic law forbids the killing of prisoners.
“Yet you have killed many prisoners,” it states, “including the 1700 captives at Camp Speicher in Tikrit in June, 2014; the 200 captives at the Sha’er gas field in July, 2014; the 700 captives of the Sha’etat tribe in Deir el-Zor (600 of whom were unarmed civilians); the 250 captives at the Tabqah air base in Al-Raqqah in August, 2014; Kurdish and Lebanese soldiers, and many untold others whom God knows. These are heinous war crimes.”
Much of the criticism of the Islamic State has stemmed from their selective citation of certain Qur’anic passages in an attempt to legitimize atrocities.
“It is not permissible to quote a verse, or part of a verse, without thoroughly considering and comprehending everything that the Qur’an and Hadith relate about that point,” the letter notes, undermining the group’s legal theory. “It is imperative to reconcile all texts, as much as possible.”
The open letter singled out the killing of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well the death of British aid worker David Haines.
“It is known that all religions forbid the killing of emissaries,” the letter says. “Journalists — if they are honest and of course not spies — are emissaries of truth, because their job is to expose the truth to people in general.”
Attacking children and using them in combat is also cited as an irreparable transgression. “In your schools some children are tortured and coerced into doing your bidding and others are being executed,” the letter says. “These are crimes against innocents who are so young they are not even morally accountable”
“No scholar of Islam disputes that one of Islam’s aims is to abolish slavery,” the letter continues. Though the Qur’an does allow slavery, it is couched in emancipatory language, urging that they be freed. But Islamic State militants have captured women from minority communities and forced them to marry fighters or sold them into slavery.
“For over a century, Muslims, and indeed the entire world, have been united in the prohibition and criminalization of slavery,” the letter notes. “After a century of Muslim consensus on the prohibition of slavery, you have violated this; you have taken women as concubines and thus revived strife and sedition (fitnah), and corruption and lewdness on the earth. You have resuscitated something that the Shari’ah has worked tireless to undo.”
“This is one of the most effective written pieces in an effort to refute the ideology that ISIS uses and recruits with,” said Awad. “It’s intended for a conservative audience — it is very convincing.”
Below is the Executive Summary of the Open Letter.
1. It is forbidden in Islam to issue fatwas without all the necessary learning requirements. Even then fatwas must follow Islamic legal theory as defined in the Classical texts. It is also forbidden to cite a portion of a verse from the Qur’an—or part of a verse—to derive a ruling without looking at everything that the Qur’an and Hadith teach related to that matter. In other words, there are strict subjective and objective prerequisites for fatwas, and one cannot ‘cherry-pick’ Qur’anic verses for legal arguments without considering the entire Qur’an and Hadith.
2. It is forbidden in Islam to issue legal rulings about anything without mastery of the Arabic language.
3. It is forbidden in Islam to oversimplify Shari’ah matters and ignore established Islamic sciences.
4. It is permissible in Islam [for scholars] to differ on any matter, except those fundamentals of religion that all Muslims must know.
5. It is forbidden in Islam to ignore the reality of contemporary times when deriving legal rulings.
6. It is forbidden in Islam to kill the innocent.
7. It is forbidden in Islam to kill emissaries, ambassadors, and diplomats; hence it is forbidden to kill journalists and aid workers.
8. Jihad in Islam is defensive war. It is not permissible without the right cause, the right purpose and without the right rules of conduct.
9. It is forbidden in Islam to declare people non-Muslim unless he (or she) openly declares disbelief.
10. It is forbidden in Islam to harm or mistreat—in any way—Christians or any ‘People of the Scripture’.
11. It is obligatory to consider Yazidis as People of the Scripture.
12. The re-introduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam. It was abolished by universal consensus.
13. It is forbidden in Islam to force people to convert.
14. It is forbidden in Islam to deny women their rights.
15. It is forbidden in Islam to deny children their rights.
16. It is forbidden in Islam to enact legal punishments (hudud) without following the correct procedures that ensure justice and mercy.
17. It is forbidden in Islam to torture people.
18. It is forbidden in Islam to disfigure the dead.
19. It is forbidden in Islam to attribute evil acts to God .
20. It is forbidden in Islam to destroy the graves and shrines of Prophets and Companions.
21. Armed insurrection is forbidden in Islam for any reason other than clear disbelief by the ruler and not allowing people to pray.
22. It is forbidden in Islam to declare a caliphate without consensus from all Muslims.
23. Loyalty to one’s nation is permissible in Islam.
24. After the death of the Prophet , Islam does not require anyone to emigrate anywhere.