Geneive Abdo and Lulwa Rizkallah write: For many in the West, it seems abhorrent that anyone would voluntarily join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). However, it is only through support from local Iraqi communities that the militants have been able to conquer cities, such as Mosul, while waiting at the gates of Baghdad.
In recent interviews with Iraqi Sunni tribal leaders, the ISIS appeal became more apparent. When ISIS began taking territory in Iraq, “Sunnis had no choice but between fleeing or getting killed or defending themselves. To defend themselves they could either possess weapons or turn to ISIS as an alternative because they had weapons, and followed Islamic thinking,” said one Sunni tribal leader, who travels to Iraq frequently from Jordan, and wished to remain unidentified for his own safety.
While much focus has been centered on the economic incentives ISIS provides, its powerful religious and ideological appeal to Iraqi communities, particularly the younger generation, is perhaps most luring. It is simplistic to dismiss the ISIS Caliphate as neither “Islamic nor a state,” as is often stated in the Arabic press. Among Western governments, the religious dimension of the ISIS appeal is downplayed for two primary reasons: Admitting religion as a role is an acknowledgement that little can be done to stop the spread of ISIS. And two, if ISIS is about religion, then how is it that the vast majority of Muslims condemn the movement?
While it is difficult to clearly state what branch of Islam ISIS follows, many have found commonalities with at least some precepts of the Wahhabi movement of Sunni Islam, founded in Saudi Arabia. Reference is made here to the concepts of takfir, or the rejection of those who are not Muslims, and jihad, waging war against those who are not Muslims, or who are Muslims, but are deemed to reject strict Islamic traditions. One is thus required to identify themselves first and foremost as a Muslim—but a Muslim according to ISIS’ definition, which is not uncontroversial. The duties they then perform are portrayed as religious. [Continue reading…]