An Analysis of Muslim Voices Against IS

NO2ISIS-Logo-darkwebThis article was originally published in Malay by Berita Harian (24 September 2014, available here)

(c) Muhammad Haniff Hassan & Mustazah Bahari, Oct 2014

Out of sudden in June, ISIS succeeded in expelling Iraq’s armed forces from its northern territories to Baghdad and took control over the large area. This development has caught the world by surprise.

Immediately after, news and reports of ISIS’ violence on its opponents: the Shiite communities, Christians and other minority sects started to emerge. These news and reports are not obtained from mainstream media sources only, but also from local activists and NGOs on the ground.

On 30th June 2014, Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS made a public announcement of the establishment of a new “caliphate” stretching from Diyala (Iraq) to Aleppo (Syria) and subsequently appointed himself as the caliph. He called upon Muslims all over the world to pledge allegiance to him and to actively assist him in running this new “caliphate”.

These developments have caught the world by surprise and have posed a challenge to the Muslim world namely the world leaders, scholars and intellectuals. There was now a pertinent need to take a stance against the ISIS’ atrocities and the establishment of the new “caliphate”.

Muslims’ reaction

Consequently, Muslim political leaders, scholars, intellectuals, social activists and organisations have responded to these challenges and developments. A large majority of them have denounced the ISIS.

This conclusion is based on various denunciations and statements made by Muslims that the authors have managed to compile in a list titled Muslim Voices Against IS / ISIS / ISIL (click here to access).

As of 22 September 2014, the list compiles the voices of 86 individuals and groups. These voices are divided into,

  1. Religious scholars (ulama) (46)
  2. Intellectuals, community leaders and Muslim organisations. (34)
  3. Political leaders (3) and policy of Muslim countries. (3)

The authors have intentionally created a specific category under the category of religious scholars as the issues posed by the ISIS has close relations with religion i.e. the validity and legitimacy of the newly founded “caliphate” that requires Muslims to pledge allegiance to its new “caliph” and ISIS’ violent conduct towards their opponents and minority groups in territories under its control in the name of Islam.

As such, the scholars’ stand in the issue would play an important factor in assisting Muslims all over the world to evaluate the legitimacy of ISIS, their extreme conduct and the new “caliphate” in Islam.

It must be emphasized, however, that the list is not a comprehensive one and the attempt to make it one is almost futile because the scope covering Muslims all over the world is so vast and dynamic. Nevertheless, it is sufficient to give a broad view of Muslims’ stance towards IS.

Another initiative that shares the same spirit of this list is an open letter to Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi, signed by more than 100 Muslim scholars that can be read at .


In addition to Muslims’ clear rejection of ISIS, the list also offers a few interesting points with regards to the negative attitudes of Muslims towards ISIS.

Firstly, religious scholars are the most vocal group against ISIS and their stand is made credible from the following facts;

  • The Federation of Muslim Scholars, the one and only organisation, that unites Muslim religious scholars all over the world, led by Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradhawi, a renowned scholar based in Qatar has issued a statement rejecting the validity of the new “caliphate” founded by ISIS and condemning their violence. Till now, there is no member of the organisation who contests or objects this statement.
  • Religious scholars in Syria and Iraq, individually and collectively through their respective organisations denounce ISIS, their violence and the “caliphate”. This denunciation is more important than the rest of the international scholars because they represent the primary eye-witnesses of the realities of the ISIS regime as they were the ones who come into direct contact with the ISIS on the ground; their statement is not based on news and reports only.
  • ISIS is rejected by religious scholars of the three main school of thought in Islam today,
    • the Sunnis who are represented by Al-Azhar University and Dar Al-Ifta’ Al-Misriyah (Egypt’s Office of Fatwa).
    • the Shiites who are represented by top Shiite religious scholars in Iran and Iraq
    • Salafis who are represented by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia and other salafi scholars).
  • ISIS is also denounced by prominent religious scholars among jihadist such as Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi and Abu Qatadah.

Secondly, ISIS is rejected not only by traditionalists and modernists, but by radicals also. Hizbut Tahrir, a global Islamist movement of Islamic politic with mission of reviving the caliphate, denounced ISIS’ proclamation of a “caliphate” and their violence.

In Syria, ISIS was denounced by insurgent groups under the Islamic Front (an alliance of Islam-based insurgent groups in Syria) and the Free Syrian Army alike.

Ironically, ISIS is also denounced by Al-Qaeda for their extremism and violence and for being a threat to jihad against the Syria government by local jihad groups. This is voiced by Ayman Al-Zawahiri and the leaders of Jabhah Al-Nusrah (Al-Qaeda branch in Syria).

Ayman Al-Zawahiri denounced ISIS as early as January 2014 and withdrew his recognition of ISIS as being part of Al-Qaeda.

Radicals and sympathisers of Al-Qaeda in Indonesia such as elements of Indonesian Jemaah Islamiyah and Majlis Mujahidin Indonesia (Indonesian Mujahidin Council founded by members of Indonesian Jemaah Islamiyah) have rejected the validity of ISIS’ “caliphate” and their violence.

Thirdly, ISIS is rejected not only by those who base their stand on available news and reports brought by mainstream media whose credibility are suspect to some. They are also rejected by those who live in Iraq and Syria who directly witness and experience ISIS’ atrocities. This includes the the scholars, tribal leaders and local organisations there.

The core critiques 

From the assessment of voices and opinions in the list, it could be summarised that the core critiques towards the ISIS are mainly addressed at the following issues: a) the invalidity of “caliphate”, and b) ISIS’ violent conduct which contradicts the teachings of Islam.

Religious scholars view that the newly founded “caliphate” and its new “caliph” Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi are void and illegitimate because they do not comply with processes required by Islam.

The scholars stress that the appointment of a caliph must be based on the consultation of Muslim leaders, scholars, intellectuals and other representatives which is traditionally known as Ahlul Hal Wal ‘Aqd and it has to be done voluntarily, not through coercion.

In this particular case, no meetings or consultation has been done and the caliph is self-appointed, rather than chosen by Muslim representatives. There is also an element of force and coercion through ISIS’ armed militants as demonstrated in their violent behavior towards their opponents.

ISIS is also criticised because of;

  • their takfiri ideology, an ideology that rules any Muslim who opposes them as apostate and thus permits the shedding of his or her blood.
  • extreme and violent conducts which have resulted in thousands of Iraqis of minority groups being displaced from their homes.
  • sectarianism, especially towards the shiites.
  • the implementation of hudud (Islamic penal law) during a time of war and in a situation that is unconducive; the implementation under such conditions has been made forbidden by Muslim legal scholars.
  • the destruction of holy and historical sites.
  • practicing permissive jihad.

Finally, religious scholars are in agreement that the ISIS today mirrors the tendencies and practices of the kharijites in the past.

Truth with the majority?

It’s true that there are religious scholars, teachers and Muslim individuals who openly support ISIS, with some preferring to remain neutral. This raises a question amongst some Muslims towards the stand made by the majority of religious scholars. They argue that truth in Islam is not based on a majority voice and, thus, the view of a majority of the scholars on the ISIS is not a proof of the illegitimacy of the ISIS.

While the view that truth in Islam is not determined by the majority voice carries some truth, however, this is valid only in the issues of religious rulings that are definitive in nature (qat’ii) like in the prohibition of fornication, murder killing and gambling. They will remain haram (forbidden), even if the majority says otherwise or practice them.

In the issue which involves rulings based on ijtihad (independent reason) like the case of the ISIS, other than the strong arguments based on the Quran, hadith together and valid data from the ground, Islam does recognize the majority voice as an important weight in determining a view that is closer to the truth.

This is relevant especially to general Muslims who do not have the ability to make their own ijtihad on religious matters and, thus, are in need of guidance from the scholars in making a stand.

Traditionally also, religious scholars would give greater weight to religious rulings held by majority.

The concept of ijma’ (consensus of all scholars) supports the importance of numbers in determining the truth. The Prophet too, made decisions in matters that fall in the area of ijtihad by giving preference to the views of the majority as exemplified in his decision making before the Battle of Uhud.

Finally, the Prophet has said, “My people/followers will not be in agreement over misguidance. When you differ in opinions, be with the Al-Sawad Al-A`zham (the majority).” (Narrated by Ibn Majah)


ISIS has been rejected by most of the scholars. This conclusion is not made by the scholars who look into the situation from afar and basing their stand only on news and secondary reports, it’s also the opinion of the scholars who live in Iraq and Syria and witness and experience the ISIS directly.

Muhammad Haniff Hassan is Fellow and Mustazah Bahari is Associate Fellow at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University. The author wrote on their personal capacity and the opinion expressed in the article is theirs.