One aspect of the whole ISIS/ISIL/Daesh phenomena that confounds many of us is how it can possibly attract some of our Muslim youth with its bloodthirsty credo and actions. The explanations of our politicians, with their careful eye on the imperative of social cohesion, ring hollow.
Biblical scholar Robert M Price has produced a very thoughtful article attempting to understand the ISIS phenomena, and the issue of what could possibly attract young Muslims to its cause. Most usefully, he expounds broad similarities with Christian New Religious Movements of the 1960s and 1970s as regards the mindset. This is at least a point of identification that we non-Muslims can latch onto, even if the comparison stops with the sheer blood-lust of ISIS.
Although Price has provided several important insights, there are other facets to this issue.
The typical recent ISIS recruit in Australia seems to be about 17 – 19, nominally Muslim but non-practicing, and with almost no knowledge of the religion. A couple of English recruits in 2014 reportedly prepared to join the Caliphate by ordering ‘Islam for Dummies’ on Amazon! Frequently, they have led a late-teenage outer-suburban life of drinking, girls, clubbing, and (frequently) unemployment. They find this life unsatisfying and are looking for a way out.
Imagine for a minute that the only knowledge of Islam amongst these kids is the Shahada (“There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his messenger”). If your starting point is that the Qu’ran is the actual words of God, dictated to Muhammad in all their perfection, how easy would it be to fill these empty cups with your own narrative from its contents? Young people who are observant Muslims appear to be in some way ‘innoculated’ from this. They may at least counter with the ‘good’ bits of the Qu’ran and hadith.
Imagine further that these greenhorns can see that the path back to a right existence is to become a genuine part of the Ummah, the community of Islam. ISIS groomers that can get their tentacles on such individuals can convince them that not everyone who call themselves a Muslim is a part of the Ummah. The Ummah is, in fact, only those who are working to restore the Caliphate to its rightful former glory. And not just any Caliphate, but the Caliphate of the original four ‘rightly guided Caliphs’ who personally knew the Prophet and sought to apply his principles in the pagan lands they conquered.
At a single sweep, you have;
- identified your cult with the most glorious time in Islam’s history;
- pre-dated Sharia, ensuring that it may be replaced by an Islam from a time before the scholars got their hands on it;
- justified the practices that were the norm in those caliphates;
- ring-fenced your cult as the true believers, the true Ummah, and justified the killing of non-believers (including, ironically, other Muslims – whom you do not regard as Muslims at all); and, most importantly
- provided a rallying point for those who are inspired by the golden age of Islam.
ISIS should not be regarded as insane. Its foundation is carefully crafted and rooted in the Qu’ran. Its demise, at least in terms of is recruitment of naïve teenagers, may come with military reversals. With such an eventuality, it may be realised that ISIS is not the restoration of the glorious time of the ‘rightly guided Caliphs’*, after all.
*PS. They were all murdered by internal intrigue and rivalry. Not so rightly guided.