To properly examine who America’s enemy is in the so-called war on terror, it is vital, as my fellow writer Treston Wheat stated, to accurately describe the threat that we as a nation face. However, to obfuscate such an examination by calling the threat both Islamic yet not indicative of Islam does not precipitate a solution, it simply further engenders delusion. Contrary to Treston’s thesis that Islamism, not Islam, is to blame for our international and domestic terror woes, Samuel Huntington, a highly esteemed Harvard University political scientist, once said, “Islam’s borders are bloody and so are its innards. The fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilisation whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.”
What is Islamic fundamentalism, and why is Huntington so quick to specify that Islam is the culpable ideology? As defined in the New Oxford American Dictionary, Islamic fundamentalism is synonymous with Islamism. As is the case with any adherent to fundamentalist beliefs, Islamic fundamentalists seek to practice and apply the tenets of their beliefs, in this case, Islamic beliefs, as strictly as possible. Islamism, radical Islam, and Islamic fundamentalism are terms that are often thrown around to describe the impetuses of organizations and terrorizing groups such as al-Qaeda Core, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Boko Haram, ISIS, etc., and this is certainly not a mischaracterization. However, to separate Islamism from the ideology that it seeks to live by, Islam, is not just a poor oversimplification, it is a baseless inaccuracy that severely hinders our ability to identify and destroy our nation’s enemy.
As stated above, Islamists seek to apply Islamic principles to their every action, so it is vital to understand the Islamic principles that are guiding them. Since the core doctrines of Islam require scholars to interpret the Quran by citing the actions and sayings of Muhammad and previous scholars, let us examine the writings and comments of such an esteemed member of the Islamic community (unfortunately, given the limited space this forum provides for obvious reasons, we only have room to discuss one highly indicative example in this article). Just because there are many divisions within the Islamic community, does not mean that there is not any mutual consensus upon doctrinal interpretation. As 14th-century Islamic scholar Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri wrote in his seminal, religious-legal work Reliance of the Traveller, “When the … necessary integrals of consensus exist, the ruling agreed upon is an authoritative part of Sacred Law that is obligatory to obey and not lawful to disobey … [and] it is obligatory for the ordinary person to follow” such agreed upon doctrines. Put simply, Islamic scholars can and have agreed upon universal Islamic obligations. Within this work, al-Misri goes onto discuss many such obligations that are incumbent upon devout followers, and no such obligation is more pertinent to our nations security than that of jihad. The following is al-Misri’s description of what this obligation entails, as agreed upon by both holy texts and scholarly consensus, and how it originated within Islamic doctrine:
Jihad means to wage war against non-Muslims, and is etymologically derived from the word mujahada, signifying warfare to establish the religion … The scriptural basis for jihad, prior to scholarly consensus is such Quranic verses as:
(1) “Fighting is prescribed for you” (2:216);
(2) “Slay them wherever you find them” (4:89);
(3) “Fight the idolators utterly” (9:36)
and such hadiths as the one related by Bukhari and Muslim. Jihad is a communal obligation.
It is important to clarify two things. First, Reliance of the Traveller is not merely a text written by shallow conservatives who “anachronistically and non-contextually” pull verses from Islamic texts; on the contrary, this work was written by a highly respected, 14th-century Islamic legal scholar, who based this work off of previous highly respected scholarship. Moreover, Reliance of the Traveller is widely accepted within the Muslim community as an authoritative text, as is evident by the fact that it received “certification from the most important seat of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence, Cairo’s al-Azhar University.” Second, Sunni ideology is indeed one of two major Islamic splits, and the Sunni ideology itself has four major schools of thought within it. However, roughly 90% of the Muslim population is Sunni, and the Shia population is certainly no less “radical” in its interpretations of jihad (simply look at how Iran conducts itself). In addition, as Nuh Ha Mim Keller (a prominent scholar of Islamic jurisprudence based in Jordan and translator of Reliance of the Traveller) points out, “the four Sunni schools of Islamic law, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali, are identical in approximately 75 percent of their legal conclusions, while the remaining questions, variances within a single family of explainers of the Holy Koran and prophetic Sunna, are traceable to methodological differences in understanding or authentication of the primary textual evidence, differing viewpoints sometimes reflected in even a single school.”
Ultimately, to suggest that Islamists are not Islamic is groundless and illogical. It is also ill-founded to believe that the ideological threat we face today originated within recent history. The views and beliefs expressed in Reliance of the Traveller, as well as many other major Islamic legal manuals, espouse ideas that are deeply rooted in the foundations of Islam’s beginnings. 7th-century Islamic ideology, not solely 20th-century ideologies, are guiding the Islamic organizations that are waging war against us. Until our intelligence community can properly understand these beliefs, instead of inaccurately protecting them from criticism, we will never be kept safe from them.
As a disclaimer, it goes without saying that not all Muslims are terrorists. Nevertheless, to not identify certain terrorist organizations as Islamic is as foolish as not identifying Hitler’s Nazi Party as German simply because not all Germans subscribed to its beliefs.