For those who doubt that ISIS has anything to do with Islam, please watch this subtitled interview originally broadcast on MBC (Dubai television) January 22, 2016. It features Sheikh Adel al-Kalbani, a former imam of the Grand Mosque of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. One does not get to a prominent religious position such as that without the bona fides of a top scholar of Wahhabi, Sunni Islam. In this segment of the interview, Kalbani acknowledges that the beliefs of ISIS are taken from orthodox, Wahhabi texts. The one thing that separates ISIS from Saudi Wahhabis is that the latter are more “refined” in their practices, whereas the former are crude in how they carry out punishments for offenses against Shari’a. Apparently, if the methods of execution don’t cause significant criticism from the wider world, then they are okay, but if they cause revulsion and negative publicity, they are wrong. Since the Saudi government beheads offenders in a humane way, and with minimal publicity, its obedience to Shari’a is commendable. Since ISIS’ execution of offenders is intentionally ghastly (boiling in oil, immersing in acid, burning with fire in cages, drowning by lowering cages into water, etc.), even though they are rightly carrying out the judgments of Shari’a, their methods are open to criticism, according to Kalbani. Even so, their doctrines are one and the same as those of the Wahhabis! As the sheikh says in this interview concerning the Wahhabis and ISIS, “We follow the same thought but apply it in a refined way.”
Some terms to be aware of:
Da’esh the Arabic acronym for ISIS. Kalbani acknowledges at the start that Da’esh is a result of Islamic “revivalism,” i.e., a return to the origins of Islam.
Salafism is a movement seeking to reform modern Islam to conform to the practices of Muhammad and the first three generations of his followers (this is based on a tradition of what Muhammad is supposed to have said about those who would be rightly guided in the faith). The Arabic word “salaf” means literally “ancestors/forefathers.” Salafists would be roughly analogous (though not at all like in belief system) to those in US politics who wish to turn the American political system back to the mindset of our “founding fathers,” their writings and practices.
Wahhabi refers to those who follow the conservative teachings of Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, an 18th C. Sunni cleric from the central regions of Arabia who led a reform movement to return Islam to the purity of its founder and his immediate followers (the salaf). While all Wahhabis fall within the broader world of Salafism, not all Salafis would identify themselves as Wahhabis. (Have I confused you enough by now?)