In September of 2014 my favourite Muslim scholar Shaykh Hamza Yusuf gave a Friday sermon about ISIS titled The Crisis Of ISIS. The 38 minute lecture was an impassioned plea from one of the most prominent scholars in the Muslim world about how ISIS are not Islamic. Part of what he said included:
This is madness, complete insanity, it’s unbelievable…And it’s all just vengeance. It has nothing to do with Islam. These people have nothing to do with Islam. And I’ll say it right here. They have nothing to do with Islam. These people have nothing to do with this religion…They’re killing Muslims…And don’t be fooled by their piety…These people are not from the Prophet, they have nothing to do with the man who was sent as a mercy for all the world. And the fact that they are in any way, shape, or form associated with this religion is a great tragedy…These people are shayateen (devils). It’s plain and simple. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, referring to ISIS
The sermon went viral, especially in the Middle East after it was translated into Arabic. Millions have now watched excerpts in which the Shaykh openly weeps as he holds up his hands and asks Allah not to blame other Muslims “for what these fools amongst us do.”
By waging this theological battle with ISIS Shaykh Hamza clearly stoked their anger because the group ordered a death threat against him, which they made initially in their English online magazine Dabiq (not sure if Dabiq will ever be featured as a ‘guest publication’ on the BBC TV quiz show Have I Got News for You). In response to the death threat Shaykh Hamza said, in an interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN, that his lecture bothered ISIS because it was “a little swat to the hornets’ nest.” So seriously was this threat from the hornets’ nest taken that the FBI actually went to his home late one night to discuss safety measures with him.
Also in 2014 the Christian German writer and journalist Jürgen Todenhöfer became the first western journalist allowed to enter ISIS-controlled Syria and Iraq. In the summer of 2014 Todenhöfer sent a message on Facebook to more than 80 German ISIS soldiers asking whether he could visit the ISIS fighting cadre. His goal was to understand their motivations. In September Abu Qatadah, a 31-year-old German who worked for ISIS media, answered the message. They then had further Skype discussions. Finally, Todenhöfer received a document from the Caliphate guaranteeing his safety. So, in October of 2014 Todenhöfer travelled to ISIS-controlled territory, gaining unprecedented access to the so-called Islamic State. The then 74 year old was accompanied by his filmmaker son, Frederic. Both of them spent 10 days with ISIS, and both of them somehow made it back alive.
Frederic and Jurgen in Mosul…
Todenhöfer used this unique opportunity to expose the apocalyptic vision of ISIS for the world and to document everyday life in the cities it controls. He found a population terrified into submission by beheadings, enslavement and torture, and an organisation unwavering in its commitment to its divine mission: to spread fear and violence throughout the world, no matter the cost. The result off all this effort was the brilliant documentary Inside IS: Ten Days In The Islamic State. Released in 2016 and running at just over 50 minutes, Inside IS gives an extraordinary view into the inner workings of ISIS, laying bare its nightmarish doctrine, its terrifying dreams of world domination, and the vicious cruelty suffered by those living within its borders.
Todenhöfer was clearly scarred by his findings, which is why he sought advice from one Shaykh Hamza Yusuf on what to make of ISIS and how to defeat them, which is why the last 13 minutes or so of the documentary revolve around an interview with Shaykh Hamza and Todenhöfer, who was clearly impressed with the Shaykh because his interview ends with him saying:
Shaykh Hamza is the kind of man I have met for over fifty years in the Muslim world. This kind of integrity and good character is what I hope will be passed on to our young generations. – Jürgen Todenhöfer, speaking about Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
Straight after saying these kind words, Todenhöfer ends the whole documentary with this profound statement:
It seems to be so easy to brainwash young people. To tell them they’re doing something great in the ‘Islamic State’. And to persuade them that they are fighting for Islam. And they are fighting against Islam. They are the worst enemies of Islam in our days. For me the Islamic State has as much to do with Islam as rape has to do with love. Nothing. – Jürgen Todenhöfer
Presented below is a selection of quotes from this interview, all said by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. Please note that some quotes have been adapted slightly just so they read better when written down. Anyways, enjoy!
ISIS said there would be a reward for somebody to kill me. So I am a target for ISIS. The reason for this is I gave a khutbah, which is a Friday sermon, and I think it just bothered them, because my argument was they had nothing to do with Islam. ISIS are literally a statistically insignificant number of people and yet they’re claiming that they represent the true Islam. They don’t represent my Islam and they don’t represent the Islam of the vast majority of Muslims around the world. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
The propaganda of ISIS creates a gross distortion in the mind of Western people because that’s all they see. Also, since we’re living in an age, to use a quote from the French philosopher Guy Debord, the age of spectacle, so the more dramatic you can do something the more media attention it will get. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
If you take Germany for example, there’s about five million Muslims in Germany today. What we know of, less than a thousand have gone to Iraq and Syria to fight. So if you just take those numbers you’re dealing with point zero two percent of the Muslim population. It almost doesn’t register statistically and yet if you watch German media you’re going to assume that every one of those five million German Muslims is a potential terrorist. And this is despite the fact that ISIS, the State, has told people you have to come. So people aren’t obeying them. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
The word “war” in Arabic (“harb”) is a negative term in the Qur’an. Jihad does not mean war, jihad means struggle. The greater struggle is to struggle against the soul, against the low qualities of the soul. And the lesser jihad is the struggle against enemies that are trying to conquer your land or something like that. The verse in the Qur’an that gave permission to fight, which is in Surah Al-Hajj, it’s the 22nd chapter of the Qur’an, the verse (number 39) actually says “Permission (to fight) is granted to defend themselves because they have been fought (against).” And then it says (in verse 40) “And had it not been some people defending other people, churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques, where in God’s name is mentioned, much would have been destroyed.” And so the very reason (originally) for jihad was to protect religious communities. So self-defence is allowed in Islam, but rebellion is not, because the idea is that even a tyrannical government is better than anarchy. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
We’re here in Paris, we’re sitting in a cafe, we feel safe. But there are people that actually believe that they can simply come to France, take a visa, and they can disregard the laws of the land. In Islamic law if you come into a land you have a contractual agreement to obey the laws. If you break those laws you’re a criminal, and this opinion is agreed upon by the majority consensus of Muslim scholars. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
A caliphate would not be the solution to the problems brought on by ISIS for the Muslim world. Omar, the second caliph, said that if anybody claims to be a caliphate, don’t take his allegiance, because a caliphate has to be an agreement of the (majority of) Muslims. Why can’t I declare a caliphate? Right now I’m the caliph! “California” comes from the Spanish word “Caliph-ornia”, the land of the caliph. This is historical fact. It is the land of the caliph. So I’ll declare the caliphate in California and Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi (the leader of ISIS) is not the caliph, I’m the caliph. So now everybody has to migrate to California and take allegiance with me. This is absurd! Who would accept that? – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
Like most people I only see what’s being shown to me, but ISIS have released several things (videos) that have (clearly) indicated to me that they’re cruel (especially to prisoners of war). Benjamin Franklin, in his autobiography, said that since the Prophet Muhammad rebuked Khalid for mistreating prisoners, no Muslim has ever mistreated prisoners. So there’s a founding father of America who knew more about Islam that these people (ISIS), because you can’t kill a prisoner, you can’t behead these journalists. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
In the entire biography of the Prophet there’s not one case where he forced anybody to believe in his religion. And he said that God will give you with gentleness what He will never give you with violence. It’s not to say that Islam doesn’t have a martial spirit, it doesn’t have the idea of self-defense. That’s all true, but at its essence Islam is a merciful thing. And so when there’s no mercy in something, it’s not Islamic. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
How would I defeat ISIS? ISIS is an ideological movement and so it is made up of ideas, and those ideas have to be combated with ideas. You cannot bombard ideology. It is unjust and it is immoral to bombard victims in this situation, most of which are civilians, women and children. You have to bombard the young people with ideas. Really. You will not reach all of these ISIS fighters, but I think you will reach some of them. There’s a group in Toronto that were plotting this terrorist action. They were arrested because of an informer. They are all in prison. I got a letter from one of them who was introduced to my tapes in prison and he was saying how ashamed he felt that he had disgraced the religion of Islam, in this long letter to me, and that he had been tricked and fooled by this ideology. So a lot of these are young people that have never been exposed to real Islam. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. We have to illuminate ourselves and then help to illuminate others. This is really I think at the essence of what makes us human. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf