Following the outrageous carnage left by al-Shabaab at Garissa University College in Kenya, and the horrific murders of countless people by ISIS, as well as the continuing terrorist actions by Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Boko Haram, anger and anguish will be followed yet again by insistent cries that Islam must rescue itself, that Muslims must distance themselves from actions that so few support. And this is certainly true, although we must be cautious in assessing the degree of support radical Islam has around the world. Expedient underestimates only increase the dangers now so clearly faced.
At the same time we hear repeated again and again the same simple-minded truism that we must distinguish Islam from the actions of “Islamic” jihadists, whether in France, the United States, Spain, Britain, Nigeria, Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Kenya, Libya, Sudan, or the many other places around the world where terrorists and jihadists have wrought immense destruction, with unspeakable cruelty. While true, this is a slogan, not a self-evident or well-articulated obligation.
Thus the enormous importance of a document that has received almost no attention: A 24 September 2014 open letter from 126 distinguished scholars of Islam, muftis (interpreters and expounders of Islamic law), learned heads of Muslim organizations and mosques, and other important students of the Qur’an (see below). It is addressed to ISIS leader Dr. Ibrahim Awwad Al-Badri, aka “Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi,” and gives a detailed, textually supported, and overwhelmingly compelling rebuttal of Al-Baghadadi’s sermon “dated 6th of Ramadan 1435 AH (4th July 2014 CE).”
If we demand of Muslims a repudiation of terrorism—and if we demand more from politicians and global actors than the glib distinction between terrorists falsely carrying the banner of Islam and the “vast majority of Muslims”—then we could hardly do better than to acknowledge the power of this repudiation and what it represents of Islam as understood by those who know it best. It is a time of great stress within modern Islam; terrorists easily command the headlines and thus obscure how the most important Muslim thinkers are balancing the claims of ancient sacred texts and the realities of modern life. It is an enormously difficult challenge, and we all should be prepared to see Islam in various forms—evolving in a wide range of social, political, and cultural contexts. At the same time the larger world can’t avoid its own difficult challenge, and must ask how the deeply challenging transformation of Islam is resonating within the global Muslim population of more than 1.7 billion, and in our own thinking about Islam.
Muslims Against ISIS: Open Letter to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi
September 24, 2014
[More than 120 leading religious scholars and academics from across the Muslim world have issued an open letter to the leader of the Islamic State. The 17-page document condemns 24 acts committed by the extremist group that are in violation of Islam, according to the signatories. The letter also includes short summaries of the opinions of the overwhelming majority of Sunni scholars throughout Islamic history on issues including jihad, minority rights, women’s rights, etc. The following is an executive summary and an excerpt, as well as the conclusion. All blue highlighting reflects highlighting in the text itself. Full text in English available at | http://www.lettertobaghdadi.com/14/english-v14.pdf ]
 It is forbidden in Islam to issue fatwas without all the necessary learning requirements. Even then fatwas must follow Islamic legal theory as defined in the Classical texts. It is also forbidden to cite a portion of a verse from the Qur’an—or part of a verse—to derive a ruling without looking at everything that the Qur’an and Hadith teach related to that matter. In other words, there are strict subjective and objective prerequisites for fatwas, and one cannot “cherry-pick” Qur’anic verses for legal arguments without considering the entire Qur’an and Hadith.
 It is forbidden in Islam to issue legal rulings about anything without mastery of the Arabic language.
 It is forbidden in Islam to oversimplify Shari’ah matters and ignore established Islamic sciences.
 It is permissible in Islam [for scholars] to differ on any matter, except those fundamentals of religion that all Muslims must know.
 It is forbidden in Islam to ignore the reality of contemporary times when deriving legal rulings.
 It is forbidden in Islam to kill the innocent.
 It is forbidden in Islam to kill emissaries, ambassadors, and diplomats; hence it is forbidden to kill journalists and aid workers.
 Jihad in Islam is defensive war. It is not permissible without the right cause, the right purpose and without the right rules of conduct.
 It is forbidden in Islam to declare people non-Muslim unless he (or she) openly declares disbelief.
 It is forbidden in Islam to harm or mistreat—in any way—Christians or any “People of the Scripture.”
 It is obligatory to consider Yazidis as “People of the Scripture.”
 The re-introduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam. It was abolished by universal consensus.
 It is forbidden in Islam to force people to convert.
 It is forbidden in Islam to deny women their rights.
 It is forbidden in Islam to deny children their rights.
 It is forbidden in Islam to enact legal punishments (hudud) without following the correct procedures that ensure justice and mercy.
 It is forbidden in Islam to torture people.
 It is forbidden in Islam to disfigure the dead.
 It is forbidden in Islam to attribute evil acts to God [ ].
 It is forbidden in Islam to destroy the graves and shrines of Prophets and Companions.
 Armed insurrection is forbidden in Islam for any reason other than clear disbelief by the ruler and not allowing people to pray.
 It is forbidden in Islam to declare a caliphate without consensus from all Muslims.
 Loyalty to one’s nation is permissible in Islam.
 After the death of the Prophet [ ], Islam does not require anyone to emigrate anywhere.
In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds, Peace and Blessings be upon the Seal of the Prophets and Messengers
By the declining day, Lo! man is a state of loss, Save those who believe and do good works, and exhort one another to truth and exhort one another to endurance. (Al ‘Asr, 103: 1-3)
To Dr. Ibrahim Awwad Al-Badri, aka “Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi,”
To the fighters and followers of the self-declared “Islamic State,”
Peace and the mercy of God be upon you.
During your sermon dated 6th of Ramadan 1435 AH (4th July 2014 CE), you said, paraphrasing Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq [ ]: “If you find what I say and do to be true, then assist me, and if you find what I say and do to be false, then advise me and set me straight.” In what follows is a scholarly opinion via the media. The Prophet said: “Religion is [rectifying] advice.” Everything said here below relies completely upon the statements and actions of followers of the “Islamic State” as they themselves have promulgated in social media—or upon Muslim eyewitness accounts—and not upon other media. Every effort has been made to avoid fabrications and misunderstandings. Moreover, everything said here consists of synopses written in a simple style that reflect the opinions of the overwhelming majority of Sunni scholars over the course of Islamic history.
In one of his speeches, Abu Muhammad Al-Adnani said: “God bless Prophet Muhammad [ ] who was sent with the sword as a mercy to all worlds.” This statement comprises compounded confusions and a mistaken paradigm. Yet it is often repeated by followers of the “Islamic State.” Now God sent the Prophet Muhammad [ ] as a mercy to all worlds: “We did not send you, except as a mercy to all the worlds” (Al-Anbiya,’ 22: 107). This is true for all time and place. The Prophet [ ] was sent as mercy to people, animals, plants, to the heavens and to subtle beings—no Muslims disagree about this. It is a general and unconditional statement taken from the Qur’an itself. However, the phrase, “sent with the sword” is part of a Hadith that is specific to a certain time and place which have since expired. Thus it is forbidden to mix the Qur’an and Hadith in this way, as it is forbidden to mix the general and specific, and the conditional and unconditional.
Moreover, God has prescribed mercy upon Himself: “… Your Lord has prescribed for Himself mercy …” (Al–An’am, 6:54). God also states that His mercy encompasses all things: “… My mercy embraces all things …” (Al-A’raf, 7:156). In an authentic Hadith, the Prophet [ ] said: “When God created Creation, He wrote in place above His throne, with Himself ‘Truly, My mercy is greater than My wrath.’” Accordingly, it is forbidden to equate “the sword”—and thus wrath and severity—with “mercy.” Furthermore, it is forbidden to make the idea “mercy to all worlds” subordinate to the phrase ‘sent with the sword’, because this would mean that mercy is dependent upon the sword, which is simply not true. Besides, how could “a sword” affect realms where swords have no effect, such as the heavens, subtle beings and plants? The Prophet Muhammad’s [ ] being a mercy to all the worlds cannot possibly be conditional upon his having taken up the sword (at one point in time, for a particular reason and in a particular context). This point is not merely academic. Rather, it reveals the essence of much of what is to follow since it erroneously equates the sword and Divine mercy.
[There follows here a detailed, textually informed twenty-four point rebuttal of various claims made by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi in his notorious 4 July 2014 sermon.]
In conclusion, God has described Himself as the “Most Merciful of the merciful.” He created man from His mercy. God [ ] says in the Qur’an: “The Compassionate One has taught the Qur’an. He created man” (Al-Rahman, 55: 1-3). And God created man for His mercy: “Had your Lord willed, He would have made mankind one community, but they continue to differ, except those on whom your Lord has mercy; and that is why He created them …” (Hud, 11: 118 – 119). Linguistically, “that” refers back to the closest noun, which is “mercy,” not “differ.” This is the opinion of Ibn Abbas, who said: “He created them for mercy.”
The soundest way to attain this mercy is the worship of God [ ]. God says: “And I did not create the jinn and mankind except that they may worship Me” (Al–Dhariyat, 51: 56). Worshipping God is not a favour that one bestows upon God, but rather, sustenance from Him:“I do not desire from them any provision, nor do I desire that they should feed Me. Indeed it is God Who is the Provider, the Lord of Strength, the Firm” (Al-Dhariyat, 51: 57-58). Furthermore, God revealed the Qur’an as a mercy from Him: “And We reveal of the Qur’an that which is a cure, and a mercy for believers …” (Al–Isra’, 17:82). Islam is mercy and its attributes are merciful. The Prophet, who was sent as a mercy for all the worlds, summarized a Muslim’s dealings with others by saying: “He who shows no mercy, will not be shown mercy”; and: “Have mercy and you will be shown mercy.” But, as can be seen from everything mentioned, you have misinterpreted Islam into a religion of harshness, brutality, torture and murder. As elucidated, this is a great wrong and an offence to Islam, to Muslims and to the entire world.
Reconsider all your actions; desist from them; repent from them; cease harming others and return to the religion of mercy. God [ ] says in the Qur’an: “Say [that God declares]: ‘O My servants who have been prodigal against their own souls, do not despair of God’s mercy. Truly God forgives all sins. Truly He is the Forgiving, the Merciful’” (Al-Zumar, 39:53).
And God knows best.
24th Dhul-Qi’da 1435 AH / 19th September 2014 CE
This letter was signed by 126 distinguished signatories from all over the world, including Muftis (Islamic scholars who are interpreters or expounders of Islamic law); scholars and professors of Islamic studies, theology, and history; officers in various Muslim organizations; government advisors; officers in Muslim charities and unions of mosques. In short, every source of authoritative interpretation of Muslim law and the meaning of Islam. The full letter and list of signatories may be found at:
(Arabic text available upon request: firstname.lastname@example.org )