Does religion have something to do with people joining Islamic State (ISIS)? Must ISIS recruits have extensive knowledge of a religion’s doctrines to be committed to and motivated by a religious belief?
The Associated Press (AP) came to a conclusion that religion has nothing to do with people joining ISIS. They also indicated that the extremist group feeds on people who have little knowledge of Islam and the more ignorant a person is about the faith the easier it is to recruit them. The jihadi employment form asked the recruits, on a scale of 1 to 3, to rate their knowledge of Islam. And the Islamic State applicants, herded into a hangar somewhere at the Syria-Turkey border, turned out to be overwhelmingly ignorant. According to the documents, 70 percent of recruits were listed as having just "basic" knowledge of Shariah — the lowest possible choice. Around 24 percent were categorized as having an "intermediate" knowledge, with just 5 percent considered advanced students of Islam. Five recruits were listed as having memorized the Quran.
Patrick Skinner, a former CIA case officer with extensive experience with Mideast extremist organizations, said some people claim allegiance to IS out of religious belief, but that most who join, including those from the West, are people "reaching for a sense of belonging, a sense of notoriety, a sense of excitement." According to his statements, religion isn’t the precondition for joining the Islamic State or some other extremist organization.
A study by the U.S. military's Combating Terrorism Center, an academic institution at the United States Military Academy, shows that those who've claimed advanced knowledge in Shariah on the IS entry documents were less likely to want to become suicide bombers.
But, these are serious and disputable assumptions. Many people of faith don’t have detailed knowledge of the doctrines and rules of a particular religion. That kind of knowledge has always been the privilege of the clerical class, not of the mass of believers. Believers mostly leave such matters to the priests, rabbis, and imams of the world, who tell the faithful what to eat, what to drink, what to wear, how to pray, and so forth.
Mohammed Abdelfadel, an Islamic scholar who heads a German-language unit at Al-Azhar that tracks Islamic State propaganda and statements, said that ISIS terrorists are perverting Islam by spreading notions about what is "halal and haram," or what is permissible and forbidden in Islam. But, all religions are based on sacred texts which admit of a wide variety of interpretations. Different interpretations of the same things can be used for various purposes and perhaps this is a key problem.
To conclude, Muslims who support terrorism are very much a minority and not only religious belief plays role in causing someone to support terrorism, but it is not possible to completely exclude the influence of religion.
Photo Credits: Der Orient