From Syria and Iraq to Clonskeagh; ISIS, The West and Islam

By Patrick Brogan

Introduction

Much has been made in recent months of the rise of ISIS and the subsequent rise in refugees coming from countries affected by that conflict. We heard many opinions from different groups on this issue. From academic experts to the large media conglomerates, from security analysts to politicians. Even a bit of conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure. Very little was heard from those affected, those fleeing the ideology of ISIS and very little from the Muslim community in general. With this in mind, I made contact with  the Ismalic Cultural Centre of Ireland in Clonskeagh.

Women and ISIS

It was a typical frosty Dublin January morning the day of the interview. The same cannot be said of the ladies I interviewed.  They were warm, open and friendly and seemed as interested in my opinion as I was in theirs. The number of women leaving their homes to join ISIS is on the rise. The first topic I brought up was why would women join ISIS. Gillian said; “I think the media has a lot to do with it and the media attention it has now. These so called jihadis have that attention. You’ve seen the promotion of their websites and the sheets in the background, these so called soldiers with their guns and we want these brides to come over. We want these pious women to help us establish a caliphate. They make it look dazzling to younger girls that are maybe in troublesome family situations or maybe their confidence is low.” Then Deborah adds; “They don’t know their faith. They don’t understand that ISIS is outside the fold of Islam. They follow only their desire. It is completely outside the fold of Islam. It is not the teachings of the Prophet Muhammed, Sall Allāhu ʿalay-hi wa-sallam.” On which Gillian comments further; “It starts with the fundamentals, your belief. You start off believing in the oneness of God. A lot of these girls, because the situation and environment they are living in when they look at these websites, it does grab the youths’ attention. We are told by the Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, that these people have arrogance and they are boastful and they’re promoters, so even in his time, he was very aware of these types of people and their characteristics.”

Given the media attention and negative comments surrounding Islam, I was wondering if this would put off any potential converts to the religion. This is something the women didn’t agree with. Gillian; “Well, there is a saying that we have and it is Allah guides whom he wills. If you look to 9/11 for example and the devastation that happened there in America, there were more people that came to Islam that year or the year after that happened then anytime else. Because, do you know what happened? People then got interested. What is this religion about? Why would Muslims do something like that, to that degree? Why would they put planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon? So, people picked up the books and started to read and they found that Islam isn’t like that. They found, through God’s guidance, that this isn’t what Islam is about. So, you found many, many people coming to the true teaching of the religion. Which is peace and tranquility amongst everyone whether they are Muslim, non-Muslim. So, no, I don’t think it would. When you have media attention like this it makes people look at it and read up on the religion and when people start to talk to people like ourselves, they go to the Mosques and talk to people like ourselves and we condemn the actions of these monsters and people start to think my God this not what Islam is about. Islam is completely different. So they learn the truth.”

The Fallout

Despite this media attention giving Islam more exposure to a wider audience, there has been difficulty since the rise of the likes of Al-Qaeda, ISIS and Boko Harem for the Muslim community. One just has to go on to the internet to see the backlash from ordinary citizens. The problem that arises here is that these people take out their frustrations on ordinary Muslims. The ironic thing is that, most of the time, these ordinary people are more critical of these groups than non-Muslims for tarnishing the religion. Gillian explains; “It’s unfortunate. We are having a hard time just now, there’s no doubt about it. I’m covered and you know, you’re going to get a lot of stuff. You ninja, stuff like that. I’ve been called a terrorist outside my house. One guy said it driving down my road. He said terrorist and Allahu Akbar and you know these people are saying God is great. So, they don’t know what they are saying. So, jahl we say. They are showing their ignorance.

“It is not so much the West, it is the Muslims that are suffering first and foremost at the hands of these people. The West is just the one percentage if you understand. I don’t even know why they are bothering with the West to be honest because this particular group are more interested in taking the leaders [of Muslim countries] outside the fold of Islam. That’s it, it’s a political agenda. They don’t like the leaders that are in power so they want to take them down and they want to cause massive tribulation amongst the people. This is what their political agenda is. Their agenda is not a religious agenda. It’s a political agenda and I think this is what the world needs to know. We disassociate ourselves from them completely, 100%. They are not from us. They are not our brothers, they are not our sisters. We don’t give them salaams.” Nadia interjects here; “I want people to know; Are they Muslim? No.” To which Gillian replied; “The scholars have said that these people are actually outside the fold of Islam due to their actions. So they are not Muslim.”

International Relations

The international reaction to the growing power and influence of ISIS has been interesting. The West appears to be totally perplexed by them and has been indecisive on what way to approach the situation. Russia has decided to tackle ISIS. Their military forays don’t seem to have halted ISIS and all they have really achieved is stirring up an old rivalry with Turkey. Then there is the question of how the leaders of predominately Muslim countries are responding. Many, like Sami Moubayed in his book on ISIS Under the Black Flag, have questioned the influence of Saudi Arabia and the Wahhabi movement in particular in the events leading to the creation of ISIS. Gillian does not go along with this idea; “This thing about Saudi Arabia dealing arms to them, I don’t know if this is true. I can’t fathom that going on. You know, they talk about Wahhabism. This Wahhabi ideology. What is this Wahhabi ideology you are talking about? We studied the books of Muhammed ibn Abd al Wahhab, okay? He was a great scholar. He came at a time when in Saudi Arabia there was a lot of association, you know, worshipping idols and stuff like that. The religion had already been established but there was a darkness at this particular time. When he came into Saudi Arabia, he saw how many people were going against the religion and he started out to re-establish the oneness of God, within the kingdom. So we studied these books that actually oppose the Daesh, their ideology, he opposes them, along with the Shi’a and other mainstream groups as well. When people and newsreaders and journalists talk about the Wahhabis and they have this ideology of Wahhabism, it is not true. It actually opposes it and I wish somebody would speak out about it, but instead they get these people on television and they say I agree, it’s Wahhabism. You haven’t a clue what you’re talking about. These people shouldn’t be allowed on television but they want them there because they create more fear. Yes, Saudi Arabia is based upon the true teachings of Islam. I cannot fathom for a minute that the Saudi Arabian government would give arms to these people. I don’t believe this, not for a minute. Nadia’s point of view on this, as a Saudi, is interesting; “Well, they’re not all from Saudi Arabia. They are usually from Iraq and al-Sham. Some Saudi people believed them and went over. I don’t know why, but they are wrong. They are going and then they see everything is wrong. They feel sorry they are involved. Then they cannot come back to Saudi Arabia. Their origins are not in Saudi Arabia.”

We then move on to broader relations between Islam and the West. We talked about Islam at the time of the Crusades. Debbie states; “Well if you look at Muslim history, it was all about protecting the Christian, protecting the Jew. This went right back to the start.” Gillian then talks about Salahaddin, the Muslim leader who successfully fought off the Christian occupation of the Holy Land; “We have cartoons and books to teach the children about him. He was a great man. They were under the protection of the Muslims and they were never harmed and I think a lot of people forget about that. They forget about history. They know the Muslim doesn’t do these things. I think they are scared because it is such a growing religion. Too many people are coming into Islam. It is scaring a lot of these countries. I do understand why they are scared about the point of radicalism because you do have these jihadis, jihadi Johns on TV.”

The Irish Islamic Community

A lot of these topics covered Islam generally and the many countries that are involved in the current geopolitical situation that existed before ISIS’s creation. I was interested to know though what the feeling is within the Irish Muslim community. Understandably there is some fear out there as Gillian explains; “I think people are scared to be honest. I speak with my neighbours and their families and that feeling is there. There’s a lack of understanding. We have neighbours and there are good Muslims and we have bad Muslims. A good Muslim will treat their neighbours well. I spoke to my sister’s neighbour and she said Gillian, I am really scared of the immigrants, especially of the immigrants that may come into this country because we don’t know who is coming in with them. I agree. We don’t know who is coming in with them. Just to give you an example, there was a young guy in courts trying to recruit. I’m not sure where he is from, but he went through the judicial system here in Dublin. It was a few weeks ago. He was trying to recruit young folk. This was all done underground. Islam is open. There is nothing secret in Islam. What you do is open. Our Prophet says, you see people gathering in secret know that they are plotting something. You shouldn’t hide anything from anybody because we have nothing to hide. Islam is free and it is open. When it goes underground, this is when it’s a problem.” Deborah then elaborates; “Whoever comes in, whether they are from Syria or whatever, whatever their bad intentions are they are acting for ISIS and outside the fold of Islam. Then we are left to pick up the pieces. There’s Islamophobia and xenophobia. Actions are carried out by people saying they are Muslim then we have to explain well these people are not actually Muslim. They are outside the fold of Islam.”

Nadia then tells me of a story of a woman she befriended and had to explain the difference between Islam and ISIS to; “I talked to a girl. She became my friend. She is Brazilian. She asked me why do Daesh do this. She thought all Muslims do that and agree with them. I told her that they are not Muslim. They go around killing people and doing awful things, that’s not Muslim. We talked for an hour and she said we made a mistake judging people. Because of the media, she did not know that the real Islam is not like this. So we have to talk to people, let them know. It is mentioned in the Quran. With non-Muslim people, you have to be just and you have to be kind.” Gillian then adds; “That’s in the Quran. You are not meant to be verbally abusive towards non-Muslims. Some do. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it is bad character or a cultural thing, maybe just ego. The problem is one bad Muslim does it and we get branded all the same. You know, we have to start all over again. We have just got to a place where everybody thinks everybody’s cool. Somebody does one thing then we are all back to square one again. It’s just a reoccurring cycle all the time. Now, I don’t need to go out on the street and justify myself because these people are not from us. We do have a duty to inform people that ISIS are not from us.”

Gillian made an interesting parallel between Irish history and what Muslim people are experiencing now; “The Irish should know more than anybody what that is like. Look back over Irish history. Over hundreds of years, since the English occupation they were treated as 2nd class citizens in their own country. They have had to emigrate because of it. Because of the famine, because the oppression the English, the British put upon them. When they went over to England in the 50s and the 60s it was no blacks, no dogs, no Irish. How could they get away with something like that? So the Irish should be more considerate to what we are feeling because they have been there. They should be more tolerable, they should be more understanding. I think most of them are.”

Conclusion

The point these articulate women were mainly trying to get across was the importance of education. People need to understand what the true meaning of Islam is. With education comes tolerance. The main problem is, the people you would hope would educate us on these matters, in this case, the media, seem at best, disinterested, and at worst, willing to perpetuate myths about Islam because it fits in with their own agenda. The situation in the Middle East is hugely complicated and with the media using smoke and mirrors to distort the issues even further it looks impossible that the situation will be resolved anytime soon. Add to this the disillusioned youth in Europe looking for meaning in their lives and you can now see the enormity of what’s going. A feeling the ladies I interviewed had was that the leaders in the Muslim world, political and religious, should be doing more to clarify their stance against ISIS and other similar groups. Certainly, it is up to all of us, regardless of creed or colour, to learn more as this affects us all. Thankfully, more and more people are doing this.  People are starting to realise and see through the actions of those who use national and religious motives to control resources and wealth. Islamic State. It is certainly not Islamic, but unfortunately, it is starting to resemble a state. It has a working economy, a police force, army, working postal service and all the other infrastructure of a functioning state. A lot of states were born out of violence, whether justified or not. This “caliphate” is no different.

The people under their rule are suffering though. Gillian described ISIS as “the soldiers of the devil” and when you look at some of their gruesome actions it’s hard to disagree. When we all realise that our differences are very few and we are stronger working together, the people who monopolise and control wealth may be brought down. Their dominance hurts us all.

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If anybody is interested in further reading on ISIS then Under the Black Flag is a good place to start: http://www.amazon.com/Under-Black-Flag-Frontier-Jihad/dp/1784533084

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