ISIS Magazine Targets Sunni ‘Apostates’

In the 2016 edition of Dabiq, ISIS takes aim at both Islamists and mainstream Sunni Muslim scholars. The issue presents edicts from medieval Muslim theologian Ibn Taymiyya, which sanctioned violence against the Muslim Mongols, as justifying war against fellow Sunni and Sufi Muslims. The view of Ibn Taymiyyah are often promoted by Takfiri Islamist groups within Salafi/Wahhabi and Deobandi sub-branches of Sunni Islam. ISIS, Taliban, Al Qaeda and other similar groups promote a Takfiri ideology and attack Sunni and Shia Muslims alike.

Carrying the image of the deposed Muslim Brotherhood President of Egypt Mohammad Morsi with the heading ‘The Murtadd Brotherhood” (the apostate brotherhood), the tone of the 2016 issue is clear from the outset.

ISIS describes the Muslim Brotherhood as a “cancer” intent on “drowning the entire Ummah,” that emerged in Egypt but soon spread through other parts of the Middle East, and eventually into Western countries too. According to ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates have failed to carry the mantle of jihad, instead choosing to cooperate with enemies of Islam and allying with the “crusaders” to “partake in the war against jihad.”

The article chastising the Muslim Brotherhood also levels the same allegations against other Islamist parties such as Ennahda in Tunisia and the AKP in Turkey. Among the criticisms of the Brotherhood are that it embraces democracy and constitutional rule and that it supposedly has amicable relations with Shia and Jewish politicians. The group’s attitudes towards human rights, pluralism, and pacifism also come under fire.

Another article that features prominently in the latest edition is titled ‘Kill the Imams of Kufr [disbelief] in the West.’ The text highlights a number of notable moderate voices in Sunni Islam, labelling them apostates.

ISIS levels the charge of apostasy, rather than hypocrisy, against these Muslim clerics, whom it accuses of concealing their disbelief while they masquerade as Muslims. ISIS applies this charge to justify their killing, based on the group’s reading of Islamic scripture.

Images of prominent Sunni imams on the forefront of the ideological battle against ISIS, such as Hamza Yusuf and Suhaib Webb, with the caption ‘apostate,’ highlight ISIS’ disdain for Islamic voices that go against their own.

But it is not only the mainstream who are regarded as apostates. Pierre Vogel, a German convert to Islam who is often described as a radical Salafi preacher, and Canadian-born Bilal Philips, who has been banned from entering the UK for his extreme views, are both lumped in the same category due to their views on jihad contradicting ISIS’ own.

The intra-Sunni tone of this edition is reinforced with a piece entitled ‘Lessons From the Fitnah [Discord] of the Mongols,” which is introduced as being a timely lesson “until the camp of iman [belief] defeats the camp of kufr [disbelief].”

This lengthy foray into medieval Islamic history serves to apply edicts from the highly influential medieval Muslim theologian Ibn Taymiyya to the present. Ibn Taymiyya famously delivered a fatwa justifying the killing of Mongols, fellow Sunni Muslims, when they threatened the Levant.

The presentation of these edicts reaffirms the overall tone of this edition of Dabiq. While al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and other jihadi groups operating on the Syrian battlefield have often cited the defence of fellow Sunni Muslims as their objective, ISIS makes it clear where it stands; you are only a Muslim if you subscribe to its vision of Islam.

The Sunni-Shia split is often the focus of discussion on ISIS’ sectarianism, but the group has made its stance abundantly clear. Whether moderate or extreme, eastern or western, traditional or modern, unless a Muslim shares ISIS’ views, they are not a Muslim. They are, in ISIS’ eyes, an apostate, for which the punishment is death.

Turning towards South Asia

In addition to the intra-Sunni sectarianism, ISIS also used this issue to draw attention to Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The edition features an interview with the leader of ISIS in Bangladesh, Abu Ibrahim al-Hanif, providing a useful synthesis of the group’s ambitions in South and Southeast Asia. In keeping with much of the magazine, the main target for Hanif’s ire is other Sunni Muslims: the “grave-worshipping Sufis and false saints,” the “slaves to a kafir woman [Prime Minister Hasina]” in the army, and the “kufr” of Jamaat-e-Islaami, Bangladesh’s main Islamist party.

Nevertheless, it is the statements against others that are in some ways more interesting. In the interview, Hanif covers the Ahmadiyyah, Shia, Christians, Hindus and atheists in Bangladesh. Yet despite threats by Hanif to extend ISIS’ operations to India and Myanmar (with reference to Rohingya Muslims in the country), it is apparent that his group is not strong enough to launch a sustained campaign out of Bangladesh. “The kafir regime in Burma can only be fought effectively after we bring an end to the apostate Bengali regime,” he says.

Perhaps protesting too much, the interview ends with a long explanation of why “we are not worried about our small numbers or our lack of military strength.”