Scholar: Islamic State ‘twists and manipulates’ jihad, Muslim history

Post by IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

The promises of the Islamic State continue to attract young Muslims from around the world to fight under a declared combative jihad. By appropriating a new and broader reference to jihad, which traditionally refers to self-defense in the face of an imminent outside threat or an internal struggle, the patriarchal group attracts both young men and women worldwide.

Amin Saikal, a University Distinguished Professor of political science, public policy fellow and director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University, delivered the lecture “Jihad and Women in the Muslim Middle East” on Thursday.

Amin Saikal (photo by Marine Brichard)

Amin Saikal (photo by Marine Brichard)

“Many in the West and in the Muslim domain have either misinterpreted jihad or deliberately manipulated the term for political strategy,” Saikal told a capacity audience at the IU Bloomington Global and International Studies Building.

Muslim legal scholars continue to debate interpretations of the Quran to decide who is qualified to declare combative jihad and whether women are able to serve in combative roles.

“There is no one in today’s world who speaks for all Muslims,” Saikal said. “Presently, no such organization exists that could rally the majority of Muslims.

“Islam is open to a range of interpretations. You can cherry-pick based on what you really want to achieve. There is no single Islam.”

While groups like al-Qaida only accommodate women in limited supportive roles, the Islamic State has adopted women in combative roles and various other capacities, including morality activists, police and jihadi brides.

“The Islamic State is able to skillfully twist and manipulate Muslim events and history to come up with their own retelling, making their jihad actionable,” Saikal said. “They exploited the power vacuum in Syria and Iraq, the wealth of oil and relics in the region, the sectarian-driven Saudi-Iranian rivalry, socio-economic disparities across the Middle East and the humiliation of disempowerment.”

The Islamic State operates distinctly from extremist groups that have employed women as suicide bombers, including Boko Haram and Hamas, based on the larger number of women joining. With various theological, social and cultural motivations, about 3,000 women from around the world joined the Islamic State.

“The question remains, how can one persuade women not to join IS and persuade those already part of the Islamic State to pursue a more peaceful solution?” Saikal said. “As long as the conditions exist that gave rise to the Islamic State, there will continue to be extremist groups.”

Saikal called for a regional and international strategy to address the growth of both men and women joining in combative jihad.

“We need an interlocking regional and international consensus between Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and the U.N. Security Council on how to roll the Islamic State back and address the conditions like disempowerment that gave rise to extremism,” Saikal said.

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