On 29 June, 2014, the group known at the time to the world as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (also known alternatively as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or more correctly, the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham, i.e. ISIS), under the leadership of its Emir (roughly meaning commander or leader) Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi declared a caliphate and changed its name to simply the Islamic State.
This event received a good amount of public attention at the time, even though most commentators did not fully comprehend just how monumental this announcement was. In my opinion, this new Caliphate declared last year represents the single biggest threat to almost all other geopolitical entities across the world.
Even though the Islamic State has gained widespread media attention across the globe due to regular executions of foreign captives and an often violent implementation of what some say is an ultra-orthodox interpretation of Islamic Law, all this coverage has generally been very emotional and shallow, lacking in-depth analysis of what is really going on.
I believe that it is quite pointless to simply feel outraged and keep responding with criticism of this group’s ways. This is because most people already realize that an organization such as the Islamic State is deeply motivated against principles and values which much of the rest of the world holds dear; such media attention does not serve to generate intelligent discussion that will enable people to understand the true gravity of the threat posed to them.
Instead, what is required is that everyone, or at the very least, policymakers, begin to understand the Ideology that has spawned this group. This will enable a response that is likely to be more successful and also, importantly, less costly in both blood and money.
I will begin my explanation of the Islamic State’s Ideology by firstly talking about certain key developments in early Islamic History.
In the year 632, the final Prophet of Islam Muhammad, died, leaving behind a state that dominated almost the entire Arabian Peninsula. He was succeeded by one of his companions, Abu Bakr, who established the first Islamic Caliphate, and was followed by three successors as head of this State. These four caliphs came to be known as the Rashidun Caliphs, a term which in its original Arabic means the “rightly-guided” Caliphs.
The Rashidun period was marked by steady expansionism, leading to humiliating defeats for the Byzantine and Sassanid Persian Empires, both being world superpowers at the time. This period also witnessed the emergence of an organized Islamic system of law and administration and for many Muslims, especially Islamists, the Rashidun Caliphate was the only true Islamic caliphate in history.
The Ideological Framework
In modern times, a growing Islamic movement that looks upon the Rashidun period as a golden age is the movement known as Salafism or Salafiyyah. The Salafis preach the most orthodox version of Islam that you can find today. Their name comes from the Arabic word “salaf” which literally means “ancestor”; they’re named so because they claim to follow the first three generations of Muslims, who are referred to as the Salaf.
It is their belief that a true Muslim must be guided in all aspects of his life by the Quran and the Sunnah (the teachings and practices of Prophet Muhammad). In this regard, they strive to emulate the Salaf because they believe that the Salaf were near perfect in their following of the Quran and the Sunnah.
Interestingly, Salafism is the official version of Islam that is propagated in nearly all the Gulf Monarchies— countries that are supposed to be staunch US allies. They share this variety of Islam with another set of people, that is, the Salafi-Jihadis.
The most well known example of a Salafi Jihadi group is Al Qaeda, which has for many years now been the biggest terrorist threat to the United States and its allies. Al Qaeda and its Salafi Jihadi franchises and allies such as Al Shabab, the Caucasus Emirate, Ansar al Sharia etc. do not see the supporters and defenders of the Gulf Monarchies as true Salafis, labeling them “Sheikhists,” or “Murjites” (coming from the Arabic word Murjiah, meaning, “those who delay implementation of the faith”).
The Salafis in general, and the Salafi Jihadis in particular, do not believe that the majority of the world’s population that describes themselves to be Muslims, is Muslim at all. They believe that true Muslims are actually a tiny minority of the people who claim to be Muslims—due to their perception that most of these people have abandoned the path of Tawhid (“monotheism”) and are in fact practically polytheists. These supposed “pretend Muslims” are treated with the utmost contempt, especially Shias, who are viewed as the worst of the lot.
This is the reason why every week, in a number of Muslim countries, hundreds of civilians die and many more are maimed in bombings and shooting sprees carried out by Salafi Jihadi groups. It is also the reason why you will have difficulty finding many Shias in territory controlled by the Islamic State’s caliphate, even though you may still find some Christians left; the Islamic State today perhaps being the most anti-Shia Salafi Jihadi group in the world.
The Objective Of World Domination
Due to its Ideology of Salafi Jihadism, the Islamic State wishes to bring back what it believes was the golden age during the Rashidun period, through the means of defensive as well as offensive jihad. Though the group has had a separation from Al Qaeda and others due to differences about the timing of declaring a caliphate, it still remains a formidable force which has withstood the attacks of its various enemies.
There is no basis for ideas such as democracy and equality in Salafi-Jihadi doctrine. This is because their literal interpretation of the Quran and the Sunnah sees therein no room for such ideas, but rather, the goal of putting every single piece of land across the world under the authority of the caliphate, and thus, establish the rule of Allah throughout the world.
This understanding leads us towards one conclusion: the caliphate established by the Islamic State will keep on fighting with cold steadfastness to remove every single other geopolitical entity from the face of the Earth. It is not going to be appeased. It will not change the way it rules. It is not going to stop until either it has been decisively defeated and decimated, or the entire world has been conquered.