Jihadist propaganda, as represented by groups like Isis, seeks to form a grand-narrative through which world events are construed. One of the most important aspects of counter-extremism work is providing a comprehensive critique and robust challenge to this manipulation.
That's why I'm supporting a fatwa against Isis, endorsed by prominent British — and, importantly, Sunni — Imams. Put forward by Quilliam’s Senior Islamic Studies Scholar, Dr Usama Hasan, it is an important first step in challenging the poisonous worldview of the jihadists.
A fatwa is a religious edict. Such edicts bind only those who seek to follow the Imam issuing them, but can be regarded as an option for others seeking an alternative view. They only ever expire when their target does too.
This fatwa highlights the double standard present in Isis propaganda, since the group is guilty of the same crimes of which it accuses its opponents. Isis fighters are responsible for murdering innocent civilians, including women and children, the destructions of mosques and churches and the attempted genocide of the Yazidi people.
This all goes against any sane reading of Islam. Highlighting this is crucial if we are to dampen their recruitment efforts. But this fatwa goes further. It obliges those of a religious persuasion to not only condemn Isis, but to actively work in undermining them. It also reinforces the notion that Muslims in Britain and across Europe are first and foremost citizens of those countries, their allegiance and loyalty must belong here.
In providing a strong condemnation of their ideas and actions from leading theologians, those that are taken in by Isis could be made to think twice. Even if they are not, keeping the door ajar for anyone in two minds remains paramount.
It also demonstrates loudly and clearly to the rest of Britain that Muslims are doing their part. Along with the rest of society, they are reigning in the scourge that has captured the imaginations of a number of young British Muslims.
This element serves to reassure non-Muslim Britain, and helps to bring communities together rather than allow Isis to push them apart. Finally, such a fatwa helps to kick start a conversation about what more can be done to de-legitimise the Isis brand.
Understandably frustrated cynics could claim that this is far too little, too late. Such a stance fails to appreciate that this can only be the start, not the end. The Isis brand will only be weakened by a full-on assault from all angles.
If theological "get out clauses" are not provided for vulnerable young minds, if all vulnerable young minds hear is silence from every other Muslim Imam on the subject, this will look precariously like consent.
No single initiative will ever be enough by itself, but numerous initiatives from multiple angles can – must – begin to turn the tide.
Besides, those cynics have been the same voices bemoaning the lack of Sunni Muslim condemnation of Isis, now that a group of Britain’s most prominent Sunni Imams have come together to go further than mere condemnation, it would behove us all to get on board and help the effort take root, rather than sniping from the side lines, undermining the very thing we claim to be the most concerned about – destroying Isis.
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