Al-Baghdadi: Emulating Islam's Prophet Muhammad?
In its Inquiry and Analysis Series, Report No. 1117, "Understanding Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi And The Phenomenon Of The Islamic Caliphate State" (Memri, September 14, 2014), Y. Carmon, Y. Yehoshua, and A. Leone offer their analysis of the Islamic State's intentions and its self-justification, which I condense below in a version with bold-fonted, underlined points to consider:
This report seeks to clarify the IS's doctrine based on the organization's official writings and speeches by its leaders. It will argue that, unlike Al-Qaeda, the IS places priority not on global terrorism, but rather on establishing and consolidating a state, and hence it defers the clash with the West to a much later stage. In this, it is emulating and reenacting the early Islamic model . . . . Al-Baghdadi's vision of the Islamic state is modeled on ancient Islamic history, and therefore does not descend to the level of wallowing in contemporary Middle East politics and struggles . . . . In the current stage, the IS is concentrating on consolidating its rule in the parts of Iraq and Syria it has already conquered, and on expanding its rule in these countries, beginning with areas where there is a Sunni majority. The next stage will be conquering the bordering Muslim states. The second issue of Dabiq[, the IS's English-language magazine,] cites a reliable hadith of the Prophet that precisely defines the organization's order of priorities following the establishment of the state - first Saudi Arabia, then Iran and ultimately "Rome": "You will invade the Arabian Peninsula, and Allah will enable you to conquer it. You will then invade Persia, and Allah will enable you to conquer it. You will then invade Rome, and Allah will enable you to conquer it. Then you will fight the Dajjal, [an Islamic reference to the false messiah,] and Allah will enable you to conquer him."["In the seventh century Islamic texts, 'Rome' referred to the Christian Byzantine empire. In contemporary Islamist texts, it refers to Christendom in general."] . . . . In his approach that prioritizes the consolidation of the Islamic State over an all-encompassing battle with Islam's enemies, Al-Baghdadi is emulating the Prophet Muhammad – the ultimate Islamic role model.["Al-Baghdadi also claims to share the Prophet's lineage when he calls himself Al-Qurayshi, a member of the Quraysh tribe, to which the Prophet belonged."] The Prophet, while displaying cruelty in battle – cruelty mirrored by the IS – put off battles with his enemies and integrated compromises and tactical agreements in his policy, in order to gather strength prior to renewing action to obtain his ultimate goals.["This is exemplified by the Al-Medina Constitution of 622, which extended rights to the Jews to ensure their political absorption. These rights were subsequently withdrawn when Muhammad was able to expel them from the city in 628. Another example is the 628 Peace of Hudaibiya with the Meccans, which lasted 18 months, until the Prophet was able to realize his most cherished goal of taking over Mecca and the holy Ka'ba."] The IS, ruling from its informal capital in Syria's Al-Raqqa, conducts itself in a similar manner [as Muhammad], enforcing the laws of the shari'a while selling oil to Europe via the black market. ["As for the atrocities against Yazidis and the Al-Shaitat tribe, and the persecution of Christians, these conform to ancient Islamic doctrines with regards to idolaters, Christians, and apostates to which the Islamic State is committed."]The interesting point for my concerns is the fact that the IS looks to Muhammad as "the ultimate Islamic role model" - what I have elsewhere termed "Islam's moral exemplar" - such that Muhammad's cruelty is mirrored in the IS's cruelty and used as a justification for the IS's actions.
Clearly, if reform is going to come to Islam, the would-be reformers will have to deal effectively with the "cruel Muhammad" image found in the Qur'an, the Sunnah, and the Hadith.