Call it Qa’eda Separatists not Islamic State – the logo of the online movement to rename Islamic State. Photo: Call it Qa’eda Separatists not Islamic State
Cairo: The top Islamic authority in Egypt, revered by many Muslims worldwide, launched an internet-based campaign on Sunday challenging an extremist group in Syria and Iraq by saying it should not be called an “Islamic State.”
The campaign by the Dar al-Ifta (House of Rulings), which advises Egypt’s Muslims on spiritual and life issues, adds to the war of words by Muslim leaders across the world targeting the Islamic State group, which controls wide swaths of Iraq and Syria. Its violent attacks, including mass shootings, destroying Shiite shrines, targeting minorities and beheadings including American journalist James Foley, have shocked Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
The Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shawki Allam, previously said the extremists violate all Islamic principles and laws and described the group as a danger to Islam as a whole. Now, the Dar al-Ifta he oversees will suggest foreign media drop using “Islamic State” in favour of “al-Qaeda Separatists in Iraq and Syria”, or the acronym “QSIS”, said Ibrahim Negm, an adviser to the mufti.
Muslims arrive to attend the Friday prayer at Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, Egypt. Photo: AP
This is part of a campaign that “aims to correct the image of Islam that has been tarnished in the West because of these criminal acts, and to exonerate humanity from such crimes that defy natural instincts and spreads hate between people,” Mr Negm said according to Egypt’s state news agency MENA. “We also want to reaffirm that all Muslims are against these practices which violate the tolerant principles of Islam.”
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi also weighed in. On Sunday, speaking to editors of Egyptian newspapers, he said the extremist group is part of a plot aiming to “undermine Islam as a belief.”
He said the current religious discourse in the region only feeds “minds that believe that killing and bloodshed is the way to defend Islam,” in comments carried by MENA.
Mr Sisi has cast himself as a champion of moderate Islam since he ousted president Mohamed Mursi on vows to crush what he calls extremist Islam, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood of which Dr Mursi was a member.
The mufti’s adviser Mr Negm said the online and social media campaign will include opinions by Islamic scholars from around the world about the group and its claims to represent Islam. It also will include a hashtag campaign on Twitter and videos from Muslims denouncing the group and its methods.
The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul-Aziz al-Sheikh, had also called the group Islam’s No.1 enemy. The world’s largest bloc of Islamic nations, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, said on Saturday that the actions of the group, including Foley’s beheading as well as the targeting of minorities, have nothing to do with the values of Islam. The 57-member state group is based in Saudi Arabia.
Muslims around the world have battled against the backlash that followed the rise of al-Qaeda and the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the US. Scholars and activist groups have sought for years to disassociate themselves from militants touting their own extremist versions of Islam.
They say the Islamic State group is another, one that appears more ambitious and aggressive than al-Qaeda. The Islamic State group renamed itself on June 29 when it unilaterally declared the territory it held in Iraq and Syria a caliphate, effectively erasing the two countries’ borders and setting up a proto-state governed by its own strict interpretation of Islamic law. It previously referred to itself as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant while fighting in Syria against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.
Since June 29, The Associated Press has referred to the extremists’ organisation as the Islamic State group or its combatants as Islamic State fighters. Many other media organisations did the same, while some refer to it by its previous name.
The Islamic State group has a sophisticated media and internet-based campaign that has drawn in foreign fighters, which may explain why Islamic scholars chose to adopt a similar approach. But it’s unclear how successful this latest push against the group will be.
Dar al-Ifta is famed among scholars of Islamic jurisprudence and has offered training to many Muslims from around the world since the late 1800s. But its opinions are advisory and are often viewed as too close to official government positions.