Relying heavily on the Quran, the 18-page letter released Wednesday (Sept. 24) picks apart the extremist ideology of the militants who have left a wake of brutal death and destruction in their bid to establish a transnational Islamic state in Iraq and Syria.Even translated into English, the letter will still sound alien to most Americans, said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, who released it in Washington with 10 other American Muslim religious and civil rights leaders.“The letter is written in Arabic. It is using heavy classical religious texts and classical religious scholars that ISIS has used to mobilize young people to join its forces,” said Awad, using one of the acronyms for the group. “This letter is not meant for a liberal audience.”Even mainstream Muslims, he said, may find it difficult to understand.Awad said its aim is to offer a comprehensive Islamic refutation, “point-by-point,” to the philosophy of the Islamic State and the violence it has perpetrated. The letter’s authors include well-known religious and scholarly figures in the Muslim world, including Sheikh Shawqi Allam, the grand mufti of Egypt, and Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem and All Palestine.
The letter demonstrates the stark divergence in the Muslim world on how to interpret the Qur’ānic verses that call for jihad, especially in its armed form, and that expound the meaning of the Islamic caliphate (Ar. khilāfa). The signees and addressees of this letter represent two distinct groups of interpretation. Both interpretations exist. Both groups are “Muslim.” This is most likely the reason why the letter refers to the leader of ISIS as “doctor,” and its members as “fighters and followers,” with no reference or mention at all of “terrorism” or “terrorists” in the entire document. The reader may get the impression that the letter is addressed to a “prodigal son” among the Muslims. The signing this letter (which took place in the U.S.) reflects a desire of some Muslims to live in peace with non-Muslims.The writing of this letter in itself, however, is not enough. The statement is ambiguous in crucial areas, which not only weaken its argument, but also question whether it is truly a rigorous and valid refutation of ISIS’s deeds and claims. In what follows, I will focus only on two of them: the concept of jihad and the restoration of the Muslim caliphate. While this letter claims to present the correct version of the Muslim teaching, its imprecise description of important areas makes it subject to different, and sometimes opposite, understandings, leaving the reader, especially the non-Muslim, puzzled regarding correct Islamic teaching