Some Muslim history our president and his would-be successor may have not yet studied.
President Obama and Hillary Clinton are wrong when they say ISIS is not Islamic. Let me be perfectly clear. The majority of Muslims are not terrorists, but al-Qaeda and ISIS are part of an Islamic fundamentalist tradition.
The idea of narrowly interpreted the Koran to justify terrorism can be traced to numerous Islamic scholars over the centuries. Out of the four major schools jurisprudence (madhhabs) within Sunni Islam (Hanbali, Hanafi, Shafi’i and Maliki), the most rigid in interpreting the Koran is the Hanbali.
The Hanbali School was founded by Ahmad ibn Hanbal (780-855) in Baghdad. He believed that the caliphs, and the Hanafi judges in the Abbasid Caliphate, were ruling in favor of the government irrespective of the Koran. Around 833 to 848, there was a period called the Mihna (“the trial”) where the political rulers pushed a doctrine claiming that the Koran was created.
Anyone who questioned the Abbasids would be persecuted. Hanbal fought and challenged their assertions. He was so respected in Baghdad that people threatened to riot if he was not released from prison.
Hanbal believed that Islamic judges should not interpret Islamic law to suit the Caliph of the moment. Therefore, he proposed a literal interpretation of the Koran and the Hadith. He believed that Islamic law could be interpreted through Muhammad and his early companions (Sahaba).
In some ways, Hanbal was to Sunni Islam what Martin Luther was to the Protestant Reformation. Both of them argued against the corruption of religious authorities in their time period.
Historian Norman Davies wrote in his book Europe, that several years prior to Martin Luther writing his Ninety-Five Theses, “Europe was full of tales about simoniac bishops, nepotistic popes, idle monks, and, above all, the sheer worldly wealth of the church.”
Much like anything else in life, timing was important to Luther’s success. Davies believed that Luther’s arguments, in 1517, were aided by reigns of two incredibly corrupt popes. The pontificates of Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503) and Julius II (1503-1513) brought the Catholic Church’s reputation to its nadir.
Hanbal didn’t want to separate from Islam. He believed that the only way to combat corruption was for people to support a literal interpretation of the Koran.
After his death, one of his disciples, Al-Hasan ibn al-Barbahari, promoted violence in Baghdad during the 10th century. His followers vandalized homes and physically attacked people who didn’t subscribe to their religious beliefs. By 935 AD, the Abbasid rulers cracked down on these fanatics.
The foundations of modern Islamic terrorism can be traced to the intellectual history of the Hanbali school in Baghdad. To use an analogy with Marxism, if Hanbal was Marx, the Lenin of Hanbalism was a man named Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328). Writing at the time of the Mongol invasions of Syria, he wrote about jihad and how it was the duty of Muslims to fight back.
The Mongols already sacked Baghdad in 1258 and killed thousands of Muslims. At the time, Muslims believed that they had to defend themselves against further Mongol attacks on the Muslim world.
Taymiyyah also propagated the belief that people needed to return to the ways of the prophet. It was through his teachings that the Salafi movement emerged. It stressed that Islam was best understood through Muhammad, his companions, and the first three generations of Muslims.
His prolific writings informed people that anyone who did not agree with the Salafis was not a real Muslim. His writings would influence several important Islamists including Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792), Hassan al-Banna (1906-1949), the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), a leading intellectual inside the Muslim Brotherhood.
According to the 9/11 Commission Report, Sayyid Qutb’s writings influenced Osama bin Laden. Sayyid became a martyr when he was hanged by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Nasser cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood after they tried to assassinate him.
Osama bin Laden was also acquainted with Sayyid Qutb’s brother Muhammad. Muhammad moved to Saudi Arabia after his brother was killed. He got a job lecturing at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah. Osama bin Laden attended his lectures on Sayyid Qutb’s ideas. Qutb also influenced current al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and Anwar al-Awlaki.
Within Sunni Islam, the followers of ISIS are part of that Hanbali tradition within Sunni Islam. That doesn’t mean that Hanbali School is the only part of Sunni Islam or that all Hanbalis are terrorists.
Since 9/11, we have killed thousands of Islamic terrorists. We will achieve victory when we kill more terrorists than are being created. This will not happen until this war within Islam is won by Reform Muslims.
Ahmad ibn Hanbal Mosque, Medina, Saudi Arabia (Imam Khairul Annas/Creative Commons)