Is ISIS Islamic? – Barack Obama thinks not. At least he’s telling people he thinks not. Political machinations can sometimes curtail individuals’ true opinions. Whatever the case, he’s certainly correct regarding the majority of their victims.

I’m not going to make a case either way. It has been done already, very thoroughly by people better qualified than me.

Here is a monumental piece by Graeme Wood in the Atlantic. It’s long and thorough, and I believe makes a compelling positive case for the question.

Mehdi Hasan and Tom Holland exchanged articles and viewpoints in the New Statesman, and these pieces (MH here and TH here) are the articles I’d like to represent in a graphical format.

Tom Holland

Firstly, Tom Holland presents the case for ISIS having religious roots, I interpret his view as:


Firstly, let’s define ‘Islam’. I’ve used ‘All Islamic things’. What are ‘Islamic things’? The Qur’an, Sunnah & Hadiths certainly are. No-one is disputing this. It is also the sum of the actions of Muslims when they’re acting in a way, or formulating ideologies, based on their interpretation of the prescribed behaviours of Islam.

When Muslims are not doing this, what they’re doing is not Islamic.

Holland clearly makes the case that ISIS are acting in a way that is a credible interpretation of Islam. Barbaric, a vast minority, but still a valid interpretation by true believers in the faith.

Mehdi Hasan

Hasan’s piece is a lot longer. That in itself doesn’t make the article incorrect, but Hasan comes at his justification from so many different angles that it’s quite dizzying.

Some of the people he interviews say things like “Religion has a role but it is a role of justification” and other non-committal statements. He throws so many view points of others at the problem, it becomes a very cloudy picture (whether this was the intention, who knows).

He ends with his own opinion:

To claim that Isis is Islamic is egregiously inaccurate and empirically unsustainable, not to mention insulting to the 1.6 billion non-violent adherents of Islam across the planet. Above all else, it is dangerous and self-defeating, as it provides Baghdadi and his minions with the propaganda prize and recruiting tool that they most crave.

Paraphrased: ‘It isn’t because it isn’t, and what’s more I’m insulted by the notion. Above all, even if it is, we should say it isn’t because that’s what ISIS want.’

Well, we’re trying to get to the truth here. What Obama is asserting, or what Baghdadi wants, is neither here nor there.

As far as I can tell, this is Hasan’s view:


I know which one seems more likely to be true given the evidence and history.

That ISIS are Islamic should be accepted and we should concentrate on discussions about defeating their tyranny and stopping their murderous rampage.