There are typically two responses to ISIS. ‘ISIS has nothing to do with Islam’ or ‘ISIS are the real Muslims’. It’s easy to understand why so many Muslims—especially in western contexts—dissociate themselves from ISIS. They are thoroughly embarrassed to think that non-Muslims around them might assume that because they are Muslims, they must have some sympathy with ISIS and all that it is doing. They therefore argue that many of the practices of ISIS are completely un-Islamic, even anti-Islamic and cannot be justified by the legal traditions that have been developed over many centuries.
At the other extreme there are many Christians—and, dare I say, especially evangelical Christians—who believe that ISIS is much nearer to the spirit and practice of early Islam than moderate Muslims of today. They point to particular verses in the Qur’an (e.g. about beheading, crucifixion and slavery) and passages in Hadith literature, the biographies of Muhammad and legal texts to show the connections between the brutalities of ISIS and early Islamic texts.
Both of these approaches are thoroughly unhelpful and need to be challenged.
Whereas non-Muslims in the west may joke that there are only two things we can count on–death and taxes, Muslims, as a rule, do not joke about such serious matters lest such levity invite a premature occurrence. But as to its universal and unavoidable reality, there is no doubt, for in the Scripture of Islam death is called “the certain.” The Qur’an says: “And serve thy Lord until there come unto thee the hour that is certain” (Surah 15:99).
Many non-Muslims picture the qur’anic heaven as an eternal orgy in which the faithful freely engage in all kinds of sexual perversion with full immunity. This libertine version has a long history in the West,[i] and American Christians won’t easily be disabused of it. Not with writers like Sam Shamoun recasting the qur’anic heaven in the most despicable terms possible, as “Allah’s brothel.”[ii] British conservatives won’t likely let go of it either, not with Boris Johnson—then MP, now British prime minister—retelling the same tired orgy story in his 2004 novel Seventy-Two Virgins – A Comedy of Errors.
While the Qur’an does emphasize heaven’s sensual pleasures…