One of my students asked me why would any Muslim in his right mind join ISIL. I said to her that I can give you right away at least five reasons but if you are willing to wait till tomorrow I will come up with a longer list. ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, was the first name that was given to the organization since its territory was in Iraq and Syria. Their vision is far bigger than Iraq and Levant. They want to expand into Asia, Africa and Europe. The next morning I gave my students 25 reasons why Muslims are eager to join ISIL; here are 10 of them.
Success and a staying presence. Muslims see the black flag raised on expanding landmarks and they appear to be winners. Unlike foreign armies who would sooner or later leave, these people are there to stay.
Up-to-date attractive social media. Unlike the boring monologues of Ayman Zawahiri, the current leader of al Qa’eda, they use clever propaganda videos that have an appeal to the youth.
Purpose for living. So many young men and women whether in Muslim countries or in the West have no demanding or consuming purpose for living. ISIL offers young Muslims what they see as a large enough purpose for living and for dying.
America’s support for Israel. A Muslim American young man was arrested on his way to Turkey to join ISIL in Syria. His reason for wanting to join ISIL was: “Why should the taxes of American Muslims go to support Israel killing Muslims in Gaza.”
Western Societies are immoral. In spite of the abundance of church buildings in Europe and in the United States, Muslims see moral standards deteriorating rapidly as they see Americans and Europeans accepting as normal same sex marriages and people living together without being married.
Shock and Awe through decapitation. With their “shock and awe” strategy of decapitating some of their captives or burning them alive, they are aiming to intimidate not only individuals and armies but even nations. ISIL fighters are volunteers who are not afraid of death.
Influence of bridge builders. There are several famous bridge builders such as Anwar al-Awalaki who are well equipped to use the internet and can motivate and recruit disillusioned young men and women in the West to join ISIL and other radical groups.
The Shiites got inflated with power and they abused it. The Sunni majority in Iraq perceive the Shiites as syncretistic or even heretical. They would rather be ruled by the Sunni ISIL rather than by the abusing Shiites.
ISIL’s strong financial status is attractive. ISIL has a strong financial base. They have captured banks, sell oil, get taxes and get easy money in exchange for hostages. Muslims see ISIL as an organization which will keep going for a very long time and cannot be disarmed, dismantled and destroyed.
Hope for a restoration of the Caliphate. Many Muslims yearn for a day when the Caliphate will be restored and Muslims around the world will be united under one leader like Catholics are united under the Pope. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself the Caliph of the Islamic State and called himself Caliph Ibrahim.
Many pray openly five times a day, fast publicly from sunup to sundown during the month of Ramadan, give alms to the poor, and publicly repeat the shahada (confession of faith): “There is no God but God and Muhammad is the apostle of God.” What is not public is that most Muslims (perhaps three-quarters) are into folk stuff, mixing so-called orthodox Islam (five pillars and strict monotheistic beliefs) with popular practices. Here, life revolves around charms, amulets, curses, blessings and a whole lot of fear.
Although men and women are spiritually equal before God they have different functions and responsibilities. There are four ways in which the primacy of men over women is affirmed in the Qur’an: (1) man is physically stronger (Q 2:228); (2) men may discipline their wives (Q 4:34); (3) in a legal situation. In the 1980s there was much debate in Pakistan as to whether in a court of law the testimony of one man is equaled by the testimony of two women or of one woman. In the end it was decided that in each case the judge would decide – a solution which pleased neither the fundamentalists nor the liberals. The question of evidence in court stems from one particular Quranic verse ( 2:282). However, Muslims put a very high store on the Hadith or Traditions. Some hadith raise interesting questions about the position of women. Aisha, one of Muhammad’s wives, was not happy about being categorized with dogs. Bukhari, in his collection of Hadith (Vol.2, 135) records that Muhammad said that “Prayer is annulled by a dog, a donkey and a woman (if they pass in front of the praying people). I said you have made us (i.e. women) dogs.” (4) Finally, in the matter of inheritance (Q 4:11). Generally a daughter inherits half of what would come to her brother. The rationale is that the son has greater economic responsibilities. “Men are superior to women on account of the qualities with which God has gifted the one…