“For centuries Christianity and Islam have violently enforced their version of “the only truth” and demanded unquestionable respect. How can they allow their dogmas to be questioned? They managed to hold on to them for so long. They managed to get altogether over three billion people into their fold. How can they admit that dogmatic religions generally do not make human beings better, but on many occasions worse? They managed to successfully demean those traditions that are closer to the truth, especially India’s tradition. How can they let all this go waste?” – Maria Wirth
President Obama and other politicians worldwide steadfastly maintain that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam and most liberal non-Muslims share this opinion. Several Muslims, too, express the same view. They label the terrorists ‘misguided youths’ but don’t seem to be interested who or what misguides them.
On the other hand, those who joined ISIS are clear: “We follow the true Islam”, they declare with full conviction and ridicule those who think otherwise.
Who is right?
Is it difficult to discover? Killing people who go peacefully about their daily lives clearly goes against human nature. So why do they do it? Apart from some pathological cases, the reason is that they are convinced that they do the right thing. Of course, these youths are misguided, but by whom or what?
To be fair the Islamists are not the first to be misguided. Communists and Nazis were misguided by divisive ideologies, which made them believe that, if certain people are dead, a glorious future awaits them.
Christians were misguided by their baseless belief that heathen and heretics are an eyesore to their god and are better done away with if they refuse to join the “true faith.” Thanks to the pressure of a more enlightened civil society, they had to give up torturing and killing in the name of god a couple of centuries ago. Yet many Christians still wrongly believe that they have to convert the whole world to Christianity – if not by force, then by allurement and deceit.
Prime Minister David Cameron recently described the ISIS as “one of the biggest threats our world has faced”. So surely it is of utmost importance to understand what drives them. The German SZ-Magazin carried an eye-opening interview with a would-be ISIS Jihadi that gives insight into their mindset.
It is about Erhan, a handsome, almost shy youth of 22 years, of Turkish origin. Some of his friends are in Syria. He tried to join them but didn’t succeed on his first attempt. A few years ago, he became dissatisfied with the lukewarm “Euro fake” Islam that his parents practice. His father doesn’t even pray, he rued, and his mother distorts the Quran so that it fits her interpretation. He wanted to follow the ‘real’ Islam and started to read the Quran. He grew a beard, prayed 5 times a day, went to the mosque and even wore a turban to school. His classmates asked him what happened, and he told them about the Quran. They never asked him again. “I had expected more criticism from them,” Erhan said.
He and his friends were banned from the local mosques in their Bavarian town because they kept lecturing the Muslims there that they don’t follow the Quran correctly and need to oppose democracy. However, the ban convinced them that they were on the right path, because “in the Quran is written that there will be opposition”.
Erhan is convinced that Islam is the only true religion, and he wants ISIS to create a state where “the Quran is lived as Allah wants it”. In his view, the present Islamic countries, like Turkey, are not really following what Allah wants. When the interviewer reminded him of ISIS’s brutality, he replied, “If one kills for a good cause, it is legitimate”.
One of Erhan’s friends, David, recently died fighting in Aleppo and another one, Philipp, became a suicide bomber after he was injured. “Were you sad?” he is asked. “At first a little, but I also envied them, because I know where they are”, he replied, but he strongly rebuked the notion that it is because of the virgins. “Honestly, if only women were to be gained, I would not do it. I do it for Allah.”
He comes across as a naïve young man who wanted to make his life meaningful and found guidance in the Quran. He connected with like-minded youngsters. They checked out several groups and became convinced that ISIS is the best to join because its goal is clearly in tune with the Quran: the goal to spread the Islamic State further and further till the whole world is for Allah.
- “Oh believers, fight them until there is no more mischief and the Deen of Allah (way of life prescribed by Allah) is established completely” (Quran 8.39).
- “Oh believers, fighting has been made obligatory for you much to your dislike. It is quite possible that what you dislike is good for you…. Allah knows and you do not” (Quran 2.216).
- “Those believers who stay at home – having no physical disabilities – are not equal to those who make Jihad in the cause of Allah with their wealth and person. Allah has granted a higher rank to those who make Jihad…. They have special higher ranks, forgiveness and mercy. Allah is forgiving, merciful” (Quran 4.95/6).
Could Erhan and his friends have any doubt what these and similar passages mean? Does it need an Islam expert to interpret them? If the experts had come to the conclusion that those passages were meant exclusively for the contemporaries of Mohammed and not for all time thereafter, they should have said this loud and clear long ago – too much blood has been shed over the last 14 centuries, much of it in India. But those experts kept quiet. Does it follow that the Quran exhorts Muslims to fight till the “Deen of Allah is established”?
The command to fight the enemy appeals to young men. Islam is far more successful than Christianity to make men stand by their religion. Christianity is seen as a religion for women and children. At least that was the impression I got in my youth. Men generally went to Sunday mass in small town Bavaria, but they made sure not to look pious. They considered it a social affair to meet friends. Only the clergy can afford to look pious. It is different in Islam.
A German police study which questioned 45,000 students between 14 and 16 years of age about their level of religiosity and their readiness to be violent, confirmed this:
Girls were more religious than boys in all religions except in Islam, where boys were more religious than girls. Further the study found that those who considered themselves more religious were less inclined to be violent in all religions, except – again – in Islam. There the boys who considered themselves more religious were more inclined to be violent.
Even small boys like toy guns. Bigger boys want a good reason to fight. A divine command to fight those ‘who are evil’ is the perfect reason for many youngsters. Further, there is the ‘divine promise’ that it will be a win-win situation: if one dies, one is guaranteed to enjoy paradise and if one lives, one may benefit from the wealth and the women of those killed.
There are many passages in the Quran where the unbelievers are portrayed as most despicable, for whom perdition and eternal hellfire are certain. Even the torture in hell is described in horrific detail:
- “There are the two adversaries (the believers and disbelievers) who dispute with each other about their Rabb: as for the disbelievers, garments of Fire will be cut out for them, boiling water will be poured over their heads, which will not only melt their skins but also the inner parts of their bellies, and there will be maces of iron to lash them. Whenever, in their anguish, they cry to escape therefrom, they will be forced back therein, and will be told: “Taste the punishment of conflagration!” (Quran 22.19-22)
Do such passages explain the savagery of ISIS? Have the vivid images of hell over the centuries instigated the brutalities of the Christian Inquisition and of the Muslim invaders in India and elsewhere? Was there such brutality against civilians before the arrival of religions which claimed “eternal hellfire for unbelievers”?
If Erhan succeeds in going to Syria, he is ready to behead unbelievers and also Muslims who are not following what Allah really wants, he said. He does it for Allah, not for the virgins. Secondary incentives may exist. His friends in Syria share photos via Facebook. “They live in luxury, have computers, guns, snacks”, Erhan said.
This may sound attractive not only for young men, bored with the monotonous life in the west. For girls, too, it may be appealing to get ‘brave’ husbands and become part of a community of young people who have a genuine cause that is ordained by God himself as it were. Some German girls from a Christian background are also drawn to those intense, handsome men who are not shy to talk about Allah. “Only yesterday we converted a girl”, Erhan said.
It is difficult to see in him the ruthless terrorist. But he may turn out to become just that – a ruthless killer. He said that he would kill even his parents if they oppose the Islamic State. “In 20, 30 years the Islamic State will be in Germany and gradually will cover the whole planet”, he is sure.
Are we not responsible to stop these youngsters from destroying themselves and others? Yet is it possible as long as those passages are considered the word of Allah? Even if ISIS gets defeated in near future, new terror groups will continue to draw legitimacy from those passages, and powerbrokers can motivate youngsters for their own interests, making them believe that Allah will be pleased. Those passages have tremendous potential to mobilize youngsters for a cause that is worthwhile and just in their eyes. They don’t realize that they are used – like the US used the Taliban to fight the Russians in Afghanistan.
Erhan’s parents in Germany, his uncle in Turkey, imams of the local mosques – all tried to prevent him from turning radical. But what can they tell him? That he should not take the Quran seriously? That Allah didn’t mean what he said? Erhan considers those imams who are against ISIS as old, confused men. And logically he has a point. But it could also make him wonder why older Muslims, including imams, do not opt to become suicide bombers even if they have a serious illness. Are they not convinced that paradise is guaranteed by killing others?
“What can stop you”, the journalist asked him.
His answer: “Nobody can stop me.”
He is right. No outsider can stop him. If a Muslim tries to influence him, he will see in him a hypocrite who tests his faith in the ‘true’ Islam. And if an unbeliever tries to influence him, he is sure that he only wants him to leave the right path.
But there is one thing that can stop him: it is doubt. Once doubt springs up on its own, it is not possible to regain the former blind belief. I know this from own experience, as I also once believed in eternal hell and that God wants everyone to be Christian. If Erhan starts wondering whether the compassionate Allah really wants all this killing, he can easily come out of the grip that blind belief has on his mind.
Curiously, this option of doubting the doctrine is not considered even by western ‘unbelievers’ who are portrayed so badly in it. Why? I can only guess that there is too much at stake for the powers that be. If Islam comes under a cloud as not being the only true religion, Christianity will also come under a cloud, because both religions have a lot in common. The Abrahamic God will need to be questioned whether he can possibly be true. This will be a major earthquake.
For centuries both religions have violently enforced their version of “the only truth” and demanded unquestionable respect. How can they allow their dogmas to be questioned? They managed to hold on to them for so long. They managed to get altogether over 3 billion people into their fold. How can they admit that dogmatic religions generally do not make human beings better, but on many occasions worse? They managed to successfully demean those traditions that are closer to the truth, especially India’s tradition. How can they let all this go waste?
So what is their solution? Put the head into the sand and declare: “ISIS has nothing to do with Islam. Terror has no religion” and continue to hit out at those who are in a position to question your truth, so that they become defensive and won’t dare to challenge you for a debate.
The viciousness with which Christianity and Islam attack ‘Hindu fundamentalists’ almost seems to indicate that both consider Hindus a greater enemy than ISIS and other equally violent groups. To some extent they are right. India’s wisdom can expose the weak basis of their belief systems. This seems to be a great fear for them. The religions who claim to be the only true religions fear a genuine debate on what the truth is. The don’t want to hear that truth cannot possibly be linked to only one name and only one concept, and that truth cannot possibly be dependent on some ‘correct’ thoughts in human heads. It is the eternal, indivisible, one consciousness in all. – Maria Wirth Blog, 12 June 2015
» Maria Wirth is a German psychologist and columnist who has lived in India for decades.