|Muslims the world over await the Mahdi's return.|
Fareed Zakaria penned a rather inane article in “The Washington Post” last week, entitled “The limits of the Islamic label” (which he adduced at length in his “GPS” show this morning). The point therein: to criticize Graeme Wood for his “Atlantic” article, “What ISIS Really Wants,” in which the latter dares to state that ISIS is profoundly Islamic, and even apocalyptic, in its belief system and actions. Zakaria supports President Obama’s Machiavellian “terrorism means never having to say ‘Islam’ ” strategy on the grounds that it avoids alienation of 1.6 billion Muslims, and takes Wood (and those of us like-minded) to task with the metric that ISIS’s 30,000 members only comprise .0019% of the world’s Islamic population.
But ISIS isn’t the only terrorist organization which adduces Islam as its raison d’etre—it’s only the most brutal. I scrutinized the data on the other three dozen major terrorist groups which are Islamic, on the US State Department site as well as several others, and came up with a rough membership number for all the non-ISIS Sunni Muslim terrorist groups of some 65,000. Adding in ISIS’s 30,000 puts the global Sunni dedicated terrorist ranks into the 100,000 range—especially when we consider that State enumerated the membership strength of a number of these entities as “unknown:” it’s certainly reasonable to estimate that these half-dozen groups (which include the likes of al-Qa`idah [AQ] central and the Abd Allah Azzam Brigades) count several thousand adherents.
But wait, there’s more that refutes Zakaria’s specious claim.
The core ISIS ideology centers around several key Islamic concepts: Islam as the only true religion; the need for a caliphate to rule all Muslims and impose shari`ah; the necessity of not just da`wah but jihad to achieve those ends; the belief that the Qur’an should be literally followed, even if need be to the point of beheading opponents. This interpretation and articulation of Islam is virtually synonymous with that of the Wahhabis of the Arabian peninsula, the Deobandis of the Indian subcontinent, and even, arguably, apolitical piety-minded “missionary” groups like Tablighi Jama`at [TJ]. Active Wahhabis number at least 5 million in the Gulf; Deobandis make up some 20% of Indian Muslims (30 million) and 20% of Pakistani ones (35 million); and TJ’s membership has been put in the 20-80 million range (see my entry on this group in the World Almanac of Islamism). In addition, while Wahhabis and Deobandis can all be subsumed under the category of Salafism, not all Salafis are Wahhabis or Deobandis—and this latter category would include at least 10 million more Muslims.
Even taking the lowest estimates for Wahhabis, Deobandis, TJ members and Salafis, we arrive at a count of some 95 million. This comprises about 6% of the world’s total Muslim population—or, since we’re actually working here only with the Sunni population, about 8% of the world’s 1.36 billion Sunnis. (Yes, there are Twelver Shi`i terrorist groups—notably Hizbullah—but such tend to be as much nationalist as Islamic, and they are rarely as brutal as the Sunni terrorist ones, plus, they are not as enamored with imposing shari`ah, much less a caliphate.)
Furthermore, according to Pew data, large minorities—indeed, majorities in some parts of the Islamic world—believe not only that shari`ah is ordained by Allah, but also that components thereof such as cutting off hands for stealing or stoning for adultery should be the law of their lands. This differs very little from ISIS ideology.
Likewise for apocalyptic beliefs: some 42% of the world’s Muslims, or about 670 million people, indicate they expect the Mahdi to come in their lifetime; and a further 35%, approximately 560 million, say the same about the return of Jesus. [Pew results here.]
Quite a far cry from Zakaria’s .0019%.
Fareed Zakaria finished his “WaPo” piece by citing an Egyptian-turned-terrorist, then pontificated that “calling him Islamic really doesn’t help you understand” why this chap did so. Au contraire, Mr. Zakaria: it helps very much, despite your sophistic attempts at muddying the analytical waters.