This month, The Atlantic Monthly published the article What ISIS Really Wants. It is positively one of the most direct, well-rounded and unapologetic articles yet published by a mainstream print or online journal. I encourage as many Americans as possible to read it and sooner is better. Graeme Wood deserves enormous credit for taking on the topic with such a high degree of journalistic integrity and thoroughness of critical analysis and review. While I and many of my colleagues in the analytical, writing, and intelligence communities have been clearly and emphatically warning of the apocalyptic theology and zeal of Islamists for years, Mr. Wood has sounded the claxon to those who need to hear it the most; intellectuals and their pseudo-intellectual counterparts who read journals like The Atlantic Monthly. It seems to me that no amount of gore internationally displayed by ISIS, from shooting and beheading Syrian and Iraqi Christian children and selling their mothers and sisters on slave markets, or immolating humans alive, or shoving homosexuals off tall buildings alive, will push the "blame-America-first" crowd past their stale, one-size-fits-all, analytical assumptions.
Among these assumptions are that no one, no group, no nation on Earth would be engaging in anything but riding unicorns over rainbows to Hugsville, Utopia were it not for unfair, destructive, and malicious post-World War II U.S. foreign policy. What Mr. Woods' article has done, in a publication that is very highly regarded and acknowledged as legit by blame-America-firsters, is make irrevocably clear that the problem with ISIS and what they really want has not a single thing to do with U.S. foreign policy, nor the very existence of the United States of America, for that matter. Islamic hegemonic politics and militantism predates the United States of America by 1,200 years. ISIS is not lashing out. They are fulfilling. ISIS is not angry. They are joyous. ISIS is not radical. They are purist. ISIS is not extreme. The are right in line.
ISIS is doing exactly what they are directed to do by Islam's most sacred sources, which in the world of Islamic jurisprudence, are simply referred to as The Sources. These are: the Qur'an, the Hadith Sahih, and Shari'ah. The Qur'an is taken by Muslims to be the direct word of God (via the Archangel Gabriel) to Muhammad, whom Muslims believe is the final prophet of God on Earth. That is, God speaking directly to Muhammad saying, “This is what I want!” If one is a Muslim, the Qur’an contains no “inspired” words of God through secondary or tertiary actors. No. God, via the Archangel Gabriel Internet and the mouth of Muhammad, is speaking to all of humanity for all time.
The Hadith are the traditions of Muhammad. In other words, everything that Muhammad's companions saw him do and hear him say during his 23 year ministry, from how and what to eat, to permissible lying, to praying, to fighting jihad, is recorded in the hadith. Among the hadith, the hadith sahih are held to be the traditions that are the strongest in veracity (out of nearly 30 forms, or levels, of hadith; they are sorted, generally, by their order of veracity or accuracy). The hadith sahih of 7th Century jurists al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim, are used, almost exclusively, with the Qur'an, to formulate another among the sacred sources, Shari'ah, or Islamic sacred law. These laws were formulated, it is thought by exegetical critics, by Islamic scholars in the decades that followed the death of Muhammad in 632 AD.
To Muslims, they are not the laws of the scholars, or even of Muhammad, but of God, Himself. They are immutable... unchangeable. They were sealed by God upon the death of Muhammad, hence his title, "The Seal of the Prophets." His life and death place a permanent seal on all prophecy, from that moment, until the end of times. According Islamic exegesis, every prophet and prophecy before Muhammad was either corrupted by the Jews or fabricated by the Christians. The Christians, the Qur’an maintains, simply “made up” the story of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection so that they could con people into believing that Jesus was the Son of God, or Messiah. The Jews, according to Islamic sources, are so inherently corrupt that they hid from humanity that all of their prophets (Moses, Abraham, Isaac, etc.) were actually Muslims (as was Jesus) and that their Islamic message was corrupted by the Jews. Muhammad's mission was supposedly, to correct all of these errors-in-reporting by the corrupt Jews and dishonest Christians and set the record straight for all of humanity. Part of the prescription for cleansing the Earth of this corruption is jihad. The prescriptions promulgated by Muhammad (from God) are clear with regard to Muslims dealing with disbelief in Islam, or rejecting the truth.
So, ISIS is not insane. They are not radical. They do not need jobs, as was evidenced today by the release of the identity of Jihad Johnny; a wealthy Kuwaiti-born Briton, who speaks multiple languages and holds a university degree in computer programming. ISIS and al-Qaeda militants are not rushing into the arms of jihad because, like Richard Gere's character in An Officer and a Gentleman, they "got no place else to go!" There is no other place they want to be.
All Westerners who are itching to know what it is that Muslims are directed to do, regarding jihad, are advised to read Reliance of the Traveler: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law. It is the comprehensive and complete guide to all Muslims on how to live every facet of their lives, from prayer, to hygiene, to jihad. It has existed since the 14th Century when its compiler Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri determined that all Muslims needed a comprehensive manual of shari'ah law on their person as they traveled, presumably engaged in commerce and jihad. It is arguably the leading selling book in the Sunni Muslim world to this day, after the Qur'an. It is as valid and applicable now as it was 600 years ago. Its laws are immutable and it is validated by all major schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence and even receives the coveted al-Azhar University’s (Islam’s premier center of learning), seal of approval.
Reliance of the Traveler's directives (the manual contains no "advice") on everyday affairs like eating, hygiene, praying, commerce, and lending are mundane and they are expected to be followed to the letter by all practicing Muslims. Its directives on jihad are frightening and should be read and understood by all whose eyes were opened by Graeme Woods' article in The Atlantic Monthly. There is a chapter in Reliance dedicated to jihad, Book O (Justice) Chapter 9 (Jihad). It begins:
“Jihad means to war against non-Muslims, and is etymologically derived from the word mujahada, signifying warfare to establish the religion.”
It descends into more frightening (yes, frightening) territory from there, directing (from the Hadith Sahih Imam Muslim) that,
"To go forth in the morning or evening to fight in the path of Allah is better than the whole world and everything in it."
Note, the operative word is not, "struggle," but fight. This is not a mistake nor a mistranslation nor a misunderstanding by radical Muslims. It is a command. And, if you are a Muslim, it is a command from God, alone. It specifically tells Muslims that not only is fighting for Allah good, it is better than the whole world and EVERYTHING in it. This does not leave much room for alternative forms of goodness, including U.S. State Department jobs programs.
Fighting in the path of Allah does not make ISIS fighters radicals, or extremists, or crazies. It makes them correct. We do not have to believe it. But, we and Western leaders who do not desire to witness the practice and aims of jihad cursing their lands had better understand it. Graeme Woods' article was a good start. There is nothing stopping all concerned citizens from fully arming themselves with information straight from the sources of Islam, itself. Read Reliance of the Traveler, specifically Book O (Justice) Chapter 9 (Jihad).
We've got a serious problem on our hands and to better understand it, I am reminded of the famous line from the movie Patton, where George C. Scott, playing the brilliant and complex General, shouted across the desert plains of Carthage, Tunisia, "Roemmel! You magnificent bastard! I read your book!"