Recently, Sarah El Deeb of the Associated Press wrote an article that illustrated the role that Dar el-Ifta is playing in seeking to prevent the acceptance of “an extremist group in Syria and Iraq” as the “Islamic State.” The Dar el-Ifta is “the top authority that advises Muslims on spiritual issues” and is supervised by Shawki Alla, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, who had earlier identified this group “as a danger to Islam as a whole” and said that “extremists violate all Islamic principles.” Ibrahim Negm, an “adviser to the mufti”, has claimed that the Dar el-Ifta is proposing the use of the term “al-Qaida Separatists in Iraq and Syria” (QSIS) instead of the term “Islamic State” by international media. Negm declared this strategy to be a segment of an initiative which:
“…aims to correct the image of Islam that has been tarnished in the West because of these criminal acts, and to exonerate humanity from such crimes that defy natural instincts and spreads hate between people. We also want to reaffirm that all Muslims are against these practices which violate the tolerant principles of Islam.”
The fact that a prominent entity is taking a stand against radical extremism by countering a terrorist organization’s branding has significant positive implications.
The effort taken by the Dar el-Ifta in seeking to term the Syria and Iraq based terrorist group as an offshoot of al-Qaeda rather than as a “state” of its own aims to delegitimize its proclaimed sovereignty. Terrorists calling themselves the “Islamic State” is in itself a branding strategy designed to add international legitimacy to the territorial leads and gains they have acquired. However, if this group becomes increasingly identified merely as an offshoot of an existing terrorist group rather than as a “state,” it may lose legitimacy amongst those it seeks to recruit.
Second, this terming strategy illustrates that the United States does not and need not have a role to play in regards to a debate about Islam. Such a role can prove ineffective, and even counter-productive to U.S. strategy.
As Matthew Wallin points out about President Bush’s efforts to detach “the nature of Islam” with terrorism,
“Though intending to convince people that Islam had nothing to do with the war, the constant comments on the nature of Islam had the opposite effect of actually making discussions of extremist Islam analogous with the war.”
El Deeb also provides the names of other actors, such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia – who condemn the Iraq and Syria-based terrorist group and/or its methods.
If these prominent Islamic figures and organizations are successful in their public diplomacy mission, it will be a win-win situation for the United States and its allies in the region. The United States will not need to get involved in a religious debate, and extremists will be delegitimized.
You can read Sarah El Deeb’s full article here.