Over recent months, the terrorist group Islamic State has dominated newspaper headlines around the world. Their actions are contradictory to the peaceful religion of Islam, but this has not always been made clear by political leaders or the mainstream media. The Gryphon spoke to the president of Leeds University’s Islamic Society* about the actions of – and reactions to – IS.
The Islamic State is very un-Islamic. They are a criminal and extremist organisation that acts in the name of Islam but does not represent the religion or Muslims, contrary to what the media might have you believe. They have hijacked a religion which promotes peace; the actual meaning of ‘Islam’ itself comes from the word ‘peace’ in Arabic. I don’t think Muslims should have to keep defending themselves against another extremist organisation just because they claim to be of the same religion, in the same way that Christians shouldn’t have to defend their religion in defence against the KKK.
How is the media handling this issue in your opinion?
I think the media has been very biased in its reporting. A lot of the time newspapers will have headlines that are quite provocative towards the Muslim community. It’s unfair because for some who do not know or have never heard of Islam, IS have become the face of it. Some media reporting is also complicit in the rise of Islamophobia which is problematic. People feel that there is a threat from the Muslim community which is why one of ISoc’s and other Muslim organisations’ role is to show that it is not the case; Islam is a tolerant religion. The media is the thing which is harming the Muslims the most. As a Muslim when I read a headline saying: “Muslims are killing innocent people in Iraq” it feels unfair as they are not offering the other side of the argument. I do feel like this problem, of Islamophobia will get bigger and bigger for Muslims here in England in the future.
Does the UK and the USA have a right to get involved?
The Islamic Society is an apolitical society. We deal with the actual faith, the belief of Islam. We are not a political society so I cannot comment from the Islamic Society’s perspective but from my own personal perspective I do not know whether it is good or whether it is not. At the end of the day I do not know what their agenda is. If there agenda is to help innocent people then that is great. However, the question that people need to ask themselves is why are they so quick to attack the Islamic State and help the innocent people in Kurdistan and Iraq but are not taking any action to assist the innocent people of Syria, Gaza, Yemen, everywhere in the Middle East and other places around the world.
I think that the problem is that a lot of people think that they can get rid of these groups by fighting fire with fire, using weapons against weapons. Whereas I believe that we should tackle the root cause of extremism because they are a criminal and extremist group who have hijacked the Islamic faith. I think that even if you got rid of them there would still be others that would spring up to replace them due to the oppression in the Middle East and what caused IS to arise in the first place. You have to get rid of the root causes of terrorism and extremism in the Middle East.
What is your opinion on the foreign fighters, who are leaving to fight in the Middle East?
My opinion would be the same for anyone – it does not matter if they are Muslim or none Muslim – going to join a violent criminal organisation is wrong. I feel that anyone who goes there should be held accountable with the IS for what they are doing. However, at the same time, I think that there should be more done in terms of the government and Muslim community by way of educating and raising awareness, because a lot of the people who are going can be brainwashed by people who try to use their religion and faith to make them do these criminal acts. I feel that the government needs to try to educate people more, not just Muslims but non-Muslims too, and try to make sure that they know that these criminal organisations are not representative of Islam. I also believe that the Muslim community should try to do more in terms of educating and raising awareness in the Muslim population here in England.
Abla Klaa and Victoria Hesketh
Photographs: bbcnews.co.uk, wikicommons, ISoc.
*Name redacted at the request of interviewee, 2021.