Ever since June 2014, when ISIS formed an official name in Iraq and Syria, there has been so much news and coverage of their every move. And now, every other day there have been attacks all over the world from Tunisia to France.
But is ISIS new? Or has it been terrorising religious minorities for centuries under different names?
What/who is ISIS?
First off, let us define this group:
Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), otherwise known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or more recently as Islamic State (IS), is a radical cult of terrorists in the Middle East seeking to form one state in which they will rule all the Muslims of the world.
They were initially known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq, up until around 2013 when they gained ground from other various jihadi groups such as al-Nusra front and the rebels opposing Syrian PM Bashar al-Assad.
What do they want?
The leading members of ISIS have officially announced an establishment of a “caliphate”, a state governed in accordance with ‘Islamic’ Sharia law, meaning that regardless of whether or not there is already a government in place, any area they dominate will be subject to their laws only.
Their main goal is to have Muslims from all across the world to swear allegiance to their leader – Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. They also encourage migration to any land controlled by the cult. It demand that even other jihadist groups must accept its supreme authority and pay allegiance, many of whom already have. Any obstacle to their aims results in death or severe punishment.
Lesley Hazleton is a British-American author whose work focuses on politics, religion, and history in the Middle East. In her book After The Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam, she writes:
“Muawiya, now the undisputed fifth Caliph, entered Kufa with all due pomp and circumstance. He gave the Kufans three days to swear allegiance to him, and did not need to spell out what would happen if they refused. Swear they did on the first day, and with enthusiasm.”
We can see that, like Al-Baghdadi, Muawiya also claimed to be a righteous caliph and forced people to swear allegiance to him or else they are serious punished or killed.
Who and how do they punish?
The main factor that distinguishes ISIS from other jihadist groups is their range of punishment techniques. This varies from beheadings, mass rape, burning people alive and chopping off limbs to even cannibalism, and these inhumane ways have been and are still implemented on anyone who opposes their illegitimate caliphate, or anyone who does not identify with their sect.
But when someone takes the time to look through the history of certain leaders of dynasties in Middle Eastern history, it is not a surprise to see that there have been caliphs with the exact same policies and attitudes towards those who speak out against oppression.
The example I wish to focus on is that of the Umayyad dynasty in Syria and Iraq, which lasted from 661–750 AD.
The very first beheading to take place during the Islamic period was of Ammar Ibn Yasir, one of the close companions of the Prophet Muhammad. Amongst other sources, the renowned historian, scholar and leader of the Hanbali orthodox Sunni Islamic school of jurisprudence Ahmad Ibn Hanbal narrates the following tradition in his book Musnad ibn Hanbal:
“In the Battle of Siffin, the head of Ammar Yasir (ra) was cut off and taken to Muawiya, two people were arguing over it, each one claimed that he had killed Ammar.”
Muawiya’s son, Yazid, also had a lot of blood on his hands from persecuting critical voices such as Muslim, son of Aqil. The following passage was written by reputable Sunni scholar al-Tabari, in his book Tareekh al-Tabari:
“They (Ibn Ziyad and Bakr b. Humran al Ahmari) took him (Muslim ibn Aqil) to a part which overlooked where the shoemakers are today. His head was cut off (and thrown down) and his body was made to follow his head.”
The men of Yazid were ordered to kill any voice that defended the truth and sought justice.
“Al-Hurr bin Yazid’s horse was lamed. He dismounted and began to shout:
“You have lamed my (horse) but I am the son of freedom and braver than a maned lion.”
He struck out against them with his sword but a great number came against him. Ayyub b. Musarrih and another of the Kufan horsemen shared in killing him.”
Yazid was also largely responsible for the massacre at Karbala in 680AD, where he annihilated the Prophet’s beloved grandson and extended family. This story, which is too detailed to be summarised in a couple of sentences, has had a universal effect and has attracted and influenced some of the greatest minds including Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle, William Muir and even Mahatma Gandhi.
Back to the original point: the instances above are just a small percentage of the sources proving that 14 centuries ago, there was an ISIS. A caliphate system that calls itself Muslim yet thrives in the most un-Islamic ways. An oppressive reign that kills, with the most ruthless of methods, those who wish not to submit to them or pay allegiance.
By now, it is clear to see how despicably the ‘caliphs of Islam’ behaved during the Umayyad dynasty. It is also obvious that the majority of those who were killed were Muslims (the Prophet’s companions and family) – ultimately drawing the biggest question mark on their trueness to the religion.
Whilst ISIS are killing Shias, Yazidis, Christians, moderate Sunnis and essentially anyone who disagrees with them, let’s remember that the Umayyads started the trend of beheading.
Whilst ISIS hide their vile actions underneath the banner of Islam, let’s remember that the Umayyads called themselves ‘princes of the believers,’ whilst having the filthiest reputations for openly drinking alcohol, being womanisers and of course murdering.
And here’s the thing: all terror groups, from the Umayyads to modern-day ISIS, have survived by two ways: either scaring people through fear-mongering rumours/media, or manipulating the minds of the masses via different means, e.g. claiming to be an ambassador of religion.
So unless people wake up and realise their power, and unless they overcome their fear of revolting against such tyranny, terrorism will never be defeated.
Thus, it is not a coincidence. History often repeats itself, only this time the media coverage is broader.