There has been much press on the decision by ISIS to expel what remained of Mosul’s 1400 year old Christian population yesterday. The attention, and the attendant criticisms, lamentations, and denunciations are thoroughly justified. It is a tragedy for Iraq, the latest of many, but this one is of historic proportions. We had among the oldest Christian populations on earth and now, between Islamist extremism targeting the Christian community and incompetence plaguing our security forces thereby rendering them unable to protect the vulnerable, it is rapidly disappearing, to the dismay let me say of just about every Iraqi Muslim I know (and I know quite a few). In any event, I had little to add to the growing chorus, so I wasn’t going to post, but then I noticed that the actual declaration has not been translated. So I figured I should do that, given its self righteous and highly tendentious claims of Islamicity, along with my own commentary thereto [in brackets and italics]. So here we go.
[Letterhead first, which reads as per below]
Top Right Corner
[Logo of ISIS, which frankly looks like a child scrawling “There is no god but God, Muhammad is the Apostle of God.”]
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate
The Islamic State
[The references to God’s Mercy and Compassion are of course the standard Islamic benediction and would be expected to appear at the top of such a declaration no matter its contents. Still, given the contents and everything else we know about ISIS, one might be tempted to ask them to define “Merciful” and “Compassionate” and explain precisely how these Divine attributes inform their own decisions and actions.]
[I have no idea if they actually have a judicial division, I very much doubt it exists as an independent and professionalized independent unit within the state. Yet their desire to convey an impression of a thoroughly bureaucratized state is nonetheless quite notable.]
Top Right Corner
Number: 40 [40???? The Judicial Division has issued 39 earlier declarations? How have they had time?]
Date: 19/Ramadan/1435 H
[Two things are interesting about this. First, again, the desire to demonstrate some sort of officialdom in their activities, as to legitimize them as the actions of a state. Second, and equally intriguingly, the willingness to include reference to the calendar of Christian origin in a declaration expelling Christians. The reason? Perhaps inertia, everyone else does it, but I suspect that it is for another reason. Within about 3 years people aren’t going to have a clue when the 19th of Ramadan, 1435 actually was. Almost nobody uses that calendar for purposes other than the religious. Ask an Iraqi what happened on the 7th of Safar, 1424, and my odds on bet is that most would have to subtract in their head, think about it for a second then they might, only might, know. (Think about it my Iraqi brothers and sisters, eleven years ago around the Arba’een. What happened?) Give them the Gregorian date of April 9, 2003, there isn’t a soul from Iraq who doesn’t know that one. So the Islamic State succumbs to postcolonial Western influence, of indubitably Christian origin in this case.
Interesting, also, that they did not mention the month name in the Gregorian calendar, only the Islamic. God forbid we take the name of Julius Caesar in an Islamic bayan.]
[Body of Letter]
Praise is to God who strengthened Islam in His Victory, and humiliated polytheism in His might, and He created days for a state in His justice. And peace and blessings on he who God lifted as a light for Islam with his sword, and what is more.
[The reference of ‘polytheism’ here isn’t to Christians I don’t think. That’s not because ISIS would regard Christians as monotheistic, my guess is they would surely not do so. But the references to war and God’s victory make it unlikely he’s referring to Christianity, because they didn’t really achieve any sort of military victory over the Christian population of Mosul. I think it’s a reference to Shi’ism, the idea being that the Shi’i reverence for particular holy figures, and most particularly the male lineal descendants of Muhammad known as the Imams, renders them into polytheists. As polytheism is described in really bad terms in the Qur’an, the one sin God does not forgive, the conclusion respecting the Shi’a is pretty clear. Of course, he does not use the terms more closely associated with Shi’is among Sunni extremists-the rejecters–so an implication to include Christians is possible.]
[More intriguingly, the reference to Muhammad (the one lifted by God, etc.) is very unusually made. In the normal case, peace and blessings are descended unto Muhammad by name, or by an appellation so common it works as a name. “Apostle of God” “the Mustafa [Chosen One]”, etc. along with his progeny and, for Sunnis, often his companions. Here there is reference to sword, to violence, and to precisely the type of image of the Prophet that most Muslims decry. And in so doing, he ended up with a misplaced pronoun. (Whose sword? God’s or Muhammad’s?) Lesson in the end is that ISIS is doing a far better job of spreading negative stereotypes of Islam and its Prophet than the most vicious Islamophobes ever could.
God the Exalted has said,” When some of them said: “why do ye preach to a people whom Allah will destroy or visit with a terrible punishment?”― Said the preachers: “To discharge our duty to your Lord and perchance they may fear Him.” (A’araf: 163)
[I just used the Yusuf Ali translation of this verse, which is broadly adopted. Here’s the funny part, they cited the wrong verse. That is verse 164, not 163. How many lashes does that get you? Beautifully ironic though, all this Islam talk and they can’t even cite to the right verse. In any event, it is a verse and it is not unusual for any Islamist movement to begin its argument with one, the idea being you can’t really argue with God’s word. The problem of course is that the Qur’an is like the Bible, I can quote it to reach more than one conclusion if I’m just going to throw something out there without context. If this were my declaration, I’d start with a different verse (and of course reach a different conclusion). Mine would be
And dispute not with People of the Book except by better means, save those who oppress. And say to them we believe in what was sent to you and what was sent to us, and your God and ours are one, and it is to Him that we submit ourselves. (Ankabut: 46)
or I’d pick
Those who believe, those who follow the Jewish scriptures, the Christians, the Sabians and any who believe in God and the Last Day and do good deeds shall have their reward with the Lord. On them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. (Baqara:62)
I don’t mind if you tell me my postcolonial westernized mind causes me to turn to these verses and not the ones ISIS picked. I’m a Realist, I never denied my own ideological bias. But please, don’t pretend ISIS is the neutral interpreter of Sacred Verse here. Their strong normative preference to stick their middle fingers straight up at the whole of Christendom surely plays a role too. And they materially benefit from confiscating the homes and properties of Iraqi Christians as well, a more direct material benefit than any I gain by virtue of my view.
Also, my citations are correct.]
After notice to the heads of the Nasirites [they used a more archaic name for Christian, a Qur’anic term, to make it more legitimate I’m guessing] and their followers for the date to appear to clarify their situation under the shadow of the Islamic State in the province of Nineveh, they objected and failed to appear at the appointed time designated for them earlier. It had been decided that we would put before them one of three choices:
2. The Covenant of the Dhimma (and this means the taking of jizya from them)
3. If they decline that, then there is nothing left but the sword.
[The reference of dhimma is to the medieval practice of taking a tax from the Christian population and, in many historical instances, degrading and humiliating them in the process of their paying it. This thus rendered them “dhimmis” meaning second class citizens of a sort, protected by the state against violence to be sure, but limited in their activities, often made to wear humiliating or degrading outfits, etc. This is not the only way that the dhimmi status could be practiced, it could be far more humane, but it is one that was practiced this way in many cases, was supported by juristic authorities (not universally of course) and I raise it because I have little doubt that this is what ISIS intended. I should also say that until about two years ago I dismissed all of the dhimmi talk as only so much Islamophobia. I don’t pretend that if I were Christian I’d celebrate the rise of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Sadrists to positions of political authority–I’m Muslim and I don’t celebrate that. However, neither they, nor other mainstream Islamist movements from Nahda to Hezbollah proposed actually taxing Christians and rendering them formal second class citizens. But as our Islamic world appears to be in a continual state of regress, so we have regressed to this in Iraq’s second largest city, the home once of everyone from prominent Jewish intellectuals to Arab pop stars.
The Commander of the Faithful, the Caliph Ibrahim, God strengthen him, has shown benevolence by permitting them to evacuate–by themselves only–to the borders of the Islamic caliphate no later than noon Saturday, which is the 21st of Ramadan, 1435. After that date, there is nothing between us and them but the sword.
Second, I think the most logical way to read this is that had they showed up when ISIS had told them to, they would have been subject to the three choices set forth above of Islam, jizya or death. but they didn’t, so now it’s exile without their property, or death. This is interesting because the things they say they would have done but don’t actually do at least have some historical pedigree as described above. Controversial, not a necessary reading of history, rejected in modernity, but there is something to point to. Of course, though, they didn’t do these things, because the Christians didn’t show up to the meeting. They don’t then announce it on Twitter, though they could have, seeing as how they tweet mass murder, they just leave it as something legitimate and yet foregone for reasons that aren’t their fault.
This then leads them to do the one thing that lacks much pedigree, which is confiscating the entirety of one’s property and exiling them for failing to heed a notification. The idea that the caliph can just wake up and take your stuff because he called you to a meeting and you didn’t show is, at the very least, tendentious, a real stretch. Moreover, it’s described as benevolent, but of course it’s only benevolent relative to killing them, and it’s really hard to find any Islamic justification for that under these circumstances. For what, exactly? It’s not war, you’ve won already, and they haven’t done anything but failed to appear at a meeting or leave the state. I suppose it would be justified as the executive acting in the public interest of the state to preserve it and cause it to prosper but killing people and taking their property is a level of executive discretionary power that would be hard to find much justification for even in medieval juristic manuals.
So again, the stuff they said they would do is controversial but has some historical material from which to draw. That which they do end up doing is far less justifiable under the doctrinal tradition.]
To God is strength, and to His Apostle and the believers, but the hypocrites do not know.
[I agree with ISIS. The hypocrites are ignoramuses who spoil Islam’s name. We just disagree as to their identity.]
State of Nineveh
[Stamp of the Judicial Branch]