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The Unprecedented Muslim Backlash Against ISIS

Updated on October 3, 2015

Muslims say no to ISIS's brutality

The religious extremist group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS) – also known as ISIS or ISIL – is universally despised. It has been accused of numerous atrocities, including crucifixions, stonings, beheadings, live burials, rape, mass executions, slavery, and genocide. Large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria are now under its control, where it has imposed harsh Sharia Law and conducted ethnic cleansing. Unsurprisingly, IS has drawn extensive international opprobrium. What is unprecedented, though, is the amount of public condemnation of IS from Muslims – not just Islamic governments, but clerics, the media, and ordinary people. All around the world, the message is the same: IS does not truly represent Islam, and its actions directly contradict Islam’s teachings.

A letter to ISIS

One significant source of criticism has been from Muslim clerics and scholars – those who have actually studied Islamic teachings extensively – as opposed to IS fighters, who order copies of “Islam for Dummies” before leaving their home countries to go slaughter innocents ( In one such incidence of condemnation, 125 Muslim leaders gathered in Washington, D.C, to write a 17 page letter to al-Bagdhadi, IS’s leader, explaining why IS’s crimes are “wrong” and an “offense to Islam, to Muslims and to the entire world” ( The letter describes specific actions of IS and how they violate specific verses in the Quran and instructions of the Prophet Muhammad. Among the professed violations is the killing of innocents, torture, forced conversions, killing aid workers and journalists, and disfiguring the dead. The letter’s signatories aren’t so naïve as to expect their efforts to compel IS to change. The intention is to reach out to Muslims in general, in order to persuade them from joining or funding IS. Such unified action from Muslim scholars is now possible because only recently has the Muslim community become sufficiently organized. In another display of opposition, a Syrian cleric took part in a debate with IS fighters, which was recorded over walkie-talkies and broadcast over radio stations of Syrian rebels. The cleric tried desperately to expose the jihadists’ ignorance.

Survey finds Syrians disapprove of ISIS.

Even radical Islamists reject ISIS

Importantly, criticism of IS has come not just from moderate religious authorities, but many radical Islamists as well. This includes not only clerics and scholars, but even terrorist organizations, such as Al Qaeda and its affiliates in Syria and Yemen, as well as other jihadist groups in Syria. IS was formerly Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq until it was kicked out, in part because of its excessive brutality.

Muslim scholars and clerics send letter to ISIS

The Islamic State is not Islamic

Criticism has been directed not only at IS’s actions, but the name “Islamic State” itself. Many Muslims have expressed concern that this name would grant IS legitimacy and unfairly represent Islam. As a result, some have publicly rejected this label and opted for others instead. Members of the Islamic Society of Britain and the Association of British Muslims wrote a letter to the Prime Minister asking that the group be referred to as the “Un-Islamic State,” or UIS. Some representatives of Islamic associations in the U.S, as well as Egypt’s top Islamic authority, expressed similar wishes, refusing to refer to the group by any name containing the word “Islamic.” For the same reason, the Los Angeles based Muslim Public Affairs Council vowed to continue calling them ISIS (never mind the meaning behind the acronym). Some have begun using the term Daesh, an acronym for IS’s name in Arabic. Daesh has been embraced in part for its negative connotation, as it is similar to the Arabic word for “crush." Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, sometimes refers to the group as “The Evil State.” UN secretary general Ban-Ki Moon – although not a Muslim – has referred to it as the “Un-Islamic Non-State.”

Al Qaeda kicks out ISIS

Muslim comedians mock ISIS

Despite IS’s jarring brutality, some Muslims have found humor in it all. The group has become the target of a dark brand of satire by Arab comedians and others in the Muslim media, who use cartoons and skits to mock IS’s savagery and medieval interpretation of Islam. An article in Foreign Policy by Siobhan O’Grady describes two such sketches:

“In a recent comedy skit on Palestine's Al-Falastiniya TV station, three men dressed as Islamic State soldiers lean against their jeep in the countryside and tell a passing car to pull over. After reminiscing with the Lebanese driver about their time in Beirut listening to pop music and hanging out with local girls, they shoot the driver dead for misremembering how many times to bow when entering a mosque.

In Lebanon, the popular, satiric Ktir Salbe Show recently released a sketch where a taxi driver picks up a jihadi and offers to turn off the air conditioning because it wasn't available in the early days of Islam. The jihadi declines and then takes a call on a cell phone, prompting the driver to kick him out and tell him to wait for a camel ride instead.” (

Such skits, which have a long history in the heavily autocratic Muslim world, are a small yet appreciated act of resistance against a big and powerful enemy.

This Muslim skit makes fun of ISIS.

On social media, Muslims use hashtags to criticize ISIS

Criticism of IS, though, need not come only from television or powerful Islamic figures. At the heart of the movement are ordinary Muslims. Social media has become an important front in this global grassroots campaign of defiance. Tens of thousands of tweets have been posted using the hashtag #NotInMyName, as a way for Muslims to distance themselves and their religion from the savage brand of Islam practiced by IS. A YouTube video promoting the campaign has been viewed over 200,000 times. Many in Lebanon have joined the #BurnISISFlagChallenge, following IS’s capture of over 30 Lebanese police officers and soldiers, one of whom was beheaded. Another popular hashtag was seen in Iraq. When IS fighters captured the city of Mosul, they marked the houses of Christians with the letter “N," which stands for “Nasara,” an old Arabic word for Christian which implicates it as a false religion. In response, both Muslims and Christians in Iraq have used the hashtags #WeAreN and #IAmNazrene to display solidarity in opposition to IS.

#NotInMyName: Muslims take to social media, use hashtags to protest ISIS.

Kurds and other Muslims protest against ISIS

Other Muslims have taken the resistance to the streets. Anti-IS protests have occurred in Paris and elsewhere in Europe. The Kurds – an ethnic group of the Sunni branch of Islam – have held their own protests in Turkey and Europe. Kurdish protests have in part targeted the Turkish government for not doing enough to combat IS, which is on the verge of capturing the Kurdish city of Kobani, located in Syria along the Turkish border. Turkey has a large Kurdish population, and is in the midst of a peace process after decades of fighting Kurdish separatists. Resistance has also come from ordinary Syrians. Some who live in IS-controlled territory have revolted against its oppressive rule. IS fighters have brutally crushed such mutinies, executing hundreds. Its rule relies largely on brute force, as it has little legitimacy. A recent poll found that only 4% of Syrians support the group. Then, of course, there are the Syrian rebels, many of whom oppose and have fought IS. The U.S. has led an international coalition to arm and train some of the rebels, as well as Iraqi and Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria, with whom IS has also battled.

Pew survey finds many Europeans disapprove of Muslims.

Muslims reject Islamophobia

While most Muslims oppose IS, not everyone has joined the fray. Why should they, after all, feel obliged to condemn a group which in no way represents them? Some have expressed indignation at a perceived notion that Islam itself is being blamed for the actions of one fringe organization. They decry Western misperceptions of Islam, and view the anti-IS campaign as a Muslim apology. Some have taken to social media to mock IS’s critics, sarcastically apologizing for Muslim contributions to society and condemning negative stereotypes of Islam. One Twitter user, @wanderd0gs, wrote: “I’m sorry for inventing surgery, coffee, universities, algebra, hospitals, toothbrushes, vaccinations, numbers, & the sort.” Another, @yafavoritearab, said: “Don’t expect me to apologize for ISIS. I actually deserve an apology for your narrow-minded stereotype of me.” Some such posts have contained the hashtag #Muslimapologies, which was Britain’s top trending item at one point. (

Pew survey finds many see Islam as more violent

ISIS is not Islamic, say Muslims

It is unfortunate that such stereotypes have become common, and that there exists an apparent expectation among some that Muslims in general should feel obliged to publicly condemn a group which represents only a small minority. Nonetheless, such condemnation is not without value. There is an understanding among Muslims that Islam has a negative reputation in the West. Surveys have reflected this reality. A pew poll found that 63% of Italians view Muslims in their country unfavorably, with similarly high numbers in Greece, Poland, and Spain (53%, 50%, and 46% respectively). In another Pew survey, 50% of respondents said that Islam is more likely than other religions to promote violence. Muslim criticism of IS could help to counter such stereotypes, and evidently, many seek redemption. Since 9/11, some have repeatedly denounced the perceived failure of Muslims to sufficiently rebuke terrorism. Such criticism is evident in the media as recently as August. Now, such folks can no longer credibly make such claims. This unprecedented excoriation of extremism, however, does more than alleviate concerns of the West. It addresses the underlying cause of IS’s savagery by discrediting their radical beliefs. In an age where the MENA region is in flames, where tens of thousands have needlessly lost their lives, ostensibly in the name of Islam, such condemnation is more important than ever.

Thank you so much for reading!!! Please comment your opinions and follow me.

Here are some sources:

In Lebanon, Activists Nominate Everyone for #BurnISISFlagChallenge

Middle East Comedians Respond to Islamic State Violence With Black Humor


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    • Luke Souders profile imageAUTHOR

      Luke Souders 

      4 years ago from Baltimore-D.C. metropolitan area

      Thank you, Mr. Schneider. I believe the Islamic State and their caliphate are bound to fall eventually. First, they have no legitimacy. Their rule relies mostly on fear. People reject their brutality and oppression. Second, the entire international community has been mobilized against them, and will never allow them to exist. They will continue to be degraded and destroyed with Western and Middle Eastern military power. IS and their caliphate will forever be isolated from the global economy, and their sources of funding will continue to be attacked. I highly doubt that a state or anything resembling a state could survive under such conditions.

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 

      4 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Excellent Hub, Luke. I hope you are right about this Muslim outrage against ISIL. It is critical for Islam to rise up against these murderers. My fear is that they won't and it ends up being a Holy War of West against East. This fight may also prove to be a wider Sunni-Shia war. let us hope the region wakes up and stops these phony warriors.


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