Rome (AsiaNews) – The Islamic State (IS) group yesterday released an audio message from its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in which he calls on all Muslims to "emigrate" to the caliphate and carry out jihad, holy war, because "Islam was never a religion of peace” but “is the religion of fighting."
In the 33-minute audio message, Baghadi is heard saying, "And we call upon every Muslim in every place to perform hijrah (emigration) to the Islamic State or fight in his land wherever that may be”.
In view of this, “Has the time not come for you to know that there is no might nor honour nor safety nor rights for you except in the shade of the Caliphate?"
"Islam,” he adds, “was never a religion of peace. Islam is the religion of fighting. No one should believe that the war that we are waging is the war of the Islamic State. It is the war of all Muslims, but the Islamic State is spearheading it. It is the war of Muslims against infidels."
Analysts say that the voice seems to be that of the IS supreme leader. It is clear, assured and, in places, almost melodic, but there is no overwhelming evidence that it is his.
In recent weeks, several media reported that Baghdadi had been severely wounded in a coalition air strike last March. Yesterday's audio message was the first in at least six months. Transcripts of the audio message were posted online in English, French, Russian, German and Turkish.
Previously, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had appeared only once in a video, delivering a sermon in the great mosque of Mosul, at the inauguration of the caliphate last June.
What follows are the thoughts of Fr Samir Khalil Samir, a Jesuit scholar of Islam. The former professor at St Joseph University in Beirut is currently pro tempore dean at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s message is very shrewd because it corresponds to the expectations of a part of the Islamic world. Certainly, Salafi groups, which seek to roll back society to the style and practices of Muhammad’s, will be happy about it and will say: Finally, we find the true Islam!
It should be noted that when talking about emigrating (hijrah), Baghdadi was referring to Muhammad’s migration from Makkah to Madinah, what we call "’hegira’", which marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar world (from 622 AD), i.e. the beginning of the Islamic era.
This migration represents the transition from a peaceful Islam to a bellicose Islam. In Makkah, Muhammad never made war, but seeing that his message was not getting through and that few people bothered to listen to him, and that in fact, his life was at risk, he sent a group of his followers to Ethiopia, a Christian country that was willing to accept him. Instead, he went to Madinah.
There he began to preach and a year later, he began to fight, first against the Makkans, then against the tribes, in order to convert them.
Muhammed won all these wars. Most tribes in Arabia ended up following him. However, they did so because he was a military chief not a religious leader.
Evidence for this lies in the fact that when Muhammad died around 634 AD, many tribes broke away, refusing to fight and pay taxes. As a result of this, the new caliph, Abu Bakr, declared war on them and force them to return to Islam.
They refused, saying that they had made a pact with Muhammad, not with Islam. However, Abu Bakr defeated them and forced them to come back to Islam.
It is interesting that this new "caliph" chose Abu Bakr as his name and that he wants to launch a holy war around the world, to subjugate everyone to Islam.
His call is meant to rekindle an idea that is deeply embedded in Islam, namely: let us all go through our hijrah, let us leave behind all those who want an Islam of peace, and let us move to the true Islam that conquered Arabia first, then the Middle East, then the Mediterranean. This would be the last phase of the prophet’s struggle through his new envoy.
All this is highly symbolic.
Currently, some reports indicate that IS is losing support, that several young men, after arriving in Syria and Iraq to fight, have tried to quit and are now languishing in IS prisons.
Baghdadi’s message then is an attempt to mobilise further Muslims in order to gain the support of more committed young people.
His call will almost certainly shake up Muslim Salafis, whose model is primitive Islam. They take as a model Islam’s first generation, and this will convince many Muslim traditionalists to become Salafis and fight.
Faced with such call to arms, what can be done?
A military fight might be necessary, but it will not be decisive. Military actions will reduce the violence, shed less blood, push back IS, but the movement will continue because it is part of Islam.
The only solution is a radical reform to the internal reading of Islamic history.
When al-Baghdadi says that "Islam was never a religion of peace," he is exaggerating. Islam also had periods of peace. To say that Islam is only war is also a mistake.
Islam is both war and peace. And it is high time for Muslims to re-examine their history.
It is also important to note that the Islamic war is not comparable to the Crusades: The Crusades were at best a limited war to save Jerusalem and the holy sites; it was not a total holy war inspired by the Gospel.
By contrast, war in Islam is always holy if it is made to expand the boundaries of Islam or recover Islamic lands.