Islamic scholars ‘failing to challenge ISIL narrative’

Researchers say study of texts reveals Muslim Brotherhood much closer to violent extremists than to mainstream Islam

LONDON 19th October 2017. Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in his office in London as he is interviewed by Mina al-Oraibi, Editor in Chief of The National and London Bureau Chief Damien McElroy.  Stephen Lock for the National

Claims by groups such as ISIL and Al Qaeda to have theological backing for their brands of violent extremism are going virtually unchallenged by mainstream Islamic scholars, according to a new report by Tony Blair’s research institute.

An analysis of thousands of documents has revealed that religious counter-narratives are failing to confront 85 per cent of the scriptural references used prominently by such terrorist groups to justify their methods.

The analysis revealed that Barack Obama was the second-most cited person in the texts by hard-liners – ahead of former Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al Zawahiri – highlighting their preoccupation with the West as an aggressor against Islam, the report found.

Religious leaders should offer alternative interpretations to “prevent extremists from defining the rules of the game in the battle of ideas”, the report said.


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The study - Struggle Over Scripture: Charting the Rift Between Islamist Extremism and Mainstream Islam – was based on a study of more than 3,000 documents from Islamist extremist and mainstream Muslim sources.

It found that the political Islamism practised by groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood was much closer to the ideology of violent extremism than it was the religious mainstream, the report found.

“The evidence now shows that there is considerable ideological overlap in how Islamic scripture is used by Islamists, like the Muslim Brotherhood, and violent jihadists, such as ISIS and Al Qaeda,” said Dr Emman El-Badawy, head of research at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

“Understanding the ideological proximity of non-violent Islamist and Salafi-jihadism has never been more urgent, as the Muslim Brotherhood is increasingly under the spotlight.

“The fact remains that extremist voices have had an impact on Islam that is wildly disproportionate to their numbers, and their distortions as traced in this report, must be uprooted.”

The report called on governments to fund and establish a centralised online resource where “credible religious voices” can challenge extremist ideologies.