Muslims from across the Middle East haven taken to social media to denounce the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) following the release of a new video in which it targets a list of well-known, moderate preachers.
In the video, released in February through ISIL's Deir Ezzor media centre, the group incites against popular Islamic scholars known for their moderate views and their rejection of ISIL and its extremist ideology.
Via hundreds of posts on social media that showed a groundswell of support for the named preachers, the Arab world made it clear it denounced this incitement.
In the video, titled "Fight the Imams of Kufr", ISIL urges lone wolves in Egypt, the Levant, Khorasan, West Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Maghreb, Europe, the Caucasus and elsewhere to kill Muslim scholars who oppose it.
The video shows photographs of various scholars and preachers, along with statements they have made denouncing ISIL, and accuses them of supporting "tyrants" and of "complicity with infidels".
Among them are Grand Imam of al-Azhar Ahmed al-Tayeb, International Union of Muslim Scholars president Yusuf al-Qaradawi and former Grand Mufti of Egypt Sheikh Ali Gomaa.
In a February 14th statement, Egypt's Dar al-Ifta fatwa observatory warned that the video indicates the group is trying to "activate its sleeper cells and lone wolves in all Arab and Islamic countries to make up for its battle losses".
The video also reveals, through its depiction of former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, that ISIL is seeking to entice al-Qaeda elements and other extremists to join its ranks, Dar al-Ifta warned.
Distortion of the Qur'an
ISIL continues to distort the Qur'an to suit its terrorist and bloody whims, said Abdullah al-Muqrin, professor of comparative jurisprudence at Mecca's Umm al-Qura University.
"The group used one sentence in the Qur'an as the basis of its video, ‘Fight the Imams of Kufr’ to indicate that the imams in question are current Muslim clerics who incite rejection of the group’s ideas and terrorism in general," he said.
The title phrase, taken from verse 12 of the Qur'an's Surat al-Tawba, relates to the early days of Islam and specifically refers to the Quraish tribe of Prophet Mohammed, which was still rejecting Islam at the time, al-Muqrin said.
It refers to those who had lied by professing their faith in Islam but then reverted to the worship of false gods of the era and disparaging the faith.
This is clearly not the case with the clerics targeted in ISIL's video, he said.
Since its inception, ISIL, like al-Qaeda, "has always exploited the ignorance of multitudes of Muslims of the correct interpretation of the Qur'an and twisted and distorted Qur'anic verses to promote its terrorist ideas", he said.
It does this in an attempt to justify its criminal actions and to "spur Muslim youth to commit criminal and terrorist acts under the guise of religion", he said.
After years of exposure, however, Muslims are increasingly aware of the way extremist groups such as ISIL attempt to manipulate religion for their own purposes, he said.
These days, when videos such as ISIL's recent release include unfamiliar religious edicts, Muslims are more likely to seek a correct interpretation and to verify the content, he said.
"This is attributable to the clerics’ success in their mission of exposing ISIL, which is the reason the group has issued a death sentence against them," he said.
Targeting moderate clerics
The clerics targeted by ISIL "have large popular bases because of their moderate views that call for the rejection of extremism and terrorism", said Fadel al-Hindi, a supervisor at the King Abdulaziz University Centre for Social and Humanities Research.
"These bases did not materialise overnight, but were rather earned after many years of effort, lessons, sermons, interpretations and fatwas," he told Al-Mashareq.
ISIL’s videos, especially those that contain incitement the group claims is based on the Qur'an, "are the subject of ridicule among the youth", said Saudi national Khodr Mohammed Abdul Rahim, a student at Al-Azhar University’s faculty of sharia and law.
The latest video was widely rejected among his peers, he told Al-Mashareq, because it incited against imams known for their moderate views.
Instead of attracting youth to ISIL, he said, the video had the opposite effect.
"Many people became interested in learning about the views of the clerics whose names were mentioned for rejecting the extremist ideology," he said.
In a statement denouncing the video, Al-Azhar stressed that "the group wants to pit Muslim against Muslim, which is considered by Muslims a sure indication of going rogue", Abdul Rahim said.
The video itself is tangible evidence of the success of the scholars’ mission to counter the group’s extremist ideology, he added.