When so-called Khalifa Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi established the Caliphate, ISIS (or ISIL) tapped into something we deeply care about: the plight of the Ummah. Hearing ISIS’s promises of purity, protection and prosperity, many people felt that Allah (SWT) had finally answered their prayers.

But the dream soon ended when people realized that the group wasn’t a real caliphate; wasn’t acting Islamically; and was responsible for killing and subjugating thousands of other Muslims. Indeed, anyone perceived as standing in the way of ISIS’s blood-thirsty quest for power was, at times, brutally and barbarically eliminated.

The question we must now ask ourselves: How can we avoid falling into a similar trap?

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It’s important to critically analyse any message that sounds too good to be true. Like other things in life, chances are that it is.

In the case of ISIS, its media team would strategically cherry-pick parts of the Qu’ran and Hadith to support their arguments. By using verses out of context, they’d create compelling arguments for almost anything, including the unsanctioned use of violence.

This theological manipulation took place alongside carefully crafted emotional messaging. ISIS would blend pop culture, supporter testimonials and powerful iconography (mimicking the ancient tradition of the mujahedeen) to win the hearts of Muslims everywhere.

It was a clever strategy of positioning ISIS as the defenders of the Ummah and Islam - even though this organization’s acts of violence killed more Muslims than any other group.

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There’s a lot of pain and suffering in the world today, which can make it harder to think with our head rather than our hearts.

It’s easy to get swept up in the hype and to forget to ask ourselves: ‘Does Islam really allow this?’

But it’s our collective responsibility to be aware and engaged.

Now, and every day, we should be making a commitment to:

  • Seek knowledge and understanding from multiple sources, especially as it relates to our faith
  • Ensure that our religious education is being shaped by multiple learned people who are properly qualified and, ideally, can trace their instruction back to the Prophet (PBUH) through ijaza
  • Avoid making decisions in a highly emotional state
  • Honestly and fearlessly ask ourselves what really motivates us to action

In this way, we can avoid falling into a similar trap when the next ISIS comes along.