BBC religion editor, a Muslim, says ISIS is certainly 'Islamic'

by Gregory Tomlin, |

LONDON (Christian Examiner) – The head of the BBC's religious programming division has claimed it is wrong to see the Islamic State (ISIS) as anything other than "Islamic."

Professor Aaqil Ahmed, a Muslim himself and the first Muslim to lead the broadcaster's religious division, told an audience at the Lapidomedia Center for Religious Literacy in Journalism in London that the only reasonable explanation for the rise of ISIS is that it is based on a form of Islam.

"I hear so many people say ISIS has nothing to do with Islam – of course it has," Ahmed said. "They are not preaching Judaism. It might be wrong but what they are saying is an ideology based on some form of Islamic doctrine. They are Muslims."

Ahmed was responding to the use of the phrase "so-called Islamic State" by journalists who want to distance Islam from the radical group's actions, which include the genocide of Christians in Iraq and Syria and the killing of other Muslims who do not share their ideology.

Those facts on the ground are what have led President Barack Obama to say on multiple occasions that ISIS is not a representation of Islam. He began using that line of reasoning in 2014 when ISIS began to make significant gains in Iraq and Syria and began to broadcast the beheadings of western journalists.

"No religion condones the killing of innocents," Obama said in an address from the White House. "And the vast majority of [ISIS's] victims have been Muslim. And [ISIS] is certainly not a state. It was formerly al Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria's civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor by the people it subjugates. [ISIS] is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way."

Ahmed, though he wasn't addressing President Obama's comments, said the Islamic character of ISIS is "a fact and we have to get our head around some very uncomfortable things."

"That is where the difficulty comes in for many journalists because the vast majority of Muslims won't agree with them [ISIS]," Ahmed said.

Ahmed is a professor of practice at Middlesex University.