The following pronouncement originated with Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Rulings by Al-Azhar are instructive, because there is no higher authority on Sunni Islamic doctrine. The institution is the closest equivalent to the Vatican that can be found in Islam.
Al-Azhar has now declined to pronounce takfir against the Islamic State, which would have placed the Caliph and his followers outside of Islam. This raises an important question: if Al-Azhar — whose scholars know more about Sunni Islam than anyone else in the world — will not anathematize ISIS, how can dilettantes such as Barack Obama and David Cameron declare so confidently that the Islamic State “has nothing to do with Islam”?
Al-Arabiya published an article about the ruling by Al-Azhar. Ritamalik has kindly translated it from the Arabic, and includes this introductory note:
Al-Azhar refused to pronounce takfir (Islamic anathema) on ISIS. However, their reasoning is really creative.
They basically say that nobody is outside of Islam unless he himself says he is. But the funny thing is, all these restrictions that they now suddenly feel in the business of anathematising ISIS because of have in the past always been completely absent whenever they rushed to pronounce takfir on anyone who wanted to somehow “reform” (water down) Islam or modernise the Quran or the Hadith. They just pronounced the takfir with no qualms about it, and the poor “reformer” fellow usually was put in prison or killed by vigilantes or went into hiding.
But now suddenly “moderate” middle-of-the-road Al Azhar cannot pronounce takfir on any ISIS member unless he renounces his shahada, the declaration that “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet”!
Below is the translation of the article. Ritamalik’s comments and explanatory remarks are in parentheses:
Al Azhar refused to pronounce takfir (anathema) on the group ISIS, and stressed the fact that a Muslim can not be denounced as kafir, regardless of his sins. Al Azhar announced on Thursday that during his speech in the assembly against violence and extremism at Noble Al Azhar, Sheikh Ibrahim Salih Al Husseini, the Mufti of Nigeria, didn’t agree to pronounce takfir on ISIS and groups like them, but explained their actions are not actions of the followers of Islam, but come forth from those who are not Muslims.
The statement pointed out that ISIS is neither explicitly nor implicitly anathematised by Sheikh Al Husseini’s phrase. All that he said was that: “Those (religious) innovators who act in a an extremist fashion are tainted with corruption, and the extremists and ISIS contrary to their claim to the Caliphate are nothing but muharibun (literally meaning ‘fighter’, but in Islamic lingo it means ‘fighters against Allah and his religion’) who spread corruption, indecency, and murder, and then they proceed to pronounce takfir on other people who try to check their thuggery and prostitution. And indeed their (religious) innovation is greater than those of the ‘Kharijites’ (a group among the first generation of Muslims who turned on and were put down by Ali Ibn Abi Talib, the fourth Caliph, and were famous for pronouncing takfir on other Muslims and killing them under that pretext), who fought Musilm/Kafirs, and killed Muslims, and pronounced them kafir because of their actions.”
The statement made clear that all the scholars in the assembly know for sure that they cannot pronounce takfir on a believer, no matter how grievous his evil deeds are, but only through the determined principles of the Islamic faith which say: “Indeed a slave of Allah is not out of the faith unless he denies the doctrines that he affirmed in order to enter the faith, which were a testimony to the oneness of Allah and the prophethood of Muhammad PBUH, and his sins, no mater how grievous, will not cause the slave of Allah to leave Islam.”
The statement points out that this assembly to begin with was convened in order to confront the idea of takfir of others and considering them outside of orthodoxy, pointing out that if we condemn them to takfir we would become like them and would begin to participate in the fitna (mischief) of takfir, and such an approach is not acceptable for the moderate institution of Al Azhar under any circumstances.