Thousands of ISIS documents show that its early recruits were ignorant of Islam. For a group supposedly driven by religion, you would think that’s not a good thing, but it’s actually ideal for ISIS.

Ignorant recruits are ideal for the terror group, because it allows for the easy imposition of a radical interpretation of Islam. Since the recruits don’t know much about the normal interpretation of Islam, they are ill-equipped to argue with the ISIS interpretation, which allows for the bloodshed and territory takeovers the group is famous for.

The documents showed that, of three levels denoting knowledge of Islam, 70% of recruits were at the lowest level, “basic.” About 24% had “intermediate” knowledge, and only about 5% were “advanced.”

  • The recruits described in the documents were brought into ISIS by smooth talking recruiters.
  • Once they joined, they were kept in safe houses and shown propaganda videos on Islam.
  • They were also visited by Imams who told them the supposed merits of martyrdom.
  • In his trial, the recruit Karim Mohammad-Aggad who was the brother of one of the Bataclan killers, said, “My religious beliefs had nothing to do with my departure. Islam was used to trap me.”
  • He also couldn’t answer questions on Shariah or how ISIS implements it.
  • When asked about whether beheadings are allowed by Islamic law, another defendant at the trial said, “I don’t have the authority.”
  • Two of the recruits from the UK said they had ordered copies of the books “The Koran for Dummies” and “Islam for Dummies” before leaving for Syria to join ISIS.

If radical religious beliefs aren’t the motivator for these recruits, what is?

An ex-CIA case officer turned security consultant, Patrick Skinner, says these recruits are looking for “a sense of belonging, a sense of notoriety, a sense of excitement,” but that for them religion is “an afterthought.” These recruits often have identity issues and their lack of knowledge of the Quran means they can’t challenge their commanders or Imams. Skinner said if it was religion they were interested in, they would be going to Al Azhar in Cairo, a significant place of Islamic religious learning for the past thousand years, instead of joining ISIS.

ISIS’ top commanders are more often not Islamic scholars, but former Hussein regime senior officials. It is the duty of true scholars of Islam to show that ISIS is distorting the message of Islam and to promote a message of peace louder than the ISIS message of martyrdom and terror.

Image credit: Wikimedia.