CAIRO — The top Islamic authority in Egypt, revered by many Muslims worldwide, launched an Internet-based campaign Sunday challenging an extremist group in Syria and Iraq by saying it should not be called an "Islamic State."
The campaign by the Dar el-Ifta, the top authority that advises Muslims on spiritual and life issues, adds to the war of words by Muslim leaders across the world targeting the Islamic State group, which controls wide swaths of Iraq and Syria. Its violent attacks, including mass shootings, destroying Shiite shrines, targeting minorities and beheadings including American journalist James Foley, have shocked Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
The Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shawki Allam, previously said the extremists violate all Islamic principles and laws and described the group as a danger to Islam as a whole. Now, the Dar el-Ifta he oversees will suggest foreign media drop using "Islamic State" in favor of the "al-Qaida Separatists in Iraq and Syria," or the acronym "QSIS," said Ibrahim Negm, an adviser to the mufti.
This is part of a campaign that "aims to correct the image of Islam that has been tarnished in the West because of these criminal acts, and to exonerate humanity from such crimes that defy natural instincts and spreads hate between people," Negm said according to Egypt's state news agency MENA. "We also want to reaffirm that all Muslims are against these practices which violate the tolerant principles of Islam."
Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi also weighed in. On Sunday, speaking to editors of Egyptian newspapers, he said the extremist group is part of a plot aiming to "undermine Islam as a belief."
He said the current religious discourse in the region only feeds "minds that believe that killing and bloodshed is the way to defend Islam," in comments carried by MENA.
El-Sissi has been a champion of advancing moderate Islam, building his power base in the chaotic region and since he ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi on vows to crush extremist Islam.
The mufti's adviser Negm said the Internet and social media campaign will include opinions by Islamic scholars from around the world about the group and its claims to represent Islam. It also will include a hashtag campaign on Twitter and videos from Muslims denouncing the group and its methods.
The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheik Abdul-Aziz Al-Sheik, had also called the group Islam's No. 1 enemy. The world's largest bloc of Islamic nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said Saturday that the actions of the group, including Foley's beheading as well as the targeting of minorities, have nothing to do with the values of Islam. The 57-member state group is based in Saudi Arabia.
Muslims around the world have battled against the backlash that followed the rise of al-Qaida and the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the U.S. Scholars and activist groups have sought for years to disassociate themselves from militants touting their own extremist versions of Islam.
They say the Islamic State group is another, one that appears more ambitious and aggressive than al-Qaida. The Islamic State group renamed itself on June 29 when it unilaterally declared the territory it held in Iraq and Syria a caliphate, effectively erasing the two countries' borders and setting up a proto-state governed by its own strict interpretation of Shariah law. It previously referred to itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant while fighting in Syria against the rule of President Bashar Assad.
Since June 29, The Associated Press has referred to the extremists' organization as the Islamic State group or its combatants as Islamic State fighters. Many other media organizations did the same, while some refer to it by its previous name.
The Islamic State group has a sophisticated media and Internet-based campaign that has drawn in foreign fighters, which may explain why Islamic scholars chose to adopt a similar approach. But it's unclear how successful this latest push against the group will be.
Dar el-Ifta is famed among scholars of Islamic jurisprudence and has offered training to many Muslims from around the world since the late 1800s. But its opinions are advisory and are often viewed as too close to official government positions.
Online: Dar el-Ifta: http://eng.dar-alifta.org/foreign/default.aspx