Islamic State Denounces the Pope’s Visit to Iraq as a Conspiracy Against Islam

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 13 March 2021

Al-Naba 277, page 3

The Islamic State (IS) released the 277th edition of its weekly newsletter, Al-Naba, on 11 March 2021. The main editorial focused on the Catholic Pope Francis’ 5-8 March apostolic visit to Iraq, where inter alia a Roman Pontiff for the first time visited Ur, believed to be the birthplace of Abraham, and took Mass in the Chaldean rite (at the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Baghdad).

Al-Naba 277’s main editorial is, as always, on page three; it is entitled, “Messages of the Christian Taghut on His Visit to Iraq”.[1] The article began by noting there had been much attention on the visit of the “Christian idolater ‘the pope’” (taghut al-nasara ‘al-baba’), before denouncing the visit as a scheme for “propagating new Crusader ideas” towards “Muslim countries” (buldan al-muslimeen), especially Iraq, the site, says Al-Naba, of a grinding war for the last two decades between the Muslims and “al-mushrikeen” (idolaters, polytheists). The Pope’s itinerary was said by Al-Naba to be proof of this.

“There is no doubt that [the Papal] visit to the rafida government … is a message of support, and endorses this government of idolatrous criminals”, says Al-Naba.[2] The visit was also meant to showcase the stability of the government, says Al-Naba, with visitors kept in a security bubble that gave the sense the Iraqi state has control on the ground, when in reality “this government is—praise be to God Almighty—in a weakened condition”, unable to suppress the areas of IS military activity, which extend all the way up to Baghdad, and unable even to control the Shi’a-majority centre and south of the country, where there have been protests for the last two years, a result of the political in-fighting among the Shi’a parties and financial mismanagement of Iraq by them.

The “propaganda” about the “stability” of Iraq during the Pope’s visit, says Al-Naba, was designed to “reassure his Crusader friends”, i.e. Western governments, and get them to give loans to an Iraqi state whose viability has been doubted by some in the West since it is so burdened with debt and caught in the middle of “the ongoing struggle between Iran and America”. Al-Naba adds that it cannot be ruled out that “this ‘religious’ visit by the Christian idolater has purely economic goals, and that some party has fully funded it to provide moral support to the rafida government in exchange for collecting important contracts”, which might become public under some other pretext or might be kept private.

Al-Naba continues:

As for southern Iraq, here the Christian idolater unleashed an invitation to a new religion of unbelief and atheism, which the Jews, who are more important than the Crusaders and the tawaghit of Muslim countries, are seeking to promote by fostering a convergence among the followers of the religions that, whether true or false, belong to the Prophet of God, Abraham, … and which they call ‘Abrahamic religions’, based on their claim that the city of Ur, which the Christian idolater visited and from where he launched his proselytising [campaign for this ‘new religion’], is the birthplace of the Prophet of God, Abraham, peace be upon him.

This demonic call was denied by God Almighty from above the Seven Heavens and in the Qur’an, given to His Messenger, Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, it was revealed that this was a lie, this claim of the unbelievers to belong to God’s Prophet, Abraham, peace be upon him, and attributing their false religions to him. The Almighty said: “Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was an upright Muslim and was not an idolater” [Imran: 67].[3]

Naba goes on to claim that Abraham was a Muslim long before the Jews and Christians corrupted the scriptures God gave them, and then offers a fairly standard Islamic condemnation of Christianity as polytheistic because of the Trinity, and to claim Jesus Christ (“al-maseeh bin Maryam”) as a Prophet of Islam that the Christians blasphemously worship as God.

Getting to its point, the Naba editorial says the Pope’s visit to Iraq, launching his call for this new religion while under the protection of a “rafida government” and being granted a meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, was the Shi’a “announcing their entry into this fabricated religion, letting [Jews and Christians] claim … they have included Muslims”.

While much of this speaks for itself, it is worth drawing out two points here:

First, Al-Naba is clearly partly referring to the “Abraham Accords” by which Israel has normalized its diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Undoubtedly, in the minds of IS’s leaders the “Abraham Accords” and the Pope’s visit to Iraq are interconnected parts of the same conspiracy against them, but they regard essentially everything as part of an overarching conspiracy to uproot them, the only custodians of “true” Islam, and thus paradoxically IS does not generally get excited by populist outrages around Israel. IS has never played the Israel “card” all that often, though it has always had it as part of its arsenal, and IS’s new spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Qurayshi, made Israel a focus of his second speech in January 2020. IS joined the condemnation of President Donald Trump moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, of course, but only by portraying it as a symptom of a broader problem and not such a significant event in itself. IS took a similar position when it commented on the “Abraham Accords” directly last summer, choosing mostly to attack the hypocrisy of Muslim rulers, mocking, for example, the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemning the U.A.E., while Turkey has—and has had for many decades—full diplomatic ties with Israel.

Second, IS continues to embed its narrative that the Shi’a are traitors to Islam in two separate yet interrelated senses: IS casts the Shi’a as believing things that take them beyond the bounds of Islam, but because they continue to “claim” to be Muslims it makes them “the enemy within”, a threat to the faith theologically by smuggling heretical concepts under the banner of Islam and a threat to the faithful by conspiring with outside enemies. IS’s founder, Ahmad al-Khaleyleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi) once referred to the Shi’a as the “lurking snake … and malicious scorpion … who wears the garb of a friend”, and returned to the idea many times. It is within this framework of presenting IS’s actions as defensive that Zarqawi implemented a policy of anti-Shi’a atrocities, despite his nominal superiors in Al-Qaeda begging him to stop, and his successors continued this, eventually enacting a full-out genocide in 2014. Evidently there is no intention to “moderate” this course.

Alongside offering support for the Iraqi government and trying to spread this “new religion” to displace Islam, “the third message [of the Pope’s visit] … is the most clear”, says Al-Naba: by raising his “unclean cross over the ruins of Mosul, which his protectors destroyed, he announced that the goal of the Crusade against the Islamic State is a war to remove the law of God Almighty from this land and to establish polytheistic religion in its place”.[4]

IS concludes by asking that God ensure this is the last visit the Pope can take to any Muslim country.


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[1] The full headline is: “rasayal taghut al-nasara fi ziaratah lil-Iraq”. Taghut might not have an easy translation, exactly, but its meaning is quite clear: one who sets up equivalents in worship to God. Since the word is often applied to rulers, “taghut” is sometimes translated as “tyrant”; this is misleading. The accusation being made in calling a ruler “taghut” is that they are an impious tyrant, usually that they are ruling with man-made laws rather than the shari’a alone, and as such have created an equal to God in a realm (law) where God should rule alone—committing the sin of shirk, usually translated as “idolatry” or “polytheism”. The title of the Naba editorial could therefore be rendered, not too inaccurately, as, “Messages of the Christian Idolater on His Visit to Iraq”.

[2] “Rafida”, literally “rejectionists”, is a derogatory term for Shi’is relating to the Shi’a rejection of the first “successors” (caliphs) to the Prophet Muhammad being legitimate. And the exact phrase used about the Iraqi government is “al-hukuma al-taghutiyya al-mujrama”.

[3] The exact phrase used for “unbelief and atheism” is “al-kufr wal-ilhad”; the first word can also be translated as “disbelief” or “infidelity”, and the second is sometimes given as “heresy”, though that Christian concept does not really exist in Islamdom and to the extent it does the word “zandaq” is probably a more precise parallel.

The word for “religions” used by Al-Naba is “al-diyanet” (الديانات), and the interest with this—and with the way it is used to refer to the three sequential monotheisms that descend from the Jewish scriptures as if they are comparable—shows the extent to which, as outlined in Tom Holland’s recent book Dominion, Christian categories dominate the thought and language even of a group like IS that is explicitly dedicated to reversing the Christianized understanding of the world where there can be such a thing as “the secular” separate from “religion”. (Underlining the point, later in the Naba 277 editorial, IS claims that the war against it was an effort to thwart its project of implementing God’s law, the shari’a, as the sole source of authority, erasing infidel concepts of law that amount to polytheism—even as IS continually refers to “religion”.)

“Proselytising” here is a translation of the word “da’wa”, a call or invitation to a creed, often used to refer to missionary work.

Abraham is referred to in the Qur’an as “Ibrahim” and in the quote from Qur’an 3:67, the word in the text translated here as “idolaters” is “mushrikeen”. The quote could thus be rendered: “Ibrahim was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was an upright Muslim and not one of those who associate partners with God”.

[4] Al-Naba uses the phrase “deen al-shirk”, where “deen” is generally given as “religion” or “faith”, and “shirk” is “polytheism” or “idolatry”.

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