Rebranding the 'Islamic State'

FILE - This undated file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, which has been verified and is consist
FILE - This undated file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. Moderate Syrian rebels are buckling under the onslaught of the radical al-Qaida breakaway group that has swept over large parts of Iraq and Syria. Some rebels are giving up the fight, crippled by lack of weapons and frustrated with the power of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Other, more hard-line Syrian fighters are bending to the winds and joining the radicals. (AP Photo/Militant Website, File)

There is no such thing as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

A terrorist group that calls itself by that name not only exists but is causing havoc, death and destruction throughout a large swath of Iraq and Syria.

But to call it an "Islamic State" just is not true.

These terrorists use that term to try to build legitimacy. And the news media are buying into the name so that the general public actually believes that ISIS is a bona fide Islamic state.

While these terrorists insist they are governing under Islamic law and are carrying out their atrocities in the name of Allah, they are nothing but thugs and assassins who are desecrating a religion and blaspheming the name of Allah.

For the news media to shorthand the name of this group as The Islamic State makes many non-Muslims believe that Islam itself is a terrorist religion that enjoys killing not only innocent Westerners, but followers of any other religion who live under their control as well as fellow Muslims who do not adhere to their strict -- and errant -- interpretation of Islam.

These terrorists claim to be fighting for Sunni Muslims in their conflict with Shias. But even the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, the highest authority among Sunni Muslims, has condemned them.

Along with fighting them ideologically, militarily, and economically, we have to fight them with branding. We should refer to them as the Terrorist Assassins of Syria and Iraq, TASI. That is important to shifting the perception of who they are among Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

For years, I have studied what a true Islamic state would look like. I have examined the founding of Islam. I have convened Islamic scholars from throughout the Muslim world, representing all of its sects and many of its nationalities. We have devised a definition of an Islamic state.

A true Islamic state, as practiced by the Prophet Mohammed, requires a ruler who holds office through the acceptance of the people. The ruler must abide by the concept of justice and by God's laws that require the ruler to be compassionate and merciful to the people, just as a parent is to his children.

No one can just come in by force and claim to be the Caliph, as these terrorists in Syria and Iraq have done. No one can kill people indiscriminately and terrorize the population and be considered a Muslim ruler under the dictates of Islam.

Muslim values, as explicitly described in the Quran and in the teachings of the Prophet, guarantee the right to life, the right to family, the right to property, the right to pursue our beliefs the way we want. This is why early Muslim societies were successful and were welcomed by people of other faith traditions because the earliest Muslim rulers ensured freedom of religion under their rule.

Only in the last century has a different interpretation of Islam become oppressive to other faith traditions.

Our group of Islamic scholars devised a rating system to determine which governments came closest to governing with true Islamic principles.

Our findings were startling.

Japan could fit the definition of a true Islamic state much more than Iraq. A true Islamic state is not a threat to the West; it is complementary to Western democracies.

That's why it is so important not to let a bunch of terrorist thugs be given the mantle of an "Islamic State." We may be decades away from achieving a true Islamic state in Iraq and Syria. The region must heal from more than a century of colonial domination, Cold War conflict, despotic regimes, and economic stagnation that has left so much of the population grasping for anything to assert their power and address political grievances.

But in the end, Muslims will want to create governing systems that allow them to embrace Islam while engaging in the modern world.

It won't be a government that kills western journalists because the Quran specifically condemns the killing of innocents. It won't be a state that tries to eliminate people who do not embrace a particular form of Islam. That too is condemned. And it won't be a state where the ruler maintains power by coercion over the majority of his people.

Yet every news story and headline -- and they are everywhere now -- that refers to these horrendous people as "The Islamic State" feeds their legitimacy while undermining the positive attributes of Islam. It's not an Islamic State just because a bunch of thugs says it is. If the news media call it that, the thugs and terrorists win.

That's why Muslims and Westerners must unite against the Terrorist Assassins of Syria and Iraq.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is the Chairman of Cordoba Initiative, a multi-national, multi-faith organization dedicated to improving Muslim-West relations.