Converses of Wisdom

Abdullah al Andalusi

610938075I redacted, amended and enlarged an old Poem I had written quickly featuring a play of discourses between a narrator and many interlocutors of differing faiths, beliefs and political persuasions. The old poem was called a ‘Converse of Wisdom’, but I decided to rename it ‘Converses of Wisdom’ to illustrate the many conversations being had, and how each line was the converse of the other. Of course, it could be said that the poem guides one to deal with interlocutors who make arguments which are the converses of wisdom.

Converses of Wisdom

The Skeptic said “What if you are wrong?”

I said “What if I am right?”

The Atheist said “How is there a Creator?”

I said “How is there a Creation?”

The Christian said “Love God and worship Jesus”

I said “Love Jesus and worship God”

The Jew said “God will always be true…

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All News is Deception

Sahih al-Bukhari 3029
Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said: “War is deception.

Note that although war tactics and strategy are based on deception, Islam prohibits being treacherous like violating peace treaties and covenants. This is evident from how the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ never broke his treaties when he was the political ruler of Medina, nor was treacherous while using the “visa” covenant of protection when living under the authority of the tribal rulers of Mecca.

Sun Tzu, Art of War Chapter 1 #18
“All warfare is based on deception.”

Realize that when discussing war, business and politics, much of it is about deception.

Most of us are just simple people trying to raise our families and live in peace. We don’t have multi million dollar  spy agencies at our disposal and our time is limited. Thus we are not able to investigate much of the news, both from mainstream and from independent reporters, without having to trust sources which likely are in the business of deceiving us.

Disconnecting completely is also not possible, because others around us are taking action upon mere suspicions, over generalizations and out right lies. Western democracies are willing to “democratically” wage war killing millions based on fabricated lies. The same is true for most people. Thus it is important to know what is going on.

It is often impossible to know the truth. But it usually very clear to spot the lies, because lies contradict each other, lies contradict the truth and lies often contradict themselves!

Ask yourself
“What are they trying to make me do, selling me this information?””How come a lot of the news is self contradicting, inconsistent or hypocritical?”
“How do they know this? What are their sources?”

So stop and think, before you overreact and regret.

On ISIS using Prophetic Symbols: The Importance of learning History

The tricky thing about Prophecy predicting future events is that you usually only recognize the prediction after it has already happened. This is because if people try to “force” predictions, by copying the signs, they usually turn out to be false.

The Black Flags of Khorasan

Sunan Ibn Majah 4084 (Daif)
It was narrated from Thawban that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:
“Three will fight one another for your treasure, each one of them the son of a caliph, but none of them will gain it. Then the black banners will come from the east, and they will kill you in an unprecedented manner.” Then he mentioned something that I do not remember, then he said: “When you see them, then pledge your allegiance to them even if you have to crawl over the snow, for that is the caliph of Allah, Mahdi.”

Some say ISIS are the good army Muslims should join as predicted in the hadith. But realize that in history many armies have already claimed to be the army with the black flags of Khorasan (the area around present day Iran-Afghanistan).

A famous army being that of the Abbasid Caliph, see:

All salmon are fish,
but not all fish are salmon.
(Assuming the hadith is authentic)
The true army will have black flags,
but not all black flag armies will be the true army.

The Khawarij

The part about the killing does not refer to any killing of innocent people and oppression. Behaving un-Islamic to prove the Islamic prediction in the hadith, is pretty stupid. They resemble more the guys in these hadith (although I cannot be completely sure yet)

Sahih al-Bukhari 6930
Narrated `Ali: … No doubt I heard Allah’s Apostle saying, “During the last days there will appear some young foolish people who will say the best words but their faith will not go beyond their throats (i.e. they will have no faith) and will go out from (leave) their religion as an arrow goes out of the game. So, where-ever you find them, kill them, for who-ever kills them shall have reward on the Day of Resurrection.”

Sahih al-Bukhari 6934
Narrated Yusair bin `Amr: I asked Sahl bin Hunaif, “Did you hear the Prophet (ﷺ) saying anything about Al-Khawarij?” He said, “I heard him saying while pointing his hand towards Iraq. “There will appear in it (i.e, Iraq) some people who will recite the Qur’an but it will not go beyond their throats, and they will go out from (leave) Islam as an arrow darts through the game’s body.’ ”

The Importance of History

One of the big problems with those ‘extremist’ (likely Khawarij) is that they use Quran and Hadith out of context and force them into their own desires.

A very good lecture about this topic can be found here:
The Modern Jihadists: Khawarij or Mujahideen? ~ Dr. Yasir Qadhi

Throughout history there have been many people falsely claiming the Khilafah. Often multiple people claiming it at the same time!
And as shown above, the black flag hadith has already been used by other groups as well.

Also know people like those “extremists” have always been around. Even during the time of Prophet! They however first really caused big trouble during the Caliphate of Ali r.a. as shown here:

Sahih al-Bukhari 6933
Narrated Abu Sa`id: While the Prophet (ﷺ) was distributing (something, `Abdullah bin Dhil Khawaisira at-Tamimi came and said, “Be just, O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)!” The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Woe to you ! Who would be just if I were not?” `Umar bin Al-Khattab said, “Allow me to cut off his neck ! ” The Prophet (ﷺ) said, ” Leave him, for he has companions, and if you compare your prayers with their prayers and your fasting with theirs, you will look down upon your prayers and fasting, in comparison to theirs. Yet they will go out of the religion as an arrow darts through the game’s body in which case, if the Qudhadh of the arrow is examined, nothing will be found on it, and when its Nasl is examined, nothing will be found on it; and then its Nadiyi is examined, nothing will be found on it. The arrow has been too fast to be smeared by dung and blood. The sign by which these people will be recognized will be a man whose one hand (or breast) will be like the breast of a woman (or like a moving piece of flesh). These people will appear when there will be differences among the people (Muslims).” Abu Sa`id added: I testify that I heard this from the Prophet (ﷺ) and also testify that `Ali killed those people while I was with him. The man with the description given by the Prophet (ﷺ) was brought to `Ali. The following Verses were revealed in connection with that very person (i.e., `Abdullah bin Dhil-Khawaisira at-Tarnimi): ‘And among them are men who accuse you (O Muhammad) in the matter of (the distribution of) the alms.’ (9.58)

The point of the doomsday Prophecies with all the killing and destruction is not to try to reenact them, but to try to avoid them! Every effect, like Khilafah, has its necessary causes. When you ignore the causes and force the effects, you will only achieve the opposite.

man ta‘ajjala’l-shay’a qabla awanihi ‘uqiba bi hurmanihi
‘Whosoever seeks to hasten a thing before its time, will be deprived of its outcome.’

If people would study the Biography (Seerah) of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and his companions, they would realize how beautiful, just and Merciful Islam is.

The best English lecture series on the Biography of the Prophet I could find is this one.
Seerah of Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) by Dr. Yasir Qadhi“: files of that lecture series can be downloaded here:!2146&authkey=!AM4_zWwoRwV0iEI

Despite the extremism of ISIS, their evil is nothing compared to the oppression, destruction and killing the USA has inflicted upon the entire non-Western world. And without the disaster of the Iraqi occupation by the USA and Iran, ISIS would have never been able to grow to this extent.

Extra note on a hadith related to the black flags “The hadith narrated from Abu Hurayrah about the black banners is not saheeh”

Analyzing the Grand Strategy of ISIS

Understanding the operational strength and adaptability of ISIS and similar groups is certainly important and very interesting. However I keep wondering about the grand strategy of ISIS and how it appears that this will inevitably lead to their ruin.

Remember that not all armed groups and individuals are like ISIS. The primary motivation early in the Syrian revolution being the removal of Assad. I will here assume the overall news about ISIS to be true, even though there is a lot of propaganda, for “All warfare is based on deception.”

What is grand strategy?

Based on Col. John Boyd’s thoughts [1] as described here: ‘The Myth of Grand Strategy‘, Grand strategy is a unifying noble vision which focuses the nation’s actions to:

  1. Increase our solidarity, our internal cohesion.
  2. Weaken our opponents’ resolve and internal cohesion.
  3. Strengthen our allies’ relationships to us.
  4. Attract uncommitted states to our cause.
  5. End conflicts on favorable terms,
  6. without sowing the seeds for future conflicts.

While appearing very philosophical, grand strategic visions are not born from analysis but inspiring synthesis, or lack thereof. Primal strategies based on survival, expansion and greed being common.

Interestingly, while war is inherently extremely destructive, a grand strategy should be constructive to be effective. Technology and tactics are closer to destruction, while theater strategy and especially grand strategy are nearer to creation.

Overcome the constructive-destructive paradox of warfare by focusing on the moral and mental collapse of the enemy, so physical destruction can be minimized with both your nation and objectives intact.


While battle during early Islam was fierce, excessive pointless brutality was strictly forbidden. During the early conquests, the Muslims easily won over the conquered people by ruling much more justly than the Persians and Byzantines. People were for example free to practice their own religions, both as individuals and groups, and even had the right to be tried by their own courts regarding their internal affairs. However within one generation, moral decline already crept in when the just Rightly Guided Caliphs were replaced by royal dynasties. After that some rulers were just and some were unjust. One of the famous just rulers being for example Saladin.

ISIS while very cunning, are very unjust, especially according to the Islamic values they claim to champion. Focusing primarily on survival and security, but also expansion, adventure, deterrence and revenge. They even use the same orange jumpsuits as used by the American torturers to prove their point. Tit-for-tat.

From Osama bin Laden’s ‘Letter to America’:
“… Why are we fighting and opposing you? The answer is very simple:
(1) Because you attacked us and continue to attack us. …”

VICE News: The Islamic State (Full Length), from 11m54s
ISIS dad from Belgium: “Why do we kill the infidels? (Stand up.) What have the infidels done? What have the infidels done?”
Kid: “They kill Muslims.”
Dad: “Because they kill Muslims. All the infidels?”
Kid: “…”
Dad: “Like the infidels of Europe?”
Kid: “The infidels of Europe, all the infidels.”
Dad: “God willing the Caliphate has been established,
and we are going to invade you as you invaded us.
We will capture your women
as you captured our women.
We will orphan your children
as you orphaned our children.
Group: (shows agreement by chanting “God is Great”)
Dad: “I swear to God my brothers, we are living in joy that I can’t describe.”

While from the gut, this logic is partially supported by the democracy myth:

“We are free democracies. The people rule and the politicians serve.
Thus government decisions express the will of the people.”

Consequently, “the bloodbath caused by Western invasions is by the will of their people.”
Most democratic people love claiming authority, but despise responsibility. True democracy is however a myth. Thus the people cannot be fully responsible, even if they believe the myth.

Muslim suffering is real. Western hypocrisy is real. But that does not justify killing non-combatants, even if governments truly represented their people.

Jami` at-Tirmidhi 2007
Hudhaifah narrated that the Messenger of Allah said:
“Do not let yourselves be ‘yes-men’, saying:
‘If the people are good then we will be good,
and if they are wrong then we will be wrong.’
Rather, make up your own minds,
if the people are good then you are good,
and if they are evil, then do not behave unjustly.”

Despite all this, military defense and deterrence seem to be another key motivator ISIS always champion.

VICE News: The Islamic State (Full Length), from 8m44s
ISIS press officer explaining he completely neglects his family to fight in the war.
(Defending what you neglect, a very odd human trait.)
ISIS press officer: “… No one would defend Muslims if we all sat at home with the family.”

Like for many fighters outside ISIS, one of their main motivations is not world domination, but defense of their oppressed people.

“Know your enemy and know yourself…”

Many depict ISIS as inhuman religious monsters. The danger of this perspective is that it is not factually correct. While religions and ideologies present visions, and visions are powerful motivators, visions are always grounded in very human fears and desires. Even monsters can be human. Just as a forest fire only starts under certain conditions, certain visions do not spread unless the conditions are ripe.

Experiencing years of oppression, occupation, rape, torture and murder will drive enough people over the edge to create serious problems. Thinking “extreme circumstances, call for extreme measures.” A wiser person with foresight and patience would understand that it is these extreme measures that created these extreme circumstances in the first place. It is easy to say, but very difficult to do in such circumstances.

ISIS’ grand strategy of becoming a great power by being better organized, more fierce, more ambitious and more intimidating than others, resulted in them being able to control the Sunni areas where they were the least bad available option for many of the locals.

However their grand strategy has serious weaknesses, because it causes disunity, creates a lot of unnecessary enemies and is destructive instead of constructive.

Interpreting ISIS policies in the light of the points of grand strategy

Regardless of ISIS cloaking their actions in religious symbolism, like their intentions, their actions are based on strategies very similar to those used by western actors even if their end goals are different. It is to globally increase fear, violence and chaos to promote overreaction against both innocent Muslim and Western civilians alike.

Seducing Western governments to invade or drone Muslim lands undermines the legitimacy of local governments. This can be used to attract local support, motivate lone wolf attacks in Western countries or what is most common, simply raise tension and conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims in Western countries in general. Usually this provokes ultra-secular/anti-Muslim reactions and government policies in western countries, alienating Muslims even more and entices ordinary Muslims who simply want raise their family in peace to emigrate to relatively stable Muslim majority countries. Even ordinary people caught up in the crossfire in war zones might reluctantly join or support groups as ISIS simply for survival.

On the other side, western governments invading Muslim lands and supporting dictators is the main motivator for terrorism and outrage against the west.

Certain groups inside western nations can then use this threat of terrorism to their political or financial advantage. Planning helps but ignorance, fear and greed is sufficient. Even well intended politicians will find it difficult to escape this vicious cycle in face of terrified masses demanding solutions.

ISIS successfully applied this strategy against the Shia to further alienate the Sunni’s. Of course the Iraqi Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki played his part perfectly.

Continuous polarization towards the extremes will deplete the nuanced balanced center amongst all populations. This might also be the logic between the brutality of USA’s “collateral damage” terror drones globally and ISIS’ executions.

ISIS’ “you are either with us or with the enemy” mentality creates some interesting effects related to the points of grand strategy.

“1. Increase our solidarity, our internal cohesion.”

External enemies usually increase internal solidarity. However forcing your army to mostly fight ‘your own people’, in this case other Muslims, will severely weaken the morale of many soldiers and risks having them join other armed groups or resulting in splinter groups fighting each other internally. ISIS being a splinter group of Al-Qaida themselves.

Furthermore, the unjust way of warfare, like killing and oppressing unarmed women and children, will definitely result in friction within the ranks. There have already been reports of desertion because of these atrocities, and ISIS killing deserters failing to escape.

The threat to internal cohesion is ingrained in their ideology itself. They declare Muslims who don’t practice their version of Islam, as apostates who deserve to be killed. This fanaticism in similar groups often results in internal disputes escalating into a situation where group members start accusing each other of apostasy.

“2. Weaken our opponents’ resolve and internal cohesion.”

Extreme brutality might remove any hope or just increase determination. The execution by fire of the Jordanian fighter pilot, was likely to discourage other fighter pilots from bombing them and the civilians in their territories. However the opposite often happens and enemies often become more determined, since defeat for many becomes worse than the risk of fighting.

“3. Strengthen our allies’ relationships to us.”

ISIS’ “you are either with us or our enemy” mentality has resulted in them declaring all other Muslims who do not support them as their enemy. Since ISIS’ strategy results in a lot of division and conflict in their area of operations, there closest “allies”, in an ‘enemy of my enemy’ sort of way, would be those interested in “divide and ruling/containing” the affected areas using ISIS as a tool to defeat other troublesome militias, armed groups and nations. In the short term, the best “allies” of ISIS appeared to be Assad, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the USA. With all of them hoping that ISIS would weaken their own respective mutual enemies or rivals.

Assad used ISIS to weaken the Syrian resistance fighters, by avoiding fights with ISIS, releasing ISIS prisoners and focusing their attacks on non-ISIS groups. Turkey hopes ISIS will take care of their Kurdish problem and Assad. Saudi Arabia hopes ISIS would weaken Assad, the Shia and perhaps popular rival Sunni governments in the region which success might undermine their Islamic legitimacy. Israel and the USA can use ISIS as a means for the regional powers to eliminate each other. Israel can for example use ISIS and other Syrian rebels to break up the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah line of communications. An independent Kurdish state would also help Israel in achieving this.

ISIS likely hopes to utilize this entire mess to grow strong enough to turn the tables at the end.

“4. Attract uncommitted states (and other actors) to our cause.”

The Muslim world overwhelmingly rejects ISIS’ “Caliphate”, calling them ISIS or DAESH instead of “Islamic State” or “Caliphate”. These include the governments of all Muslim majority nations, Muslim individuals, scholars and organizations, and even other militia groups including the original Al-Qaeda. ISIS greatly transgressing Islamic values and mainly fighting and killing other Muslims doesn’t really help ISIS in winning Muslim hearts and minds. While not attracting, ISIS’ brutality discourages neutral actors from participating.

Proclaiming yourself King, does not make it so. Likewise for Caliphs. By the lowest standards you should at least be grudgingly acknowledged as the one in charge by those with power, where it counts [2]. On the other hand, if you act like a King, some people might believe you. And everyone prefers to join a winning team over a loser. This posturing propaganda is useful for attracting individual fighters to join them.

Executing Western humanitarian aid workers just because their governments fight you, doesn’t even make sense from a revenge perspective. They aren’t even accused of spying or spreading propaganda. Why would you kill people helping you? By executing Western citizens and enticing the USA “superpower” to bomb them, they appear greater than they are, they get the sympathy of other groups and they get a morale boost by making their cause appear greater than it is. Whether the effects of these airstrikes will in the end be a net benefit or loss for ISIS is difficult to say.

“5. End conflicts on favorable terms.”

Declaring yourself to be a Caliphate usually means seeing yourself as the political entity having authority over all Muslims. So do they intend to singlehandedly conquer all Muslim majority territory by force? They even say things as, “We will raise the black flag (of ISIS) on the White House!” This implies world domination. However it appears to be just posturing. The ISIS maps of their desired Caliphate show they are focused on the Middle East. Which coincides with their defense, deterrence and revenge motivations.

Just as “democracy” and “freedom” are flexible symbols people use to reflect their own fears desires. The same is true for “Caliphate”. Many see in it their fear of a strong unified oppressive enemy, while many others see their desire for independence and security. Others see adventure, revenge and power.

Consolidating their success and normalizing relations with their neighbors at this early stage, would completely contradict the ambitious narrative they presented their followers. But what would “normal” mean in such a future Middle East?

“6. without sowing the seeds for future conflicts.”

Even if ISIS took over much of their enemies’ territories and thereby eliminated external seeds for future conflicts, which seems unlikely, they would just have more internal seeds for future conflicts since they conquer by force and treat their conquered horribly. “Manifest Destiny”, conquest and total extermination or subjugation of opponents, in the USA has resulted in suppressed rising social tensions even to this day. ISIS has undeniably sown much seeds for future conflicts. Perhaps they will eventually be able to sufficiently manage the problem. However people, especially from that region, hold grudges and have long memories.

Self-Assured Destruction?

While ISIS appears to be very skilled at asymmetric warfare, their grand strategy appears to be very flawed and seems to point at certain defeat unless they are able to reinvent themselves out of this primal strategy of pure power. But radically changing a groups central purpose can be very disruptive, since those that brought you to power will be severely disillusioned and will likely abandon you or turn against you. Many nations were founded by ethnic cleansing and genocide. But while externally brutal, often they were internally constructive and somewhat just to their own subjects. ISIS’ main strength is that their enemies are not that much better.

Grand strategy guides tactics as faith guides action. A corrupt heart will rot the body. While very cunning, I don’t really see them able to just steamroll their way to victory. However to defeat an enemy, you don’t need to be perfect or even good. Just less bad. To exist, not losing is enough.


[1] Colonel Frans Osinga’s “Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd”
The book
The original thesis

[2] Has the Caliphate been re-established by ISIS?
By Abdullah al Andalusi on June 30, 2014