It was only a few months ago that the first Islamic State propaganda video showing a captured fighter burning the Qur’ans of the Prophet Muhammad and of his companions was posted online.
This was followed by an ISIS propaganda video featuring an armed group’s commander, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, burning the Quran in front of his fighters, in an attempt to convince them to join the terrorist group.
This is the first time that the online burning of Qur’anic texts is being depicted in such a graphic manner.
But is the practice a sign of the Islamic State’s progress or just an elaborate propaganda stunt?
“This is not just a simple propaganda stunt, this is a very serious attempt to attract new followers,” says Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Middle East scholar at the University of Oxford.
“It is not surprising that there is a video on YouTube showing a burning Qur’AN, as the propaganda videos are very effective in spreading the message of jihad and ISIS.”
What is it about the burning of the Qurans of Muhammad and his companions that has drawn the attention of the terrorist organization?
Ayaam Hirsi, a professor of Islamic studies at the Oxford University, says the practice of burning the Holy Quran in the name of Islam is not new.
“In the past, it was the practice for the Muslims to burn their Quran after a lifetime of fasting,” he says.
“But that was just for the most part.”
According to Islamic tradition, when a person is killed in battle, his body is taken to the grave and the Quran is burnt, as a symbol of martyrdom.
This ceremony is not required to burn the Quran, however, as it was a way to show reverence for the deceased.
This practice is similar to that of a Muslim who was killed in combat and buried in his home village, Hirsi explains.
In the Islamic tradition of the Holy Qur’aan, the Prophet Mohammad is the only person whose name can be found on the Quranic pages.
So the fact that it has been burned in the modern-day West does not mean that the burning was a sign that the Holy Prophet was still alive.
In fact, Hirsis says the burning has a religious significance in that it shows the faithful that the Prophet Mohammed is still alive and in heaven.
“If it had been just a religious ritual, there would have been no need for the ISIS to burn it,” he explains.
But for the group to be successful in its propaganda, it must have succeeded in converting the Western public, who is not accustomed to seeing burning images of dead people.
Hirsi says that the ISIS is not interested in showing the Western world what a truly barbaric group it is.
“Their aim is to get as many Westerners to join them in this jihad,” he said.
“They want to turn them into a kind of mindless, fanatical fanatics who will join ISIS.”
So, why has ISIS targeted the Holy Texts?
It is not a secret that the Islamic movement in Syria and Iraq has been on the rise over the past several years, with the emergence of ISIS in Syria in 2014.
Hirsis believes that ISIS’ aim is not only to gain more followers in the West, but also to attract more Western fighters.
“This ideology is not limited to the Islamic world,” he explained.
“ISIS believes that it is the way to get a better life in the Islamic state, and this is the aim of its recruitment of Western fighters and the burning in its territories.”
The burning of Quran images, Hirse says, is a sign not only of ISIS’ success in spreading its message of radical Islam, but to get Western recruits to join.
“The burning of images of the prophet Muhammad is a direct reference to the fact they have no problem with burning the Koran,” Hirsi said.
But what is also striking about the Islamic burning of a Quran is that its depiction in a graphic way is something new, Hirsy added.
“When I first saw this, I thought, ‘Oh my god, we’re witnessing a new form of Islamic propaganda,’ and this was the first of its kind in the world,” Hirsy says.
The video shows a man with a large head covering the burning Quran, and he is shouting “Allah Akbar,” which translates as “God is great” or “God has sent you.”
The man’s face is obscured by a black hood, which obscures his eyes and mouth.
The man is then shown walking away from the burning text.
The Islamic State has a history of using graphic images of its members in its online propaganda, Hirsie says.
In 2016, a video was released showing ISIS fighters burning the remains of captured Iraqi soldiers in the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa.
In March 2017, a group of ISIS fighters burned the Quran and other Islamic texts in Mosul.
In September 2017, another ISIS video showed the burning pages of the Quran being burned in Raqqa, Iraq.
The videos also showed fighters