Professor Ovamir Anjum equates the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS, not with al-Qaeda, but with the Iraqi regime that was the focus of both Gulf Wars.
ISIS is, "in my view, Saddam Hussein reaching out of his grave for revenge," said Mr. Anjum, the Imam Khattab Chair of Islamic Studies at the University of Toledo. "ISIS is more Saddam 2.0 than al-Qaeda 2.0."
He said that members of al-Qaeda "are far more ideological and have been less effective except in terrorism; in fact 9/11 ... was their great and only major success. ... Nothing as sustained and major as what ISIS has been able to do."
On Tuesday Mr. Anjum opened his Contemporary Issues in Islam class to the public. About 20 people attended, including media. The "teaching session," as he called it, was held in the university's Center for Religious Understanding reception room in University Hall. The class of four students normally meets in Mr. Anjum's office.
Katie Frye, 35, a senior from Toledo, is enrolled in the class. She said she was very young when the Gulf Wars were in action, "so this was mostly new information."
The lecture and discussion carried relevance beyond the classroom because the topic, "Is ISIS Islamic?" generated wider interest after the Friday terrorist attacks in Paris, for which ISIS claimed credit.
Mr. Anjum said that it is in popular culture that ISIS is seen to be Islamic, by people who might say, "They look Muslim, they're all over there [in the Middle East]; that's Islamic enough for us, plus the fact that they use the Qur'an and they use Islam all the time — that makes them Islamic."
He drew an analogy between ISIS and the Ku Klux Klan. "They're all using Christianity for their racist agenda and their heinous acts and so on, but they're not truly American or truly Christian because they don't hold to values that either the United States stands for or Christianity stands for."
For ISIS, "at the popular level," Mr. Anjum said, "one could say that they are not Muslim in the sense that the values that Islam teaches and the values that most religiously learned people uphold about Islam are violated by them."
Mr. Anjum will speak at another Center for Religious Understanding event from noon to 12:30 p.m. today at University Hall room 4700, reading from his 2012 book Politics, Law and Community in Islamic Thought: The Taymiyyan Moment.