If you were picking the top religion news story of 2015 and you were looking at the whole world -- as opposed to, let's say, culture wars in the United States -- then it was hard to avoid the mayhem unleashed by the Islamic State.
That was certainly my take, as I stressed in last week's "Crossroads" podcast.
That was, apparently, how the Associated Press saw 2015 as well. This was the year that ISIS touched lives and headlines all over the world.
NEW YORK (AP) -- The far-flung attacks claimed by Islamic State militants and the intensifying global effort to crush them added up to a grim, gripping yearlong saga that was voted the top news story of 2015, according to The Associated Press' annual poll of U.S. editors and news directors.
The No. 2 story was the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that led to legalization of same-sex marriage in all 50 states. But several of the other stories among the Top 10 reflected the impact of the Islamic State, while another group of major stories related to the series of mass shootings in the United States.
One of the big ISIS questions, frequently discussed here at GetReligion, is this: What drives this violent and radical movement? When ISIS leaders describe the "why" in the "who, what, when, where, why and how" of their story, what do they talk about? Are they driven by "ideology," "theology" or a theocratic ideology built on a foundation of their own twisted take on Islamic theology?
To understand ISIS journalists have to deal with the religion component in these stories. We have to understand what ISIS is saying about Islam and why many Muslims agree with them, while many more fiercely disagree.
This brings me to that Reuters exclusive again about ISIS and its -- literally -- theology shaping the treatment of sexual slaves. This was strong stuff and, once again, the key was that members of the Reuters team actually read what ISIS leaders were saying about their own work. The headline: "Exclusive -- Islamic State ruling aims to settle who can have sex with female slaves."
In addition to the word "theology" in the lede, the key word used in this piece -- multiple times -- is "fatwa."
WASHINGTON -- Islamic State theologians have issued an extremely detailed ruling on when "owners" of women enslaved by the extremist group can have sex with them, in an apparent bid to curb what they called violations in the treatment of captured females.
The ruling or fatwa has the force of law and appears to go beyond the Islamic State's previous known utterances on the subject, a leading Islamic State scholar said. It sheds new light on how the group is trying to reinterpret centuries-old teachings to justify the sexual slavery of women in the swaths of Syria and Iraq it controls.
For a U.S. government translation of the fatwa click here (.pdf).
Later in the report there is this:
Far from trying to conceal the practice, Islamic State has boasted about it and established a department of "war spoils" to manage slavery. ...
Fatwa No. 64, dated Jan. 29, 2015, and issued by Islamic State's Committee of Research and Fatwas, appears to codify sexual relations between IS fighters and their female captives for the first time, going further than a pamphlet issued by the group in 2014 on how to treat slaves.
The fatwa starts with a question: "Some of the brothers have committed violations in the matter of the treatment of the female slaves. These violations are not permitted by Sharia law because these rules have not been dealt with in ages. Are there any warnings pertaining to this matter?"
It then lists 15 injunctions, which in some instances go into explicit detail.
It's crucial that the Reuters story -- as it should -- features strong quotes from Islamic theologians rejecting how ISIS is using "centuries-old verses and sayings" in this manner. Thus, there is this:
In September 2014 more than 120 Islamic scholars from around the world issued an open letter to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi refuting the group's religious arguments to justify many of its actions. The scholars noted that the "reintroduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam."
All in all, this was a strong report that didn't skip the religion element of this hellish development.
However, when this same story was promoted by The Daily Beast, the editors there used an interesting word to describe the foundation of the Reuters report. Can you spot the interesting word choice, as opposed to referring to "sharia," "fatwas" or "verses"?
The self-proclaimed Islamic State has issued a detailed ruling on the circumstances in which “owners” of women enslaved by members of the terror group can have sex with them. ... The ruling sheds new light on how the group is trying to reinterpret centuries-old literature to justify sexual slavery in the areas under ISIS control.
Now, I realize that the word "literature" is very, very broad.
Yet why avoid the actual contents of the Reuters news report, which clearly showed that this debate is about the ISIS treatment of religious laws and sacred texts?