Violence in Iraq is dividing the jihad-warriors. It raising several interesting questions concerning religious authority and also about the religious legitimization of the attacks (not only in Iraq but also in Madrid and London).
n the past two weeks, two major controversial positions appeared on Jihadi web sites and in the Arab media. These statements were made by two of the most important and influential clerics of the Jihadi-Salafi current of global Jihad. The first was an interview of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdesi, the Jordanian-Palestinian Islamist scholar and spiritual guide of Al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in Jordan and Iraq , and was aired on the Al-Jazirah TV channel on July 3 rd 2005 . 1 Jordanian authorities have recently released Al-Maqdesi after a long arrest of about six months, only to detain him again following his controversial interview. In the interview, he criticized the Islamist insurgents in Iraq , led by his protï¿½gï¿½ Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, for the mass killing of Muslims in Iraq . On 5 July 2005 , he repeated his criticism in another interview with the Jordanian paper ï¿½Al-Ghad.’ 2 His most important statement was that ï¿½the indiscriminate attacks might distort the true Jihad.ï¿½ This was not his first criticism of Zarqawi and his group. In September 2004, Al-Maqdesi sent a long message from Al-Qafqafa prison through Jihadi forums on the Internet. 3 In both cases this criticism generated a wave of responses by Jihadi scholars, clerics, and youngsters, who were surprised and confused. If in September 2004 Al-Maqdesi used a ï¿½softï¿½ tone, much like a father talking to his son, then this time his tone was direct and decisive, especially as it was aired through the media. The interview also enjoyed high degree of publicity in Jordan and Iraq .
The second statement was given by the Syrian Mustafa Abd al-Mun`im Abu Halimah, better known as Abu Basir al-Tartusi, a Syrian Jihadi scholar residing in London. Like Al-Maqdesi, Abu Basir is one of the leading guides of the Jihadi-Salafi current. Unlike Al-Maqdesi, however, he enjoys complete freedom of activity and speech in London , and hence, can manage close contact with other supporters of global Jihad. In the past, Abu Basir used to be in close contact with the Algerian Jihadi-Salafi group and its supporters in London . Abu Basir is known for his very strict and sharp language, and for his, at times, harsh and brave criticism of Islamist groups. In the past year, for instance, he severely attacked the Palestinian movement Hamas for what he called its ï¿½deviation from true Jihad.ï¿½
On 9 July 2005 , Abu Basir published a Fatwa on his web site that protested the London bombings and the killing of innocent British civilians. 4 Abu Basir described the bombings as a ï¿½disgraceful and shameful act, with no manhood, bravery, or morality. We cannot approve it nor accept it, and it is denied islamically and politically.ï¿½ He refused labeling the British citizens as ï¿½attackersï¿½ ( Harbiyyun ), emphasizing instead the social alliance ( `Ahd ) of Muslims in the United Kingdom with the British government and society, among which they live. He added, ï¿½if this act was done by British Muslims it does not mean that Islam or the Muslim community in the UK approve of this act.ï¿½ He ended his statement by raising doubts about the responsibility taken for the London bombings by ï¿½The secret group of Al-Qaeda in Europe ï¿½
Abu Basir’s statement/Fatwa elicited many responses in Jihadi forums, most among them creating anger and resentment against him. Once again, the supporters of global Jihad were left confused and surprised. The harsh responses Abu Basir generated led him to publish yet another statement on 11 July 2005 , titled ï¿½The Love of Revenge or the Legal ruling.ï¿½ 5 In this second statement, which did not sound apologetic at all, he explained that his position towards the attacks in London was not at all a retreat from his former well-documented positions on Jihad. His main argument was that there was no place for the symmetry of revenge between the Muslims and their oppressorsï¿½a symmetry that is a vital component of the strategy of global Jihad. According to Abu Basir, there is no place for revenge in Islamic doctrine, but only integrity based upon the interpretations of Islamic law. He also hinted at an attempt by Islamists to place a wedge between ordinary Muslims and clerics.
This last claim by Abu Basir, we should note, concerns a crucial issue in the research and analysis of religious groups in general, and radical ones in particular: the question ofï¿½who is leading whoï¿½are the clerics leading the operatives or vice versa? The examples of the martyrdom operations, beheadings, killing of Muslim civilians (Shi`is or Sunnis), and other such issues provide us with a clear answerï¿½the operatives are leading the clerics. Jihadi clerics usually provide the ideological ï¿½umbrella’ for the radicalization of the modus operandi .
Concerning Iraq the issue of Takfir is also an important debate.
The enthusiasm that emerges from Iraq is also influencing another fieldï¿½the Islamic debate over Takfir (excommunication), suicide bombings, and massive killing of Muslims. Zarqawi and his ï¿½military strategyï¿½ in Iraq attract harsh criticism by clerics who were regarded by the older generation of Al-Qaeda, including Zarqawi himself, as leading mentorsï¿½Abu Basir al-Tartusi, who recently published a fatwa against suicide bombings; Abu Muhammad al-Maqdesi, who criticized Zarqawi in public; Muhammad al-Mas`ari, one of the fathers of the oppositionist Saudi reform movement in London; and others who advised Zarqawi and his Sunni supporters in Iraq to reconsider their strict opposition to the new Iraqi constitution, and the planned elections.
It seems that there is a developing crisis in the relations between the older generation of Jihadi-Salafi clerics and scholars and their operative protï¿½gï¿½s. Zarqawi and his colleagues in Chechnya , Afghanistan , Saudi Arabia , or Kashmir , will always find new and younger clerics to back their strategy from an Islamic point of view. Finding the ï¿½proper’ authority among the hundreds of graduates of Saudi Wahhabi Islamic universities should not prove too difficult. Such a split occurred for example between the two Saudi scholars, Safar al-Hawali and Salman al-Awdah, and their younger followers in the past three years in Saudi Arabia . In this case Hawali and al-Awdah lost their appeal and influence over the Saudi supporters of Al-Qaeda, were pushed aside, and became part of Ulamaa al-Salatin ï¿½the clerics of the government. They could not be divorced from the negative image Arab governments have in the eyes of the Jihadis.
The recent reactions in Jihadi forums against these debates and criticism over Zarqawi and his strategy by his supporters are in many cases insulting and disrespectful. The main motive is: ï¿½let the Mujahidin decide their policy, since they are in the front of Jihad and not the clerics.ï¿½ This is a new style of discourse, if we look back to the criticizing but most respectful letters of Bin Laden to Sheikh Abd al-Aziz ibn Baz, or of Sheikh Yousef al-Uyeri to Dr. Safar al-Hawali. The ï¿½new generation of Iraqi Arabsï¿½ is rude and much more self-confident than their fathers of the ï¿½Arab Afghans,ï¿½ especially that they have a new kind of a kingï¿½Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi.
In all cases however it is the new generation that seems to support the violent jihad (against Muslims and non-Muslims) and reject the older religious authorities stating that they are Ulamaa al-Salatin ï¿½the clerics of the government.
In Trouw of today there is more about the criticism of Maqdesi (in Dutch):
Trouw, deVerdieping| overigeartikelen – Geweld verdeelt djihadstrijders
ï¿½De heilige oorlog, zijn doelen en zijn middelen zijn te rein, te zuiver en te verheven dan dat ze mag lijken op de daden van maffiabendes.ï¿½
Na deze donderpreek trekt Zarkawi een lange neus naar zijn leermeester Maqdesi en gaat hij vuiler dan ooit tekeer. De combinatie van maffia en heilige oorlog bevalt wel.
Dat hij nog meer geï¿½soleerd raakt, zal hem weinig deren. In zijn geboorteplaats Zarka stond hij toch al nooit bekend als een gezellige mensenvriend.