Guest Author: Joas Wagemakers

The well-known Jordanian Jihadi-Salafi scholar Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi was released from prison last week and just gave an interview to the Al-Ru’ya channel in which he was asked to comment on the execution of the Jordanian pilot Mu’adh al-Kasasiba. He says that he tried to negotiate on the pilot’s behalf by writing letters to “influential” people within the Islamic State (IS), like its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, its official spokesman Abu Muhammad al-‘Adnani and one of its main scholars, Turki al-Bin’ali.

He says he tried to get IS to accept the trade-off between al-Kasasiba and the imprisoned Sajida al-Rishawi. All of these efforts failed, however, despite – al-Maqdisi emphasises this – his numerous attempts and even though – he later adds – the major Jihadi-Salafi scholars all supported the mediation efforts with IS.

Asked to comment on the way the Jordanian pilot was executed (burning him alive), al-Maqdisi says that jihad is only “slaughter and killing” to IS and that Jihadi-Salafism is innocent of such means of execution (he repeats the latter claim several times throughout the interview). This sort of behaviour, he states, is not Islamic and contradicts clear sayings by the Prophet Muhammad in which the latter forbade the use of fire to kill anyone.

With regard to IS’s claim to being a caliphate, al-Maqdisi states that this term “caliphate” is something that excites Jihadi-Salafi youngsters because this is what they want. It causes them to go to countries like Syria and Iraq, but once they’re there, they find that IS kills other Muslims and even other Jihadi-Salafis. This causes disillusion among them. As he’s pointed out before, al-Maqdisi states that you don’t simply become a caliphate by calling yourself that way. IS tarnishes the image of Islam, al-Maqdisi says, by its behaviour.

Interestingly, al-Maqdisi also makes a remark about the quotation by the famous scholar Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328) that IS used at the end of the video showing al-Kasasiba’s execution to justify the latter. Al-Maqdisi states that a good legal scholar always balances the pros and cons in any given situation when ruling on a certain issue. This means that you cannot simply take a single saying by a 13th/14th-century scholar, he says, and apply it to an entirely different situation now, in which the pros and cons are likely to be entirely different.

Apart from what al-Maqdisi says in the interview, there are always rumours about why al-Maqdisi was released and why he was giving this interview. Officially, he was arrested and placed under administrative detention for 15 days, but that was several months ago. This means that the Jordanian regime could legally let him go at any time but was perhaps waiting for an opportune moment to release him. That moment possibly came when the regime was negotiating al-Kasasiba’s release with IS because al-Maqdisi was perhaps seen as someone who could help in this process. If al-Maqdisi is to be believed, he did indeed engage in trying to get the pilot to be released.

This brings up the question of the extent to which al-Maqdisi has been “used” by the regime. There are rumours that he was forced by the regime to do this interview and perhaps that is the case and maybe he wouldn’t have given this interview otherwise. We can’t really know for sure. None of this, however, changes the fact that al-Maqdisi has very clear reasons of his own to be against IS and has not been afraid to express his views about them. Throughout the past two years, he has become increasingly critical of IS and everything he has said in this interview is entirely consistent with his writings. So whether he was forced to do this interview or not, both in content and in style this was vintage al-Maqdisi.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFh6gMKSGmA]

Joas Wagemakers holds a PhD from Radboud University Nijmegen on the ideology and influence of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, widely considered one of the most important radical Islamic scholars. Currently he works on a post-doctoral (Veni) project on Islamic activism in Jordan, which focuses on the intellectual history of quietist Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood in that country. He blogs at Jihadica.com