Post Tagged ‘Salafism’

File:AQMI Flag.svg

Rush O Muslims to your state. Yes, it is your state. Rush, because Syria is not for the Syrians, and Iraq is not for the Iraqis” (Weiss & Hassan, 2015, p. 1). On the 29th of June 2014, 90 years after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Sunni rebel group Islamic State (IS) proclaimed an Islamic Caliphate under its self-declared leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Al-Baghdadi claims to be a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and therefore the righteous leader of all Muslims. The (Western) world was shocked and it seemed that no one saw this coming. In this paper I argue that the rise of the so-called Islamic State on the one hand can be seen in the line of revivalists movement starting from the early twentieth century and in that sense not really is a novelty. However, on the other hand it must be said that the group on some crucial points differs from former Islamists groups and that this can have far reaching consequences.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Islamists groups emerged as a reaction to the Western expansion of modernity. In the wake of the Soviet War in Afghanistan the Islamist movement became more radical and transnational. As a consequence of this Al-Qaeda could emerge and later the so-called Islamic State. However IS finds its roots in pre-modern Islamic thought, the group is more severe, brutal and professional than we have ever seen in modern times. The fact that it actually has a territory and a caliphate gives it more legitimacy and makes it more attractive than its predecessors. Although the central place of  a caliphate in its ideology can also be its weakness since the caliphate is declining fast. With losing its territory and its caliphate IS will lose its broad legitimacy and attractiveness, but since the group recently more focusses on a strategy of carrying out terrorist attacks outside its territory, it will continue to be a big threat.


Islam and Modernity                                                                                                       

“As a historical category, modernity refers to a period marked by a questioning or rejection of tradition; the prioritization of individualismfreedom and formal equality; faith in inevitable social, scientific and technological progress and human perfectibility; rationalization and professionalization; a movement from feudalism (or agrarianism) toward capitalism and the market economy; industrializationurbanization and secularization; the development of the nation-state and its constituent institutions (e.g. representative democracypublic education, modern bureaucracy) and forms of surveillance (Foucault 1995, 170–77).

Religious fundamentalists have a natural aversion towards modernity as they see it as a condition of decay or disease outlined by pervasive corruption, disorder, relativism and immorality. However, many fundamentalist groups also use modern techniques of communication to propagate their message and ideology. In that sense fundamentalism is simultaneously a reaction to and an expression of modernity (Euben, 2012). In the late nineteenth century the Ottoman Empire was declining fast and the Islamic world came more and more under Western influence. During this time of expansion of modernity Islamic intellectuals proclaimed an Islamic order as an alternative to the Western-based state. The Ottoman Empire tried to modernize but the attempts from above failed. This failure led to two Islamic responses, a reformist and a revivalist response (Amineh, 2010). One of the main representatives of the reformist movement was Sayyed Jamal al-Din Afghani (1838-1897). He tried to make Islamic religion and philosophy compatible with some Western scientific, economic and political concepts in order to protect Islam against the West. Afghani is still popular with liberals, nationalists and Islamists because of his anti-imperialist ideas and he can be seen as the first modern Islamist (Keddie, 1994, p.485). The term Islamism refers to the “aspiration to institute a political order that reflects the norms of Islam, and the shari’ah more specifically” (Mandaville, 2007, p. 239).
                The revivalist movement developed itself a bit later in the early twentieth century as a more radical reaction towards Western modernization. Important for this movement is the founding of the al-Ikwan al-Muslimun or Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt by Hassan al-Banna (1906-1949) in 1928. The Brotherhood can be seen as the prototype of all modern Islamist movements and their main goal is Islamization of the society by political means (Mandaville, 2016, p. 181). During that time Islamist organizations, like the Muslim Brotherhood, operated in many countries, but mainly on a national scale. This national Islamist focus changed in the context of the late Cold War geopolitics.


The Emergence of the Global Jihadi Movement and the Rise of the Islamic State
The global jihadi movement emerged during the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979-1989). The Soviets seized Afghanistan to defend a socialist dictator against rebels. Young men from several Middle Eastern countries travelled to Afghanistan to fight with the rebels against the foreign oppressor. The war was framed as a battle between real Muslims on one side and atheists on the other side. Many fighters joined to fight for the Muslim cause and were trained on the battlefields of Afghanistan. When the war was over the holy warriors or mujahideen went back to their homelands and spread their radical ideas over there (Mandaville, 2007).
Among them was a well-educated Saudi named Osama Bin Laden and a Jordanian thug called Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In 1988 Bin Laden founded Al-Qaeda (The Base) in order to constitute a network of transnational jihadis. On September 11, 2001 Al Qaeda attacked the United States and killed almost 3000 American citizens. From that moment Bin Laden was the most hunted terrorist in the world and the United States starts the so-called ‘War on Terror’ by invading Afghanistan and Iraq (Weiss & Hassan, 2015). During that time al-Zarqawi raised a militant organization in Iraq called Jamaat al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad (The Group of Monotheism and Jihad). In the beginning al-Zarqawi was not that successful but that changed with the American invasion in Iraq, his group became leading in attacking the Americans and the Shia population (Wagenmakers, 2014). In 2004 his group formed an alliance with Al Qaeda and became known as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). After al-Zarqawi was killed by the American army in 2006 the group was called the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). ISI got hold of the areas that were namely populated by Sunnis, who were discriminated by the new regime in Iraq. This formed a perfect ground for the group to grow in silence. In 2011 the Arab Spring spreads across the Middle East and in Syria, Bashar al-Assad cracked down violently on protestors. The unrest in Syria led to a civil war and gave ISI the chance to expand to Syria leading to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The organization was now led by a Iraqi who called himself Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and claimed to be a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. This is very important in Islamic tradition, because only a member of the Quraysh tribe (tribe of the Prophet Muhammad) can be the legitimate leader of Muslims. Eventually on the 29th of June 2014 al-Baghdadi proclaimed an Islamic Caliphate (khilafa) for all Muslims under the name Islamic State (IS). Thousands of young Muslims from all over the world travelled to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State (Wagenmakers, 2014).

Ideology of the Islamic State
The ideology of the Islamic State is related to Jihadi-Salafism. In 2007, then-Islamic Sate leader Abu Umar al-Baghdadi (not to be confused with the current leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) appealed to all Sunnis and especially to the al-Salafiyya al-Jihadiyya (Bunzel, 2015). The Salafi movement is a very pious stream in Sunni Islam that prohibits religious innovation (bid’ah) by strictly living the model of the Prophet Muhammad. The word Salaf means ancestor or predecessor and refers to the first generations of Muslims. Crucial in the Salafi creed is the concept of tawhid which stands for the unity of God. This means that they are strictly monotheistic and that God alone has the right to be worshipped. However, the concept of tawhid goes deeper, God is the only righteous ruler in every aspect of human life. Therefore no earthly governor has legitimacy and the only true guidelines for Muslims are the Qur’an and the Sunnah (teachings and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad). Salafis take these old texts literal and apply them to all aspects of their daily lives (Wiktorowicz, 2006). Another key concept is the practice of takfir which is declaring other Muslims as kuffar or infidels. According to Islamic law the punishment for apostasy is death. Salafis consider Shi’a and Suffi Muslims as kuffar, because they try to innovate Islam and commit shirk (idolatry). Basically, everyone who does not follow the strict Salafi creed is an infidel. All Salafis follow the same creed, but only Jihadi-Salafists try to reach their goals mainly – or only – by use of a holy war against the unbelievers or jihad (Wiktorowicz, 2006).
According to Karen Armstrong (2014), the deep roots of the Islamic State lie in one particular branch of Salafism, namely the state ideology of Saudi Arabia called Wahhabism. Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1791) was an Islamic revivalist in Saudi Arabia who urged all Muslims to interpret the Qur’an and hadith themselves instead of following the religious scholars (ulama). He opposed Suffism and Shi’ism, but did that by means of study and education (Armstrong, 2014). Muhammad Ibn Saud, a member of the Saud dynasty, used Wahhabs’ ideas for political means. This resulted in two forms of Wahhabism: on the one hand the mainly intellectual form of Wahhab himself and on the other hand the more violent form of the Saud dynasty. After the dead of Wahhab, Wahhabism became more violent and mainly an instrument of state terror. During the First World War a Bedouin army known as the Brotherhood or Ikwan (not to be confused with the Muslim Brotherhood) tried to establish a kingdom in the Middle East. This Brotherhood used the Wahhabist ideology to legitimate the slaughter of so-called infidels and slit the throats of all male captives (Armstrong, 2014). A routine now executed on daily basis by the soldiers of the Islamic State.
As stated before, the Muslim Brotherhood can be seen as the prototype of all modern Islamist organizations, so it also influenced IS. The founder of the Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna, stated very clear that he wanted an Islamic State: “Islam requires that the Muslim community unite around one leader or one head, the head of the Islamic State, and it forbids the Muslim community from being divided among states…” (Bunzel, 2015, p. 8). However, in practice al-Banna saw this more as a long term ideal. In reality the Brotherhood focusses more on Islamization of the society from within the political system. One of the most articulate thinkers of the Brotherhood, Sayyed Qutb (1906-1966), was more radical in his thoughts and is still a big source of inspiration for many radical Islamists. Qutb argued that the Islamic world was in moral decay and came up with the concept of jahiliyya which refers to the pre-Islamic period of ignorance. The only solution to this problem of Westernization was the creation of an Islamic State, a legal system based on Islamic law or shari’ah. There is still debate if Qutb actually was more a Salafi than a Muslim Brother, but it might be clear that he held a number of Salafi precepts (Wiktorowicz, 2006).


Ideology in Practice
The ideology of IS is based on conservative Islamic thought, but so do the ideologies of Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. Then what does the Islamic State make so different? IS differs in two ways from these organizations. In the first place, as its name claims, it is a state. Al Qaeda can be seen as quite successful in committing attacks in the Middle East and the West, but it never came anywhere close to reaching an Islamic State. The Muslim Brotherhood is a huge organization with political influence in a growing amount of countries in the Middle East and North Africa, but the ideal of an actual Islamic State looks still far away. And there it was, coming out of nowhere, an actual Islamic caliphate declared by a Sunni rebel group named itself the Islamic State. The group captured a territory roughly the size of Hungary and broke the Sykes-Picot borders of Iraq and Syria (Hamid, 2016). Ninety years after the fall of the last Islamic State, the Ottoman Empire, the caliphate was back. Although most Muslims strongly disagree with the practices of IS, the notion of an Islamic caliphate has a broad resonance among Muslim-majority populations. A survey on attitudes towards a caliphate found that 65 percent of respondents in Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan and Indonesia supported the idea of a caliphate (Hamid, 2016). The fact that IS actually governs a territory gives the group legitimacy and makes it more powerful. However, this strength also seems to become its weakness since the territory of the caliphate declines fast.
In the second place IS is more severe or pious, more professional and more brutal than former Islamist organizations. Of course most Muslims will not agree with the statement that IS is more pious, in fact they will say that IS is not pious at all. With pious in this sense is meant that it legitimates every action, as brutal as it may be, on the Qur’an and hadith. After every horrendous deed follows a statement of an IS ideologist that explains why they did it and that it is all based on Islamic scriptures (Wood, 2015). The group has a professional media center called al-Hayat, which is responsible for posting beheading videos on social media and launching a propaganda magazine. IS is very successful in reaching young Muslims all over the world on social media and encouraging them to join the fight, either in Syria or in their home countries. The first propaganda magazine is called Dabiq, named after a city in Syria where according to some Muslim traditions the final battle between the real Muslims and the infidels will take place, resulting in a final apocalypse (Wood, 2015). In this magazine IS proudly explains and defends their horrifying behavior. They explain for example why they take Yazidi women and use them as sex slaves. According to IS they just follow Islamic law, Yazidis are monotheists and therefore it is legitimate to use them as sex slaves (Wagenmakers, 2014). IS is in its ideology far more severe and radical than its predecessors. The group sees everyone that not follows its creed as an infidel and therefore a legitimate target. Most Muslims believe that defensive jihad is a duty or at least legitimate, so when Muslims or Muslim lands are attacked they have to fight back. Interpretation plays a big role here, because most Muslims would argue that its only allowed to fight combatants. IS states that there is a war between Muslims and unbelievers, so that basically makes every non-Muslim a legitimate target. But they go even further than that, they also emphasize an offensive jihad. This legitimates attacks on other Muslims like Shi’ites, and attacks on countries that are not involved in the war in the Middle East. For IS it does not really matter if you are a combatant, a civilian, a woman or even a child (Bunzel, 2015).

Dabiq, Rumiyyah and the future

“If one wants to get to know the program of the [Islamic] State, its politics, and its legal opinions, one ought to consult its leaders, its statements, its public addresses, its own sources” (Abu Muhammad al-‘Adnani, official spokesman of the Islamic State, May 21, 2012)

In the last version of their magazine Dabiq called Breaking the Cross IS explains why they hate ‘us’. In the article called Why We Hate You & Why We Fight You they state that they hate us primarily for ideological reasons and not for political reasons. The reason why they hate us is very simple, we do not believe in Allah so we are disbelievers. Western leaders, journalists and apostate imams will continue to make us believe that they mainly hate us for colonialism and discrimination, but they only do this because they are afraid to be politically incorrect. IS will never stop hating us until we embrace Islam (Dabiq, Issue 15).

“So you can continue to believe that those “despicable terrorists” hate you because of your lattes and your Timberlands, and continue spending ridiculous amounts of money to try to prevail in an unwinnable war, or you can accept reality and recognize that we will never stop hating you until you embrace Islam, and will never stop fighting you until you’re ready to leave the swamp of warfare and terrorism through the exits we provide, the very exits put forth by our Lord for the People of the Scripture: Islam, jizyah, or – as a last means of fleeting respite – a temporary truce.” (Dabiq, Issue 15).

This last issue of Dabiq was published in the summer of 2016, in the meantime IS launched a new magazine called Rumiyah. The title refers to Rome, which IS wishes to conquer as they see it as the capital of the Christian Western world (Clarion Project, 2017). The change of the name of the magazine has as well a very practical reason as a more strategical reason. The first reason is that IS lost the symbolically important city of Dabiq in the end of 2016 to Syrian rebels, so the group got no longer hold of it (Isis loses ‘prophesied’ town of Dabiq to Syrian rebels after short battle, 2016). The second reason is that IS has to anticipate on losing its territory and so losing its caliphate. As stated before the possession of territory gives the group more legitimacy and makes it more attractive than its predecessors, but the caliphate is declining fast and is likely to disappear in the near future.
IS always followed a twofold strategy of building an Islamic State and carrying terrorist attacks outside its territory (The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, 2015).
Since the declining of its territory the group focusses more on the latter one. IS has professional training camps where it trains Western jihadis so that they can go back to their home countries and carry out attacks there. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian citizen with Moroccan roots and seen as the mastermind behind the November 2015 Paris attacks, was trained in Syria and with his group responsible for killing 130 innocent people (How ISIS Built the Machinery of Terror Under Europe’s Gaze, 2016). The group recently also calls for lone wolves to carry out attacks in the West, and however these attacks are usually less professional they can still be very effective as we have seen in San Bernardino, Berlin and Istanbul. The only thing the attackers have to do is pledge allegiance to Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and they will be rewarded in paradise, according to IS (ISIS magazine calls for lone wolf attacks in Europe and the US to ‘avenge’ the death of their fighters in Mosul, 2016). With the fast decline of the caliphate, it is very likely that thousands of military trained jihadis will return to their homelands and continue their holy war there. This means for the future that IS is likely to lose its broad legitimacy, but also that the group still will be a big threat to Western societies.  

The so-called Islamic State can be seen in the line of Islamic revivalist movements that emerged in the early twentieth century as a reaction to the expansion of Western modernity. However, the group differs in two important ways from its predecessors. In the first place because the Islamic State is an actual state with territory. However most Muslims strongly disagree with the brutalities of IS, the notion of an Islamic State finds broad resonance among Muslims, it gives the group legitimacy and makes it somehow attractive. In the second place because the group is more severe and pious, more professional and more brutal than its predecessors. IS legitimates every action, how brutal it may be, on the Qur’an and hadith which gives them a very strong ideological stand. It claims that there is a war going between the true Muslims and the infidels, which makes everyone who does not follow the IS ideology a legal target. The group is furthermore very successful in reaching young Muslims all over the world with their propaganda channels on social media and encouraging them to join the fight, either in Syria or in their home countries.
With the decline of the caliphate the so-called Islamic State is likely to lose its broad legitimacy and attractiveness, but this does not mean that the group no longer is a threat. IS is shifting its focus more towards carrying out attacks in the West. With calls for lone wolf attacks and the possible return of jihadi fighters to their homelands, it is very likely that IS and its ideology will continue to be a big threat, not only to the Middle East but also to ‘the West’.



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