ISIL affirming their Salafi Jihadi credentials

This is statement by the ISIL spokesperson Abu Muhammad al-’Adnani, seeks to affirm the Salafi Jihadi credentials of the ISIL and reasons for their differences with Al-Qaeda and their official affiliate Jabhat al-Nosra (the latter accused of deviating from the Salafi methodology):

So what has changed to cause the leadership of Al-Qāʿidah to cause us grief, and to label us as the descendants of Ibn Muljim, and to label us as Khawārij?! Fear Allah regarding your selves! Fear Allah regarding the Mujāhidīn! What is your evidence for this that you incite people against them, you cause their blood to flow, you work for the destruction of their State and standing in its way! Tell us, by your Lord, what is your evidence?! 

ISIL and reasons for excommunication

The ISIL are not the Khawarij documented by medieval Muslim heresiologists in their encyclopaedias of sects and religions; historically the Khawarij, as a sect, were not uniform but are now largely extinct. Nevertheless there remains the ‘Ibadia‘ that exists in Oman as a state sponsored form of Islam and also, as a lesser presence, followers of this sect can be found in Kenya and North Africa; but this sect is significantly different to the Khawarij of earlier centuries. The ISIL, on the other hand, are Salafi in doctrine and similar to other Jihadi Salafi groups, view other Salafi factions as misguided in understanding the writings of Ibn-Taymiyyah and Muhammad ibn-Abdul Wahhab. For example, there is the accusation that Muhammad Al-Albani (his writings remain a guide to the global Salafi movement and his many sittings with his students were recorded and some transcripts published), fell into errors regarding the relation between belief and works.

For Jihadi Salafis he distinguishes between belief and works, to the extent that no practice affects the status of belief and hence the plausibility of excommunication (takfir). Instead, in their position (e.g. see the writings of Abu-Muhammad Al-Maqdisi), the genus of religious practice is both fundamental and a condition for sustaining belief. Further, there is an accusation that he denied what they describe as acts that intrinsically justify excommunication and this includes, for example, mere utterance of blasphemy and importantly adopting ‘secular’ laws as state legislation or even joining the armed forces in any of the nation states that exist in ‘Muslim countries’ and so maintaining these ‘secular’ states. These acts are labelled as ‘kufr ‘amali’ or actions that intrinsically denote disbelief, as they relate to issues of belief and disbelief directly and hence become a basis for excommunication. It should be noted that excommunication does not extend to committing greater sins, as is the position of the classical Khawarij sects and hence they state their view, regarding excommunication, as the correct position of Sunni Islam (Sunni Islam means, in a very strict sense, a strand of Hanbali Islam that can be identified, predominately, in the writings of Ibn-Taymiyyah). This far groups such as the ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra are in agreement.

The issue of difference is the view, by Jabhat al-Nusra, that ISIL have gone into extremes in their expansion and application of this category (actions that intrinsically denote disbelief) to include dissociation from any faction receiving funding from these states; this includes even explicitly Islamist coalitions such as the Islamic Front. This is further exasperated, according to the ISIL, as these groups receive funding on the condition they collaborate to uproot the ISIL from their territories (they are likened, in ISIL literature, to the Iraqi ‘sahwat’). To not dissociate and even worse abet these groups is to make allegiance with the enemy at times of war and this alone is a basis for excommunication (Quran 5: 51, for example, is cited to justify this as ‘kufr ‘amali’). The FSA, on the other hand, are viewed as a ‘secular’ coalition invested in a democratic state and aligned to the National Coalition that is directly supported by the US and the Saudi monarchy and that alone is sufficient to make outright excommunication of those under this coalition. Jabhat al-Nusra only agree regarding the excommunication of the leaders of the FSA and the National Coalition but hold the Islamic Front as believers and are willing to cooperate with them in military operations. The ISIL also accuse the Islamic Front and the FSA, with others, in attacking their positions and this, to them, is a broader conspiracy to exterminate the organisation from Syria.

In future posts I will attempt to note different Salafi discourses pertaining to collective guilt, de-humanising through identifying individuals to opposing religious collectives and the necessity to dissociate and despise all those considered outside the pale of Islam (the doctrine of ‘Al-Wala’ Wal Bara”). These different discourses figure, to different degrees, in all Salafi groups and play a part in how they perceive and treat the ‘other’.

Differences within and between armed groups

There is much being said regarding a joint statement by a number of armed groups in Aleppo. The statement mentioned the establishment of an Islamic state and denounced the ‘National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces’ as part of a conspiracy. Expectantly Jabhat al-Nusra was one of the armed groups supporting the statement but more surprisingly the At-Tawhid Division were also initially supportive. The former is a Salafi Jihadi group, while the latter is an umbrella group consisting of many smaller armed factions. Leaders of At-Tawhid Division do not display a strong Salafi Jihadi ideology, though some of its constituent factions may be more inclined to this trend.  Further and significantly, the organisation’s emblem also features the colours of Syria’s independence flag.

Later At-Tawhid Division published another video statement dissociating themselves from their previous statement (both statements are still carried on their website), this time announcing their support of the ‘National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces’ and a civil state, with an Islamic reference point. It is plausible, considering the organisation is the largest armed coalition in Aleppo, that they came under intense pressure to renounce the initial statement, after worries that it could affect funding and supply of weapons.

That Jabhat al-Nusrah were part of the initial statement is telling. The group is more centralised and with a clear and strict Salafi Jihadi world-view. For example its emblem is (exclusively) a black banner with an Islamic testimony of faith inscribed.  This is with the purpose – the group established and set itself apart from other more nationalist groups, with the idea of ‘clarity of banner’ (وضوح الراية). Clarity of banner is that any armed struggle should be for the sake of raising the word of God and to establish Islamic law. For this purpose it refuses to join groups such as the At-Tawhid Division, due to this lack of clarity.

Most of the groups mentioned in the video declaring the formation of an ‘Islamic state’ are Jihadi Salafi, while it is the name of the At-Tawhid division that stands out. That the division would renounce the statement indicates there may be friction within the organisation (understandable, considering that over one hundred armed factions operate under its name) and this also points to significant differences between and within  different armed groups in the future. With arms already stringent in supply and channelled to certain groups vouched by the ‘National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces’ (one of the main pressing reasons for the formation of the coalition) and differences in political vision before and after the regime’s fall, then eventual confrontations between anti-regime groups could be a possibility.