Wednesday, 23 March 2011

EXCELLENT: How Eretical is al-Qaeda? Some Light at the End of the Tunnel, or Just Some Internal Quarrel? Part II

But the aim is still the same: Jihad, the killing of Infidels because of the necessary spread of Islam

Continues from Part I

An In-Depth Summary of Sayyid Imam's New Polemic against Al-Qaeda, 'Exposing the Exoneration' By: Daniel Lav * (February 23, 2009)

Chapter 3: Al-Zawahiri's Strategy of Deception
In this chapter, Sayyid Imam accuses Ayman Al-Zawahiri of employing a strategy of deception throughout the Exoneration, both in general and in Islamic legal matters. Many of these are relatively minor matters dealt with elsewhere in Exposing the Exoneration, the Document, and Imam's Al-Hayat interview, and may be passed over. Following are some of the major points:

First, Imam writes that Al-Zawahiri throws out different opinions in Islamic legal matters, leaving the reader with the impression that it is permissible to follow any one of them. For instance, Al-Zawahiri cites some scholars who permit violating an agreement with infidels in order to justify the 9/11 attacks, despite the attackers having entered the U.S. with a visa. [22] Imam writes: "When there are disputing opinions, Allah, may He be praised, commanded us not to [arbitrarily] choose one of them, but rather to refer them to the Quran and the Sunna; the opinion that is in agreement with them is the true one, and the opinion that conflicts with them is the false one. This is what is called tarjih. Allah said (Quran 4:59): 'when you have a dispute in a matter, refer it to Allah and the Prophet, if you believe in Allah and in Judgment Day.'" He cites Ibn Taymiyya and other scholars who says that the 'ulama are unanimous in forbidding the adoption of a legal opinion without tarjih, and that to do so is a great sin.

Imam also addresses Al-Zawahiri's claim that the Document only has criticism for the mujahideen and that it "ignores the true criminals: the Americans and their helpers." [23] He points out that the Document does in fact address the issue; but more interesting is the fact that Imam takes this opportunity to expound on the principle that "the crimes of the infidel do not justify passing over the wrong [committed by] the Muslim in silence." Imam bases this principle on the circumstances of the revelation of Quran 2:217. According to tradition, Muhammad, after he and his followers emigrated to Medina, sent a party of Muslims to the area of Mecca to gather intelligence on the Quraysh tribe. They ran into a caravan of Quraysh and killed one of them during the sacred month in which fighting is forbidden. Verse 2:217 was then revealed to Muhammad: it calls fighting in the forbidden month a great sin, and the sins of the infidels even greater. Sayyid Imam's point is that even though the verse says the infidels' sins are worse, it does not pass over the sins of the Muslims in silence, and traditions relate that Muhammad paid blood money, indicating that this was indeed a wrongful killing. Imam then writes that this principle provides the answer to Al-Zawahiri's attempt to deflect criticism by saying that it is Al-Qaeda who is fighting the Americans, and that their crimes are greater. Imam adds: "From the preceding you learn why Al-Zawahiri asked so much in the Exoneration about the crimes of America and Israel, and made a show of his great interest in the Palestinian cause. This was meant as a sort of justification for [Al-Qaeda's] criminal school of belief. He doesn't want anyone to criticize them so long as crimes are committed by America and Israel… By doing this, he is deceiving people…" [24]

Sayyid Imam then adds insult to injury by comparing Al-Zawahiri to Gamal 'Abd Al-Nasser. (Salafi jihadists consider pan-Arabism heresy and 'Abd Al-Nasser an apostate.) He notes that 'Abd Al-Nasser tried to quell dissent following the defeat in the 1967 war with the slogan "No voice should rise above the din of battle," and says that Al-Qaeda is now employing the same excuse. But even the premise is not valid: far from defending the Muslims, Al-Qaeda drew the U.S. into Iraq for its own purposes, and then killed more Iraqis than the Americans did.

Imam then addresses in detail the actions of Al-Qaeda in Iraq: "bin Laden, Al-Zawahiri, and their followers bear the responsibility for every drop of blood that has been and will be spilled in Afghanistan and Iraq… The killing of the people of Iraq, in mosques, markets, and at funeral processions, and the blowing up of their houses, like the Jews blow up the houses of some Palestinians - is this jihad for the sake of Allah or foiling America's plans?... Was it not Al-Qaeda that lit the fuse of sectarian civil war in Iraq, through [the actions of] Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi, who killed the Shi'ites en masse? The Sunnis paid the price for this, in people killed, exiled, and driven out of their homes

"The Prophet told us of 'the sect made victorious' (al-ta'ifa al-mansura) that would champion Islam and the Muslims. In our days, there is the 'insane sect' (al-ta'ifa al-majnuna), which brings disasters on the Muslims and destroys countries and societies. Can the mentality that caused the loss of an Islamic state that existed in reality, in the Taliban's Afghanistan - can this mentality be expected to establish an Islamic state in Iraq - in reality, and not on the internet? And have the Islamic peoples become guinea pigs upon whom bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri try out their pastime and sport of killing en masse?..."

Another interesting subject is only briefly alluded to here; Sayyid Imam asks rhetorically whether Iraq was the Abode of Islam before the American invasion - a question no jihadist would answer in the affirmative. The implication is clear - that Al-Qaeda is interested only in fighting America, and not in establishing Islamic rule wherever it is absent.

Al-Qaeda Exploits the Palestinian Cause
Imam then accuses Al-Qaeda of exploiting the Palestinian cause for their own purposes. He writes that it is well known that the quickest way to gain popularity among the Arabs and Muslims is to focus on the Palestinian cause, and that Al-Zawahiri himself outlined this strategy in his book Knights Under the Prophet's Banner. According to Imam, though, Al-Qaeda has done nothing for the Palestinians other than make a verbal appeal to the Bedouin of Sinai to wage jihad. "In order to gain popularity, bin Laden often talks about the children of Palestine and their safety. But what about the children of Afghanistan, upon whom he brought the Americans, destruction, orphanhood, and displacement? Are they not all Muslims?" Imam writes that fighting against the Jews is not really among bin Laden's priorities, since he is focused on America, and that the talk of Palestine is solely for propaganda purposes.

He also writes that Al-Qaeda's failure to establish cooperation with any of the Palestinian factions is because the latter have nothing to gain from such a partnership, and not, as Al-Zawahiri claims, because of reservations Al-Qaeda has with regard to them. Imam writes, for instance: "Al-Zawahiri criticized Hamas for participating in elections on the basis of a secular constitution. But why [criticize] just Hamas? Why doesn't Al-Zawahiri criticize his sacred sheikh, bin Laden? Bin Laden spent enormous sums supporting Nawaz Sharif against Benazir Bhutto in the parliamentary elections in Pakistan - and these were funds for the jihad he had been given by the Saudis. When I learned of this in 1992, I said to Abu Hafs Al-Masri, who was the one who paid the funds to Nawaz Sharif: 'Abu Hafs, by Allah, bin Laden is leading you straight to hell.'" [25]

Imam: Peace Treaties with Israel Are Permissible
In a digression, Sayyid Imam explains his own position on Palestine and Israel, which is noteworthy in its own right. First, he says that the Palestinian cause is not the central issue confronting the Arabs and the Muslims; the most important matter is the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate. He then addresses bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri's position that recognition of Israel and signing a peace accord with it are forbidden; while peace accords with infidels are permitted, they argued that Israel is not a fixed infidel country, but rather an enemy occupying Muslim land. [26]

Regarding the issue of recognition, Imam writes that this term is a Western invention, and does not have any grounding in the shari'a on which it could be opposed. Whether there is a distinction between a fixed infidel country and an occupier of Muslim lands is also a matter of dispute in Muslim law. The general principle, according to Imam, is that the texts permitting peace accords are not restricted, and thus it is always permitted to sign such an accord with any infidel anywhere if this serves the interests of the Muslims. To illustrate this point, he notes that Salah Al-Din Al-Ayyubi (Saladin) concluded a number of treaties with the Crusaders.

That said, Imam writes that jihad against Israel remains obligatory; while this jihad has no chance of success, it inflicts damage on the enemy, and prevents further deterioration in the situation. [27]

Al-Qaeda Has Had Dealings with Apostate Regimes
Sayyid Imam then responds to Al-Zawahiri's accusation that the Document avoided discussing the rulers of Muslim countries, whom jihadists consider apostates who must be fought. Al-Zawahiri is in the right here: while the discerning reader can deduce from the Document that Imam does still consider the rulers apostates, there is no direct statement to this effect, in stark contrast with Imam's earlier writings. [28] Since there is little Imam can say to directly parry this accusation, he instead goes on the offensive and depicts Al-Zawahiri and bin Laden as being inconsistent on this issue themselves.

First, he writes that Al-Zawahiri's brother Muhammad, who is in prison together with Imam, told the security services in Egypt that he held the ruler (i.e. Mubarak) to be a Muslim (and not an apostate), and that after saying this he began to receive privileges. [29] In addition, Imam claims that Muhammad Al-Zawahiri made a secret attempt to reach an accord with the Egyptian authorities in June 2007. Second, Imam writes that bin Laden only began to declare the Saudi rulers apostates after they revoked his citizenship and his passport in 1994; the implication here is that bin Laden acted for personal reasons, and not for the reasons bin Laden himself gives, e.g. the hosting of non-Muslim troops in the Arabian Peninsula. Imam claims that in 1996, when the Sudanese decided to expel bin Laden, he wrote a letter of apology to the Saudi rulers and asked to return, but was refused. Imam also mentions bin Laden's cooperation with Pakistani intelligence agencies, and he repeats his accusation about bin Laden's involvement in Pakistani elections. [30]

Chapter 4: On Al-Zawahiri's History and His Relationship to Bin Laden
Sayyid Imam writes: "Al-Zawahiri, in his book Knights under the Prophet's Banner, explains that he became close to Al-Qaeda in order to unite the efforts of the Muslims. This is incorrect. Bin Laden was around him for 14 years, from 1987 to 2001, and he didn't unite with him during this time. To the contrary, he harshly criticized him, to the point of accusing him of being an agent of Saudi intelligence, simply because [bin Laden] withheld donations from them in 1995. Al-Zawahiri wrote an article in their [Egyptian Jihad's] journal Kalimat Haqq with the title 'The Youth Sacrificed their Lives and the Wealthy Were Stingy with their Money.'

"The Jihad group didn't join Al-Qaeda, only Al-Zawahiri and eight others did; and the reason was not to unify the jihad but rather, as I have mentioned, because Al-Zawahiri saw that all the attention, money, and fame were bin Laden's, since the announcement of the [Global] Front in 1998, and Al-Zawahiri knew that he would not get any of this just by being allied with bin Laden, and that he had to be a follower of him.

"Bin Laden knew well that when Al-Zawahiri joined him, this was the joining of someone who was impotent and had reached a dead end, and who hadn't succeeded in anything. [Bin Laden] didn't entrust him with any activity, and Al-Zawahiri didn't have anything to give bin Laden - whether in the field of the shari'a, militarily, politically, or financially - except his name. So bin Laden, in turn, humored him in name only, and changed the name 'Al-Qaeda' to 'Qaedat Al-Jihad' - and this is the name Al-Zawahiri is eager to emphasize. By the same token, bin Laden didn't brief Al-Zawahiri on the events of 9/11 before they occurred, and he didn't allow anyone but himself to appear in the media.

"After joining Al-Qaeda, Al-Zawahiri lived alone in the shadows. He used to frequent the office of Al-Qaeda's Media Division in Qandahar to participate in some of their activities under the leadership of Khaled Sheikh Muhammad.

"Then came his golden opportunity to realize his life's dream and his desire for fame and stardom; the events of 9/11 came to Al-Zawahiri on a golden platter [to help him] realize his desires. These were momentous events from which he could derive great media benefits. Even if he had no part in them, they were committed by an organization he had joined three months earlier."

According to Imam, this personal investment in the 9/11 attacks is what led Al-Zawahiri to explain away all of the shari'a problems with the attacks, to brand anyone who opposed them as serving the interests of the Zionist-American alliance, and to refuse to take responsibility for destroying the Islamic state in Afghanistan.

Sayyid Imam then accuses Al-Zawahiri of "
sanctifying" bin Laden "as though, after the Prophet, [another] infallible person had emerged." He continues: "The strange thing is that Al-Zawahiri, all his life, criticized the Muslim Brotherhood, and then became a follower of one of them - bin Laden" He proposes three reasons for Al-Zawahiri's behavior:

1. It was bin Laden, through the 9/11 attacks, who finally offered Al-Zawahiri the opportunity to achieve fame;
2. Al-Zawahiri wants to succeed bin Laden after his death and inherit the "Al-Qaeda" brand. Since (according to Imam) the vast majority of Al-Qaeda members are Saudis or Yemenis whose attachment to bin Laden is personal rather than ideational, Al-Zawahiri feels he has to sanctify bin Laden in order to win their loyalty. (For his part, Imam estimates that it is very unlikely that Al-Zawahiri could succeed in winning the loyalty of the Saudis and Yemenis);
3. Al-Qaeda's funding was overwhelmingly Saudi and went to bin Laden directly, and Al-Zawahiri wants to ensure that at least some of this funding continues in the event that he manages to succeed bin Laden.

Imam then turns to recap all of Al-Zawahiri's misdeeds on the way to achieving his goal of fame. He testified against his fellow Egyptian Islamists in 1981, sold them off to Sudanese intelligence in 1993, and destroyed the Egyptian Jihad by joining the Global Front in 1998 (i.e., by doing so he led the Americans to begin extraordinary renditions of Egyptian Jihad members). He and bin Laden never thought to apologize for destroying Afghanistan, "as though the Afghans were worthless insects." In all the years they received protection from Sudan and Afghanistan, and despite all the money they had, "they never built a single road, school, or hospital - at a time when hundreds of Afghan children were dying of hunger and cold." Al-Qaeda entered Iraq by the offices of the Kurdish Ansar Al-Islam group, and then turned their backs on Ansar Al-Islam and started acting independently. (Imam seems to take this as a personal offense, since he adds that the head of Ansar Al-Islam, Mullah Krekar, translated Imam's book The Essentials of Making Ready for Jihad into Kurdish). Finally, Al-Zawahiri falsified religion in order to justify the 9/11 attacks.

Sayyid Imam concludes the section with the words: "Oh Muslims: jihad for the sake of Allah is right, but don't allow these people [i.e. Al-Qaeda] and their ilk to traffic in this noble cause. They push the youth to extreme sacrifices, and visit heavy calamities on Islam and the Muslims - while at the same time they are as concerned as can be for their personal safety and advantage - [all this] without achieving the least benefit for Islam and the Muslims…" [31]

Al-Qaeda Are Like the Anti-Christ; Bin Laden Can't Read a Book from Cover to Cover
The final installment of Exposing the Exoneration consists almost entirely of ground already covered, but Imam does add a few points regarding Al-Qaeda's veneer of religiosity. He draws an implicit comparison between Al-Qaeda and the Dajjal (the antichrist), and cites the following eschatological hadith: "The Dajjal will not operate clandestinely. He will come from the East and will call people to religion, and people will follow him. He will continue this way until he reaches Kufa [in Iraq], where he will make a show of religiosity, and will act in accordance with religion. People will follow him, and he will urge people [to follow religion]. Then he will claim to be a prophet. This will alarm all sensible people, and they will part ways with him. After a time, he will say 'I am Allah'. One of his eyes will be blind, one of his ears will be cut off, and between his eyes will be written 'kafir.' This will be apparent to any Muslim, and anyone with even a mustard-seed of faith in his heart will part ways with him." Imam then adds examples of others who started out as champions of religion and ended up perverting it or opposing it, and calls on people not to be taken in by Al-Qaeda's talk of religion and jihad.

Another passage is meant to further demonstrate the point that Al-Qaeda's attachment to Islam is superficial and instrumental. Imam relates that "in 1994 in Sudan there was a subject bin Laden was interested in. I suggested he read a certain book on the matter. He told me: 'I'm not capable of reading an entire book to the end.' As for his speeches, his followers write them for him."

Imam emphasizes that instead of following the slogans of Al-Qaeda one should follow the 'ulama, since they are the legitimate authority in an age when there is no Caliph. He states that it was this concern that led him to write his earlier work, The Compendium on Religious Study. [32] In fact, it is this issue that Imam sees as the heart of his dispute with Al-Qaeda.

Daniel Lav is Director of MEMRI's Middle East and North Africa Reform Project

[1] Interview with Al-Hayat (Saudi Arabia), December 9, 2007.
[2] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1785, "Major Jihadi Cleric and Author of Al-Qaeda's Shari'a Guide to Jihad…" December 14, 2007, ; and:
MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1826, "Major Jihadi Cleric and Author of Al-Qaeda's Shari'a Guide to Jihad Sayyed Imam vs. Al-Qaeda (2)…" January 25, 2008,
[3] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), November 18, 2008.
[4] This verse has served as one of Sayyid Imam's main justifications for takfir throughout the years; cf. Al-'Umda fi i'dad al-'udda p. 297, where he uses it to show that those who deny the doctrine of offensive jihad are unbelievers.
[5] This Ahmad Al-Jaza'iri is mentioned by Yusuf Al-'Uyayri, the founder of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; according to Al-'Uyayri, Al-Jaza'iri was head of a small but prominent radical group in Peshawar that pronounced takfir against Muslim scholars, but did not participate in the jihad, on the grounds that it was not permitted to fight alongside the Taliban. Risala maftuha li-fadilat al-sheikh Safar al-Hawali, p. 22. Since Al-'Uyayri was an Al-Qaeda supporter, it is possible that his representation of Al-Jaza'iri's position is overly general, and that he only pronounced takfir against scholars affiliated with Al-Qaeda, and not "Muslim scholars" in general. This would be in accordance with Sayyid Imam's characterization of him. It should also be mentioned that Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi, whom Imam names as Al-Jaza'iri's teacher, refrains on principle from pronouncing takfir against Muslims scholars; Al-Maqdisi, Imta' al-nazr fi kashf shubuhat murji'at al-'asr, p. 70, ft. 52 cont.
[6] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), November 19, 2008.
[7] Cf. Document of Right Guidance in Al-Jarida (Kuwait), November 25, 2007, where Imam explains that the human shield argument does not hold for attacks in America because such attacks are considered an offensive jihad (jihad al-talab). This distinction also explains Imam's position in the Document of Right Guidance requiring parental permission to wage jihad. He first states this in the absolute, and then specifies that parental permission is definitely required in offensive jihad, and that some scholars require it in defensive jihad under certain conditions. Al-Jarida (Kuwait), November 21, 2007. (Imam uses the terms jihad kifa'i, i.e. jihad that is incumbent on the Muslim community as a whole, and jihad 'ayni, i.e. jihad that is incumbent on each Muslim as an individual. These are the forms of obligation in offensive and defensive jihad, respectively.)
A number of critics, including Al-Zawahiri and Al-Maqdisi, wrote that Imam's position on parental permission was an elementary mistake in jurisprudence. Al-Zawahiri claims that the unanimous view is that parental permission is not required in defensive jihad, and expresses astonishment that Imam does not even mention this view explicitly, writing that this is the "nadir of the author's downfall in religious knowledge." Exoneration, pp. 72-73. Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi writes that requiring parental permission (in absolute terms) without distinguishing between offensive and defensive jihad is an egregious mistake, since the fact that it is not required in defensive jihad "is known [even] to beginning students." Al-Maqdisi concludes from this that this and other parts of the Document of Right Guidance were not in fact authored by Sayyid Imam. Su'al hawla ma nusiba ila al-shaykh sayyid imam min taraju'at, Ramadan 1429 (September 2008).
These critics, however, were arguing at cross-purposes: for Imam, jihad against America is offensive jihad. Even his stance on fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan is nuanced: he supports fighting, but believes that the balance of forces precludes hope of victory. This consideration may be enough to demote these arenas from the category of classic defensive jihad.
[8] Exoneration, p. 167. (Imam is apparently working from a different version of the Exoneration, and gives the page number as 193. The page numbers here correspond to the standard edition posted on jihadi websites.)
[9] Ibn Taymiyya, Majmu'at al-fatawa, 3/267.
[10] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), November 21, 2008.
[11] Cf. Ella Landau-Tasseron, "'Noncombatants' in Muslim Legal Thought," Hudson Institute Research Monographs on the Muslim World, 1/3, December 2006,
[12] For more on the human shield cf. MEMRI Special Report No. 40, "Expatriate Syrian Salafi Sheikh Abu Basir Al-Tartusi Comes Out against Suicide Attacks," February 10, 2006,
[13] Al-Jarida (Kuwait), November 25, 2007.
[14] More specifically, Imam argues that Al-Qaeda are ignorant of a rule of jurisprudence that governs how to reconcile conflicting laws. This is that the more general law is restricted by the more specific one. In this case, the principle of retaliation in kind is general, whereas the categories of people one is not allowed to kill is specific. Thus one should retaliate in kind, except where doing so would involve killing those one is not allowed to kill. Cf. Ibn Taymiyya, Majmu'at al-fatawa, 21/262.
[15] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), November 22, 2008.
[16] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1785, "Major Jihadi Cleric…" December 14, 2007,
[17] Exoneration, p. 85ff.
[18] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), November 23, 2008.
[19] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), November 24, 2008.
[20] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), November 25, 2008.
[21] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), December 1, 2008.
[22] In the Exoneration, Al-Zawahiri also mentions favorably what he acknowledges is a minority view, that the infidels' guarantee of safety to the Muslim visitor does not automatically entail an obligation on the Muslim's part not to harm the host country. Exoneration, p. 93.
[23] Exoneration, p. 4.
[24] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), November 25, 2008.
[25] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), November 27, 2008.
[26] Cf. Bin Laden, Risala ila Ibn Baz bi-butlan fatwahu bi'l-sulh ma'a al-yahud, 1415h.,
[27] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), November 28, 2008.
[28] Cf. MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 444, "The Party of Jurisprudence vs. The Party of Action: Sayyed Imam, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, and the Split in the Jihad Movement," May 29, 2008,
[29] Imam relates that Muhammad Al-Zawahiri later went back to arguing for jihad against the ruler, but not on the grounds that he is an apostate, but on the grounds that he is a hypocrite (munafiq) - one who outwardly conforms to Islam but denies it in his heart. Imam writes that this is entirely contrary to the shari'a, since only Allah knows who is a munafiq, and from the legal point of view such a person is considered a Muslim against whom it is forbidden to fight. Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), November 29, 2008.
[30] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), November 29, 2008.
[31] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), December 1, 2008.
[32] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), December 2, 2008.


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