Friday, February 05, 2010

Conversation with a Cyber Jihadi: Al-Qa'ida, "Defensive" Jihad, Takfir, & Global War

Global Jihad, from North America to Europe to Africa to the Middle East & Asia

In December (2009) I wrote a lengthy post about rumors that were then swirling around the jihadi-takfiri web forums about the possible death of Abu Yahya al-Libi, a senior leader in Al-Qa'ida Central (AQC) who represents a new generation of dynamic and charismatic jihadi leaders, in a United States pilot-less drone strike in Waziristan, Pakistan. The post, entitled "Leaderless Jihad? What Rumors about Abu Yahya al-Libi's Death & the Commotion among Cyber Jihadis Tell Us," provided a biographical sketch of Abu Yahya and an analysis of the rumors of his death among cyber jihadis and what their discussion could tell us about the role of charismatic leadership in transnational jihadi movements such as AQC.

Abu Yahya al-Libi

Although the rumors turned out to not be true, this post yielded a fascinating and instructive "interview"/conversation of sorts with a cyber jihadi with the nom de guerre Asad'Allah [Lion of God]. Although he shared a similar user name with a prominent member of several English and Arabic-language jihadi-takfiri web forums, I was unable to verify whether or not it was the same individual. His location, based on his IP address, is in a village located near a major U.S. city less than 7 hours from Bloomington, Indiana, a place not famed for being "Ard al-Jihad wa'l Ribat," a land of struggle and guardianship. The exchange took place in the "Comments" section of my post.

"There is no God but [the One] God"; Global Jihad

Asad'Allah wanted to "debate" two main issues: (1) the permissibility of defensive jihad [struggle] against foreign powers occupying Muslim lands and killing Muslim civilians, and (2) the requirement for Muslims to participate in such a defensive jihad. In his first comment, he stated, "...I am confident that I could clearly show you that, according to the Qur'an and Sunnah [traditions of the Prophet Muhammad's sayings and actions]... that Jihad is an obligation for Muslims right now as we speak."

I proceeded to pose a series of directed but generally open-ended questions to Asad'Allah, eliciting a series of responses and counter-responses for one week, after which he seemingly became bored or annoyed at not getting the type of "debate" he sought. In the interest of presenting this exchange to a broader audience than it may otherwise have if it remains relegated to the "Comments" section, I present the entire "interview"/conversation below, with additional explanations/comments appearing in red in brackets. I have not edited his comments for grammar, spelling, or syntax but have deleted extraneous spaces. Asad'Allah has included parenthetical notes of his own, which also appear in brackets but not in red font as mine do.

"Fate of Apostates," cyber poster using a still from a video produced by the Islamic State of Iraq of the execution of Iraqi security forces

One of the most notable recurring themes in Asad'Allah's comments is belief that the armed conflict that AQC and other jihadi-takfiri groups engage in is, at its heart, defensive. This is also a frequent theme in the statements of senior leaders in AQC and other jihadi-takfiri groups such as the AQC affiliates in Iraq and Yemen, Al-Qa'ida in the Land of the Two Rivers/Iraq (AQI) and Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Their war is presented as a response to foreign colonialism and occupation by the "Crusaders" and Zionists (Israelis), who are aided by their treacherous Muslim allies, who are labeled "apostates" [murtadeen] and, in the case of the rulers of Muslim nation-states, "tyrants" and "idols" [Taghout; plural: Tawagheet].

For aesthetic purposes, I have interspersed some jihadi-takfiri artwork from my research archive.
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"Leaders of Jihad " (from top): Usama bin Laden, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, and Khattab, the famous Arab jihadi commander in Chechnya who was assassinated by Russia in 2002.

ASAD'ALLAH [begins with a quote from my post]: "He seemingly endorses the argument for a "leaderless jihad"

I didnt get that at all. In all your research...what do you know about defensive jihad? Do you know the positions of the four imams in regards to when jihad becomes an obligation on all Muslims? Are you aware of the criteria? In fact, I am interested in debating you. I dont have a degree, or at least something similar to you, but I am confident that I could clearly show you that, according to the Qur'an and Sunnah... that Jihad is an obligation for Muslims right now as we speak."

I.S. (me): "...Your type "sides" with Muslims by murdering them and then justifying their murder..."

ASAD'ALLAH: "I wouldnt agree with that either. That report out of West Point is pure trash [referencing a report produced by the U.S. Military Academy at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center that found AQC has killed more Muslims than non-Muslims]. Most people that are being attacked in Afghanistan for example, are the police and army, who according to the Qur'an and Sunnah, have fallen into the realm of apostasy from Islam. Its very clear. So the people regarded as Muslims by those outside of the Ummah of Muhammad [SallaAllahu alayhi was salaam; "peace and blessings upon him (the Prophet)"] i.e. Kuffar [A word in the Qur'an for all non-Muslims; literally "unbelievers" (in Islam)], are in fact mostly people who have taken themselves outside the folds of Islam, through their actions. If you want to hold a debate, I am ready.

"O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust." 5:51" [quoting a Qur'anic verse]"

"The State of Islam [Islamic State of Iraq] Remains because it is built on skulls of the Crusaders & Apostates"

I.S.: "Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 019, Hadith Number 4320. [major collection of Sunni ahadith, traditions of the Prophet's sayings and actions]..."It is narrated by Ibn 'Umar that a woman was found killed in one of these battles; so the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) forbade the killing of women and children."

Muwatta of Malik, Book 021, Hadith Number 010.

Section : Prohibition against Killing Women and Children in Military Expeditions.

Yahya related to me from Malik from Yahya ibn Said that Abu Bakr as-Siddiq was sending armies to ash-Sham. He went for a walk with Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan who was the commander of one of the battalions. It is claimed that Yazid said to Abu Bakr, "Will you ride or shall I get down?" Abu Bakrsaid, "I will not ride and you will not get down. I intend these steps of mine to be in the way of Allah."

Then Abu Bakr advised Yazid, "You will find a people who claim to have totally given themselves to Allah. Leave them to what they claim to have given themselves. You will find a people who have shaved the middle of their heads, strike what they have shaved with the sword.

"I advise you ten things| Do not kill women or children or an aged, infirm person. Do not cut down fruit-bearing trees. Do not destroy an inhabited place. Do not slaughter sheep or camels except for food. Do not burn bees and do not scatter them. Do not steal from the booty, and do not be cowardly."

Sahih Muslim, Book 019, Hadith Number 4319.

"It is narrated on the authority of 'Abdullah that a woman was found killed in one of the battles fought by the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him). He disapproved of the killing of women and children."

ASAD'ALLAH: "OK, so this is the debate? This still has nothing to with Jihad and its validity at this point in time. That is what I want to debate.

Sahih Bukhari - Book #52 "Fighting in the Cause of Allah(Jihad)" Hadith #263

Narrated Ibn'Umar [RadiAllahuanhu; "May God be pleased with Him"]: The Prophet[sallAllahu alayhi was salaam] burnt the date-palms of Bani An-Nadir.

Sahih Muslim - Book #19 "The Book of Jihad and Expedition", Hadith # 4321

It is reported on the authority of Sa'b b. Jaththama [RadiAllahuanhu] that the Prophet of Allah (may peace be upon him), when asked about the women and children of the polytheists being killed during the night raid, said: "They are from them."

Hadith # 4322

It is narrated by Sa'b b. Jaththama [RadiAllahuanhu] that he said (to the Holy Prophet): Messenger of Allah, we kill the children of the polytheists during the night raids. He said: "They are from them."

Hadith # 4323

Sa'b b. Jaththama [RadiAllahuanhu] has narrated that the Prophet (may peace be upon him) asked: What about the children of polytheists killed by the cavalry during the night raid? He said: "They are from them."

Hadith # 4324

It is narrated on the authority of 'Abdullah [RadiAllahuanhu] that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) ordered the date-palms of Banu Nadir to be burnt and cut. These palms were at Buwaira. Qutaibah and Ibn Rumh [RadiAllahuanhuma] in their versions of the tradition have added: So Allah, the Glorious and Exalted, revealed the verse:" Whatever trees you have cut down or left standing on their trunks, it was with the permission of Allah so that He may disgrace the evil-doers" (Surah lix. Ayah 5).

Hadith # 4325

It is narrated on the authority of Ibn Umar [RadiAllahuanhu] that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) caused the date-palms of Banu Nadir to be cut down and burnt. It is in this connection that Hassan (the poet) said: It was easy for the nobles of Quraish to barn Buwaira whose sparks were flying in all directions. In the same connection was revealed the Qur'anic verse:" Whatever trees you have cut down or left standing on their trunks."

Hadith # 4326

'Abdullah b. Umar [RadiAllahuanhu] reported that Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) burnt the date-palms of Banu Nadir."

I.S.: "Introduction to Hadith: Muhammad's Legacy in the Medieval & Modern World, and How the Sunni Hadith Canon was Formed"

ASAD'ALLAH: "Thats it? Thought so..."

Global Jihad; "Until the (establishment) of a caliphate (state based) on the Prophetic model/system"

I.S.: "You are free to lay out your views."

ASAD'ALLAH: "Jihad is Fard al 'Ayn [an individual obligation, as opposed to a communal obligation requiring the order of a legitimate ruler] for all Muslims right now, in this current siutation. This has ijma of all the classical scholars and it is in totaly line with Qur'aan and Sunnah. A whole, vast chunk of Islam is labeled as "violent extremism" and "terrorism", etc. "Insurgency" and what have you. But it is just part of our religion. Jihad is part of our religion. And Allah ta Ala commands us in the Qur'aan to defend ourselves. And this is what Al Qaidah is doing, for example."

I.S.: "Perhaps you could provide some specific citations so that those readers who would like to check the sources may do so.

Perhaps you could also discuss why AQC's definition of its activities fits under classical definitions of jihad and sanctioned warfare when many Muslims, including scholars, say that it does not.

What is your reply to those who argue that the AQC actions do not fall under defensive jihad, but are in fact offensive?"

ASAD'ALLAH (includes quotes from me, in italics): "Perhaps you could also discuss why AQC's definition of its activities fits under classical definitions of jihad and sanctioned warfare when many Muslims, including scholars, say that it does not."

What scholars? Im sure I could guess, but some citation is also warranted I would say.

"What is your reply to those who argue that the AQC actions do not fall under defensive jihad, but are in fact offensive?"

Never heard this argument. Thats a new one for me. How can there even be offensive Jihad right now, when there is no state. Ill see if I can pull up some video for this subject."

"Leaders/Commanders of Jihad "; (from left): Usama bin Laden, Abu Yahya al-Libi, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, & Shaykh 'Abdullah 'Azzam

I.S.: "There are many, but quick references to some of the more important can be found in these "compilations":

Scholars List from C. Kurzman

and

Scholar's List from J. Cole

One could also add Salman al-Awdah's comments chastising Usama bin Laden from two or so years ago. (Al-'Awdah is a prominent Saudi Salafi religious scholar who has criticized Bin Laden for AQC's violence.)

Additionally, what is your view of Shi'i Muslims and Sunnis who do not agree with your views? What is your view of wala wa'l bara ["loyalty" (to "true" Muslims, i.e. jihadis in the jihadi-takfiri worldview) and takfir [declaring other Muslims to be apostates] and how it should or should not be practiced?"

ASAD'ALLAH (includes quotes from me, in italics): "There are many, but quick references to some of the more important can be found in these "compilations":

I think I have seen this before. A bunch of palace mouthpieces and those who adhere to the duliting and polluting of Islam. Those of the school of compromise. Yes, lets have peace with the people who bomb our children...

Insanity.

Same goes for Salman al Awdah. No one listens to him, irrelevant. Go ask the youth how they feel about him. He is a mouthpiece as well.

And from the list, lets not get started on Tantawi...(Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the grand rector of the famous Sunni seminary/university of al-Azhar in Cairo, has been roundly criticized by jihadi-takfiris and some non-jihadi Muslim religious scholars for critical comments he made about the wearing of the full face covering, the niqab, in some public places)
"Additionally, what is your view of Shi'i Muslims and Sunnis who do not agree with your views? What is your view of wala wa'l bara and takfir and how it should or should not be practiced?"

Whatever the Qur'aan and Sunnah says, and what the classical scholars and Ulama [scholars] of Jihad say...(jihadis differentiate between the 'ulama al-balat, "scholars of the court," that is official government-paid religious scholars, and 'ulama al-jihad, the "true" religious scholars who justify armed struggle)...That is my view.

One scholar I take from is shaykh Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi [Hafidhahullah; "May God protect him"]. He doesnt make takfir of the whole of the Shi'a community. And backs up that understanding. And I adhere to that. (Abu Muhammad is arguably the most influential living jihadi-Salafi religious scholar and ideologue, from a Palestinian refugee family who now lives in the Jordanian industrial city of al-Zarqa. One of his former students was the Jordanian founder of AQI, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, with whom Abu Muhammad split over the latter's use of mass violence against civilian Muslims).

But what about takfir? I believe in the impediments of takfir. Chain takfir is a dangerous and heretical concept. Takfir also has a place in Islam. Since the beginning. Its not an alien concept. At All.

"Shaykh [leader] of the Mujahideen [warriors of faith], Usama bin Laden, may God protect him": (middle left) Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah (assassinated in 2002), Abu Yahya al-Libi, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, and (far right), Shaykh 'Abd al-Latif Musa, a.k.a. Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi (the spiritual leader of Jund Ansar Allah killed in a battle with HAMAS in August 2009).

I.S.: "How do you determine who is one of the 'ulama al-balat? What of 'ulama who are not "state 'ulama" such as the official "grand muftis" but who still do not actively support you, such as those who signed the refutation of terrorism from Darul Uloum? (a famous Sunni center of religious learning in India)

Isn't there disagreement over how to approach the Shi'a among some of the 'ulama al-jihad, such as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and commanders such as the late Abu Mus'ab? How do you rectify these differences?

What is your definition of a "civilian"? Do you think that civilians can be killed during a war? If so, under what circumstances?"


ASAD'ALLAH (with quotes from me in italics): "How do you determine who is one of the 'ulama al-balat? What of 'ulama who are not "state 'ulama" such as the official "grand muftis" but who still do not actively support you, such as those who signed the refutation of terrorism from Darul Uloum?"

To be honest with you, in all my reading and studying, I have never come across the term "Ulama al Balat". What does that mean?

And the refutation of terrorism... its all word games. What is seen as terrorism by some is seen quite differently to others. I see the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, and the firebombings there as terrorism. Do you?

"Isn't there disagreement over how to approach the Shi'a among some of the 'ulama al-jihad, such as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and commanders such as the late Abu Mus'ab? How do you rectify these differences?"
From my understanding Abu Musab az Zarqawi [Rahimullah; "may God have mercy on him"] is considered a scholar.WAllahu alam ("God knows").

"What is your definition of a "civilian"? Do you think that civilians can be killed during a war? If so, under what circumstances?"

There is not such thing as a civilian in the Shari'ah [Islamic law, of which there are numerous interpretations and jurisprudential traditions and veins of interpretation]."

I.S.: "I was just using one of the terms that I've run across, and which is one of the phrases you could use to describe "state 'ulama"..."scholars of the court" (along with " 'ulama al-qasr," "scholars of the palace"). I could have just stuck with "state 'ulama".

The definition of "terrorism" used here has been stated here a number of times: "the intentional targeting of, or wanton disregard for the safety of, non-combatants in the furthering of a social and/or political goal.

....But there is a differentiation between a combatant and a non-combatant...[referring to Asad'Allah's comment about Shari'ah]"

Cyber mural showing Usama bin Laden and Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri (top left), the "lead" hijacker Muhammad Atta (lower left), and the other hijackers. The gold text on the upper left reads: "Day the Muslims Roared," and the text in the lower left reads: "The Blessed Expedition/Raid: 9/11."

ASAD'ALLAH (with quotes of me in italics): "From my understanding Abu Musab az Zarqawi [Rahimullah] is considered a scholar.WAllahu alam."

I meant to say ISNT. I just need to clear that up.

"the intentional targeting of, or wanton disregard for the safety of, non-combatants in the furthering of a social and/or political goal."

So in what cases are there non-combatants targeted on purpose? The mujahideen ["warriors of faith;" literally "those who struggle"] dont set out to do this. From my limited understanding of the Shari'ah, people who help prop up a Harbi state ["state of war"], at war with Muslims, with taxes, moral support, economic support, on and on, left the realm of Non-Combatant a long time ago.

"But there is a differentiation between a combatant and a non-combatant."

Of course there is. Question is, are the people coming under attack considered "Non-Combantants" in terms of the Shari'ah. From my understanding, no. And Im speaking on the attacks on New York and Washington specifically.

If it was just wanton, and blatant violence...why were the planes not just crashed into any building? Why was the Pentagon, of all places hit...and the WTC? And the Capitol buidlings were a target too. I wonder why? Anyone with sight and a clear understanding can see that the finacial, military and goverment centers were coming under attack.

Perfectly legit targets if you look at it from a total war doctrine. The West and in particular, the United States, has been exercising this form of warfare upon the nations of the world for well over a hundred years. In fact, Al Qaidah is more restricted in its targets then the US military.

I could go on and on."

"Peace be upon you, O' Shaykh of Jihad ", Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi & al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, where Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad came to from Mecca in his mystical night journey (al-isra) in order to ascend into the seven Heavens (al-miraj)

I.S.: "What of the civilians killed in bombings claimed by, for example, al-Zarqawi's organization in Iraq? Weren't they civilians/non-combatants?

Did the Prophet Muhammad target all residents of Mecca during the conflict between the Quraysh [a large Arabian tribe largely opposed to Muhammad] and the first Muslims?"

ASAD'ALLAH: "I think we have moved away from what I was trying to debate. That is, that Jihad is obligatory for every Muslim male, as we speak, according to the Qur'aan and Sunnah and ijma of the scholars of the Salaf us Saleeh [the "pious/pure forefathers," referring to the idealized first three generations of Muslims who are revered by Sunni Muslims].

If you truly know Islam, you cant deny it. Muslims who go to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example...are just adhereing to Islam."

I.S.: "If we are going to have a discussion, one person cannot determine alone the subjects.

Why do most Salafi scholars reject the ideology of the jihadi Salafis? Are they all 'ulama al-balat?"

ASAD'ALLAH: "Im not talking about Salafi scholars. Im talking about the scholars of the Salaf us Saleeh. Most "Salafi" scholars are bunch of Murji's and Madkhalis [derogatory names used by jihadi-takfiris for "fake" scholars who claim to follow the "pious forefathers"] That is why they reject. I want you to prove that wrong."

I.S.: "Other than Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, who do you consider the 'ulama min al-salaf al-salih? 'Uyayri? 'Umar 'Abd al-Rahman? 'Azzam? Abu Qatada?

What is their relationship (the 'ulama min al-salaf al-salih) with those commanders who may not be considered 'ulama per se, such as Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi and al-Zawahiri?

What is the status of people such as Abu Yahya al-Libi and Abu Mus'ab al-Suri?

What of Salafi scholars such as the muhaddith [ahadith scholar/expert] al-Albani?

What do you make of Abu Basir al-Tartusi's fatwa against kamikaze/suicide attacks? [Abu Basir is a prominent jihadi-Salafi religious scholar who issued a juridical opinion (fatwa) forbidding kamikaze attacks following the July 2005 terrorist attacks in London]."

ASAD'ALLAH: "Salaf us Saleeh = "The Pious Predeccesors"

Im talking about scholars hundreds of years ago. I dont know the details of their relationships. All I know is that Zarqawi [Rahimullah] took from Maqdisi [Hafidhahullah]. WAllahu alam. And what is the status of those noble brothers?

Al Libi [Hafidhahullah] is Mufti [qualified jurist] in Al Qaidah.WAllahu alam. I dont know about Suri. Faka Allah Asra.. Al Albani, Rahimullah...

Im not familiar with that fatwa."

I.S.: "Yes, I know who the al-Salaf al-Salih were. Modern day Salafis consider themselves to be a continuation of that line.

The classical and medieval rulings on war are not really as simple as you seem to think. With regard to "defensive" war, a lot of the warfare was still "offensive" or expansionist as the great caliphates and other Muslim states were still powerful and on equal or even greater footing with their rivals such as the Byzantines.

Abu Muhammad chastised Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi for excessive violence in Iraq, as did even al-Zawahiri.

Al-Suri was against the takfiri element of al-Qa'ida, something he discusses in his Da'wa al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya al-'Alamiyya [Global Islamic Resistance Call, a 1600+ page masterpiece by the AQC strategist Abu Mus'ab al-Suri, real name Mustafa 'Abd al-Qadir Setmaryam al-Nasar].

Abu Basir al-Tartusi's Fatwa on "Martyrdom" vs. "Suicide"

ASAD'ALLAH: "I pray that Allah makes you Muslim. Ameen [Amen]."
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*NOTE: The term "jihadi" is a much-contested and often problematic one. "To struggle" (ja-ha-da) in Arabic has several connotations, and can refer to both physical and spiritual struggle. It can also have a militaristic meaning, which is how I use it on Occident. After much consideration I have decided to use the term, despite its potential problems. I have done so because the movements, such as al-Qa'ida Central and its affiliates, use the term to describe themselves.

For example, the Arabic-speaking groups self-describe as "Harakat Jihadiyyah" or "Tayyar Jihadi" (Jihadi Movement) and "Quwat Jihadiyyah" (Jihadi Force). "Jihad" is a word that has entered other Islamicate languages from Arabic.

There are, of course, some important linguistic differences in language use by Arabic-speaking groups. For example, they do not use "jihadi" as a noun, and instead use the noun form of the Arabic root, "mujahid" and the PLURAL(S): "mujahideen, mujahidun," which translates approximately to "those who struggle [for faith]". Given my use of "jihadi" primarily in its militaristic sense, I translate "mujahideen" as meaning, approximately "warriors of faith."

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