Monday, May 31, 2010

Al-Qa'ida Central Statement Says Group's General Commander in Afghanistan, Egyptian Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Martyred with Family

In a statement from its "general command", Al-Qa'ida Central (AQC) has reported that its general commander in Afghanistan, the Egyptian Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, has been "martyred. Long a financial manager for AQC, al-Yazid has issued numerous statements in the past on a variety of topics, including a fair number of eulogies for "martyred" AQC leaders and allies, such as the founder of Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Baytullah Mehsud (Baitullah Masood). Most recently he eulogized the late leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu 'Umar al-Baghdadi and Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, who was also head of Al-Qa'ida in the Land of the Two Rivers/Iraq (AQI). It now seems that one of AQC's surviving leaders will need to eulogize him.

The statement says that al-Yazid was killed, in the "caravan of martyrs" (qafilat al-shuhada'), along with his wife, three of his daughters, and a granddaughter. He was a founding member of AQC, from the Egyptian faction led by the group's chief ideologue and deputy leader, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri. A good biographical sketch of al-Yazid is provided in this article by journalist Howard Altman on The Daily Beast.

The statement, embedded below, though released as a downloadable Word document, is not on the distinctive letterhead of AQC's media wing, the Al-Sahab (The Clouds) Media Foundation. Some AQC statements are not released as downloadable documents and are contained in threads on the handful of major jihadi-takfiri web forums, so the basic formatting of the statement about al-Yazid's death may not be noteworthy. On the other hand, it may possibly suggest the current transitory nature of AQC's media operations, which have not released a major video production in some time.

A number of members of AQC, the Afghan "Quetta Shura" Taliban, and TTP have been killed in unmanned drone strikes launched by the United States Central Intelligence Agency, most recently in South Waziristan on the afternoon of Friday, May 28. Among those killed in drone strikes in the past (not on Friday) were TTP founder Baytullah Mehsud and rising AQC preacher Abu Mansur al-Shami (a Palestinian-Jordanian, Mahmoud Zaydan/Zaidan). The statement makes no mention of how al-Yazid was killed but anonymous U.S. intelligence sources report it was a drone missile strike.

Martyrdom of Mustafa Abu Al-Yazid (May 31)
Martyrdom of Mustafa Abu al-Yazid

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ayman al-Zawahiri Eulogizes Islamic State of Iraq Leaders Abu 'Umar al-Baghdadi and Abu Hamza al-Muhajir

"Eulogy of the Two Leaders...[by] the Shaykh, Ayman al-Zawahiri"

Al-Qa'ida Central's (AQC; Qaeda, Qaida) media outlet, the Al-Sahab (Clouds) Media Foundation, has issued the audio message from its deputy leader and chief ideologue, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri eulogizing the former senior leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), the amir Abu 'Umar al-Baghdadi and the prime minister and minister of war Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, who was also the head of Al-Qa'ida in the Land of the Two Rivers/Iraq (AQI). The audio message was recently released to Al-Jazeera, the preeminent Arabic language satellite TV station, which aired it. Background on al-Baghdadi and al-Muhajir, as well as the ISI, can be found in my guest editorial, "The Death of a Caliph: Will the Reported Killings of the Islamic State of Iraq's Two Senior Leaders Spell Out the End of the Self-styled Jihadi State?", on Prof. Juan Cole's Informed Comment blog.

Al-Zawahiri refers to al-Baghdadi and al-Muhajir as "the two shaykhs, the two amirs, the two heroes, the two leaders." Interestingly, he also accuses Iraq's Shi'is of betraying the family of the Prophet Muhammad, the Ahlul Bayt, which Shi'is claim to love. He says they have sold themselves to the Safavids in Iran, a reference to a Shi'i Turkic dynasty that ruled much of what is now Iran, and converted most of its population to Shi'ism, from the 16th to 18th centuries. Al-Zawahiri even references the third Shi'i Imam, Husayn bin 'Ali, who lost a battle against the more powerful Umayyad Caliphate at Karabala, Iraq in 680 C.E. In effect, he says that today's Shi'is have betrayed the memory of Husayn and the tradition of Islam. Al-Zawahiri labels today's Shi'is "Shi'at Bayt al-Abiyad", supporters of the White House.

Both were killed in a U.S. air strike on April 19 near the city of Tikrit. They have been eulogized by almost all of the major jihadi-takfiri groups including Al-Qa'ida Central, various Palestine-based groups, Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb, the Yemen-based Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula, the Somali jihadi-insurgent group Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Movement of Warrior-Youth; Al-Shabaab), the major Iraqi insurgent group Jama'at Ansar al-Islam (Group of Islam's Partisans), and the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus.

Click to play

"Eulogy of the Two Leaders, the Commander of the Faithful, Abu 'Umar al-Baghdadi and the Minister of War, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir"

Al-Zawahiri praises both al-Baghdadi, whom he compares to the founder of AQI, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, and al-Muhajir. I also found the choice of the introductory nasheed to be interesting. Previously, I have only seen it used in AQC's Wind of Paradise martyrdom video-biography series about the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater. In my view, the nasheed's lyrics are the best, most succinct description of transnational jihadis' views of martyrdom.

Partial lyrics: "Don't I only die once in my life, so why not make its finale martyrdom/self-sacrifice? When the soul of the martyr rises to approach Paradise and God raises it to a lofty status...In the bodies of the birds of Paradise, which are singing above the palaces, seven of which are won by the martyr to honor him...If you have a heart, then tell me what they are...Sin is forgiven with the first drop [of blood] and I see my high abode [in Paradise]...And I am secure from the torment of the grave, how delightful! And I am saved from the tribulation of Resurrection and receive a crown of dignity...And I am given the right of intercession on behalf of relatives, both near and distant."

After the nasheed is an audio recording of the late Abu Hamza al-Muhajir speaking about martyrdom.

The transcript of al-Zawahiri's eulogy is available via my Scribd account HERE.

Friday, May 21, 2010

GUEST POST: Classical Tafasir (Qur'anic Commentary) & Sayyid Qutb

Introductory Note: The guest post below is the fourth in an occasional series of guest editorials by friends and colleagues whose opinions I value, and which are based on a solid foundation of knowledge, both "academic"/scholastic and experiential. As is the norm with all editorial pages, here is the requisite disclaimer that, "the opinions expressed in the editorials are solely those of the author, and they do not necessarily represent the views of the blog administrator or other guest contributors to Views from the Occident." I encourage readers to engage with the guest editorialists, and with me, in the "Comments," as opposed to responding via the e-mail listserv. The purpose of these editorials is to expand the points of view published on Occident, and to encourage the exchange of views.

The fourth guest post, in the form of a graduate research paper, examines the popular and widely distributed commentary on the Qur'an (tafsir ; plural: tafasir) by the late Egyptian Islamist intellectual and prolific writer Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), a member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) who was executed by the government of Egyptian president Gamal 'Abd al-Nasir (Nasser) on August 29, 1966. Qutb, once a leading intellectual of the Egyptian Ikhwan, has since been the subject of an intense debate among its leaders and activists (see pgs. 69-71 in The Global Mufti, edited by Bettina Gräf and Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen, and Nathan Brown's recent essay at the web site of Foreign Policy magazine's Middle East Channel). Today, Qutb is more frequently cited by transnational jihadis than leaders of the Egyptian Ikhwan. Selections from his writings have been cited by groups such as Al-Qa'ida Central (AQC) and the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), for example in the latter's 2009 video, "Strong Motivation is of Great Importance" الهمة مهمة .

One of Qutb's most famous works is his massive 30-volume Qur'anic tafsir entitled Fi Zilal al-Qur'an (In the Qur'an's Shadow, In the Shade of the Qur'an), much of which was penned between 1954 and 1964 during his lengthy stint in an Egyptian government prison. It has been translated in full from the original Arabic into a number of other languages, including English. It is this commentary, and specifically the section on the first chapter (surah) of the Qur'an, Al-Fatiha (The Opening), that is the focus of guest poster Aaron Y. Zelin's research paper (embedded below).

Zelin has just completed his M.A. in Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at Brandeis University, where he wrote his graduate thesis on the intellectual origins of Al-Qa'ida's ideology. In his thesis, Zelin attempted to provide a more interdisciplinary approach to understanding the phenomenon of Al-Qa'ida in the broad sweep of Islamic history. His research was built upon extensive use of primary source materials. This summer, he will be living in Fez, Morocco where he will be studying Modern Standard Arabic and taking a course taught in Arabic on the history of the Qur'an and the development of the Qur'anic exegetical tradition. Readers may contact him via e-mail: aaron.zelin [at] gmail [dot] com or follow him on Twitter (which I highly recommend). He also maintains a blog, al-Maktabah – المكتبة .

His research paper below was originally written for a graduate seminar. It is a work in progress and is not meant to be an exhaustive detailing of each exegete (mufassir) and their work. Rather, its main contribution is a comparative examination of how Qutb's influential tafsir compares to those written by four other exegetes representing both and Twelver Shi'i Islam: Prof. Mahmoud M. Ayoub, Abu 'Abdullah al-Qurtubi, Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, and Ayatullah al-Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i.

The paper is copyrighted by Aaron Y. Zelin and may not be reproduced or cited without prior permission from the author.

Paper Introduction:

Within and since the century that the Qur’ān was revealed, individuals steeped and qualified in Islamic education have written commentaries (tafāsīr pl. of tafsīr) on the message of the Qur’ān. These commentators or mufassir used different tools in the sciences of the Qur’ān, such as ḥadīth (Prophetic tradition), asbāb al-nuzūl (occasions of revelation), ‘ilm al-lughah (linguistics), ‘ilm al-qūwā’id (grammar), as well as others to better understand and establish an interpretation of what a specific word, verse (’āyah) or chapter (sūrah) of the Qur’ān meant. Some in the modern era, though, specifically radical Sunni Islamists or Jihadists, do not have training in Islamic studies yet still believe it is valid to write a tafsīr. One of these individuals was Sayyid Qutb, who is now well known for his influence on Jihadists.

As such, this paper will briefly explore Qutb’s tafsīr, Fī Ẓilāl al-Qur’ān (In the Shade of the Qur’ān), in light of classically written tafāsīr to determine how similar or different Qutb’s methodology and understanding of the Qur’ān is in the broad sweep of Islamic history. To do this, the paper will enumerate three ways to expound on the above question: (1) the qualifications classically trained mufassir explain one should possess prior to writing a tafsīr; (2) comparison of the methodological tools used by classically trained mufassir and Qutb; and (3) an examination of classically trained mufassir and Qutb’s interpretation of Sūrat al-Fātiḥah (chapter of the opening/beginning). By exploring these three areas, this paper will hopefully shed some light on the similarities and differences between aspects of Qutb’s tafsīr with the tafāsīr of the following mufassir: Mahmoud M. Ayoub, Abū ‘Abdullah al-Qurṭubī, Muḥammad Ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī and Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ṭabāṭabā’ī.

Classical Tafāsīr and Sayyid Qutb

Monday, May 10, 2010

Team Taliban: Pro Wrestling, Islam, & the Muslim "Bad Guy"

I'm happy to write today that my SECOND PIECE in the e-magazine Religion Dispatches has just been published. As with the first piece, I am not sure that I'm entirely happy with the editing, particularly several reworded sections and deletions, though I essentially think it represents most of what my draft submission included. The subject of the essay, Adeel Alam, also seems to have liked it, which I'm happy to see.

It is a review essay of an intriguing short documentary released late last year entitled Team Taliban ( about Adeel Alam, a 24-year-old Midwesterner who is both a practicing Muslim and a independent pro wrestler. He portrays a "Muslim/Middle Eastern" bad guy character, Prince Mustafa 'Ali ( and the documentary focuses on the politics of the pro wrestling business and Alam's internal debates about his portrayal of such a character. He comes across as very well spoken and introspective. The major downside of the documentary is that it is too short. It basically introduces a fascinating narrative, centered around Alam, and then it's over. He would be a good subject for a more substantial/lengthier documentary.

Clip of Anwar al-'Awlaqi (Awlaki) Video Released to Media Outlets: Radical Ideologue Says U.S. "Frames Mujahideen" for Attacks on Civilians

Embedded below is a short clip of a video featuring the radical American jihadi-takfiri ideologue Anwar al-'Awlaqi (Awlaki) that was released to media outlets in April. It bears the logo of al-Malahim (Epics), the media outlet of Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is based in Yemen.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Is the Sadr Movement Leaning Toward Ja'far bin Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr as its Candidate for Prime Minister?

This banner from a Tayyar al-Sadr (Sadr Movement) media outlet suggests as much. Al-Sayyid Ja'far is the son of the martyred Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, who was executed in April 1980 by Saddam Husayn's government.

Friday, May 07, 2010

New Blog: Dar al-Hadith

I have started a third occasional blog, Dar al-Hadith, for posting of mostly short primary source materials in English from Muslim sources (including, but not solely, hadith from both Sunnis and Shi'is), with little comment, though I will provide citations to the original sources of the material and will also identify whether it is a Sunni or Shi'i (or other) hadith or source. I hope to post several times a week, at least, and whenever I run across something interesting.

The first post is now up, on two hadith on jihad from the key Twelver Shi'i collection Furu' al-Kafi compiled by the ninth century muhaddith (hadith scholar) Abu Ja'far Muhammad bin Ya'qub bin Ishaq al-Kulayni al-Razi (al-Kulayni).

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Khost's "CIA Destroyer", Dr. Humam al-Balawi (Abu Dujanah al-Khurasani): "O' Hesitant One, (Jihad) Is An Obligation!"

Al-Qa'ida Central's (AQC) media outlet, the Al-Sahab (The Clouds) Media Foundation, released a new audio message, of Dr. Humam al-Balawi (Abu Dunajah al-Khurasani, Khorasani) the Jordanian doctor who set of a kamikaze belt in late December 2009 at a United States military base in Khost, Afghanistan, killing seven U.S. Central Intelligence agents and a senior Jordanian intelligence officer and member of the royal family. He urges Muslims to follow in his path of becoming an istishhadi, one who "self-sacrifices," a "martyr."

The message, embedded below, is entitled, "O' Hesitant One, It (militaristic jihad, "struggle") is an Obligation!" It was released simultaneously in Arabic with English subtitles, English voice-over (by American al-Qa'ida spokesman and general clown Adam "'Azzam al-Amriki" Gadahn, and Urdu voice-over.

Transcripts in all three languages were also released. The ARABIC and ENGLISH transcripts are available, via my Scribd account.

Al-Balawi also left behind a letter penned shortly before his kamikaze operation.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan Spokesman Qari Hussain Mehsud Purportedly Claims Failed New York City Vehicle Bombing in Unauthenticated Audio Message

Qari Hussain Mehsud, chief spokesman for Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (Taliban Movement of Pakistan, TTP) has purportedly claimed responsibility for an attack in the United States, an attack which many analysts and journalists think is the recent failed vehicle bombing in New York City's Times Square. In the short audio message (embedded below), Mehsud, if it is indeed him (the audio message was posted to YouTube and was not released via the regular TTP or jihadi-takfiri channels and is not branded with the logo of TTP's media outlet, 'Umar Studio, nor has it been authenticated) does not mention New York City by name. He speaks only in generalities about a major attack in the U.S. Speculation is mostly based on the fact that a cyber jihadi-takfiri posted a link to the audio-video on YouTube along with a story about the failed attack.

Qari Hussain claims that the attack is in retaliation for the U.S. assassination of TTP's founder, Baytullah (Baitullah) Mehsud in August 2009, and for the recent killings of Abu 'Umar al-Baghdadi and Abu Hamza al-Muhajir (Abu Ayyub al-Masri), the two senior leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq, on April 18. He also mentions the recently convicted jihadi, scientist Aafia Siddiqui, who tried to murder a U.S. military officer who, together with other federal officers, arrived to interrogate her after she was arrested in Pakistan by Pakistani police.

New York City's police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, says that there is no evidence (see ALSO) at this time that TTP was behind the attack, which throws cold water on many "insta-pundits." It may turn out that TTP was behind the attacks, though the group has falsely claimed responsibility before for attacks outside of Pakistan-Afghanistan. It has been tentatively linked to one cell of operatives in Spain (Javier Jordan, "Anatomy of Spain's 28 Disrupted Jihadist Networks," CTC Sentinel, Vol. 1, Issue 11, October 2008). However, much more information is needed before such a claim will be substantiated with actual evidence, rather than speculation. Australian doctoral candidate and specialist in transnational jihadi movements Leah Farrall has posted some useful initial thoughts on the reported nature of the failed attack, noting that it is more difficult to construct and successfully carry out such an attack than most people think. It is WELL-WORTH a read.

A cyber jihadi-takfiri writes of the purported audio message, " inshallah (God willing) even now the kuffar (unbelievers) are scared beyond our imagination, it surely has sent a wave of terror through their evil souls...mashallah (praise God) our Commander Hakeemullah Jaan Mehsud (Hakimullah Mehsud, the TTP leader) may Allah (the One God) protect you and every other Mujahid (warrior of faith, "one who struggles"), i am sure the cell present will do something before the security agency reach them, inshallah Allah willing they wont fall in the hands of the Kuffar..." This bravado can not be taken as reliable evidence since armchair jihadi-takfiris have a well-deserved reputation for shooting off their mouths without any information that is not available to the general public.