NOTE: As with all guest posts, the opinions expressed below are those of the guest author and they do not necessarily represent the views of this blogs administrator and does not at all represent his employer at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
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Past Guest Posts:
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Tara Vassefi, “Perceptions of the “Arab Spring” Within the Salafi-Jihadi Movement,” November 19, 2012.
Jack Roche, “The Indonesian Jamā’ah Islāmiyyah’s Constitution (PUPJI),” November 14, 2012.
Kévin Jackson, “The Pledge of Allegiance and its Implications,” July 27, 2012.
Behnam Said, “A Brief Look at the History and Power of Anasheed in Jihadist Culture,” May 31, 2012.
Jonah Ondieki and Jake Zenn, “Gaidi Mtaani,” April 24, 2012.
Joshua Foust, “Jihadi Ideology Is Not As Important As We Think,” January 25, 2011.
Charles Cameron, “Hitting the Blind-Spot- A Review of Jean-Pierre Filiu’s “Apocalypse in Islam,” January 24, 2011.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “Why Jihadi Ideology Matters,” January 21, 2011.
Joshua Foust, “Some Inchoate Thoughts on Ideology,” January 19, 2011.
Marissa Allison, “Militants Seize Mecca: Juhaymān al ‘Utaybī and the Siege of the Grand Mosque in Mecca,” June 9, 2010.
By Hazim Fouad
In 2012 the Salafist TV Channel “al-Rahma” screened a debate between two representatives of the so called “al-Salafiyya al-Jihādiyya” and two members of “Jamāʿat Anṣār al-Sunna al-Muḥammadiyya”, one of the oldest Salafist institutions in Egypt. The debate sheds some light on the ideological differences, especially with regard to the acceptance of the political and legal system in post-revolutionary Egypt.
The toppling of Hosni Mubarak[i] in 2011 has led to an increased space for debate about the role of Islam in society and politics in Egypt. Several persons who had been sentenced over terrorism charges were released from prison and are now participating in this debate. One of the most ardent questions is how and to what extent sharia shall be implemented in the political system. This debate is not new. It was already an issue back in the seventies when groups like “al-Jamāʿāh al-Islāmiyya” revolted against what they perceived as an un-Islamic regime. What is new is on the one hand, the relatively open space in which such discussions take place. On the other hand, it becomes obvious that not every group, which can be labeled Islamist or even Salafist is automatically opposed to the concept of a civil state and laws not directly derived from the sharia.
This article tries to provide an in depth analysis of a three hour television debate which was screened in 2012 on the Egyptian Salafist TV Channel “al-Rahma”[ii] between two representatives of the so called “al-Salafiyya al-Jihādiyya”, a broad current comprising movements close to the ideology of “al-Qāʿidāh”, and two members of the “Jamāʿat Anṣār al-Sunna al-Muḥammadiyya”, one of the oldest Salafist institutions in Egypt.[iii] It will be shown that the former actually use similar arguments “al-Jamāʿāh al-Islāmiyya” has used before to explain their complete rejection of the current political system, [iv] while the latter appear to be much more accommodating, though still at odds with the notion of democracy. The debate also sheds some light on the legitimacy of violence, as carried out by groups such as “al-Qāʿidāh”.
The first of its kind
The program begins with the moderator stating that rather than a contentious debate, this talk is supposed to be a calm discussion about jihadist thought and the first of its kind in Egypt. He then introduces the participants of the debate. The current of the so-called “al-Salafiyya al-Jihādiyya” is represented by Aḥmad Fuʾād ʿAshūsh and Jalāl al-Sharqāwī. ʿAshūsh is the leader of “al-Ṭalī’a al-Salafīyya al-Mujāhidīyya Ansār al-Sharīʿāh” in Egypt, an organization ideologically close to “al-Qāʿidāh”.[v] He had openly declared his loyalty to Usāma bin Lādin and Aymān al-Ẓawāhirī and appeared in several videos published by “al-Qāʿidāh”.[vi] Al-Sharqāwī has appeared together with Muḥammad al-Ẓawāhirī, the brother of Ayman al- Ẓawāhirī, in a press conference concerning the viewpoint of “al-Salafiyya al-Jihādiyya” on the constitution.[vii]
The other side is represented by Jamāl al-Marākibī and ʿAlāʾ Saʿīd. Al-Marākibī has been the former general president of the “Jamāʿat Anṣār al-Sunna al-Muḥammadiyya”, one of the oldest salafist institutions in Egypt, established in 1926. He is also a member of the “Shura Council of Scholars in Egypt”, which was set up by prominent Salafist scholars in 2011.[viii] Saʿīd is a preacher from Suez and supporter of the Salafist “al-Aṣālāh Party”.
Acceptance of laws perceived as un-Islamic
The debate starts with ʿAshūsh clarifying his positions with regard to the current constitution and laws, which govern Egypt. He states that the current reality is a product of the West’s infiltration of Muslim lands and those Muslims, which have been affected by Western ideas (al-mustaghribīn) and therefore not the result of a pure Islamic development. The Egyptian jurisdiction is based on the Napoleonic Code, which follows the philosophy of utilitarianism (al-nafʿiyya) developed by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham. With the application of this positive or man-made law (al-qānūn al-waḍʿī), the Sharia had been suspended since 1883. ʿAshūsh voices harsh criticism towards Muḥammad ʿAbduh, one of the key leaders of Muslim reformist thought and Mufti of Egypt at the turn of the 20th century, who had allegedly used these un-Islamic laws as a basis for his legal judgments. He summarizes his point by saying: “Our position is the complete rejection (al-rafḍ al-tām) of the rule of this law”.
Al-Marākibī begins his answer by admitting that ʿAshūsh is correct by saying that a Muslim country has to be governed by the sharia. But he argues for a more nuanced understanding of the word “law” (qānūn), which for him is an umbrella term, comprising multiple areas such as the law of inheritance or the law of guardianship, both of which are in his view in accordance with the sharia.
He also points to the fact that the sharia can be categorized into issues, which are definite (qaṭʿī) and those, which can be subject to interpretation (dhannī). There are some words for example, whose meaning is debated and not uniformly defined. The point of contention al-Marākibī sees is the question of how to change the reality Muslims in Egypt live in. Citing the founder of his movement Muḥammad Ḥāmid al-Fiqqī and the Azharite Hadith scholar Aḥmad Muḥammad Shākir, he says that this matter has to be solved through preaching (daʿwah). The applied method (manhaj) has to be to look first after those parts in the law that violate the sharia and then to change them via other laws instead of using violence. Jihad for him is the revival of the sharia and curbing the ignorance towards it, a process which in his eyes started in Egypt already over a hundred years ago.
This relativizing viewpoint of al-Marākibī seems to be unacceptable to ʿAshūsh. He replies that if only a single paragraph violates the sharia, the whole law becomes void (bāṭil). He goes on to ask about the position of all the other Islamic movements towards this positive law, which in his view is clear unbelief (kufr), since it allows sexual intercourse between a father and his daughter. Replying to the question of al-Marākibī where exactly the law legitimizes such an act, ʿAshūsh explains that the absence of the death penalty for fornication (zinā) allows for it because “the absence of a prohibition means legalization” (ʿadam tajrīm ibāḥāh).
Saʿīd does not want to follow this line of argumentation and asks if everything which is not prohibited by law is legal and vice versa. For him such a statement has no basis, neither in the Quran nor in the Sunna. He also stresses the point that the position of all Islamic movements in Egypt is rejection (inkār) towards un-Islamic laws but the real question is how to solve this issue and how to deal with people with regard to this matter.
This argument is challenged by al-Sharqāwī who asks that if all Islamic movements were supportive of sharia law, then how was it possible that al-Marākibī describes movements which are against the rulers who do not rule according to sharia as khawārij? [ix] How dare he to describe people like bin Lādin and al-Ẓawāhirī as khawārij if the leader of his own movement, al-Fiqqī, had said that the current laws governing Egypt are the laws of un-Islamic tyrants (tawāghīt)?
Here, Saʿīd makes some interesting points concerning the legitimacy of declaring someone an apostate (takfīr). A person, even a tyrant (ṭāghūt), who rules with positive law, is not necessarily an unbeliever (kāfir). There is a difference in Islamic law between deed (fiʿl) and doer (fāʿil) and the judgment of the former does not necessarily have to be identical with the latter. So even if there is a consensus about the judgment concerning the deed of ruling with an un-Islamic law, the judgment concerning the person ruling with this law might be different. This is because there might be certain reasons for the person to do so, the so-called “mawāniʿ”, which prevent him from being labeled an infidel.
The issue of takfīr continues to be one of the most contentiously debated topics between Jihadists and non-jihadist Salafists[x] and will be dealt with in more detail after the argument around the legitimacy of violence.
Al-Marākibī clarifies his position towards the accusations that had been labeled at him by saying that the method (manhaj) of facilitating explosions in Muslim societies, as perpetrated by “al-Qāʿidah”, is the method of the khawārij. Whosoever raises the sword against the Muslim Umma belongs to the khawārij.
Now while ʿAshūsh replies to the second, more theoretical, accusation, by claiming that “al-Qāʿidāh” never raised its sword against the Umma, he ignores the question of bombings and argues instead that there is nothing in the doctrine (ʿaqīdāh) of “al-Qāʿidāh”, which resembles the doctrine of the khawārij. The latter made takfīr on the companions of the prophet (ṣaḥābāh) and on people who committed major sins (kabāʾir). No one in the current of “al-Salafiyya al-Jihādiyya” would believe in this doctrine. Also there would be a consensus among the scholars (ʿulamāʾ) that the one who rebelled against the ruler (kharaja ʿalā-l-ḥākim) is not automatically from among the khawārij.
It is noticeable that ʿAshūsh elaborates on the doctrine (ʿaqīdāh) of “al-Qāʿidāh”, although al-Marākibī had criticized their behavior and method (manhaj). ʿAshūsh seems to be aware of the fact that the targeting of Muslim populations, like done by al-Zarqāwī in Iraq, has cost “al-Qāʿidāh” a great deal of sympathy in the Muslim world. Not for no reason did the newly established “Anṣār al-Sharīʿah” groups not name themselves “al-Qāʿidāh in Tunisia, Egypt or Libya”.
The question of general and individual takfīr by the example of the judiciary
ʿAshūsh declares that concerning individual takfīr, ”al-Salafiyya al-Jihādiyya” follows the interpretation of the majority of Muslims (ahlu sunna wa-l-jamāʿāh) and not the understanding of the khawārij. They consider someone to be an apostate if
a) he committed an act of unbelief by word or deed (al-sabab al-mukaffir min qawlin aw fiʿl)
b) the conditions for declaring him an apostate are fulfilled (taḥqīq al-shurūṭ)
c) there are no reasons which prevent him from being considered an apostate (intifāʾ al-mawāniʿ)
As with regards to groups, the matter is slightly different. A group can be labeled as being apostate if
a) it refrains from fulfilling a part of the sharia (tamtaniʿ ʿan sharīʿāh min sharāʾiʿ-l-islām)
b) it does not follow an admissible interpretation (laysa lahā ta’wīl sāʾigh)
c) if it uses force to prevent the search for reasons which could prevent it from being considered apostate (tamtaniʿ bi-l-shawkāh bi māʿnā anna-l-shawkāh tamnaʾ min baḥth al-mawānīʿ)[xi]
In the heated debate following ʿAshūsh’s explanations Saʿīd criticizes the former’s approach, which is in his view is too abstract and general. Although God is the sole legislator and the sharia has outlined the guidelines according to which Muslims have to organize their life, there is still some leeway for man to enact laws within these guidelines, as for example traffic law. The only thing that matters is that these laws must not violate the sharia. Concerning the matter of takfīr he mentions the lack of consensus on the exact meaning and understanding of the aforementioned conditions (shurūṭ) and reasons for preventing someone to be labeled an apostate (mawānīʿ). So he asks ʿAshūsh to define his shurūṭ and mawānīʿ.
ʿAshūsh reiterates that the current law is a commitment to someone else than God. So he rhetorically asks whether a judge is allowed to sentence a Muslim according to this law. He also asks if the legislative councils are legal or not. In addition, al-Sharqāwi mentions that he has studied law but refuses to work because the legal system is not based on sharia law. He therefore calls for parents not to send their children to law faculties.
In his reply Saʿīd dismisses such calls as being detached from reality. If these demands were thought through the end, chaos would break out, because nobody would be able to file a lawsuit anymore. He accuses ʿAshūsh of practicing general takfīr on the legal sector by handing down verdicts before a case-by-case review had been conducted. If he truly adhered to his conditions for takfīr, he would have to go to every single judge he deems to be an apostate, talk to him and prove his shurūṭ and mawānīʿ.
Towards the end of the debate ʿAshūsh underlines his point about the illegitimacy of the legal system by repeatedly quoting the aforementioned scholar Aḥmad Shākir who considered the Egyptian legal system as the “contemporary yāsiq” (al-yāsiq al-muʿāṣir)[xii] and as a “new religion” (dīn jadīd). So he keeps asking whether it is permissible to subject oneself to a sentence or judgment which is islamically void (bāṭil).
In a lengthy reply Saʿīd reminds the audience that the prominent Saudi salafist scholar Ibn ʿUthaymīn had allowed people to consult judges who are not judging in complete accordance with sharia, in cases of necessity and if the verdict brings justice. He accuses ʿAshūsh of relying on the Quranic verse 5:44[xiii], without understanding that not everybody who does not judge according to what God has revealed is automatically an unbeliever (kāfir). ʿAshūsh is for him an exaggerator (ghulāh) who misunderstands the concepts of “allowing something which god has forbidden” (istiḥlāl) and “replacing the sharia with some other law” (tabdīl). Concerning the quote of Aḥmad Shākir, he explains that according to the medieval scholar Ibn Taymiyyāh, al-yāsiq was considered unbelief (kufr) because it was claimed that it was the law of God. This is not the case with the current Egyptian legal law. So Saʿīd considers it improper to use statements of certain scholars to declare the infidelity of whole institutions. In addition to all of this ʿAshūsh is blamed for confusing what constitutes minor unbelief (kufr asghar) and major unbelief (kufr akbar).[xiv]
The debate sheds some light on the behavior and arguments of jihadist-Salafists in Egypt. One may interpose the question of whether it is advisable to give people like ʿAshūsh an open platform to spread their views. Then again, it could be fruitful to have these views challenged by people who might be perceived as having at least the same authority to speak about Islam. The comments below the video on YouTube reflect these divergent views by pondering between praise and fierce criticism of the Jihadists.
It became obvious that those speaking on behalf of “al-Salafiyya al-Jihādiyya” are keen to distance themselves from the accusation that they are khawārij, i.e. extremists who randomly declare other Muslims as apostates. It is for a reason that ʿAshūsh at one point explicitly clarifies that they (i.e. “al-Salafiyya al-Jihādiyya”) do neither declare the Muslim Brotherhood nor non-jihadist Salafists nor the Egyptian society in general as unbelievers. This fits into the ideology of “al-Qāʿidah” which tries to restrict its takfīr on so called un-Islamic regimes and their rulers, without necessarily declaring whole Muslim societies as unbelievers, as some groups have done in the past.[xv] The discrepancy in this argument becomes vivid by the fact that ʿAshūsh considers both the constitution and the entire legal system to be illegitimate. Now that the Muslim Brotherhood is representing the state and its institutions, it remains to be seen if and when it is declared an apostate regime from among the jihadist-salafist current. So far, ʿAshūsh has refrained from calling for jihad inside Egypt.[xvi]
Compared to these beliefs the notions of the non-jihadist Salafists appear relatively moderate or even progressive. They argue for a context-based reading of religious texts and are especially vocal against the random use of quotations. Also the possibility of enacting laws not directly derived from the sharia is affirmed as long as certain principles are not violated. In general, they seem to be harmonious towards the current political and legal system, since it already implements parts of the sharia and allows them to operate and spread their views. Nevertheless this attitude should not be misunderstood as the appreciation of democracy and secular law. On the contrary, both al-Marākibī and Saʿīd have argued that in the long-term, all parts of the legal system, also the penal law, have to be brought into accordance with the sharia. But with violence being out of the question, it could be asserted that non-jihadist Salafists are just one segment of a pluralistic Egyptian society, whose views and activities, at least for the time being, do not represent an imminent danger for the state.
Hazim Fouad has studied Near and Middle Eastern Studies in Bochum/Germany, Cairo/Egypt and London/UK. He is currently working as an analyst for the Senator of the Interior and Sport in Bremen/Germany. The views expressed in this article are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the aforementioned institution.
[i] The names of persons, institutions and terms which are common in non-Arabic literature will not be transliterated.
[ii] For more on salafist TV-Channels see Field, Nathan, and Ahmad Hamam. “Salafi Satellite TV in Egypt.” Arab. Media & Society, 2009. http://www.arabmediasociety.com/?article=712. Accessed April 6, 2013.
[iii] “The video was uploaded on August 31, 2012 and has been viewed 14,962 times so far. Munāṯarāh bayna al-Salafiyya al-Jihādiyya wal-l-shaykh Jamāl al-Marākibī wa-l-shaykh ʿAlāʾ Saʿīd (A Debate Between al-Salafiyya al-Jihādiyya and the Shaykh Jamāl al-Marākibī and the Shaykh ʿAlāʾ Saʿīd).” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcyf5okEX60. Accessed March 30, 2013.
[iv] For more on this matter see Meijer, Roel. “Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong as a Principle of Social Action: The Case of the Egyptian al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya.” In Global Salafism, edited by Roel Meijer. 189-220. London: C. Hurst &.Co, 2009.
[v] Zelin, Aaron. “Know Your Ansar al-Sharia.” Foreign Policy, September 21, 2012.
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/09/21/know_your_ansar_al_sharia. Accessed April 4, 2013.
[vi] Joscelyn, Thomas. “Ansar al Sharia Egypt Releases Founding Statement.” The Long War Journal, November 20, 2012. http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/11/_defending_al_qaeda.php. Accessed April 06, 2013.
[vii] “Yaqīn: muʾtamar libayān mawqif al-Salafiyya al-Jihādiyya min al-dustūr (yaqīn [The name of the channel]: A Conference to Announce the Position of al-Salafiyya al-Jihādiyya Towards the Constitution.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWC05UQADWI. Accessed April 4, 2013.
[viii] http://www.shora-alolamaa.com/eg/. Accessed April 4, 2013.
[ix] The khawārij where a heterogeneous sect in the early days of Islam, which erupted in the context of the dispute about the legitimacy of the forth caliph ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib. They were known for their extreme views on takfīr, i.e. declaring other Muslims as infidels, and the use of violence. Nowadays the term is often used by state-near Islamic scholars to delegitimize violent groups for being outside the community of believers (ahlu sunna wa-l-jamāʿāh).
[x] For more on this matter see Wagemakers, Joas. “The Transformation of a Radical Concept: al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ in the Ideology of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi.” In Global Salafism, edited by Roel Meijer. 81-106. London: C. Hurst &.Co, 2009.
[xi] At a first glance this doesn’t seem to make sense. Why should a group prevent the investigation of reasons which could prove its innocence? Obviously, in such a case the group is aware that such reasons do not exist and therefore tries to prevent the investigation by force.
[xii] Al-yāsiq, “Yassa” in English, was the traditional law of the Mongol empire. Although the Mongols formerly converted to Islam during their conquest of the Muslim world, they were still considered infidels by scholars like Ibn Taymiyyāh or Ibn Kathīr for implementing “al-yāsiq” instead of sharia law. These historic events and verdicts are sometimes used by contemporary Islamists to argue for the apostasy of the ruling system. See: Al-Qumayhī, ʿUthmām bin ʿAbdelrahīm. “Munāqashāh ʿilmiyyāh li-shubhat ghulāt al-takfīr qiyāsan ʿalāl-l-yāsiq (A scientific discussion of the arguments used by the exaggerators in takfīr by analogy of al-yāsiq)”. Al-sakīna li-l-ḥiwār, August 28, 2012. http://www.assakina.com/shobhat/17703.html. Accessed April 8, 2013.
[xiii] „It was We who revealed the Torah (to Moses); therein was guidance and light. By its standard have been judged the Jews, by the Prophet who bowed (as in Islam) to Allah’s will, by the Rabbis and the Doctors of Law: for to them was entrusted the protection of Allah’s Book, and they were witnesses thereto: therefore fear not men, but fear Me, and sell not My Signs for a miserable price. If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) Unbelievers” (translation by Yusuf Ali).
[xiv] In contrast to minor unbelief, which keeps the believer within the Muslim community, people who commit acts that constitute major unbelief can no longer be regarded as Muslims. The question of what exactly constitutes minor and major unbelief continues to be a matter of contentious debate.
[xv] For more on this matter see Cozzens, Jeffrey B. “Al-Takfir wa’l Hijra: Unpacking an Enigma.” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 32:6 (2009): 489-510.
[xvi] Joscelyn, Thomas. “Ansar al Sharia Egypt founder ‘honored to be an extension of al Qaeda’.” The Long War Journal, November 27, 2012. http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/11/ansar_al_sharia_egyp.php. Accessed April 7, 2013.