Why hasn’t the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) taken the initiative to unite with other Islamic factions such as the Ahrar al-Sham militant group, the Mujahideen movement, or even its fellow “sister” al-Nusra Front, despite sharing with them the same Salafist background, the rejection of democracy and the call for an Islamic state?
The answer is very simple: ISIS is the “State,” so how can a state unite with organizations? Moreover, ISIS believes that these organizations should remain under the umbrella of the “state,” pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, “Amir al-Mumineen” or the commander of believers, and staying obedient and submissive in times of fortune and adversity.
This simple fact is very expensive; it explains the smaller civil war taking place within the bigger civil war that is currently raging in northern Syria between the alliance of all Islamic forces and ISIS. Indeed, the latter, considering itself the state, became haughty and started randomly arresting and executing individuals in regions that were under its control.
‘Insulting the state’
One of the registers of the detainees that are kept in ISIS prisons and that a fighter was able to get ahold of reveals that “insulting the state” was a good reason for being arrested. It is clear then, that despite being “Islamic”, it does not accept the opinions of others. ISIS supporters will justify this by saying that it “divides the ranks of Muslims.”
They moved from one extremism to another, but they were always justifying their extremism and cruelty by quoting the Shariaa and their ancestorsJamal Khashoggi
These two ideas of “State” and “Amir al-Mumineen” are old and associated to Salafist Jihadist movements. I believe they have evolved within the forests of Algeria and the suburbs of London, after a military coup interrupted the electoral process in Algeria in Jan. 1992, and thousands of leaders and supporters of the winning “Islamic Salvation Front” were arrested.
Subsequently, the situation there dramatically deteriorated and the Salafist movement, along with the exasperated citizens, rushed to “hide in the mountains” in order to escape the arrest and join several Jihadist movements that were formed.
These movements were led by people who were even marginalized by the Algerian Islamist movement and were effectively from the grassroots, with some notions of Shariah law, only to become several years later “commanders,” issuing fatwas against people, including their comrades in the Jihad.
The foundation of these groups was Salafist, rejecting and refuting the idea of democracy. They remained lurking in the miserable neighborhoods of Algeria during the years of its short-lived spring. They had no place amid the leaders of the movement who were satisfied with simply rejecting democracy, but these groups unleashed their extremist ideas while running free in the mountains.
One of them wielded weapons and was soon surrounded with followers; so, he imagined himself leading a world of conquests, being the commander who will make the state of Islam and justice rise with the help of a small group of men and the help of God who would facilitate for him the conquest of a country after the other, until He rules the whole world.
It all started perhaps in early 1994, when several factions united under the banner of al-Jama'ah al-Islamiyah al-Musallaha (the Armed Islamic Group – GIA). Its leaders chose pompous names for themselves such as Abu Abdul Rahman al-Amin and Abu Abdullah Ahmad, and thus, the rebel fighter became a mufti and a scholar.
But, due to their lack of knowledge and the extremism that established them, they moved from one form of extremism to another, always justifying their actions and cruelty by quoting Shariah law and their ancestors. They even used these arguments to justify the execution of their comrades and some of their relatives and their relevant stories are well known among their supporters.
Activist Abu Musab al-Suri, who was once accused of fueling this trend from London, has gathered all their stories in his book “My testimony on Jihad in Algeria,” in which he tells how he had enough with the group's extremism, so he decided to distance himself from them. However, another activist continued to support these groups: Abu Qatada al-Filistini who was recently turned over to Jordan by British authorities.
The desire to dominate others was behind the idea of declaring the “Muslims’ State and Emirate.” A man – who remained unknown – and who was in London, Algeria or Peshawar, discovered when reading between the lines written by the founder of the Salafist ideology Ibn Taymiyyah (1263 - 1328) the issue of the “abstaining community” and the “victorious community.”
He understood from what he has read that the announcement of a gathering of Muslims around one commander will make them a victorious community, that, despite their small number, they cannot be harmed by those who are against them and others who know about them, and that shedding the blood and the wealth of those who are not obedient to them shall be Halal, even if they perform prayers or Jihad.
With these arguments, they violated the houses of the villagers and militant groups like them. The extremism continued in this group until one day, when a commander issued a fatwa on the eve of an electoral event in Algeria stating: “sanctioning those who come out on the Election Day... and protecting those who stayed at home and repented.”
ISIS is living today the same mysterious circumstances that preceded the founding of al-Qaeda; ISIS is a real organization that resulted from the union of jihadist groups in Iraq, and the extinction of others along with their unity with Saddam Hussein’s Baathists and intelligence services, which made their history and expertise through years of war against the Americans.
Then suddenly, a new organization appears declaring that it is the “state” and does not only fight the occupier or the “apostate” state according to its convictions, but it is also fighting its people and tribes who are in distress and obliging them to obey and pledge allegiance to the organization.
Consequently, Sahawat, or “awakening” movements, which that ISIS dislikes and accuses it of being formed by Americans were formed. The term “Sahawat” brought itself to the forefront when the “state” that does not recognize borders to Damascus expanded; the organizations that are against it formed what is now called as Sahawat or “Sahwaji” for the members.
Dreaming of an Islamic state
They are just like their ancestors who dreamt of an Islamic state in the mountains of Algeria, living in an old world of rulings and denominations; for them, Afghanistan is Khorasan, and Pakistan is the Sindh. They copy texts from old books, biographies and jurisprudence and insert them in an unrelated reality.
They are isolated from reality as they do not believe in any country, government, regulations or international laws, and do not take into account the concept of the balance of power, and therefore do not see anything wrong in declaring anyone as the commander of the believers; not just the organization’s commander but the commander of all believers.
Baghdadi has even thought about declaring his successor while he lives hiding in an iron-prefab house on the Turkish border and sends his deputies to gather the pledge of allegiance to him; one of his deputies would stand as an orator praising God; he shows the advantages of their gathering and reviews verses and hadiths that incite unity.
Then he lists the advantages of the commander and his good deeds, and tells them about the authenticity of his devotion. He answers those who ask him about how they would pledge allegiance to someone they do not know? Is it correct to pledge allegiance to someone that the people hadn’t seen? The difference between them and the messengers of Abu Abbas Abdullah as-Saffah is that our friends here pledge allegiance for masked men and spread it on Instagram and Twitter!
I leave you with this text from the book “Extended Hands for Allegiance to Baghdadi” for Abu Humam Bakr Bin Abdul-Aziz al-Athari, who explains some of their revelations...
“To the blessed heroes, to the knights of the battlefields who sold the world for their religion, to the lions of the squares, to those who rise high the most noble banners, to those who purse their path despite suspicions, to the Shura Council of the state, to its ministers, commanders and soldiers: My advice to you, and someone like me is in no position to give someone like you advice, is that you shall obey the commander in the well-known, even when conditions and situations are difficult and hard. God Almighty has said: O you who have believed, obey Allah and obey the Messenger, and the ones endowed with the command (i.e. those in authority) among you. So in case you contend together about anything, then refer it to Allah and the Messenger, in case you believe in Allah and the Last Day.”
This article was first published in al-Hayat on Jan. 18, 2014.
Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.