What history teaches us about Syria’s extremists

Jamal Khashoggi
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Balakot is a marvelous city in Pakistan located on the slopes of the mountains and known for its wonderful panoramic views. Tourists visited, and are still visiting this city, but not like before. This is because it is located in area controlled by the Taliban, who have not yet reconciled with their country’s army. When the Taliban does not attack army convoys, they burn shops selling bogus DVDs. There are strong relations between this city and Saudi Arabia, the country that rushed to help re-build Balakot after a violent the 2005 earthquake.

There is another reason for the close relations between this city and Saudi Arabia. Balakot is home to the tomb of Syed Ahmed Shaheed who liberated the region from the rule of the Sikhs, and founded an Islamic state there in the 18th century. His philosophy was described by British intelligence officers, who were monitoring his moves at the time, as “Wahabism.”


Yes, it was in the 18th century. His teacher and renowned Indian Sheikh Shah Waliullah was a friend of Sheikh Mohammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab. Both were taught at the Prophet’s Mosque by Muslim scholar Mohammad Hayat Sindi, who instructed them about unification, rejecting hatred, following the predecessors, and applying Shariah and the call for jihad. They returned, each to his country to change the course of history.

Waliullah’s students did not only spread Islam in India, but they were the thorn that pricked the British occupation for decades. They established jihad campaigns in India. It seems that British intelligence officers in Basra and Mumbai compared their reports and designated the followers of Waliullah, and his disciple Syed Ahmed, as “Wahhabis” because they shared with their counterparts in the Arabian Peninsula their adherence to Islam and their enthusiasm for jihad.

Spreading Islam

However, great ideas are ruined by fanatic followers with little experience and wisdom. Syed Ahmed succeeded in turning Pashtun tribes into “Mujahedeen.” He introduced an Islam devoid of myths, and applied the law Islamic Shariah. He established an Islamic state in that remote area in India and triumphed over the Sikhs and their army, which controlled the region. He victoriously conquered Peshawar in 1830 with people and the sheikhs of the tribes welcoming him.

Great ideas are ruined by fanatic followers with little experience and wisdom

Jamal Kashoggi

He did not live there for a long time. He left the region after appointing passionate commander Mullah Mazhar Ali as his representative. Syed Ahmed returned to his stronghold in the mountains surrounded by Pashtun tribes. In just two months, Mazhar Ali ruined everything that Syed Ahmed had established throughout the decade. Mazhar Ali imposed on the people provisions that collided with their tribal norms, including requiring them to wed their daughters as soon as they reach puberty to his Mujahedeen.

He issued rules that shocked the local community; so eventually they held a “Loya Jirga” (grand assembly) and waged a war against Syed Ahmad and his Mujahedden. The Sikhs took advantage of the situation and supported the rebellious tribes. Consequently, a lot of blood was shed during the following year. Syed Ahmed was killed and his movement was defeated. The people resorted again to the rule of Peshawar, and thus, the genuine liberation movement and religious reform failed because of a single person’s irrationalities. You will now see that history repeats itself.

The moral of the story

What is the reason for this long story? The reason I have recounted this story is to shed light on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and what it is doing to the Syrian revolution in its darkest time since it began 30 months ago. As soon as ISIS entered the scene, it started to deal authoritatively with others; everyone had to obey and be faithful to their leader Amir al-Mouminin Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, whom no one has ever seen in a public place! No one should ever doubt that they used the term “state” and named their leader as “Amir al-Mouminin” (Commander of the Faithful) without good reason. The organization is driven by the lust to rule; they have used religious concepts to enforce the idea of being sanctioned by a higher power. It is the theory of the “Victorious community” which, as soon as it appears, substantiates the leadership of the ISIS.

It tells Muslims: They shall obey Amir al-Mouminin or they shall be considered traitors who refused to comply and face death as result. It is the season of atonement and murder fatwas in Egypt and Syria.

Although rebel leaders were forced to deal with ISIS after they found themselves with limited needed military arsenal to fight the regime. Some have even found themselves having to choose between the regime or ISIS and therefore, reluctantly chose the latter. The criticizing voices are still on the rise.

A well-known preacher described the ISIS as “a group of outsiders” that need to be removed; he then withdrew his words saying that the tape which was circulated was incomplete and did not accurately reflect his opinion.

He should not be blamed because the ISIS is powerful and there are overlapping issues between the ISIS and his radical movement that sustains it with justification at times and intimidation other times.

Time will sort out the stances of the various groups operating in the region; a few months ago the al-Nusra Front was al-Qaeda, and extremism’s, representative in the media. Politicians were warning of the danger of al-Nusra and the United Staets apologized for not arming the moderate Syrian opposition considering al-Nusra’s operations in the country. However, today, al-Nusra is an angel when compared to the ISIS. It has even established closer ties with moderate Muslim militant organization in Syria, such as “Liwa al-Tahrir” and “Ahrar al-Sham.” Such groups have long declared their rejection of suicide operations and the targeting of minorities. It seemed that these moderate militant organizations knew that if they remained in the arena alone, the ISIS would not hesitate to attack them, because as I previously mentioned the ISIS does not use the term “state” or the term “commander of the faithful” for no reason. There is a doctrine behind their use of such terminology. It gives them the power to: “Behead them with the sword, whoever they are” since they are Muslims and their commander is the Muslims’ commander who must be obeyed.

The Syrian scholars need other Islamic scholars to cover their backs. ISIS is like the Prince of Peshawar, Mazhar Ali, who ruined through his irrationality and fatwas the efforts of his predecessor. Therefore, the ISIS will destroy Syria, its people and its neighbors along with Egypt, Tunisia, Maghreb and Sahara, Yemen and Somalia.

Will a religious summit, that has nothing to do with politics, be able to eradicate these outsiders and strengthen the law of God which is supposed to protect the Muslims? I do not think so!

This article was first published in al-Hayat on Nov. 2, 2013.


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.)

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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