1 Jul 2014

Al-Qaeda spiritual leader: Islamic State are ‘deviants’

Foreign Affairs Correspondent

Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, regarded as the most influential voice in Salafist Islam, forcefully rejects the Islamic State’s declaration of a new caliphate and brands them a “deviant group”.

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The move will drive a wedge deeper into the divide between Muslim extremists who either support or oppose its creation.

In a lengthy statement, Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, who was released from prison in Jordan two weeks ago, brands the new Islamic State “a deviant group,” stating that it is against Islam and Sharia. He makes clear that he views it as an effort to supersede the role of al-Qaeda.

Sheikh al-Maqdisi, who is also known as Isam Mohammad Taher al-Barqawi, poses searching questions as to how the newly-declared caliphate would work, practically speaking, and criticises it as “a rush-job” owing to its leaders’ failure to think it all through.

The announcement of the caliphate “does not alarm me,” he writes. But, he says: “whoever rushes something prematurely will be punished by being deprived of that for which he strives.”

He also condemns the “extremism” of the group, focusing in particular on the killing of other Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The Islamic State will create division within Islam, he declares, adding that the group represents what he called “a rebellion against the legitimacy of al-Qaeda.”

Is this ‘caliphate’ going to be a safe-haven for all the vulnerable people and a shelter for every Muslim? Or will it become a sword hanging over Muslims who disagree with them? Sheikh al-Maqdisi

Sheikh al-Maqdisi, who is from a small town near Zarqa, a Salafist stronghold north of the Jordanian capital, Amman, was the spiritual mentor to the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, founder of al-Qaeda in Iraq, from which the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham was later spawned.

Last year, after exporting its extreme brand of jihad to neighbouring Syria under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Isis split with al-Qaeda and its Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra (The Victory Front). The al-Qaeda general command formally disavowed Isis on account of its extremism in February this year, after mediation efforts by Islamic scholars, including al-Maqdisi, failed.

The Islamic State and its conflict with al-Qaeda

Today’s statement from Sheikh al-Maqdisi aligns him – and other leading Salafists – with the Jabhat al-Nusra, which also flies the black flag of jihad but remains opposed to the formation of the Isis version of an Islamic State. His statement questions whether the Islamic State will really offer refuge to all Muslims or just those who agree with Isis.

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“Is this ‘caliphate’ going to be a safe-haven for all the vulnerable people and a shelter for every Muslim?” he writes. “Or will it become a sword hanging over Muslims who disagree with them? Will it lead the abolition of all Islamic Emirates that preceded it and will it invalidate all other groups who are waging jihad in God’s name?”

Jihadis in Syria, including those fighting with Jabhat al-Nusra, list the eventual formation of an Islamic State as a central goal, along with the toppling of the secular dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad and the protection of Muslim civilians in Syria.

Reassuring Jordan?

Sheikh al-Maqdisi’s statement will come as a relief to regional governments, not least the Jordanian monarchy, which many think wants to placate home-grown Salafists in an effort to create distance between them and the aggressive expansionism of the Islamic State.

Last week, another Jordanian-Palestinian Salafist spiritual leader, Abu Qatada, was acquitted in one of two terrorism-related cases for which he has been on trial. The verdict in the second case will be announced in September. Abu Qatada has also criticised the ideology of Isis as “distorted and extreme” and said its fighters have been “misled to fight a war that is not holy”.

Sheikh al-Maqdisi statement puts him at odds with other jihadi organisations – including some important al-Qaeda franchise operations from as far afield as Algeria and Indonesia – which have already come out in support of the Islamic State and the formation of the caliphate.

These groups include al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magbreb (North Africa), the Islamic Salvation Front (Algeria), al-Qaeda in Khorasan (western Afghanistan), and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Sheikh al-Maqdisi was released from prison on 14 June after serving a four-year term on terrorism-related charges, amid speculation among Jordanian jihadis that he would seek to unify the jihadist movement in Syria. He has spent 16 of the past 21 years in Jordanian jails.

Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi's statement:

"The name (caliphate) and its announcement does not alarm me. All of us wish to return to the caliphate and the breaking of boundaries and the raising of the unification banners and lowering the flags of condemnation. No-one hates that but the hypocrite. But the lesson is in matching the names with the facts and implementing these facts on the ground.

"Whoever rush something prematurely will be punished by being deprived of it. What interest me very much is what will these people (Isis/IS ) do based on this announcement and this name - which changed from a group, to the State of Iraq, then to the state of Iraq and the Levant and then to general caliphate.

"Is this caliphate going to be a safe haven for all the vulnerable people and a shelter for every Muslim? Or will this name become a hanging sword over Muslims who disagree with them? Will this lead to the abolishment of all emirates (Islamic emirates in Afghanistan and elsewhere) that came before their declared state, and will it invalidate all the other groups who are doing jihad for the sake of God in all fields before them"