Ideological Fallacies, Personal Clashes in Salafi Jihadis, Al-Qaeda and ISIS

DND Thought CenterIdeological Fallacies, Personal Clashes in Salafi Jihadis, Al-Qaeda and ISIS

By Iftikhar Hussain Jazib

Salafi Jihadi ideologies are a thing of the 20th century, a deviation from 1400 years of knowledge tradition in Islam gave birth to global Jihad and it manifested in terrorism of Al-Qaeda and ISIS. An Egyptian scholar Sayyid Kutb propagated that the world had returned to the dark age before the advent of Islam and an individual Muslim should achieve so excellence that rulers, judiciary and police become irrelevant for implementation of Shariah laws. Kutb was a member of Muslim Brotherhood, he was declared heretic by Jamia Al-Azhar as his idealism for a stateless society was against the traditions of 4 guided caliphs in Islam. On 29 August, 1966, he was hanged to death after a trial found him guilty for a rebellion to overthrow government in Egypt. However, his violent extremist narratives continue to inspire terrorism in the world.


Another member of Muslim Brotherhood, Dr Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian theologian became the proponent for the participation of Arab fighters in Jihad against former Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Dr Azzam was facilitated by the American government for this purpose and He is the ideologue who radicalised Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden (OBL) for funding Arab fighters in Afghanistan. However, he was disillusioned by the civil war in Afghanistan after the departure of Soviet Union. In this situation, his favourable stance for Ahmad Shah Massoud annoyed Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his thrive for shifting the focus of Arab fighters to Palestine perturbed OBL and Dr Ayman Al-Zawahiri as well. In the midst of these disagreements, Dr Azzam was assassinated in a bomb blast in Peshawar on 24 November, 1989. The leads in the investigations of his killings pointed towards OBL and Dr Al-Zawahiri besides some international actors. Undoubtedly, the elimination of Abdullah Azzam benefited OBL the most as he became undisputed leader of Arab militants in the world.

OBL was not well-versed in religious education as he was a graduate in business administration and civil engineering, therefore, he depended on the works of Sayyid Kutb and Fatwas of Abdullah Azzam for ideological underpinnings of Global Jihad. He enthusiastically offered Saudi government that his fighters could defend it against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and there was no need to depend on American forces in this regard. Saudi government refused his help and he developed a grudge against the royal family. His personal grudge became a catalyst for the terrorist tendencies in him, and he adopted the idea of defeating the western civilisation to overthrow its client apostate governments in Muslim countries for the creation of ideal conditions for the return of Islamic caliphate. Finally, he moved to Afghanistan in 1996 where he took the oath of allegiance to Mullah Omar, a marriage of convenience between Salafi Jihadi ideology and Hanafi Deobandi Taliban. OBL’s radical ideas materialised in the formal creation of Al-Qaeda and terrorist activities culminated in the deadly 9/11 attacks in America. America and international community responded with Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghan Taliban’s government was devastated in 2001 and war against terrorism shattered Al-Qaeda and OBL became a fugitive militant leader.

OBL was eliminated in 2011 and Dr Ayman Al-Zawahiri became the chief of Al-Qaeda. Dr Zawahiri was an Egyptian eye surgeon and he was believed to have uneasy relations with millionaire OBL as a junior partner due to his limited fortunes. Despite the fact that Zawahiri was a well-known militant figure of core Al-Qaeda, he was not able to exert control over various Al-Qaeda branches, franchises and affiliates as he lacked charisma. Dr Zawahiri’s woes were compounded by many factors but weak leadership and concessions in winning more militants and affiliates were the main contributors of this situation. OBL was very strict in offering membership and affiliation with Al-Qaeda and only radical militants who share his world view of global Jihad were allowed to enter Al-Qaeda. But Dr Zawahiri adopted such groups and terrorists who were motivated by local politics and limited objectives. As a result, these groups were affiliated with the name of Al-Qaeda only and the Core leadership was unable to enforce its decisions and judgments over them. So, Al-Qaeda became the victim of its own franchises and affiliates under slain Al-Zawahiri.

Al-Qaeda was devastated by the personality conflict between Al-Zawahiri and Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the chief of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Al-Zawahiri disavowed his ties with Al-Baghdadi because he had provoked internal fighting in Al-Qaeda in which thousands of militants were killed in Iraq and Syria. In the response, Al-Baghdadi became self-proclaimed caliph, a deviation from Al-Qaeda’s ideology to create suitable conditions for the return of Islamic caliphate in the first place. Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) became very violent towards Al-Qaeda and its propaganda campaign against core leadership of Al-Qaeda was even more deadly. ISIS made scathing criticism on Al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda and its various branches and affiliates. Its operatives and media experts hatefully mentioned Al-Zawahiri with the title of a Zionist on various online militant forums and websites. The group also declared those Al-Qaeda militants as apostates, who did not join ISIS by expressing allegiance to Al-Baghdadi. It also criticized Taliban, who were hosting core leadership of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The denigration of chief of Taliban, late Mullah Omar became a prominent feature of ISIS propaganda and it had been highlighting faults in his personality and religious knowledge.

Al-Qaeda’s online magazines and militant forums were consumed by propaganda war against Al-Baghdadi as well. Its propaganda campaign was dedicated to justifying Al-Qaeda’s actions as legitimate while rejecting practices of ISIS. In Al-Qaeda’s view, ISIS painted Islam and Jihad movement with red blood, which compelled the people to think that Jihad only consist of slaughter and killing. It further propagated that Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi was not an Imam that would lead the Muslims, rather his actions have hurt Muslim Ummah severely and repeatedly.

As ISIS propagated that the most of Taliban are even not pure Muslims, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP also produced a booklet to refute slain Al-Baghdadi’s claim of Caliphate in order to defend Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda. However, some commanders of TTP and many militants join ISIS as well. Militants’ deadly propaganda and turf wars demonstrate that Al-Qaeda, ISIS, TTP and ISKP are ideologically hollow and completely wrong. Their sympathizers must open their eyes and realize that terrorist groups are not an option to address grievances of Muslims. In fact, these disgruntle groups have become a problem for each other owing to personality conflicts, personal grudges and ideological contradictions.

M.Phil international Relations from Quaid-e-Azam University, the writer is a freelance contributor on the issues of violent extremism and militancy. He could be approached on X @radiant_j_007



The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.

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