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Meeting the Gorkas (by Zubair Qamar)


Sebastian Gorka, Deputy Assistant to President Donald Trump. (Source)

The Westminster Institute

I met Katharine Gorka (“Katie,” as she asked me to call her) at the Westminster Institute in McLean, Virginia in early 2012. I contacted Katie, the Director of the Institute, to check if she had any interesting thoughts to share on counter-terrorism efforts.

Always interested in defending Islam from terrorists who hijack my religion to promote demonic goals, I was interested in the Institute for its mandate of countering radical groups. After exchanging emails for some time with Katie, we finally met when I returned to the US after living in Europe for several years.

Katie greeted me congenially and later introduced me to her husband, Dr. Sebastian Gorka (‘Sebastian’). Sebastian was different. His stony demeanor and towering stature made him look like a Viking in a suit.

When the Gorkas and I sat in the Institute’s conference room to discuss Islam, Sebastian to my astonishment bluntly asserted that terrorists were waging a “jihad” that Islam supports. I tried correcting Sebastian on how Islam differentiates jihad from terrorism.

Instead, I was shouted down by Sebastian and fed an egotistical monologue that Islam supports terrorism. Now he was behaving like the Barbarian horde. Less confrontational, Katie submissively nodded in full agreement with her husband. Sebastian, the former Breitbart News National Security Editor, was the more dominating personality who was recently appointed as Deputy Assistant to President Donald Trump.

While Katie is less known to the public, Newsweek describes Katie as having “well-established anti-Muslim views.” This shows in her writing and choice of anti-Islam guest speakers at the Westminster Institute, including Ibn Warraq. Katie is reported to have served on the Trump “transition’s Department of Homeland Security ‘landing team.’”

I was interested in teaching the Gorkas the peaceful face of orthodox Sunni Islam. They shoved Islamophobia down my throat instead – so much for collaborating with them to counter the extremist threat. That was the end of my association with the Gorkas, at least in person. Thank God the Obama administration marginalized such zealots, I thought at the time. The future of US-Muslims relations was not in peril.

The Gorkas & Patrick Sookhdeo


Patrick Sookhdeo (Source)
Meeting the Gorkas only intensified my curiosity. I set out to learn more about the Westminster Institute and discovered that Patrick Sookhdeo was the Institute’s founder. Sookhdeo, known for his anti-Islam diatribes, was fully behind the Gorkas. Sookhdeo and Katie Gorka co-edited a book, Fighting the Ideological War: Winning Strategies from Communism to Islamism, extolled by Ayan Hirsi Ali, a rabid anti-Islam activist.

Sookhdeo was also a guest speaker at the 2007 Counterjihad Conference in Brussels and was fully supported by Pamela Geller, the Islamophobe par-excellence. Sookhdeo was also “quoted approvingly four times in the 1,500-page ‘manifesto’ of the Norwegian killer Anders Breivik.” Sookhdeo pointed fingers at the Muslim majority when in the book he said, “[T]raditionalists… are not prepared to tackle the deeper theological legitimacy that terrorism derives from classical Islam.” The Gorkas agree.

Sebastian Gorka who describes himself in the book as a “child of the Cold War” claims that Islam’s Prophet is “not a man of peace.” He erroneously conflates pseudo-Islamic terrorism with historical jihad, and peddles the myth that “shari’a-compliant mortgages in Northern Virginia” are examples of “counter-state” enemy efforts. Katie expresses irrational fears of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and, contradicting polls, casts doubt on whether the Muslim majority is really inclusive and peaceful.

In 2013, I wrote a critical review of the book to expose the anti-Islam attacks by Sookhdeo, the Gorkas, and other contributing authors, a few of whom included: Robert Reilly, the current Director of Westminster Institute, who disdainfully declared, “The Middle East is poor because of a dysfunctional culture based upon a deformed theology;” Thomas Joscelyn, Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a neoconservative think tank with a “history of engaging in alarmist rhetoric and fear mongering;” and John Lenczowski, Founder and President of The Institute of World Politics, who believes “the traditional poor – with its unique and seemingly intractable pathologies” and “growth of Islamic communities in Europe that threaten to erase the distinctiveness of individual European cultures” contribute to the fragility of Judeo-Christian civilization.

Katie G

Katharine Gorka (Source)
Reilly and Lenczowski held senior positions in the Reagan administration at the height of the Cold War. All are in far-right or neoconservative circles. They are described as the fringe who, with Patrick Sookhdeo and the Gorkas, promote conspiracy theories and howl “totalitarian” and “fascist” as if the Cold war never ended. Now they are forcing a Cold War lens on an entirely different kind of ‘threat.’

The Gorkas apparently parted ways with Sookhdeo after accusations of sexual assault and intimidation of witnesses led to a guilty verdict against him in 2015.

But the Gorkas’ Islamophobic efforts continued unabated. Katie relinquished her Director position at Westminster Institute and founded The Council on Global Security, while Sebastian continued his intermittent interviews by the media and launched “The Gorka Briefing” website to share thoughts on “threats” to the homeland. Both sites were recently taken offline.

“Defeating Jihad”

Similar errors abound in Sebastian Gorka’s recently published book in 2016 – Defeating Jihad, The Winnable War. Highlights of a recent critical review I wrote elucidate his many errors.

Some errors in the book include Sebastian’s portrayal of the Barbary Wars as “jihadist” or religious in nature. But key historian/scholars describe these wars as mainly economic/political, not religious. Sebastian also misrepresents the “jihadist” threat in America as the bigger threat, and ignores the far greater numbers who die annually by gun violence overwhelmingly by non-Muslims. Contrary to fact, Sebastian also claims, “Saddam Hussein is the second leader to use WMD after Hitler,” and distorts the view of the controversial Sunni scholar Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328) on rebellion against rulers.

With the Gorkas and others of the same cloth (e.g., Stephen Bannon) in the Trump administration, is the future of US-Muslim relations now in peril? My first knee-jerk reaction was to answer in the affirmative. How could it have been otherwise?

Finding Moderation in the Trump Administration? 

But calm reflection has changed my thoughts. I believe the world’s realities will soon compel the Trump administration to have a more pragmatic view of Islam and the peaceful Muslim majority. The administration’s poorly conceived views of Islam and Muslims, its insistence on passing apparently anti-Muslim bans, and other such imprudent efforts with their negative fallout will eventually force the administration to distinguish between militants and peaceful Muslims. They will realize their policies do not and will not work. While I do not believe the Gorkas will spearhead this effort, someone more sensible in the Trump administration will – like National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster who believes the description “radical Islamic terrorism” is not useful because it unfairly maligns peaceful Muslims and emboldens terrorists.

I am concerned as a Muslim American but I am still optimistic for a possibly meaningful way forward. The other remaining option – the perpetuation of Islamophobia – will only continue to embolden the minority of extremists on both sides and marginalize the peaceful Muslim majority.

Lovers of peace, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, are on the same side, and all of us are the prime targets of militant groups like ISIS. Muslims, in fact, make up the overwhelming majority of casualties by such radical groups. I as well as my fellow Muslims are the most outraged and want to defeat the hijackers of Islam more than anyone.

A Trump Alliance with Moderate Muslims is Not an Option

The Trump administration’s collaboration with the Muslim community is not a choice but a required imperative to strengthen our nation’s (and world’s) security. Correcting incompetent scholarship on Islam from both “Islamic” militants and their detractors is a necessary first step to dilute the extremist narrative effectively.  This can only be done when Muslims are respected and seen as part of the solution instead of the problem.

I call on the Trump administration to follow the way of prudence now – not until failed policies make this world a more dangerous place. Join hands with us – the Muslim moderates – for a win-win partnership. Start reaching out to moderate Sunni scholars already embedded in counter-terrorism and inter-faith efforts, including Shaykh Hamza Yusuf (founder of Zaytuna College in California), Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi who has delivered phenomenal rebuttals – spoken and written – against ISIS, and Imam Mohamad Bashar Arafat of the Civilizations Exchange & Cooperation Foundation. Our survival depends on it.





NEW! Critical Book Review: “Defeating Jihad – the Winnable War” – by Sebastian Gorka (Review by Zubair Qamar)


This book review was published on Amazon in September 2016.

There is unfortunately little to gain from Sebastian Gorka’s book, “Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War,” on countering terrorism. With invented “facts,” a distorted understanding of Islamic history, little or no understanding of Sunni Islam’s jurisprudence of jihad/war/rebellion, sharing the same manipulated interpretations of combative jihad as terrorists, among other problems, Gorka’s book can be counted as one of the worst on countering terrorism.

While errors in Gorka’s book are too numerous to explain, below are some examples of major errors followed by a discussion of other problems.


Gorka claims: Before Ibn Taymiyya’s “redefinition” of combative jihad,

“Islam had previously prohibited revolution against Muslim rulers” (pp. 61-62).

Gorka has his “facts” wrong. There were Sunni scholars before Ibn Taymiyya’s time who advocated rebellion against rulers in specific circumstances. Imam Zaid Shakir, a contemporary Sunni Muslim scholar, explains:

“There are those who claim that any rebellion against a Muslim ruler is unsanctioned. However, we do not find this opinion in the writings of the traditional scholars…. However, even the Sunni view is conditional, and rebellion is sanctioned in the case of the ruler openly rejecting Islam or sanctioning laws or practices that violate accepted Islamic laws or principles, and it is not feared that a greater tribulation will befall the believers should they rise up” (1).

Khaled Abou El Fadl who wrote an entire book on the law of rebellion (ahkam al-bughah) in Islam – “Rebellion and Violence in Islamic Law” – says:

“…[T]he… quite dogmatic view is that Sunni jurists by the fourth/tenth century had become political quietists. But in light of the discourses on ahkam al-bughah, this view becomes untenable. It is not possible to describe the juridical positions as either quietist or activist….Sunni, Zaydi, and Ibadi jurists argued that a rebellion could be justified if the anticipated benefits of such a rebellion outweigh the perceived evils” (2).

In his book, “The Islamic Law of War: Justifications and Regulations,” author and scholar Ahmed Al-Dawoody gives several case studies explaining when rebellion against a ruler was permitted and not permitted under specific circumstances (3).

In other words, rebellion against a ruler was not a clear cut matter among Sunni jurists. Some permitted rebellion in specific circumstances while others did not. Gorka’s lack of due diligence in this matter is astonishing. He is unaware of Islamic history, the views of jurists on the law of rebellion, and the sources and scholars cited above.


Gorka wrongly portrays Ibn Taymiyya’s call to rebellion against Mongols as Ibn Taymiyya’s standard position on rebellion against rulers. He then somehow concludes:

“In the Middle Ages, therefore, jihad came to convey on the people a right to denounce their rulers as un-Islamic and wage a legitimate religious revolution” (p.63).

Several major factual errors: First, contrary to Gorka’s claim, Ibn Taymiyya’s call for rebellion against the Mongols was not his official position against unjust rulers. Second, this logically means it was not because of Ibn Taymiyya that in the Middle Ages “jihad came to convey on the people a right to denounce their rulers as un-Islamic and wage a legitimate religious revolution.” This brings us to Gorka’s third inaccuracy: Jihad – with or without Ibn Taymiyya’s influence – did not come to “convey on the people a right to denounce their rulers as un-Islamic and wage a legitimate revolution.” Proclaiming a jihad in Sunni Islam has always been the prerogative of the ruler – not any civilian, soldier, or even Muslim scholar.

While Ibn Taymiyya is a controversial scholar to Sunnis, mainly in matters of creed but also in jurisprudence, the norm for Ibn Taymiyya was to not rebel even against an unjust ruler provided that harm to Islam/Muslims did not exceed the benefit – an unsurprising position similar to many orthodox Sunni scholars.

That is why Ibn Taymiyya did not call for rebellion against Mamluk Sultan al-Nasir ibn Qalawun when he ruled, even when Mamluk rulers were imperfect from a Shari’ah standpoint. Authors Banan Malkawi and Tamara Sonn in the chapter “Ibn Taymiyya on Islamic Governance” (4) explain that Ibn Taymiyya’s:

“fatwas on obedience and non-rebellion against Muslim rulers facilitated the maintenance of order within the Mamluk realm. Despite the fact that Mamluk rulers occasionally violated the Shari’a, Ibn Taymiyya denounced rebellion against them because he held that the harm that would result from their overthrow would outweigh the benefit” (p.124).

Ibn Taymiyya’s call to rebellion against the Mongols was a “special case” that deviated from his standard position according to the authors. “But short of such an extreme case,” they say, “patience and forbearance in the face of unjust rule is required” according to Ibn Taymiyya (p.120). Gorka completely misrepresents Ibn Taymiyya’s view on rebellion and uses his inaccurate understanding to contrive fallacious conclusions.

Gorka also misses the crucial point that Mongols were invaders. Ibn Taymiyya specialist Yahya Michot, commenting on Jamaat al-Jihad’s twisted justification for using Ibn Taymiyya’s anti-Mongol fatwas to assassinate Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, says:

“To legitimize armed uprising and the assassination of Muslim rulers by identifying them with the invaders attacked in the anti-Mongol fatwas of Ibn Taymiyya is indeed, quite simply, a hijacking of the test that transforms his writings calling to resist an incoming foreign invader into pamphlets challenging a power in situ. It is shocking that such a ‘Mongolization’ of Sadat and other Muslim rulers could be conceived as faithful to the thought of the Damascene Shaykh al-Islam” (5).

Instead of correcting what militants misinterpret and bastardize from Ibn Taymiyya’s anti-Mongol edicts, Gorka goes to bed with them and bolsters their extremist justifications. Ibn Taymiyya was hardly controversial in his views of jihad. Rather, militants made Ibn Taymiyya a father of jihad after manipulating his views.


Gorka wrongly deduces that the doctrine of “takfirism” comes from Ibn Taymiyya as if Ibn Taymiyya is the progenitor of takfirism. After misinterpreting Ibn Taymiyya’s anti-Mongol edict as a pass to people to rebel against unjust rulers, Gorka then oddly says:

“Unilaterally excommunicating another Muslim, declaring him an apostate from the religion of Islam, came to be labeled takfirism, an ideological tool that is a primary weapon of today’s global jihadists such as al-Qaeda and ISIS” (p 63).

Gorka repeats his point more explicitly on pg.64 where he says takfirism is “his doctrine,” meaning Ibn Taymiyya’s doctrine.

No, ‘takfirism’ is not Ibn Taymiyya’s doctrine. As discussed, Ibn Taymiyya did not advocate rebellion against rulers as his official position – so he did not promote takfir against them – and his call to fight the Mongols was a special case that deviated from this position.

Rather, the Kharijites are the first known takfiris who made takfir on Prophet Muhammad’s Companions in Islam’s early days. The Kharijites were the earliest group of fanatics who separated themselves from the Muslim community due to their extremist positions. They arose in opposition to Ali — Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law — because of his willingness to arbitrate with Mu’awiyah, the governor of Damascus at the time, over the issue of the caliphate. Kharijites did takfir on Ali, Mu’awiyah, and their followers, accusing them of blasphemy. That is why ISIS and al-Qa’eda who do takfir of Muslims are described as the Kharijites of today.

To Gorka, takfir started with and became popularized to the public by Ibn Taymiyya because of his anti-Mongol edict. Gorka parrots these myths out of whole cloth without any evidence.


On p.19, Gorka says,

“…we have been at war with the jihadists since at least the Barbary Wars of the eighteenth century.”

Portraying Barbary Wars as “jihadist” or religious in nature is misleading. Louis Jacobson of Pulitzer Prize Winning Politifact says “historians of the period…say that religion was not a significant factor in the Barbary Wars.” Jacobson then quotes scholars grounded in the subject:

“Very little of this had to do with Islam….It has much more to do with…trading opportunities and economics”  (6)

(Adrian Tinniswood, author of “Pirates of Barbary: Corsairs, Conquests and Captivity in the Seventeenth-Century Mediterranean”)

Similarly, Lance Janda, military historian at Cameron University says,

“We didn’t attack them out of matters of faith….The wars were all about freedom of the sea and protecting the U.S. flag” (6).

Gorka twists facts to support his distorted interpretation of history. Had Gorka been serious, he would have consulted historians about the matter.


Gorka exaggerates the ‘jihadist’ threat in the U.S. when he says,

“The year 2015 saw the highest number of jihadi plots on American soil since September 11, 2001” (p.111)

while withholding other important details from the same source.

What Gorka failed to mention were details from the same source by Charles Kurzman who said:

“Five plots engaged in violence in the United States in 2015, killed 19 people and raising the total since 9/11 to 69 fatalities. Over the same period, more than 220,000 Americans were murdered. In 2015 alone, 134 Americans were killed in mass shootings”(7).

Gorka conceals the fact that in 2015 many more civilians in the U.S. died not from “Muslim jihadist” terror, but from murder and mass shootings perpetrated almost exclusively by non-Muslims. Kurzman in a 2015 op ed echoed similar words in more explicit terms:

“The numbers suggest that ideological violence — by Muslims, Christians or others — is not a leading threat to public safety in the United States. Out of 14,000 murders that the country experiences each year, a few dozen per year — less than 1 percent — are caused by political or religious ideologies” (8).

While Gorka attempts to portray jihadist terrorism as the bigger threat, Kurzman in a February 2016 article says,

“Each year since 2010 when I began doing this report” — the same report used by Gorka above — “I try to remind readers … that among the threats to public safety that Americans face year in and year out, Islamic terrorism has played a very small role” (9).

Kurzman’s conclusion that “Islamic terrorism has played a very small role” is the opposite of what Gorka illustrates. Gorka ignores the bigger threat, portrays the smaller threat as the bigger threat, and cherry picks from Kurzman’s source to misrepresent what he said.


Gorka claims jihad was “repeatedly reinterpreted and redefined” (p.61) over the centuries and attempts to wrongly convey that such acts of violence from Muslims, whether by Prophet Muhammad’s companions or al-Qae’da, were within the permitted parameters of what constituted a legally valid jihad.

Gorka’s great failure to acknowledge and explain the majority Sunni view of jihad from scholars in the four major Sunni schools of law — the Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki, Hanbali schools — alone renders Gorka incompetent in the field of counter-terrorism.

Like the terrorists he claims to oppose, Gorka’s understandings and conclusions are based on a cursory and fragmented understanding of Islamic history. This patchwork knowledge led Gorka to weave a portrait of Islamic history that conflates jihad in Sunni Islam with the un-Islamic acts of terrorists.

While Gorka is correct that jihad was “repeatedly reinterpreted and redefined,” Gorka is oblivious of or conceals that, according to Sunni jurisprudence, certain reinterpretations and redefinitions contradicted mainstream Sunni Islam’s understandings of jihad. Their actions, therefore, were not understood to be valid combative jihads but rather irreligious vigilantism that was condemned and punished. For example, killing civilians, “jihad” being proclaimed by individual vigilantes (not governments), destroying places of worship, killing diplomats/ambassadors, making jihad a ‘pillar’ of Islam, and violating contracts/agreements — in other words, what terrorists do — are acts antithetical to Sunni jihad.

This is the reason why Islamic Law reserved severe punishments for criminals and extremists, including brigands who terrorized and harmed innocent civilians, and why Sunni scholars made it obligatory to fight the Kharijites. Gorka conflates terrorism with jihad as the terrorists do instead of explaining how orthodox Sunni jurists differentiated proper combative jihad from un-Islamic acts of violence.

Gorka also ignores the many refutations of terrorists by Sunni Muslim scholars, including but not limited to:

A gap as glaring as this is truly astounding knowing that the security community has used knowledgeable Muslims to defuse terrorist plots on US soil, and are among the best weapons against terrorism. Ignoring them and, worse, conflating them with the terrorist threat as Gorka seems to do, is a blunder that certainly jeopardizes our national security.



While portraying himself as an objective counter-terrorism expert, Gorka cannot help but inject his personal religious biases that compromise his integrity as a sincere scholar. Gorka, a Christian, indulges the reader that Christianity is better than Islam (pp.73-75). Gorka even conceals his religious education to readers, including his BA in Philosophy and Theology from London University.

Gorka and his wife, Katharine Gorka, are also associated with the now disgraced “ordained priest in the Church of England,” Patrick Sookhdeo, who was recently convicted of sexual harassment for inappropriately touching a female follower. Sookhdeo’s anti-Islam views are well known, including to the Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik who quoted him four times in his 1,500 page manifesto before killing 69 civilians, mostly children. Sookhdeo founded the Westminster Institute in Virginia where Gorka’s wife was director. To the Westminster Institute, mainstream Sunni Islam is just as much to blame as the terrorists who kill innocent Christians. So much for Gorka’s objective analysis.

Gorka on pg.40 says Saddam Hussein is the second leader to use WMD after Hitler. He curiously forgets that it was the U.S. that used WMD against Japan before Saddam did.

Gorka’s discussion of his and his father’s history and forcing an understanding of today’s terrorist threat through a ‘Cold War’ lens is misplaced and irrelevant to discussing how so-called “Muslim” terrorism should be addressed. Gorka senselessly mixes apples with oranges.

On pg. 17, Gorka mentions “Judeo-Christian heritage of Western civilization.” Such a heritage is a myth, including to the late American Jewish theologian and scholar Arthur Allen Cohen who, in his 1969 book, “The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition,” said:

“I regard all attempts to define a Judeo-Christian tradition as essentially barren and meaningless” (10).

The same article states,

“US Rabbi and author Jacob Neusner in his 2001 Jews and Christians: The Myth of a Common Tradition have pointed out at great length that the idea of historic Judeo-Christian harmony ignores, amongst other matters, a 2000-year narrative of theological antipathy and a millennium long narrative of violent persecution of Jews in the name of Christianity.”

Another example is Gorka’s description of the current threat as “hybrid totalitarianism” (pg. 18) In another book, Gorka calls radical Islamists “kinetic terrorists” or “violent jihadists” (11). These nonsensical jumble of words confuse more than clarify.

While religion/ideology can have a role in the formation of terrorist groups, Gorka neglects other factors. Terrorism expert, Jessica Stern, says,

“Terrorist movements often arise in reaction to a perceived injustice, as a means to right some terrible wrong, real or imagined. Yet ideology is not the only, or even the most important, factor in an individual’s decision to join a terrorist group.”

Stern continues,

“In interviewing terrorists, I have found that operatives are often more interested in the expression of a collective identity than they are in the group’s stated goals.”

Stern concludes,

“This understanding – that ideology is not the only, or even the principal, reason that individuals are drawn to terrorist groups – needs to be incorporated into our counter-terrorism efforts, especially when we consider counter-radicalization.”

Many other scholars share the same views. For example, in the recently published book, “ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate,” coauthors and terrorism specialists Anne Speckhard and Ahmet S. Yayla, illustrate that money, cars, food, women, and other temptations have served as recruitment drivers — not always or only ideology.


Gorka lacks the required expertise needed to counter terrorism. In the book he concocts a narrative composed of fallacies and deception, including a distorted knowledge of history, current events, and Islamic jurisprudence, as well as his ignorance of refutations of terrorists by knowledgeable Muslims. His religious bias is clear, including his association with dubious anti-Muslim individuals.

Lastly, what absolutely confirms Gorka as untrustworthy and unreliable is his ability to be bought. The Federal Election Commission reports that Gorka was paid $8,000 by the Trump campaign in October 2015 (12). This absolutely compromises his efforts as a sincere scholar and counter-terrorism expert. Readers are recommended not to waste time with Gorka’s unscholarly book, and instead read the books, articles, and Muslim refutations of terrorists mentioned in this review.


(1) Emel. Zaid Shakir. “Imam Zaid Shakir on Muslim Revolutions,” Issue 29, April 2011. Available online.

(2) Khaled Abou El Fadl. “Rebellion and Violence in Islamic Law.” NY: Cambridge University Press. pp. 232-233.

(3) Ahmed Al-Dawoody. “The Islamic Law of War: Justifications and Regulations.” NY: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 153-155.

(4) Asma Afsaruddin (Ed.). “Islam, the State, and Political Authority: Medieval Issues and Modern Concerns.” Chapter 6: ‘Ibn Taymiyya on Islamic Governance’ (Banan Malkawi and Tamara Sonn), NY, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. pg.124.

(5) Yayha Michot. “Ibn Taymiyya Against Extremists.” Dar Albouraq, Beirut, Lebanon. 2012. pg. XXVI.

(6) Louis Jacobson. “In Barbary wars, did U.S. declare ‘war on Islam’?”, Politifact.

(7) Charles Kurzman. “Muslim-American Involvement with Violent Extremism, 2015.” February 2, 2016. Department of Sociology, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

(8) Charles Kurzman, “Ideological Violence is Terrorism,” New York Times. 2015.

(9)  Cathy Lynn Grossman. “Muslim Americans involved in terrorism ‘rose dramatically’ in 2015,” Religion News Service (RNS). February 2, 2016.

(10) Tony Taylor, “Australia’s ‘Judeo-Christian heritage’ doesn’t exist.” The Guardian.

(11) Katharine C. Gorka & Patrick Sookhdeo (eds.). Fighting the Ideological War: Winning Strategies from Communism to Islamism. McLean: Isaac Publishing 2012. pg. 203.

(12) Federal Election Commission report. Sebastian Gorka’s $8,000 payment by Trump campaign.

– Why ISIS is not “Sunni”: The Failure to Understand Sunni Islam is a Victory for ISIS.


( © Zubair Qamar, November 2014 )

The Failure to Understand Sunni Islam is a Victory for ISIS. ISIS has made quite a dramatic ascension in ranks and power over the months. Some see ISIS’s success as a triumph of “Sunni” Islam.

Such messengers of “truth” who furnish instant corrections and harangues at those who distance a minority of criminal zealots from the peaceful majority of Muslims, are, ironically the first to collude with ISIS.

While not understanding what Sunni Islam is – what ISIS purports to follow and uphold – the drivers of “truth” rush in defense of exactly what ISIS claims to be. Becoming unknowingly hand-in-glove with ISIS, and their loyal propagandists, they describe ISIS as “Islamic” and “Sunni,” and a group that wages a proper combative “jihad.”

This empowerment of ISIS by its supposed detractors is the result of the colossal failure of many to fully understand the identity of Sunni Islam as understood by the Sunni majority. Until this Sunni identity is well defined and understood, it is impossible to know which group represents Sunni Islam, and just as impossible to use Sunni Islam to effectively counter pseudo-Sunni groups like ISIS that deceptively claim the Sunni mantle.

This is not just a failure of many non-Muslims. Many – perhaps most – Muslims who follow Sunni Islam do so by tradition, and are unable to explain how Sunni identity differs from pseudo-Sunni identity when asked.

Militants like ISIS thrive on this ignorance and confusion. An absence of proper knowledge of Sunni Islam hinders one’s ability to use it as a weapon against militants, and emboldens them. What has Sunni identity meant to the world’s Sunni Muslims, now and in the past?

What is Orthodox Sunni Islam/Tradition?

In general, the unique characteristic that distinguishes Sunni identity from other groups is that it is represented by the religious understandings of the majority of Muslim scholars.

The majority of Muslim scholars represent Sunni tradition through the generations from the time of Prophet Muhammad to contemporary times.

Tradition is important to a Sunni because, says Sunni author Aftab Ahmad Malik,

“[T]radition is invoked in the context of an inherited scholastic methodology and set of paradigms.”

Included in them, he explains, are:

“debates, the dissenting opinions, the scholarly exegesis, interpretation and understanding of the ethical, moral legal, spiritual and philosophical traditions of Islam.”

Most importantly, says Malik,

“This scholarship is bound together by a tapestry of interconnecting chains of transmissions of other scholars, mystics, philosophers, jurists, theologians and sages that reach back generations, leading ultimately to the Prophet Muhammad himself, God bless him and grant him peace, wherein its authority is confirmed.”

Therefore, the understanding of the majority of classical Sunni scholars who together possess the most knowledge of the Islamic sources is the “backbone” of orthodox Sunni Islam and is what forms Sunni identity. Whatever they understood to be true is what Sunni Islam represents. These scholars and the Muslim masses who followed them are collectively described as the ‘People of the Sunnah and Community,’ or Ahl as-Sunnah wa’al Jama’ah.

Using this understanding, one can identify the positions the scholarly collective took on the three main foundations of Islam. Once these positions are understood, they can be used as a barometer to judge whether a group like ISIS (or any other group) is following orthodox Sunni tradition or not.


The Identity of Orthodox Sunni Islam: The Three Foundations

The majority of Sunni scholars use the “Hadith of Gabriel” to explain the three central foundations of Sunni Islam. Imam Zaid Shakir, a popular contemporary American Sunni scholar at Zaytuna University, says,

“The Hadith of Gabriel (Jibril) is considered by most Muslim scholars to be one of the fundamental texts of our religion. It presents, in a comprehensive way, the foundations of Islam.”

The three foundations of Sunni Islam, as derived from the Hadith of Gabriel, are:


(1) Islamic belief/creed/theology (Iman)

(2) Islamic practice or jurisprudence (Islam)

(3) Achievement of states of inner purity, or spiritual excellence (Ihsan)


Explaining the three foundations of Islam, author Joseph Lumbard says they are seen as “three partially overlapping circles,” and “the place where all three circles overlap is the ideal that all Muslims strive to attain.”


“One who embodies all three in their fullest depth and breadth is closer to living as a true human being in what the Qur’an refers to as the true nature (fitrah).”

Knowing from earlier discussion that the majority of religious scholars represent the genuine Sunni position, it is imperative to know what they understood and taught about the three foundations of the religion.


The First Foundation: Iman (Belief/Creed/Theology)

The first test of any true Sunni Muslim is correct creed, or belief in God, which is a prerequisite to having all jurisprudential practices, like prayer and jihad, accepted. Sunni creed is synonymous with Sunni tenets of faith, belief, doctrine, and theology. Indeed, the first of five pillars in Islam is Testification of Faith: “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) is the Messenger of Allah.”

The Ash’ari and Maturidi Schools of Sunni Creed. Most Muslims today and in Islam’s history follow/followed the Ash’ari and Maturidi explanation of creed. Orthodox Sunni creed which is represented by the Ash’ari, Maturidi, and Athari schools of creed is rejected by ISIS and other Wahhabi-Salafi groups.

“Ash’ari” refers to an early Muslim theologian born in Basra named Abul Hassan al-Ash’ari (874-936), while “Maturidi” refers to another early Muslim theologian born in present-day Uzbekistan named Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (853-944). They were contemporary Muslim scholars who taught Sunni creed, and whose explanations of creed have been embraced by most of the world’s Sunnis. Even Ayman al-Zawahiri was aware of this when he said:

“[M]ost of the Umma’s ulema are Ashari or Matridi[sic.].”

The Ash’ari and Maturidi schools of creed became standards for Sunnis and used to judge other beliefs. Contemporary Sunni scholar, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, says,

“[religious] scholars considered the prevalent way of the Ash’aris and Maturidids to be the ‘standard’ by which anyone’s beliefs would be judged.”

Unlike the Ash’ari and Maturidi schools of creed, the Athari school – the third school of Sunni creed followed mainly by Hanbalis – did not delve into extensive doctrinal dialectics.

The disagreements notwithstanding among scholars of all three schools of creed, the Athari school should be differentiated from the neo-Athari school that demonstrated and still demonstrates, the “tendency…towards excessive literalism in beliefs and even towards anthropomorphism (affirmation of human attributes to Allah).”

ISIS and al-Qa’eda, as well as non-violent Wahhabis and other Salafis, oppose Ash’aris and Maturidis and their understandings of God, and, instead follow a manifestation of the neo-Athari (anthropomorphic) creed which contradicts the three schools of Sunni creed as understood by classical Sunni scholars.

In opposition to Sunni creed, the Salafi understanding of creed was invented by Ibn Taymiyah, supported later by Muhammad ibn Abdal-Wahhab (founder of the Wahhabi movement), and propagated by Salafis of all colors. When Wahhabis-Salafis accuse the Ash’ari and Maturidi explanations of creed of being out of the bounds of Islam, they essentially excommunicate almost all Muslims who have ever existed since the time of Prophet Muhammad.


The Second Foundation: Islam (Muslim Practice)

The foundation of Muslim practice refers to Islamic jurisprudence, which describes how to perform acts of worship, or external compliance with what God asks Muslims to do. For example, how a Muslim prays, purifies him- or herself, gives alms, goes for the Hajj pilgrimage, and all other acts of worship.

The Four Schools of Sunni Jurisprudence. From the early days of Islam to contemporary times, Sunni jurisprudence has been taught by Sunni scholars in the four schools of Sunni jurisprudence: the Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki, and Hanbali schools (madhahib). Most Muslims today and in Islam’s history follow and have followed one or more of these Sunni schools of jurisprudence.

While many schools existed earlier in Islam, Sunni orthodoxy over time came to be represented by these four schools through most of Islam’s history. To a Sunni Muslim layperson, all four of these schools are correct. Any of them can be followed.

This diversity is a result of the Islamic sources’ Arabic, which allows differing interpretations by those qualified to make them. Islam’s inherent nature, then, encourages followers to discuss, debate, and exert effort (ijtihad) to understand God’s Word. Sunnis believe that these differences are a mercy from God that testify to Sunni Islam’s spirit of diversity, collaboration, and brotherhood.

Wahhabis and Salafis, violent and non-violent, reject the following of Sunni schools of jurisprudence in the name of following the “Qur’an and Sunnah,” even while they cherry pick from them, to create a pseudo-Sunni Wahhabi-Salafist jurisprudence alien to the majority of Sunni scholars and laypeople.

Instead of promoting jurisprudential diversity based on sound scholarship, ISIS and other such groups attempt to promote only one interpretation of Islam – and that which is neither Sunni nor representative of its tradition. As in creed and belief, Wahhabis and Salafis also fail the test of Sunni jurisprudence.

In the four schools of Sunni jurisprudence, “most of the followers of the Sunni Hanafi school of jurisprudence have historically been followers of the Maturidi school of theology. However, one third of them, along with three-quarters of the Shafi’is, all of the Malikis, and some Hanbalis, adhere to the Ash’ari school.”

Why Wahhabis-Salafis Destroy Graves and Tombs. Because jurisprudence is the domain of Muslim action, it is important to examine one of the anti-Sunni destructive practices of ISIS and other extremists. The destruction of tombs and graves by ISIS and other such groups is an attack on both Sunni and Shi’ah traditions because extremist groups believe that venerating the pious after their death is synonymous with worshipping them and committing the unforgivable sin of polytheism (shirk).

However, what Wahhabis-Salafis view as polytheism is the valid and encouraged orthodox Sunni (and Shi’ah) practice of tawassul. Contemporary Sunni scholar, Nuh Ha Mim Keller, defines tawassul as:

“supplicating Allah by means of an intermediary, whether it be a living person, dead person, a good deed, or a name or attribute of Allah Most High.”

This is critical to know because this is the primary reason why ISIS is destroying tombs in Iraq and Syria. Salafis of all stripes worldwide have destroyed graves and tombs of saints and prophets for the same reasons, including in Pakistan, Syria, and Afghanistan.

The destruction of tombs and graves by Wahhabi armies in the 1800s and 1900s is due to the same erroneous, non-Sunni understanding of the genuine Sunni practice of tawassul.

Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged accomplice of the 9/11 hijackers, declared his brother and sister heathens for doing the orthodox Sunni practice of tawassul. Abd Samad, brother of Zacarias, was told a secret by Jamila, his sister:

“The previous year Zacarias had been to see her and had said, ‘Abd Samad and Fouzia [Abd Samad’s wife] are doing tawassul, they’re heathens. Be on your guard with them, but whatever happens, don’t say anything to them.”


The Third Foundation: Ihsan (Spiritual Excellence)

This fundamental, Ihsan, means “making beautiful,” “doing beautifully,” or spiritual excellence, and refers to inner-purification to ensure that Muslims are able to attain certain noble states of being to ensure purity of intention in every act of worship. The Prophet Muhammad said,

“It is to worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you see Him not, He nevertheless sees you.”

While the fundamental of Muslim practice addresses what to “do” and “not do” (actions of worship), or external actions, this fundamental addresses how to “be” and “not be” (states of being), or internal actions.

Some examples of legal obligations of Sacred Law that pertain to the heart that every Muslim should follow are “sincerity, pleasure (with Allah), truthfulness, humility, and reliance.”

The prohibitions of the heart include “disbelief, conceitedness, ostentation, delusion, blind hatred, envy, etc.”

The Islamic science of Sufism (`ilm ul-tasawwuf) specializes in ihsan and is represented by the various paths (turooq) of Sufism. Examples of Sufi paths are the Naqshbandi, Qadiri, Shadhili, Chisti, and Suhrawardi paths.

The views of Wahhabis and other Salafis in this matter are not Sunni. Including ISIS, they reject Sufis and the traditional science of Sufism, and destroy the noble tombs of Sufi saints venerated by Muslims for centuries.


Now that the definition of Sunni Islam/tradition is clear, journalists, authors, analysts, and others should not describe any Muslim who claims to follow the Sunni tradition as a Sunni unless they fulfill the criteria of following the understanding of the majority of Muslim scholars, as explained above.

This understanding of Sunni Islam is manifested through the majority scholarly positions on the Three Foundations of the Religion based on the Hadith of Gabriel:

(1) Iman (Sunni creed – Ash’ari, Matrudi, Athari);

(2) Islam (Islamic jurisprudence – Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki, and Hanbali schools of Sunni jurisprudence); 

(3) Ihsan (Spiritual Excellence – represented by the many paths of Sufism, including the Qadiri and Shadhili paths)

– Book Review – “Confessions of a Terrorist: a Novel,” by Richard Jackson.

Richard Jackson*, Confessions of a Terrorist: a Novel.

London: Zed Books, Ltd. 2014, 330 pp; ISBN: 9781783600021

(Reviewed by Zubair Qamar, April 2014)


A once abandoned storeroom in the former Royal Transport Warehouse in the UK is being used in mid-March, 2011. Professor Youssef Said (alias Samir Hamoodi) is nicknamed “The Professor,” a name chosen by his comrades in Iraq that harks back to his former teaching position at Cairo University. He is the “terrorist” having a face-to-face conversation with Captain Michael, an MI5 Agent.

Captain Michael, true to “Operation Moriarty,” attempts to ascertain why The Professor, who was recently apprehended, is a terrorist, and his purpose for being in the UK. His highly prestigious standing as “Captain” earned Michael this title, making him the prime interrogator to make sense of the apparently senseless. The Professor is just as eager to make his confession to Michael: “I can honestly say that I have been looking forward to this moment for a very long time.”

Richard Jackson’s debut novel, Confessions of a Terrorist: a Novel, appears as a transcribed fourth version of a draft report from the audio discussion of The Professor and Michael. Hand written notes and blackened text fill the pages by MI5 reviewers. They discuss how the manuscript can be manipulated to sustain the conventional Western narrative of terrorism before final submission to the Public Hearings Section for the Lord Savage Inquiry of the Leeds Terrorist Plot. Jackson offers the reader a rare glimpse of the redacted report, normally privy to only select intelligence and other government officials.

The Professor’s frustration and invectives throughout the novel are directed at US and European foreign policy. He rails against the UK government’s imposition of fear “on millions of innocent people” in “Iraq,” “Afghanistan,” “Pakistan,” “Libya,” “Yemen,” “Somalia,” and “all other countries” where the UK government drops “five hundred pound-laser guided bombs or send guided missiles down the chimneys of people’s houses like Christmas presents…” The Professor denounces the fear generated in “every Muslim man, innocent or not,” of “being tortured in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo…or being picked up and beheaded by one of those death squads” trained in Iraq by “your people.”

This illuminating discussion on grievances expressed against Western foreign policy is to be understood against the backdrop of The Professor’s unexpected persona: A pedantic intellectual with a doctorate from the University of Chicago. His acute perceptiveness and searing intelligence are revealed while peppering his heartfelt grievances with utterances of “Joseph Conrad” in “The Secret Agent,” “Che Guevara,” “Kipling,” and other bits of knowledge mostly arcane to the layperson, including Captain Michael. Could other terrorists like The Professor really be that human, immensely profound, and highly sensible when given a chance to express themselves transparently – and be heard?

The human side of terrorists, says Jackson, is often concealed in the name of “national security” by authorities who have the power to produce a half-baked, selectively packaged transcript for public consumption via mainstream media. This sleight-of-hand allows the projection of a narrative that Western officials and the wider public are used to hearing: All terrorists are evil, inhuman, and spiteful who murder and maim. While terrorists are shunned, repudiated, and killed, propagating this traditional narrative allows governments to prohibit “[t]alking to them, listening to their voices, hearing their arguments,” and “trying to understand their point of view” because, says Jackson, “it might lead to sympathy, understanding or even justification for the heinous behaviour.” This “taboo” against talking to terrorists, says Jackson, is “designed to protect society from certain culturally determined dangers.” The “dangers” of transparent interaction with terrorists assumingly leads to “infection or contamination,” and causes the “cancerous evil of terrorism to spread.”

Reality, however, can be different. Contrary to orthodox wisdom, The Professor is not religious, ideological, or even Muslim. He is a sane, conscience-driven, Arab Christian who lived a normal life as an intellectual in the UK, US, and Egypt until he was disgruntled with and outraged about the destructive impact of Western foreign policy on innocent civilians. His grievances were not limited to the Arab region, and, as stated, transcended any particular religion. The Professor’s animosity towards Western foreign policy also did not translate to loathing of Western people and values. The Professor’s grievances are more reminiscent of twentieth century leftist-movements than of thoughtless, violent criminals.

Indeed, The Professor’s views clash with commonly accepted culturally determined definitions of terrorism – personified by Michael who represents the Western perspective – that are normally limited to non-state actors. The Professor mirrors the views of Jackson himself, as well as other terrorism scholars, who adopt a more critical approach to most mainstream definitions of terrorism. Echoing The Professor’s concerns, Jackson says the

“acceptance that states are not exempted from employing terrorism raises serious questions about the broader focus of the field.”[1]

While Western officials should not shy away from considering the state’s involvement in terrorism, says Jackson, the expression of grievances is not synonymous with terrorism, as mainstream media would have us believe. “The key point,” says Jackson, “is that understanding – or even sympathizing – with the goals of the terrorist is not the same as condoning and legitimising their violent actions.” This is why such concerns resonate widely among peaceful Arabs, Muslims, and large segments of Western populations. Shibley Telhami, the Arab Israeli author of The World Through Arab Eyes, commented on the results of a poll of six Arab countries taken from 2004 to 2008:

“It should not be surprising that every time I asked a question about the primary source of anger and disappointment with the United States, the overwhelming majority of Arab respondents specified U.S. policies, not U.S. values.”[2]

Many polls and studies illustrate similar results, while many terrorists besides The Professor voice the same. The lesson to learn is that foreign policy actions of states matter as they are the primary source of grievance against Western powers. Such actions of states are to be incorporated in any objective, serious effort to understand and alleviate terrorism. Conformist Western counter-terrorism narratives and approaches, as well as unrealistic perceptions of the “terrorist” by Western officials, are self-defeating as they worsen the problem they presumably set out to resolve.

In the end of the novel, the reader – absorbed with the reality of The Professor’s narrative – is faced with the critical task of figuring out where the boundaries of terrorism begin and end. Could The Professor be just as worthy, if not more, of the title of “Captain”? This novel will not only surprise scholar and layperson, but confront them with important and uncomfortable truths that call for a new paradigm in terrorism studies.

Jackson’s novel provides a rigorously critical and courageous view of terrorism that shakes the foundations of conventional thinking on the subject.

Confessions of a Terrorist: a Novel is another welcome addition to the growing field of critical terrorism studies by Jackson that government officials, academia, and students ignore at their own peril. It is time to make our confessions and understand the mind of a terrorist as eagerly and objectively as The Professor was to tell us his views. Not doing so will only lead to “our terrified imagination as the foundation on which to construct a counter-terrorism policy,” and distance accountability from leaders who continue to promote such counterproductive policies to the detriment of humanity and peace.


About the author: Zubair Qamar is an independent counter-terrorism analyst and contractor for economic development efforts in Washington, DC. Two recent book reviews of his include a review on “The Myth of Martyrdom, What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers,” by Adam Lankford (Available:, and “Fighting the Ideological War: Winning Strategies from Communism to Islamism,” edited by Katharine C. Gorka and Patrick Sookhdeo (Available: 




[1] Jackson, R. An Argument for Terrorism. Perspectives on Terrorism, North America, 2, nov. 2010. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 01 Mar. 2014.

[2] Shibley Telhami. The World Through Arab Eyes Arab Public Opinion and the Reshaping of the Middle East. New York: Basic Books, 2013. pp. 113-114.

* Author Richard Jackson’s personal blog, including additional publications and notable achievements, can be read at:


– A Letter to Ayman al-Zawahiri from a Sunni Muslim.


To: Ayman al-Zawahiri

I will not say salaam because I do not wish you peace. How could I wish you peace when you wish Muslims and humanity destruction?

You are not a man of religion but a manipulator of religion to satisfy your own ego and quest for power. You are not my brother in Islam, but a Shaytan (devil) who terrorizes humanity, causes mischief, spreads bloodshed, and spews hatred for all of Allah’s creation. You are the prime instigator of tribulation (fitna).

I have good reasons to have this negative perspective of you. Read on…


Poor Leadership

After Osama bin Laden (OBL) finally died, it took about two weeks for you to be proclaimed the new leader of al-Qa’eda. The reasons, some speculate, is because of a possible power struggle that delayed the proclamation for so long.

This is not a far-fetched assumption. It could have been any reason, and you know what it is, but this may have been a reflection of doubt al-Qa’eda had on your capabilities as a leader. This reflection is supported by evidence of your odd behavior.

Truth is, I don’t think many people would’ve ever heard of you, or at least would’ve heard much less of you – once in a blue moon, if even that, had you not associated with OBL.

OBL’s “excellent” reputation among terrorists propelled you up the ladder pretty quickly. But that’s about where it ends for you, al-Zawahiri.

To many terrorists, while you are a medical doctor, you never demonstrated the qualities of a true leader or great inspirer of terrorists as OBL did. Even al-Qamari, a tank commander who was part of your terrorist cell in Egypt, doubted your leadership skills when he said:

“If you are a member of any group, you cannot be the leader”[1]

Your “intellectual” influence on other so-called jihadis is also questionable.  A detailed study by the Combating Terrorism Center on extremists had this to say of you:

“…Zawahiri, often portrayed by Western media as the main brain in the Jihadi Movement, is totally insignificant in the Jihadi intellectual universe.”[2]

Totally insignificant? Strong words coming from a strong study. Brushing this study aside because it was done by non-Muslims means nothing as it agrees with the perspective of diehard extremists themselves who question and doubt your qualities.

Michael Scheuer is even more critical. He basically says that your failure led you to depend on Osama bin Laden.

“Al-Zawahiri was inept at running the [Egyptian Islamic Jihad’s] international cells, and his mistakes allowed U.S. and Egyptian intelligence to wreck the network – forcing al-Zawahiri to seek out bin Laden’s aid and accept his direction”.

He also says,

“Al-Zawahiri and his lieutenants completely failed to damage the Egyptian government – and so accepted bin Laden’s plan to knock the U.S. props from under Mubarak’s regime.”

He also says you were an

“…arrogant Egyptian nationalist who believed Egyptians superior to other Arabs”

until you met bin Laden. You were also financially inept as you weren’t able to raise sufficient funds for al-Jihad. You were “…unable to raise any significant amount of money” and you were “all but broke” until you started working with bin Laden.[3]

Again: whatever stature you’ve attained is not much of your own doing, but mainly because of your association with OBL. OBL led you. You never led OBL. You were a follower. Not a leader.

You only became a leader in name when OBL died. Truth be told, few people believe al-Qa’eda will ever be the same without OBL, and especially with your poor leadership skills. Your leadership of al-Qa’eda is a weakness of al-Qa’eda. This is good news to Muslims and humanity as a whole, but still no reason to celebrate. Your poor leadership skills brings a new, psychotic twist to al-Qa’eda’s terrorism – if they can even genuinely claim you as their leader.

These are just your shortcomings as a leader. There are many more. For instance, how did you agree to become leader of al-Qa’eda without any credentials of Islamic scholarship? This brings us to the basics of Islamic jurisprudence.


Islamic Jurisprudence

Do you not know that Islam, in its entire history, never gave the liberty to a layperson (non-scholar) to deduce judgements (ijtihad) – in your case, cherry-picking foolishly – from Qur’anic verses and ahadeeth? This is only the prerogative of grounded religious scholars. If you know this, why do you violate the Sunni tradition? If you do not know this, why do you proudly take the mantle of “leader” when you do not posses the qualities of being one?

Do you not know that you are contradicting the early Muslims who you so stubbornly claim to emulate? Do you know that your methodology of following Islam contradicts that of the Companions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them), the scholars of the Salaf, and the noble adherents of the Khalaf? You do not follow a Sunni school of jurisprudence (fiqh), turn your back on the glorious scholars (`ulema) from the Sunni tradition, yet claim to follow them?

Against Sunni Creed

Al-Zawahiri, you ridicule the Sunni Ash’ari and Maturidi creeds that most Sunni Muslims follow today, and have followed throughout Islam’s history.

In your letter to Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, you said Ash’aris and Maturidis have “mistakes” that would require “generations of the call to Islam and modifying the educational curricula” to correct them. Your opposition to Ash’aris and Maturidis, and adoption of a neo-Athari (Salafi) creed, is in violation of the three schools of Sunni creed that Sunni tradition represents (Ash’ari, Maturidi, Athari).

Yet, you and some of your idiotic followers in Al-Qa’eda have the gall to cite several Ash’ari scholars in their writings in a deceitful attempt to portray their support for your nefarious acts. How dare you and your followers twist the words of our early beloved scholars!


Your Troubled Childhood

Do you not think that your childhood may have something to do with your current predicament?

Have you considered the possible side effects of going to a secondary school “for kids from the wrong side of Road 9” where “the schoolyard was run by bullies and the classrooms by tyrants”?[4]

Your painful childhood is acknowledged by all who have studied your life. But behaving the way you are now, and in the name of “Islam,” as you terrorize the world and its inhabitants is the antithesis to the behavior and teachings of our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).

Is it possible that your extreme behavior may support what Lawrence Wright stated when he said:

“A physically vulnerable young boy such as Ayman had to create strategies to survive” (Looming Tower; p.42).

You are surely not to blame for what happened in childhood. After all, you were under the influence of your Uncle Mahfouz Azzam who adored Syed Qutb – another confused extremist. So close was he, he was Syed Qutb’s Arabic teacher (Looming Tower; p.43). You were bound to traverse a path of destruction.


Your Time in Prison

Your experience later in prison exacerbated the negativity within you. But you knew what the price was of being arrested by the Egyptian authorities, did you not?

But you went ahead and took the risk anyway. And that’s why you were tortured. Your negativity led you to prison, and your experience in prison made you an even bigger monster.

Your time in prison converted you from being irrational to becoming psychotic and twisted. Why don’t you admit that you are consumed with a passion for revenge for the wrong you see yourself having gone through since childhood?

You wish to get even with those who ‘wronged’ you by your diehard vengeance and giving them payback. Have you entertained the possibility, even if remote in your mind, that you are shedding blood, targeting Governments, and justifying the deaths of Muslim and non-Muslims as “collateral damage” simply to satisfy your feelings of revenge and to “get even”? Have you considered the possibility that your actions are manifestations of setting your distorted mental balance “straight”?

Remember what you said in rage when you were in court with fellow prisoners? You said:

“…dirty Egyptian jails…where we suffered the severest inhuman treatment. There they kicked us, they beat us, they whipped us with electric cables, they shocked us with electricity! They shocked us with electricity! And they used the wild dogs! And they used the wild dogs! And they hung us over the edges of the doors with our hands tied at the back! They arrested the wives, the mothers, the fathers, the sisters, and the sons” (Looming Tower; p.64).

Al-Zawahiri, be careful and fear Allah! All the efforts you are exerting will be for naught if your intentions are to satisfy yourself and not Allah! Is it possible that your ego is more important to you than Islam? Is it possible that you are prioritizing your actions and then seeking Religion as a justification by hook or crook to make yourself feel at peace? You are angry at those who you plotted against and one can only expect a severe response in return. Introspect and reflect!

Ask yourself: Am I interested in serving myself or am I interested in serving Allah Almighty? Indeed the line between the two can be very delicate to someone who is so driven by rage and revenge.

Do not turn your face away from the truth as your salvation depends on it! Face the truth, accept it, and embrace the path of the Muslim majority if you claim to be a Sunni Muslim!


Killing Innocent School Girls

Remember when Al-Jihad tried to kill Egypt’s Prime Minister at the time, Atef Sidqi, in 1993? The attack was a failure – even more so because the explosion killed a “twelve-year-old schoolgirl” .

I repeat, a twelve-year-old school girl. Do you realize the gravity of this “mistake”? This young girl who could have been a fully grown adult at this moment and enjoyed the pleasure of God-Given Life is now in her grave because of your group’s evil actions against her.

Did it ever tug on your conscience? Did you console the family of the dead girl that was going through deep and agonizing pain? Or do you see her simply as “collateral damage,” an issue of unimportance that can be brushed aside like some mosquito?

What compensation did you or members of Al-Jihad give to her family for this “collateral damage”? Muslims would like to know! Jurisprudence demands it!


Your Dishonesty with Fellow Extremists

Al-Zawahiri, your dishonesty has no bounds and contradicts the Qur’an and Sunnah! Remember when Sayyid Imam al-Sharif (“Dr. Fadl”) wanted to meet the learned shuyukh or scholars of Islamic knowledge in your terrorist cell?

Scholar and author Lawrence Wright said,

“In 1977, Zawahiri asked Imam to join his group, presenting himself as a mere delegate of the organization. Imam told Al Hayat that his agreement was conditional upon meeting the Islamic scholars who Zawahiri insisted were in the group; clerical authority was essential to validate the drastic deeds these men were contemplating. The meeting never happened.”

Wright then quotes Syed Imam:

“Ayman was a charlatan who used secrecy as a pretext.” “I discovered that Ayman himself was the emir of this group, and that it didn’t have any sheikhs.”

You were so desperate for others to join the terrorist cell that you lied to your own friend and colleague. Where in the Qur’an and Sunnah does it say it is okay to lie as you did? Don’t get me wrong. I would be happy to exploit this difference between two extremists who bring shame to my religion.

But Imam’s question was a legitimate one. He wanted to know the people of knowledge since he knows laypeople can twist any Qur’anic verse or hadeeth to suit their own whims. Imam still had misunderstandings of orthodox Sunni Islam and supported a terrorist group though he was much more cool headed than you. He has also repented of much of what he used to say.

Your deception continued even after you left prison in Egypt and joined Imam in Peshawar. You still didn’t learn. You became even more hardened and unIslamic.

Your travel to Peshawar is itself unIslamic. You went to Peshawar through deception by claiming to be qualified for a job you were not adequately qualified for. Imam said of you,

“He asked me to stand with him and teach him how to perform operations,”

and then said,

“I taught him until he could perform them on his own. Were it not for that, he would have been exposed, as he had contracted for a job for which he was unqualified.”

So you were not even a competent doctor, yet you portrayed to be one. You will not find any support for this deception in the Qur’an and Sunnah, I assure you. Stop using the Islamic mantle to promote your ignorance and unIslamic behavior.

You know well that had Imam not been there to teach you, you would’ve jeopardized the lives of innocents through your poor skills as a surgeon. It is unfortunate that you were ready to terrorize civilians while being a doctor – a position of trust. Human life really mean very little to you, doesn’t it? Do you not feel guilty for taking advantage of your profession to harm others?

Not only that, you also took Imam’s book, originally titled “The Compendium of the Pursuit of Divine Knowledge,” changed the title to “Guide to the Path of Righteousness for Jihad and Belief,” made drastic alterations to its contents, and removed what you didn’t agree with.

These Shaytanic actions against Imam’s book, and by extension against Imam himself, were done only to suit your violent views in direct contradiction to some of Imam’s perspectives.

Yet you left Imam’s name as the author as if he espoused and agreed with all that you had altered. You failed to inform Imam about this and hid it from him until someone else told him about this treachery.

All the while you were feeding false information to Muslims as you used and abused his name for your own nefarious pseudo-jihadi agenda. You portrayed Imam as a supporter of your views when this was completely untrue.

Granted, you asked Imam for forgiveness once you found out that he found out. But would you have just stayed quiet as you had all along if someone else had not informed Imam about your treachery?

The intensity of pain that you caused from your nefarious deeds of deception, manipulation, and hiding behind Imam’s name caused so much pain to him that he refused to speak with you. If Imam was your Shaykh – your Islamic guide – you treated him with utter disrespect. Where in the Qur’an, Sunnah, and our tradition does it say to disrespect your spiritual guides?

And you have earned this negative reputation yourself. Imam, in his own words, said,

“I do not know anyone in the history of Islam prior to Ayman al-Zawahiri who engaged in such lying, cheating, forgery, and betrayal of trust by transgressing against someone else’s book.”

Imam also said of you:

“He was a burden to me on the educational, professional, jurisprudential, and sometimes personal levels.”

Imam went on to say,

“He was ungrateful for the kindness I had shown him and bit the hand that I had extended to him. What I got for my efforts was deception, betrayal, lies, and thuggery.”

Al-Zawahiri, you can’t even treat your fellow extremists in a nice way. It completely escapes me how you expect to persuade the moderate Muslim masses to follow your example.

Your example completely contradicts the example of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him). Do you really expect to be successful in the approach you have opted to take?

Take heed of what Almighty Allah says!:

“O you who believe! Have fear of God, and be among the truthful.” (Quran 9:119)

Al-Zawahiri, take heed of what Prophet Muhamamd, peace and blessings upon him, said:

“Truthfulness leads to righteousness, and righteousness leads to Paradise. And a man keeps on telling the truth until he becomes a truthful person. Falsehood leads to Al-Fajur (i.e. wickedness, evil-doing), and Al-Fajur (wickedness) leads to the (Hell) Fire, and a man may keep on telling lies till he is written before Allah, a liar” (Bukhari Volume 8, Book 73, Number 116).

You were also initially in a group without a spiritual guide. How then could you and your group have been following proper religious guidance when a religious guide is a prerequisite to learning Islamic jurisprudence? How can you be part of an Islamic group without a Shaykh, and why do you promote this reprehensible innovation (bid’ah dalala) in our religion? Sheikh Shuayb Arnaut, a Sunni scholar, said,

“Whoever doesn’t have a sheikh, the Devil is his sheikh, in any Islamic discipline.”[1]

You dragged Imam into a group led by Shaytan only to disclose his name to authorities later on to get him in trouble. Imam’s son, Ismail al-Sharif, says you put Imam in danger after you gave his name to interrogators when you were arrested in a round-up after Anwar al-Sadat’s assassination in 1981 for weapons smuggling.

While Imam and other like him rot in jail because of your treachery, how does that make you feel while you’re free?


Omar bin Laden’s view of you

Now, back to human life meaning very little to you. If you think you’ve been misinterpreted, then listen to what Omar bin Laden had to say in the book Growing Up Bin Laden. In case you’ve forgotten, Omar is one of Osama bin Laden’s biological sons who witnessed your unIslamic behavior first hand.

Omar is, however, “glad” that he

“…was was not often in Dr. Zawahiri’s presence” (p.129).

Omar continues to say,

“From the first moment I met the man, he left me feeling unsettled, despite the fact that my father respected him” (p.129).

Omar didn’t like you because he thought you were a plotting quack. Before commenting on Omar’s story of human life meaning very little to you, he told readers about your plot against his own father when you met Osama bin Laden through Abdallah Azzam in Peshawar – yes, your plotting against Osama bin Laden, the man you claim to love and purport to have followed. Omar said,

“I believe that it was during this time that Zawahiri began plotting to tap into my father’s wealth” (p.130).

You were broke and wanted Osama’s wealth very badly, didn’t you? You probably even lied to people when you went fundraising for so-called jihadi organizations, as Omar said,

“Some said that Zawahiri falsely claimed that the money raised would go to wounded Afghan children” (p.130).

Did you lie again? You know it as well as Allah Almighty. Omar regretted that you followed Osama bin Laden to Sudan:

“I was sorry that Zawahiri tracked my father to the Sudan, and once again linked himself and his organization to my father and to al-Qaeda. I felt that nothing good could come from the association” (p.130).


The Child You Murdered and Your Followers who Raped


Al-Zawahiri, have you forgotten about the little kid you killed? He was the son of a leading al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya member whose name was Mohammed Sharaf.

Do you still not realize that an innocent child who trusted the company of adults from your al-Jihad group was taken advantage of? He was gang raped and then accused by the criminals of having sex.

Fake photographs were manufactured by the rapists to blame the boy and protect themselves.

You didn’t even listen to the boy’s father who knew the truth of his son’s innocence. What did you do? You believed your liar al-Jihad members and shot the kid in the head!

He was Omar bin Laden’s close friend. Omar said,

“Certainly, the men who had raped him were too cowardly to admit a truth that might have saved his life. Those men would have met the same fate as my friend had they confessed their role in the crime, or been exposed in the pictures. But they were clever criminals, careful not to show their faces in any of the damning photographs. And so Zawahiri ordered that my doomed friend be delivered to his offices. My friend was dragged into a room with Zawahiri, who shot him in the head” (italics mine) (p.132).

You should’ve castrated your al-Jihad pedophiles who couldn’t control their sexual urges and keep their little willies to themselves. And you – how can you live in peace while knowing that you shot a child in the head for a wrong that he did not do? You didn’t even think about the negative impact this would have on Omar bin Laden and other youngsters.

The trauma was reflected in Omar’s words:

“For days I was frozen with shock and grief that an innocent person might be murdered at the hands of those who he had believed offered protection. I fretted over the terrors my friend had endured in the last days of his young life – first to be brutally gang-raped, then to be falsely accused of having illicit sex, then to have his last image be that of a gun placed to his head before his world turned dark and his life on earth ended” (pg.132).

Omar was afraid that he and his brothers could be targets too:

“Creeping memories reminded me that I, too, could have suffered the same fate” (p.132)….“For the first time I also realized that some of the men surrounding my father might be dangerous even to the sons of Osama bin Laden. Such men had danced with brutality since they were young, and now malice was mixed in their blood. I had always recognized this, yet felt immune to their cruel impulses. But Mohammed Sharaf was one of the most prominent leaders. If his son could be raped and murdered, my brothers and I could be targeted as well” (pp.132-133).

Omar was shocked, fearful, and in grief. Is this what our beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him, taught us? Absolutely not.


The “Trial”

You will surely shoot back and tell me that a proper trial was conducted with evidence that led to the child’s guilt and execution.

But how do you expect any sane person, Muslim or non-Muslim, to believe that a trial carried out by extremist, militant murderers of civilians who had no Islamic jurisprudential training, possessed zero caliber and qualifications of being  Islamic Judges, and who mocked and heaped accusations of kufr and bid’ah against the majority of Muslims, to believe you?

What specific details of the “trial” can you give to us that proves it was a genuine, Islamic trial and not some sham, kangaroo court manufactured by fighters who had little to no knowledge of Islamic trials?  And the execution of a child, and by shooting in his head — this is Islamically legitimate?

Where do you derive support from the Qur’an and Sunnah of shooting a child in the head, and through a “trial” such as the one you held? Let’s see the evidence, Mr. A-Zawahiri, if you claim to be truthful!

I am curious, Al-Zawahiri. When the Egyptian authorities caused you physical pain and torture, did you later think of the pain that was caused by you, your terrorist group, and later by al-Qa’eda on others? All the pain and suffering that you passed on to others – and especially our brothers and sisters in Islam who bear the brunt of most terrorist attacks?

What kind of Islam are you following? Certainly not the Islam practiced by the pious salaf-us-salih (forefathers)! Have you not read the many ahadeeth and ayat of the Qur’an that stress the unlawfulness of taking life unjustly? Have you not read that taking just one life unjustly is like taking the life of all of humanity?

You liked Syed Qutb so much that you made an underground cell with the sole purpose of overthrowing the Egyptian government not long after Syed Qutb died. Did you think you did the right thing? You even despised the Muslim Brotherhood simply for being compromising. Is being uncompromising the only avenue that you have chosen to take?

Al-Zawahiri, remember the time when you let al-Qamari store smuggled weapons and ammunition in your medical clinic? To the reader, this is the same medical clinic “which was in a downstairs apartment in the duplex where his parents lived” (Looming Tower; p.58).

Where his parents lived? Did you not realize the shamefulness of your deeds? You used your medical clinic which is supposed to heal/cure people from sickness for weapons used to maim and kill.

And weren’t you afraid of putting your parents at risk? Your behavior is selfish and extreme.

You have shown no patience or perseverance as a Muslim should. You always try to get even with others. When you were in prison in Egypt, you “immediately became known among the other prisoners as the man who struck back” (p.60).

I have said enough. And while I do not wish to use another second of my life writing to you, I hope my letter becomes an example to many on the sidelines. I hope they reject you and your gang and champion the cause of love and peace. I also hope that I become a good example of a Sunni Muslim who speaks out against militants who hijack the mantle of Sunni tradition to promote their pseudo-Sunni, barbaric acts.

May Allah Curse you and your kind and save all Muslims and non-Muslims from the evil you have brought on all of us!!



A Sunni Muslim,

Zubair Qamar


Websites accessed:

[1] The Looming Tower, p.58.

[2] Atlas of Militant Ideology – Executive Report. Nov 2006. Executive Report, Editor & Project Director: William McCants, PhD; Project Coordinator: Jarret Brachman, PhD, CTC Director: LTC Joseph Felter, PhD). Copyright by Combating Terrorism Center, U.S. Military Academy. Page-9.

[3] Osama bin Laden, by Michael Scheuer; pg.14.

[4] Looming Tower, p.41

– Critical Book Review: Wahhabi Islam (by Natana DeLong-Bas).

Wahhabi Islam2

(© Zubair Qamar 2014)

Natana J. Delong-Bas’s book, “Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad,” which purportedly explains Wahhabism “accurately” and dispels “myths” propagated by “polemics” of all colors, media pundits and all, is a rather welcome contribution – or so it seems, at first glance.

The three-page Introduction portrayed several people – including Stephen Schwartz (footnote 1,7,9,11), Khaled Abou El Fadl (footnote 3), and myself (footnote 6) — as examples of misinformed individuals, in the least, who portrayed Wahhabism inaccurately in their works. To the author, their anti-Wahhabi rhetoric, like many others, flew in the face of the facts that she allegedly gathered in her more than 300 pages of research, much of it translated into English for the first time. Delong-Bas’s point: Wahhabism just isn’t the scary monster it is said to be. Maybe it really was a “pathbreaking” (Oxford Press), “groundbreaking” (John L. Esposito), endeavor, I thought.

Could the portrayal of Wahhabism as intolerant and fanatical by hundreds, maybe thousands, of Muslim and non-Muslim scholars, authors, activists, students, etc. in 200+ years past be flawed? Should their positions be construed merely as a load of sophisticated/polemical gobbledygook? Does the author really open “the way for historians to reconsider and revise the standard, perhaps mistaken, notions about it” (David Commins)? One need not go to far into the book to answer such questions. Because of the author’s main sources, the book fails miserably as a work of diligent scholarship.

In the Preface, Delong-Bas says:

“Thanks are due to Faisal bin Salman, Abd Allah S. al-Uthaymin, and Dr. Fahd al-Semmari, Director of the King Abd al-Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for making the full corpus of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s works available to me […].”

This same research foundation was also one of three sources that provided “financial support” for her book. What follows is a brief description of who the author is thanking.

The Foundation is named after King Abd al-Aziz (1902-1953), the Wahhabi founder of Saudi Arabia who slaughtered non-Wahhabi Muslims (and even Wahhabi Muslims of the Ikhwan) in his path to “victory.”

Abd Allah S. al-Uthaymin, a Wahhabi, is the author of “History of Saudi Arabia: From the Movement Reformer Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab to King Abd al-Aziz.”

Faisal bin Salman, known as “H.R.H. (His Royal Highness)” in Saudi Arabia, is one of the princes of the Wahhabi Al-Sa’ud monarchy. Somehow, Delong-Bas (Oxford Press?) did not add the “H.R.H.” acronym before the prince’s name in the Preface – obviously a part of the book read by many. However, she remembered to add the acronym in a tiny-lettered footnote #8 (Introduction) hidden well in the back of the book that few readers would perhaps bother to read. Why did Delong-Bas/Oxford Press do this? Were they trying to hide something?

Dr. Fahd al-Semmari, a Wahhabi, was deputy secretary of the Kingdom’s 100th Anniversary Committee, in addition to his role as general director of the King Abd al-Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives. The foundation’s mandate is to glorify the heritage of Saudi Arabia, including Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who is a part of this heritage.

Delong-Bas is thanking Wahhabis who obviously support Wahhabism.

On page 14, Delong-Bas states the four main sources of biographical information of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab:

(1) contemporary chronicles written by his supporters, the most important of whom were Husayn Ibn Ghannam and Uthman Ibn Bishr; (2) polemical works written by his opponents, the most important of whom was Ahmad bin Zayni Dahlan; (3) accounts written by Western travelers to Arabia; and (4) Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s own written works.

She then says,

“Of all of these accounts, the chronicles contain the most biographical information and are considered to be the most accurate in terms of biographical information because of the proximity of the writers to their subjects.”

Does close proximity to Ibn Abd al-Wahhab/”subjects” necessarily mean the sources will be the “most accurate in terms of biographical information”? Common sense says no because Ibn Ghannam and Ibn Bishr are clearly stated to be Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s “supporters.” It is like contacting a pro-Nazi foundation for a biography of Adolph Hitler, and portraying sources by Hitler’s admirers as the “most accurate” because they were among the closest in “proximity” to him. Is there not a high possibility that Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s “supporters” mainly focused on his peaceful biographical aspects, and concealed his more extremist/jihadist aspects? Is it not possible that they, like any other supporter, would care to cast the biography of a man they like in a positive manner than in a negative manner? Common sense, again, says: In all likelihood.

There is, in fact, a high probability of inaccuracy from those sources, though this somehow escapes Delong-Bas’s mind. Moreover, according to my count, the author has footnoted Ibn Ghannam only 4 times, but Ibn Bishr no less than 45 times, meaning that the bulk of “most accurate” biographical information of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab comes almost entirely from one source – again, from a pro-Wahhabi.

Understanding history requires responsibility and bias must be reduced to the maximum extent possible. In Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code historian and religion scholar Bart Ehrman said,

“Our only access to the past is through sources that can tell us about it, yet our sources cannot simply be taken at face value  because they often contradict one another and always represent their authors’ perspectives, biases, and world views. And so the best way to try to reconstruct the past is by using our sources critically — that is, by doing critical history” (p.xxi)

De-Long Bas failed to be “critical” in understanding the Wahhabism founder’s history because almost all of her information comes from only one pro-Wahhabi source.

While pro-Wahhabis are used as “most accurate” sources, information from Wahhabi opponents “has not been used extensively” because they:

(1) are “extremely polemical in style rather than factual or straightforward”;

(2) they address “later developments” of the Wahhabi movement; and

(3) “because of their polemical nature, these accounts tend to be more useful in reconstructing impressions of the movement than in recounting events or teachings.” And that’s why “polemical works have been largely discarded” in giving the biography of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab and the “early teachings of the movement.”

But what makes Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s and his supporters’ writings less polemical when espousing the interpretations they do? And what makes the statements against Ibn Abd al-Wahhab by some teachers he had less credible? What makes the sources of two Wahhabi supporters more accurate than the works of Wahhabi opponents? While the former are closer in time to Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, they are his biased supporters. The latter, however, though further away in time from the Wahhabi founder’s period of existence, may –  and indeed, do – have accurate information, especially on how Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s teachings contradicted the teachings that orthodox Sunni Muslims had been following for over 1,000 years. DeLong-Bas seems to impugn Wahhabism’s followers by denying or watering down what they were taught by Ibn Abd-al Wahhab’s teachings, as well as the teachings of senior Wahhabi scholars like Ibn Atiq.

Delong-Bas provides Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s interpretations of intercession (tawassul) in his “Kitab al-Tawhid” without stating that he contradicted many verses of the Qur’an, hadeeth, and interpretations provided by orthodox Sunni scholars (ulema) throughout the history of Islam (except Ibn Taymiyah and his followers who were the first to deviate from mainstream Sunni Islam on the issue).

With an unorthodox interpretation of a genuinely valid Islamic practice, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab accused the vast lot of Muslims who did ‘tawassul’ of committing polytheism (shirk) — the only unforgivable sin in Islam. He then allowed his followers to massacre them, believing that they were doing a very noble deed and following the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad when, in fact, they were doing exactly the opposite. The professor and scholar, Khaled Abou El Fadl said,

“Ibn Abd al-Wahhab doesn’t teach love and peace. He gives permission to kill.”

Describing Wahhabism’s extreme teachings that contradict Sunni Islam, professor and author Ahmad Dallal, a professor of Arabic at Georgetown University, said,

“If you visit a shrine of a saint, even if you don’t believe the saint is God, and you say, `Of course we don’t worship the saint, we’re worshipping God,’ the punishment for this is death.”

Similarly, professor and author Michael Sells said,

“DeLong-Bas never challenges the propriety of Abd al-Wahhab’s claim to absolute authority — the authority to declare the believer and the unbeliever (authority God reserves to himself in the Koran) and to impose the most severe sanctions on those he disagrees with.”

Michael J. Ybarra in a Wall Street Journal review of Delong-Bas’s book said,

“where on earth this [tolerant] form of Wahhabi Islam ever existed she doesn’t say.”

It seems DeLong-Bas is subjective about the evidence she chooses to accept. Similar to Wahhabis, DeLong Bas seems to believe all history books, encyclopedias, statements of Sunni scholars against Wahhabism, and other studies by academia are wrong and biased, while her scholarship is sound. De-Long Bas glosses over serious historical facts, including the Wahhabi assault against Muslims and tombs in Karbala in 1801 by an army of more than 10,000 men in which an estimated 5,000 non-Wahhabi Muslims were massacred. De-Long Bas’s odd views contradict the facts and insult the memory of the thousands who perished by their zealotry.

Yet DeLong-Bas insists on distancing Wahhabism’s teachings from terrorism, even when Osama bin Laden, for example, was born and raised in Wahhabi surroundings. DeLong-Bas also contradicts the fact that after the fall of the second Saudi State, a branch of political Wahhabism that was largely suppressed was brought to life by Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, as well as by a group of Wahhabi scholars of the Shu’yabi school. DeLong-Bas displays a superficial grasp of a more complex subject by ignoring the political Wahhabi group and describing Wahhabism as only apolitical. This allows her to disingenuously distance Wahhabism wholesale from all aspects of terrorism.

How, then, can Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s biography, as presented in Delong Bas’s book, be taken seriously by any objective scholar? It cannot. DeLong-Bas not only explains a distorted view of Wahhabi teachings, but also shows a seemingly uncaring validation for almost every Wahhabi interpretation over more moderate Sunni teachings.

This book is both surprising and disappointing coming from the reputable Oxford Press. Khaled Abou El Fadl echoed a similar concern:

“I’m sad this piece of scholarly trash was published by Oxford.”

How, to any basic researcher, can this book be called a “pathbreaking” and “groundbreaking” work when sources for a book on Wahhabism are provided by Wahhabis, when the sources themselves are written by Wahhabis, and when the research endeavor is partially financed by Wahhabis? It behooves one to wonder how the research would have looked like had an orthodox Sunni foundation financed the endeavor instead. This book not only reduces DeLong-Bas’s credibility as an objective scholar, but also skews the history of a critically important subject and misleads many.

– Wahhabism: Understanding the Roots and Role Models of Islamic Fanaticism and Terror.

This is a revised/modified article I wrote about eight years ago that was published by the Sunnah Foundation of America. I hope it proves useful and stimulates intellectual debate. Further revisions are being made.

(© Zubair Qamar 2014)




Setting the Context Correctly: All Wahhabis are Not Terrorists – but Some Are

Wahhabism has been in the spotlight by both Sunni and Shi’ah Muslims since the 1700s as they had experienced both doctrinal and physical assaults from Wahhabis. This resonated strongly much later in the 20th century with non-Muslims, especially after the 9/11 attacks. Muslims suffered at the hands of Wahhabi militants long before 9/11 happened, and is why Sunni and Shi’ah scholars have written books against Wahhabism that go back a few hundred years. Contemporary Sunni and Shi’ah scholars continue their condemnations of Wahhabism. Examples of scholars who opposed Wahhabism are listed at the end of this article.

First, my argument against Wahhabism is an orthodox Sunni one, which means I have issues with Wahhabism because it misrepresents Sunni doctrine and worship in the guise of “Sunni Islam.” Second, a certain group of Wahhabis have historically targeted Muslims physically for differing with their doctrine and matters of worship, as well as the state, if deemed the “infidel” variety.  I include such deliberate targeting of innocent Sunni and Shi’ah civilians in my definition of terrorism.

Contrary to conventional views, I do not believe that so-called “jihadist” terrorism originated in Egypt through the so-called Qutbi school of militants as many believe. The standard view is: Wahhabis are apolitical and do not oppose the State, while Egypt is where the violent anti-state brand comes from. The mixing of Egypt’s extremist Salafis with Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia at the time of Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser led the Wahhabis to adopt violence and terrorism. Is this necessarily true?

While most Wahhabis are peaceful and do not support terrorism, very few in academia discuss the other strain of Wahhabism that found prominence among a group of Wahhabis after the fall of the second Saudi State in the 1800s. Two groups of Wahhabis evolved since that time: (1) “apolitical” (quietest) Wahhabis and (2) “political” (or political-militant) Wahhabis who resented Ottoman help from Wahhabis.

Briefly, we see most apolitical Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia today who say it is unIslamic to kill civilians and rebel against the state. The political Wahhabi version, on the other hand, has been suppressed for obvious political reasons. However, it was shown when Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi brought it up, as did Wahhabi scholars of the “Shu’aybi” school. They used Wahhabi justification to support their extremist views using works by Wahhabi (not Qutbi) scholars who lived in the 1800s (like Ibn Atiq) to justify opposition against the Saudi government (and other governments).

This same group of political-militant Wahhabis used similar justification to advocate the use of nuclear weapons. One can argue that Osama bin Laden and surely other terrorists in al-Qa’eda – especially those who originated in Saudi Arabia – have evolved from this political-militant strain of Wahhabism, and not necessarily from Egypt’s militant brand of Salafism, though the latter may certainly have had a negative influence.

I place more blame on the political-militant strain of Wahhabism that preceded the Qutbi strain of militancy by a few hundred years. However, as long as the “apolitical” (or quietist) strain of Wahhabism continues to be the predominant form in terms of what the majority of Wahhabis believe, and what the Saudi government propagates, we will be fortunate to continue to hear condemnations by such Wahhabis against terrorists of all colors, including against the political-militant strain of Wahhabism. Indeed, we have heard many such condemnations from Wahhabi scholars, including the late Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Ibn Baz.

Most Wahhabis are apolitical, are by and large peaceful, and do not support terrorism, but rather condemn it. They should not be described as advocates of terrorism as certain scholars do. Rather, the Wahhabi majority’s denunciations of terrorism should be utilized to weaken the message of the political-militant variety of Wahhabism who propagate terrorism.  This does not mean that the doctrinal and worship differences, as well as the bi-polar and sometimes extreme views of peaceful Wahhabis are excusable from an orthodox Sunni standpoint. Far from it.

However, in the matter of terrorism, which I see as the more important issue of today, the majority of peaceful Wahhabis can be used alongside the messages of orthodox Sunni Islam to counter militant strains of Wahhabism and other forms of Salafism. It is in this context that this article should be understood.

Lastly, extremist interpretations of religion and ideology are just two of many factors that contribute to terrorism. No sound analysis of terrorism should reduce terrorism’s causes to these two factors.

Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 hijackers

Osama bin Laden was accused of having a central role in the September 11, 2001 hijackings of four planes, three of which were successfully steered into their intended targets, kamikaze style, into the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon. Passengers in all airliners were killed, as were thousands of civilians on the ground, including women and children. It was an American tragedy, but even more a world tragedy, that involved the decimation of people from over 80 nationalities and many religions, including Muslims. This tragedy has caused many to perceive Islam as a barbaric and anti- Judeo-Christian religion, and hold it responsible for the hatred and bigotry manifested through the horrific acts of terror perpetrated by radical Islamists on 9/11.

Indeed, it has created and/or strengthened a “we” (Judeo-Christians) versus “them” (Muslims) psyche in which all Muslims are assumed to be linked to the “great evil” called Islam. Although it revives and brings to light the largely refuted post-Cold War paradigm proposed by Samuel Huntington of the “Clash of Civilizations,” this bi-polarization and gross generalization conceals the true identity and nature of the intra-religious differences existing within the religions concerned.

Reality is that the majority of Muslims in the world – orthodox Sunni Muslims – have confronted and refuted the menace of extremism within Islam itself through much of its history. It is of paramount importance now after 9/11 for the lay-person to be able to differentiate a moderate Muslim from a pseudo-Sunni fanatic. The most extremist pseudo-Sunni movement today is Wahhabism (also known as Salafism). The most well-known Wahhabi-Salafi known to humankind today is Osama bin Laden and his al-Qa’eda terrorist organization. While many may think that Wahhabi terror is a recent phenomenon that has only targeted non-Muslims, it will surprise many to know that the orthodox Sunni Muslims were the first to be slaughtered in waves of Wahhabi terror campaigns in Arabia hundreds of years ago.

One only has to read the historical evolution of Saudi Arabia to know the gruesome details of the tragedy – a tragedy commensurate to 9/11 in which thousands of Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims perished at the hands of Wahhabi militants. The extremist interpretations of Wahhabism, although previously confined to small pockets of people in Arabia, has survived to this day under the protection, finance, and tutelage of the Saudi monarchy. This has transformed Wahhabism – and related Salafi groups that receive inspiration and support from them – from a regional to a global threat to be reckoned with by the world community.

To a Wahhabi-Salafi, all those who differ with them, including Sunni Muslims, Shi’ite Muslims, Christians, and Jews, are infidels who are fair targets of ideological and/or physical assault or extermination. Osama bin Laden and his followers are among the Wahhabis who are carrying the banner of Wahhabi-Salafi terror to all corners of the world today.

Investigators who hunted for members of Bin Laden’s al-Qaida network more than eight months before the September 11th attacks discovered that “all” terrorist suspects arrested in Europe followed the Salafi interpretation of Islam. Since December, 2001, at least nine countries in Europe found that terrorist cells sponsored by al-Qaida were connected to Salafis. Moreover, four interlinked groups were identified and partially dismantled since October 26, 2001. This was in addition to the cell in Hamburg, Germany that was allegedly involved in the September 11th attacks in New York and Washington {1}. (Hamburg is said to have 2,500 Muslim radicals in a community of about 80,000 Muslims {2}.)

Three of the four groups based in Germany, Italy, and Spain were believed by investigators to have belonged to the radical Algerian group, the “Salafist Preaching and Combat Group,” which has been “absorbed by al-Qaida” according to a source close to the investigation. The leader of a fourth cell, Djamel Beghal, is a French-Algerian Salafi who was arrested in Dubai who allegedly had members in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Britain. According to investigators, they are thought to have grown from another extremist Algerian group called “Excommunication and Self-Exile” (al-Takfir wa al-Hijra) {3}.

Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged 20th hijacker of the September 11th attacks, acquired his radical views in 1991 under the influence of a Wahhabi group in the university he attended in France {4}. Do the majority of Sunnis support Wahhabism? Are Sunnis and Wahhabis one and the same?

What is a Wahhabi?

Because Wahhabis claim to be “true Sunnis,” it is difficult for one who is unfamiliar with Wahhabism to distinguish it from orthodox Sunni Islam. If a Wahhabi is asked if he/she is Sunni, he/she will always reply in the affirmative. When asked if they are Wahhabis, they reply with an emphatic “no” as they consider it an insult to what they believe and stand for: “Purity of worship and reverence to God alone. The authentic carriers of Islam from the time of the Prophet (pbuh) {5} until now.”

Calling them Wahhabis implies that they learned ideas from a man – Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab – instead of the Qur’an and Sunnah – the two great sources of Islam. Irrespective of what they think, they are not following the Islamic sources authentically, but the wrong interpretations of the founder of the Wahhabi movement who appeared in the 1700s. Sunnis and other Wahhabi detractors have labeled them as Wahhabis to differentiate them from orthodox Sunnis.

Differences between Wahhabis and orthodox Sunnis

Wahhabis differ from orthodox Sunnis in many tenets of creed (`aqidah) and worship (`ibadah). The main differences are as follows:

(1) Wahhabis follow Islam as represented by the founder of Wahhabism, Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab, and his role model, Ahmed Ibn Taymiyah, who preceeded him by a few hundred years. Support from orthodox Sunni scholars is only used when it conforms to their understanding. Therefore, the entire corpus of Islamic scholarship is subservient mainly to two individuals (and their students and later followers), both of whom were rejected and opposed by the masses of scholars in their times and afterwards. Lists of scholars opposed to them are presented later in the article.

(2) Wahhabis have a trinitarian understanding of creed that they divide into three parts. Orthodox Sunnis understand creed simply as: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Messenger.”

(3) Wahhabis have a literal understanding of God’s Attributes, and is why they are opposed to orthodox Sunni scholars who applied interpretation (ta’wil) to God’s Attributes in conformity with the rules of the Religion and Arabic language, as the Ash’ari Sunni scholars did. (Ash’ari scholars followed Imam Abu al-Hassan al-Ash’ari’s understanding of Islamic creed. Famous Ash’ari scholars include Imam al-Baihaqi, Imam al-Daraqutni, Qadi `Iyad al-Maliki, Imam an-Nawawi, Shaykh al-Qurtubi, Imam Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani, Imam al-Ghazali, and Imam Fakhr ud-Din al-Razi. Both Ash’aris, as well as Maturidis, represent orthodox Sunni doctrine.) This is the reason why Wahhabis believe that God literally exists above the Throne, therefore believing that God is bound by space and time. Orthodox Sunnis accuse Wahhabis of anthropomorphism (tajsim) and have always believed that God exists without a place, unbound by space and time. (Sunnis believe all of creation is bound by time and space.)

(4) Wahhabis oppose the Islamic science of purification (tasawwuf), and accuse Sufis of being heretical innovators. They also reject some forms of invocation (dhikr) practiced by many Sufis, such as audible group invocation, use of rosaries (tasbih), etc. The Orthodox Sunni accepts Sufism as a genuine Islamic science who, unlike the Wahhabi, also believes in the special favors (karamat) granted to saints (awliyah) by God as a result of their high piety. Some of the many well known Sufis include Imam al-Ghazali, Imam Abd al-Qadir al-Jeelani, Imam Rabbani Ahmad as-Sirhindi, Imam Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri, Imam Jalal ud-Din al-Suyooti, and Imam an-Nawawi.

(5) Wahhabis believe that asking something from God through an intermediary (tawassul), when the latter is living the life of the grave (barzakh), is polytheism (shirk). Asking God for things through other means, such as amulets having protective/healing Words from the Qur’an (ruqiyya), or through objects associated with the pious (tabarruk) is also polytheism to Wahhabism. All practices, however, are orthodox Sunni practices. Because of this, Wahhabis prevent many Muslims from visiting graves, despite the high reward in it from a Sunni perspective, for fear that Muslims will do tawassul and commit shirk. This will be explained in more detail below.

(6) Wahhabis classify all types of innovation (bid’ah) as heretical, whereas orthodox Sunnis have divided innovation into permissible and impermissible categories. It is for this reason that Wahhabis accuse the masses of Muslims who commemorate the birth of Prophet Muhammad (Mawleed ash-Sharif) to be reprehensible innovators. Some orthodox Sunni scholars who support Mawleed include but are not limited to Ibn Kathir, Imam Abu Shaama (teacher of Imam an-Nawawi), Ibn al-Jawzi, Imam Sakhawi, Imam Jalal ud-Din al-Suyooti, and Imam Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani, Imam Ibn Hajar al-Haytami, and Syed Mutawali ad-Darsh.

(7) Wahhabis believe that it is not necessary for Muslims to follow a Muslim scholar of the highest calibur (mujtahid mutlaq), and therefore refuse to follow one of the four existing schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence (Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki, Hanbali), at least in their totality. Wahhabis believe that following the Qur’an and Sunnah – the two main sources of Islam – directly is sufficient, without any required scholarship. Wahhabis, therefore, mostly rely on themselves or self-taught “scholars” for religious judgments and interpretations of the Islamic sources. For example, many follow the late Naseerud-Din al-Albani as a master of hadeeth, even though he did not fulfill the minimum requirements of being a hadeeth master. All orthodox Sunnis, however, follow (taqleed) one of the four schools of jurisprudence today, each represented by a scholar of the highest eminence who was most qualified to deduce judgments from the sources (ijtihad) due to their vast knowledge, authentic chains of transmission from previous scholars, impeccable characters, and trustworthiness. The four Sunni schools of jurisprudence are the Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki, and Hanbali schools.

(8) Wahhabis, unlike orthodox Sunnis, do not believe that the recitation of the Qur’an is a means by which God rewards people in their graves.

Wahhabis as Salafis: deceptive semantics

Wahhabis differentiate themselves from orthodox Sunnis by labeling themselves Salafis, which refers to the word Salaf – the time period in which the early Muslims lived in the first 300 years after the Hijra, or emigration, of Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in 622. The Companions (Sahaba), those who followed the Companions (Tabi’een), and those who followed them (Taba al-Tabi’een) lived in the time period of the Salaf, and to Sunni Muslims, are exemplars par excellence of what Muslims should be, as Prophet Muhammad had praised these Muslims as being the best of Muslims. Therefore, it has been the aim of every Muslim since the time of Prophet Muhammad to adhere to and follow the footsteps of the adherents of the Salaf. This means that when a Wahhabi calls himself a Salafi, he claims to be a genuine follower of pristine Islam. This, however, is far from the truth.

Orthodox Sunni Muslims believe that they are the true bearers of pristine Islam since the time period of the Salaf. Because there were time gaps between the noble period of the Salaf and centuries that followed, the authentic positions of the early Muslims were passed by scholars in those times and afterwards to later generations via meticulous, systematic, and methodological means of preservation.

The knowledge was passed from qualified scholars to other qualified scholars through the centuries, who passed it to the masses. This uninterrupted chain of knowledge from the time of the Salaf until now has been authentically preserved by the orthodox Sunnis. Orthodox Sunnis, therefore, have roots in the Salaf, and are represented today by the four surviving authentic schools of Islamic jurisprudence.

The Wahhabis, by calling themselves Salafis, not only claim to follow the footsteps of the early Muslims, but also use semantics to fool and allure less informed Muslims into accepting Wahhabism. Wahhabis say,

“You must follow the Muslims of the Salaf.” (This is undoubtedly true to a Sunni Muslim.)

Then the Wahhabi semantics:

“Therefore you must be a Salafi and nothing else. Following anything else means you’re following a path that is different from the Muslims of the Salaf.”

By such deceptive semantics, the less informed Muslims believe that Salafis must truly represent the pristine interpretations of the early Muslims of the Salaf. After all, the word Salafi sounds like Salaf, so it must truly be representative of it. Far from it. When the less informed goes beyond semantics and blind faith and investigates what a Salafi believes, the truth unveiled is that the understanding of Salafis (Wahhabis) is different and contradictory to the understanding and positions of the pious Muslims who lived in the Salaf – and the majority of Muslims who have ever lived (Sunnis).

Wahhabi-Salafi Variety

The Wahhabi-Salafis believe that Sunnis have been vehemently wrong for the past 1,000+ years and aim to bring the Muslims out of a state of ignorance (jahilliyya) that has existed, in their minds, since the time of the pious adherents of the Salaf.

Even if the majority of orthodox Sunni Muslims were strong today, it would still be a failure to Salafis because to them the foundations of Sunni belief and worship would be based on reprehensible innovation (bid’a) and blasphemy (kufr).

To the Salafi, the presence and power of Sunni orthodoxy, in all of its manifestations as illustrated throughout Islamic history, is just as impure as the rising European hegemony in all of its manifestations since the demise of the Muslim Ottoman Empire. To the Salafis, a minority in this world, the world is an abode of blasphemy, ruled and occupied by infidels that demands reformation through both non-violent and violent means to bring about a supposedly pure Islamic world system.

Wahhabi-Salafis come in various strains, some more lethal than others. The variety in strains is due to differences in approach of bringing the Muslims back to a state of strengthened belief based on the example of the pious ancestors. It must be emphasized that although all Wahhabis are called Salafis, all Salafis are not purely Wahhabi. Non-Wahhabi Salafi Muslims include those like Syed Qutb who wished to eradicate the supposed current state of ignorance (jahiliyya) to bring Muslims back to a state of purity – purity reminiscent of the purity of Muslims who lived in the time period of the Salaf.

However, all Salafi Muslims, whether they are Wahhabi or Qutbi, admire the role models Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab, and especially Ahmad Ibn Taymiyah, whose hard-line interpretations have inspired revolutionaries today. Therefore, although all Salafis are not Wahhabis, they admire many of the same role models – role models who have been rejected and condemned by masses of orthodox Sunni scholars for their unauthentic representations of pristine Islam. All Wahhabis consider themselves to be Salafis and prefer to be called by this name (instead of Wahhabi, which they see as derogatory), even though differences exist between Salafi groups.

Wahhabi-Salafi alliances

Although there are differences in approach among Salafis, they have nonetheless allied themselves from time to time in an attempt to make the Salafi vision a reality by both non-violent and violent means.

An example of this is the Salafi-oriented Deobandi Taliban and their alliance with the Wahhabis.

The Wahhabi Saudi government was only one of three countries that officially recognized the Taliban government of “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” The Saudis saw the Taliban as a way of increasing their influence in Afghanistan. Indeed, political motives were supported by religious justification from Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi ulema who strongly supported the Taliban. Ahmed Rashid says,

“the Wahhabi ulema in the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia]… played the most influential role in urging the Royal Family to back the Taliban.”{6}.

Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi analyst, says that Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bin Baz, the former Grand Mufti and Chairman of the Council of Senior ulema, and Sheikh Mohammed ibn Juber, the Minister of Justice and member of the Council of ulema, were instrumental in pushing the Saudi regime to support the Taliban {7}.

Because Saudi Arabia’s mosques and madrassas were largely controlled by the Wahhabi ulema, they were able to garner support for the Taliban in their Friday sermons. Several Saudi sources said that after the Taliban captured Kabul, Saudi mosques collected money on a regular basis from the congregation after the Friday prayers for the Taliban {8}.

It is interesting to note that the Taliban’s “moral police” was in direct imitation of the Saudi police called “The Prevention of Vice and Propagation of Virtue” that forced 15 girls to be burned to death from a school fire. Furthermore, John Walker Lindh, the American who fought alongside the Taliban, espoused the militant Salafi-Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. Walid al-Saqqaf, editor of the Yemen Times, says that Lindh had met a hard-line shaykh in an institute in Yemen where he mixed with pro-Taliban and pro-al-Qaida followers and took the Salafi Osama bin Laden as his role model {9}.

The alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood (and its various offshoots) and the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia was strengthened during the 1950s and 1960s in the struggle of the Muslim Brotherhood against Egypt’s Nasserist regime. Saudis had provided refuge for some leaders of the Brotherhood, and also provided assistance to them in other Arab States. It is worth pausing here to illustrate how Saudi educational institutions became the bastion of extremists of all colors.

Osama bin Laden first associated with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood over here where he met Abdullah Azzam and Muhammad Qutb, two radical teachers of Islamic studies. Azzam was the role model who had inspired Bin Laden to adopt a more extremist position than he already had. Bin Laden and Azzam later established the Maktab al-Khidmat (Afghan Services Bureau) as a recruiting center for the holy war against the Soviets. Donations from Saudi Arabia were instrumental in their efforts of helping the Maktab, which became a radical organization with ties to terror. In fact, Bin Laden was the Saudi representative in Afghanistan, as he stated in his own words:

“To counter these atheist Russians, the Saudis chose me as their representative in Afghanistan”{10}.

Bin Laden represented the Saudi contingent in Afghanistan in the war against the Russians, and Prince Turki ibn Faisal, former head of Saudi Intelligence Service, was to be a close friend and ally of Bin Laden {11}.

Muhammad Qutb was the brother of Syed Qutb who was hanged by order of the Egyptian government in 1966 for his extremist anti-government activities. The notorious blind “Shaykh” Omar Abdel Rehman, spiritual mentor of the radical Islamic Jihad who was influenced by the ideas of the Pakistani Islamist Abul Alaa al-Mawdudi and Syed Qutb, also taught in Saudi institutions. He is currently serving a life sentence in the United States for allegedly having a role in the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, and was also accused of conspiring to blow up the Lincoln and Holland tunnels and the United Nations headquarters in New York. Cooley says:

“Between 1977 and 1980, private Muslim foundations in Saudi Arabia financed a tour of teaching for Sheikh Omar Abdel Rehman in that kingdom. Upon his return [to Egypt], he became notorious for his militant sermons and occasional fatwas, often recorded on audiotape cassettes” {12}.

Cooley further explains the intimate relationship between Abdel-Rehman and Saudi Arabia:

“The blind preacher made the theology faculty of the Imam Muhammad ibn Saudi University in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, his new base. There he taught hundreds of religious students. From there, with generous financial backing from the Saudis, he traveled from 1979 to 1982” {13}.

It is also interesting to note that it is in Saudi Arabia where Abdel-Rehman first met another Islamist, Hassan al-Turabi, from Sudan. Those who argue that Wahhabism is opposed to Qutbism should ponder over the fact that both Wahhabi and Qutbi types of Salafis found comfort in teaching and learning in Saudi educational institutions under the watchful eyes of the Wahhabi Saudi government. Moreover, had the Qutbis been a threat to the Saudi-Wahhabi educational system, there would have been uproar by Wahhabi students. Instead, many received inspiration from them, flocked around them, and embraced them with open arms. While this does not mean that Wahhabis and Qutbis are identical, they do share many of the same beliefs, starting with their understanding of Islamic creed, which, unlike orthodox Sunni Muslims, they divide into three categories.

The Wahhabi-Salafi alliance was further strengthened as a response to the growing threat of Shi’ah power when the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran revolted and overthrew the U.S.-allied Shah in 1979. Lastly, the alliance made itself manifest in the holy struggle (jihad) against the atheist/Communist Soviets in Afghanistan. Salafis of all strains worked together as the “righteous Sunnis” to counter the Shi’ah-Communist threat, from proselytizing to killing to make their Salafism prevail.

Indeed, Salafis have used both proselytizing and revolutionary means to express their message using both political and apolitical approaches. So-called “Sunni terrorism” today is perpetrated by radical Salafis who desire to replace “infidel” governments with myopic mullahs who adhere to their fanatical interpretations and ideologies. Their tentacles are spread to all corners of the globe, including Bosnia, Albania, Indonesia, Philippines, Uzbekistan, England, Malaysia, South Africa, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Wahhabis as neo-Kharijites

The Wahhabis are especially notorious for reviving the ways of the Khawarij (or Kharijites). They originated in the time of the caliphates of Uthman and Ali, among the closest companions to Prophet Muhammad. They were the earliest group of fanatics who separated themselves from the Muslim community. They arose in opposition to Ali – Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law – because of his willingness to arbitrate with Mu’awiyah, governor of Damascus at that time, over the issue of the caliphate.

The Khawarij, meaning “those who exited,” slung accusations of blasphemy against Ali and Mu’awiyah – and those who followed them – saying that the Qur’an, and not them, had the ultimate authority in the matter. Ibn al-Jawzi, an orthodox Sunni scholar, in his book Talbis Iblis (The Devil’s Deception) under the chapter heading “A Mention of the Devil’s Delusion upon the Kharijites,” says that Dhu’l-Khuwaysira al-Tamimi was the first Kharijite in Islam and that “[h]is fault was to be satisfied with his own view; had he paused he would have realized that there is no view superior to that of Allah’s Messenger…”

Furthermore, the orthodox Sunni scholar Imam Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi discusses the Kharijite rebellions and their bloody massacres of tens of thousands of Muslims in one of his books. He explicitly mentions the Azariqa, one of the most atrocious Kharijite movements led by Nafi’ ibn al-Azraq from the tribe of Banu Hanifa – the same tribe where Musaylima the Prevaricator (or Liar) who claimed prophethood alongside Prophet Muhammad came from. Just as the Khawarij threw accusations of blasphemy on Ali and Mu’awiya, Wahhabis throw accusations of blasphemy against Sunnis and Shi’ites.

The Al-Sa’ud and Muhammad ibn `Abdl-Wahhab – the founder of Wahhabism

Wahhabism is named after the its founder, Muhammad ibn `Abdl-Wahhab (1703-1792), and has its roots in the land now known as Saudi Arabia. Without this man, the al-Sa’ud, one of many clans spread over the Arabian Peninsula, would not have had the inspiration, reason, and determination to consolidate the power that they did and wage jihad on people they perceived to be “polytheists” – those who attribute partners in worship to Almighty God. How intimately close was Al-Sa’ud’s association with Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab? Robert Lacey eloquently illustrates this association:

“Until [Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab’s] coming the Al Sa’ud had been a minor sheikhly clan like many others in Nejd, townsmen and farmers, making a comfortable living from trade, dates and perhaps a little horse-breeding, combining with the desert tribes to raid outwards when they felt strong, prudently retrenching in times of weakness. Modestly independent, they were in no way empire builders, and it is not likely that the wider world would ever have heard of them without their alliance with the Teacher” {14}.

The “Teacher,” of course, is Muhammad Ibn Abdl-Wahhab. It is not surprising that the Al-Sa’ud have vehemently clung to Wahhabism over the centuries to this day.

Indeed, they are indebted to Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab for providing them the impetus and excuse of bringing them to power. Wahhabism had transformed the Al-Sa’ud from a tiny, unheard of group limited in geographic scope to a growingly strong power that spread all across Arabia. Its oil later allowed Saudi Arabia to metamorphose from a poor radical force with no future to a wealthy radical force with global reach. It has provided the extremist role models and ideologies that condition – brainwash – minds and tarnish souls from a Sunni perspective.

In its ugliest form, Wahhabism-Salafism creates terrorists that murder and maim. In its passive manifestation, though still just as ugly to orthodox Muslims, it produces bi-polar personalities – abnormal beings who accuse masses of Muslims of being outside the fold of Islam for centuries simply because they disagree with the unorthodox positions of Wahhabism.

Al-Sa’ud’s explicit support for Wahhabism is illustrated in a publication by the Kingdom’s Ministry of Information. It states,

“Mohammed Ibn Abdul Wahab was a powerful exponent of Islam who did much to unify the religion and resisted its heresies and schisms” {15}.

In a footnote, the publication defends Wahhabism as a legitimate understanding of Islam:

“Most historians, Moslem or otherwise, used to call the Emirs of the Saudi dynasty “the Wahhabis”. The nickname was never used in practice, but its purpose was to give the impression that the Saudis were following a new school of Islamic thought, attributed to Sheikh Mohammed Ibn Abdul Wahab. In fact he and the Saudi dynasty merely wanted to free Islam from heresies and implement the law as ordained in the Koran” {16}.

In the same publication, the founder of the Wahhabi movement is used as a barometer of honor for members of the Saudi Dynasty. It states that

“[Mohammed Ibn Saud] is considered the most distinguished among the Princes of Saud Dynasty because his reign coincided with the emergence of Sheikh Mohammed Ibn Abdul Wahhab” {17}.

In the end of the section, it glorifies the massacres of orthodox Sunni Muslims by the sword of Mohammad ibn Saud by saying that he

“…resisted the heretics with the sword…” {18}.

The “heretics,” as we know, were mainly orthodox Sunni Muslims who had been following the genuine Sunni tradition for over 1,000 years.

Another link on the same website states:

“In keeping with his family tradition, [Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab] exhibited a keen interest in religion and was profoundly perturbed by contemporary deviations from Islamic teachings which included serious deviations from the teachings of the Prophet, peace be upon him. He therefore undertook to bring about a revival of Islam in its simplest and original form. Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab did not found a new sect. His sole purpose was to re-establish Islam in its purest form” {19}.

The emblem of Saudi Arabia illustrates the alliance between the founder of Wahhabism and a member of the Sa’ud dynasty . The emblem has two crossed swords with a date-palm tree above them. One sword is that of Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab and the other is the sword of Muhammad ibn Sa’ud, which were used to slaughter orthodox Sunni Muslims.

In addition, the current version of the Saudi flag has a picture of a white sword underneath the Muslim testification of faith (shahada). What does this sword mean? To many laypeople, Muslims included, it symbolizes the “sword of Islam.”

However, upon closer investigation, the sword is supposed to depict the sword of Abdl-Aziz’s father, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia who killed many Muslims in his time who he accused of polytheism. Therefore, the sword in the flag does not symbolize “Islam,” but symbolizes the “Wahhabi interpretation of Islam” that was used to murder thousands of Muslims. In an earlier version of the flag that had two swords crossed one over the other, one of the swords belonged to Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab, while the other belonged to Muhammad ibn Sa’ud, the man who allied himself with Abdl-Wahhab to murder thousands of Muslims.

Wahhabism is not only illustrated by its national symbols, but also in the close alliance between the Al-Saud and descendants of Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab, who are called the Ahl al-Shaykh (Family of the Shaykh). The “Shaykh,” of course, is the Wahhabi founder, Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab.

Author Robert Lacey says that the Ahl al-Shaykh, who proudly adhere to the teachings of Wahhabism,

“preserve their separate identity in the Kingdom to this day” {20}.

Their privileged status in the Kingdom is illustrated by the close association and intermarriage between the Al-Sa’ud and Ahl al-Shaykh. In the 1700s, Muhammad ibn Saud’s son, Abdul Aziz, married Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab’s daughter. When Abdul-Aziz recaptured Riyadh, he married a new wife, Tarfah, the daughter of Sheikh Abdullah ibn Abdul Lateef, the town’s judge, who was a descendant of Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab {21}.

The Ahl al-Shaykh are also prominent in the Kingdom’s `ulema (scholars), police, and armed forces. Abdl-Aziz ibn Abdullah Ibn Baz, the now deceased former Mufti of Saudi Arabia, was taught by many Wahhabi scholars of the Ahl al-Shaykh. Some of his teachers were Shaykh Muhammad ibn `Abdul-Lateef Aal-Shaykh, Shaykh Saalih ibn `Abdul-`Azeez Aal-Shaykh and Shaykh Muhammad ibn Ibraaheem Aal-Shaykh, who was also a Mufti of Saudi Arabia in his time. Ibn Baz frequently accompanied him and learned from him for about ten years {22}.

Ibn Baz, therefore, was a full-fledged Wahhabi and did not receive knowledge from the eminent Sunni theologians of his time because he thought they were heretics. The now living Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia is `Abdul-`Azeez Aal-Shaykh.

Just who are the al-Sa’ud? The al-Sa’ud are originally from the village of ad-Diriyah, located in Nejd, in eastern Arabia situated near modern day Riyadh, the capital of Sa’udi Arabia. Ancestors of Sau’ud Ibn Muhammad, whom little is known about, settled in the area as agriculturists and gradually grew in number over time into the clan of al-Sa’ud.

Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab was raised in Uyainah, an oasis in southern Najd, and was from the Banu Tamim tribe. He came from a religious family and left Uyainah in pursuit of Islamic knowledge. He traveled to Mecca, Medina, Iraq, and Iran to acquire knowledge from different teachers. When he returned to his homeland of Uyainah, he preached what he believed to be Islam in its purity – which was, in fact, a vicious assault on traditional Sunni Islam.

Others have speculated that he colluded with the British – as Mirza Ahmed Qadiani colluded with the British in the India – through Hempher, the British Spy, to further weaken and destroy the hegemony of the Sunni Ottomon Empire. Fact or fiction, what is known is that the British and the Wahhabis wished to see the Ottomon Empire crumble.

The orthodox Sunni scholar Jamil Effendi al-Zahawi said that the teachers of Ibn `Abdl-Wahhab, including two teachers he had studied with in Medina – Shaykh Muhammad Ibn Sulayman al-Kurdi and Shaykh Muhammad Hayat al-Sindi – became aware of his anti-Sunni Wahhabi creed and warned Muslims from him. His shaykhs, including the two aforementioned shaykhs, used to say:

“God will allow him [to] be led astray; but even unhappier will be the lot of those misled by him.”{23}.

Moreover, Ibn `Abdl-Wahhab’s own father had warned Muslims from him, as did his biological brother, Sulayman Ibn `Abdl-Wahhab, an orthodox Sunni scholar who refuted him in a book entitled al-Sawa’iq al-Ilahiyya fi al-radd `ala al-Wahhabiyya [“Divine Lightnings in Refuting the Wahhabis”]. Ibn Abdl-Wahhab was refuted by the orthodox Sunni scholars for his many ugly innovations. Perhaps his most famous book, “Kitab at-Tawheed” (Book of Unity of Worship) is widely circulated amongst Wahhabis worldwide, including the United States. His book is popular in Wahhabi circles, although orthodox Sunni scholars have said that there is nothing scholarly about it, both in terms of its content and its style.

Ibn Taymiyah: the Wahhabi founder’s role model

It is worth giving an overview of a man named Ahmed Ibn Taymiyah (1263-1328) who lived a few hundred years before Muhammad ibn `Abdl-Wahhab. The Wahhabi founder admired him as a role model and embraced many of his pseudo-Sunni positions.

Who exactly was Ibn Taymiyah and what did orthodox Sunni scholars say about him? Muslim scholars had mixed opinions about him depending on his interpretation of various issues. His straying from mainstream Sunni Islam on particular issues of creed (`aqeedah) and worship (`ibadat) made him an extremely controversial figure in the Muslim community.

I compare him to Paul of Tarsus who won a controversial reputation among various Christian groups through the centuries. While the early Marcionites considered Paul to be the only worthy representative of Jesus’s pristine teachings, Jewish Christians labeled him an apostate who changed the teachings of Jesus. Likewise, Ibn Taymiya has won the reputation of being the true bearer of the early pious Muslims, especially among reformist revolutionaries, while the majority of orthodox Sunnis have accused him of reprehensible bid’ah (reprehenisible innovation), some accusing him of kufr (unbelief) {24}.

The problem is that Ibn Taymiyah’s unorthodox positions in creed and worship that were refuted by masses of orthodox Sunni scholars have been adopted by Wahhabis and other Salafis today as the genuine “Sunni” position.

It behooves one to ask why Ibn Taymiyah had received so much opposition from reputable Sunni scholars who were known for their asceticism, trustworthiness, and piety. Some of Ibn Taymiyah’s anti-Sunni and controversial positions that were purportedly noted include the following:

  • His claim that Allah’s Attributes are “literal”, thereby attributing God with created attributes and becoming an anthropomorphist.
  • His claim that created things existed eternally with Allah.
  • His opposition to the scholarly consensus on the divorce issue.
  • His opposition to the orthodox Sunni practice of tawassul (asking Allah for things using a deceased pious individual as an intermediary).
  • His saying that starting a trip to visit the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) invalidates the shortening of prayer.
  • His saying that the torture of the people of Hell stops and doesn’t last forever.
  • His saying that Allah has a limit (hadd) that only He Knows.
  • His saying that Allah literally sits on the Throne (al-Kursi) and has left space for Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to sit next to Him.
  • His claim that touching the grave of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is polytheism (shirk).
  • His claim that that making supplication at the Prophet Muhammad’s grave to seek a better status from Allah is a reprehensible innovation.
  • His claim that Allah descends and comparing Allah’s “descent” with his, as he stepped down from a minbar while giving a sermon (khutba) to Muslims.
  • His classifying of oneness in worship of Allah (tawheed) into two parts: Tawhid al-rububiyya and Tawhid al-uluhiyya, which was never done by pious adherents of the salaf.

Although Ibn Taymiyah’s unorthodox, pseudo-Sunni positions were kept away from the public in Syria and Egypt due to the consensus of orthodox Sunni scholars of his deviance, his teachings were nevertheless circulating in hiding. An orthodox Sunni scholar says:

“Indeed, when a wealthy trader from Jedda brought to life the long-dead ‘aqida [creed] of Ibn Taymiya at the beginning of this century by financing the printing in Egypt of Ibn Taymiya’s Minhaj al-sunna al-nabawiyya [italics mine] and other works, the Mufti of Egypt Muhammad Bakhit al-Muti‘i, faced with new questions about the validity of anthropomorphism, wrote: “It was a fitna (strife) that was sleeping; may Allah curse him who awakened it.”

It is important to emphasize that although many of the positions of Ibn Taymiyah and Wahhabis are identical, they nonetheless contradict each other in some positions. While Ibn Taymiyah accepts Sufism (Tasawwuf) as a legitimate science of Islam (as all orthodox Sunni Muslims do), Wahhabis reject it wholesale as an ugly innovation in the religion. While Ibn Taymiyah accepts the legitimacy of commemorating Prophet Muhammad’s birthday (Mawlid) from a certain point of view – accepted by orthodox Sunni Muslims as legitimate – Wahhabis reject it as a reprehensible innovation that is to be repudiated.

Ibn Taymiyah: a role model of Wahhabi-Salafi Islamists

Osama bin Laden illustrates his devout admiration for Ibn Taymiyah in the “Declaration of Jihad against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,” released on August 23, 1996. Gillis Kepel notes that “[t]his eleven-page tract, best known by its subtitle “Expel the Polytheists from the Arabian Peninsula,” is crammed with quotations from the Koran, hadiths of the Prophet, and references to Ibn Taymiyya.”{25}.

“Making lengthy references to Ibn Taymiyya, he invites the faithful to forgo their differences and unite against the Al-Saud family, who have ‘collaborated with the Zionist-Crusader alliance”{26}.

Indeed, Ibn Taymiyah is an inspiration to Islamist groups that call for revolution. Kepel says, “Ibn Taymiyya (1268-1323) – a primary reference for the Sunni Islamist movement – would be abundantly quoted to justify the assassination of Sadat in 1981…and even to condemn the Saudi leadership and call for its overthrow in the mid-1990s” {27}.

Sivan says that only six months before Sadat was assassinated, the weekly Mayo singled out Ibn Taymiyya as “the most pervasive and deleterious influence upon Egyptian youth.” Sivan further says that Mayo concluded that “the proliferating Muslim associations at the universities, where Ibn Taymiyya’s views prevail, have been spawning various terrorist groups.” Indeed, a book entitled The Absent Precept, by `Abd al-Salam Faraj – the spiritual leader of Sadat’s assassins who was tried and executed by the Egyptian government – strongly refers to Ibn Taymiyya’s and some of his disciples’ writings. “The book was read, commented, and meditated upon by almost all the conspirators already brought to trial as well as by many other members of the Jihad Organization.” Also, three of four of Sadat’s assassins willingly read a lot of Ibn Taymiyya’s works on their own {28}.

Ibn Taymiyah is also noted to be a favorite of other Salafi extremists, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s Syed Qutb and Omar ibn Abdl-Rehman, spiritual leader of Islamic Jihad. Ibn Taymiyyah’s student, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, is also frequently cited by salafis of all colors.

While Ibn Taymiyah is considered unorthodox from a Sunni perspective by many Muslims, his statements and views are still twisted and manipulated by extremists and terrorists today. Their twisting of Ibn Taymiyah’s words, however, should not hide the fact that Ibn Taymiyah’s controversial and unorthodox position in areas of creed and worship made him an outcast to many Sunni Muslims.

Ibn Taymiyah’s “fatwa” of jihad against Muslims

What is also well-known about Ibn Taymiyah is that he lived in turbulent times when the Mongols had sacked Baghdad and conquered the Abassid Empire in 1258. In 1303, he was ordered by the Mamluk Sultan to give a fatwa (religious edict) legalizing jihad against the Mongols.

Waging a holy war on the Mongols for the purpose of eliminating any threat to Mamluk power was no easy matter. The Mongol Khan Mahmoud Ghazan had converted to Islam in 1295. Although they were Muslims who did not adhere to Islamic Law in practice, and also supported the Yasa Mongol of code of law, they were deemed apostates by the edict of Ibn Taymiyah.

To Ibn Taymiyah, Islamic Law was not only rejected by Mongols because of their lack of wholesale adherence, but the “infidel” Yasa code of law made them legal targets of extermination. The so-called jihad ensued and the Mongol threat to Syria was exterminated.

Wahhabis and other salafis to this day brand the Mongol Mahmoud Ghazan as a kafir (disbeliever). Orthodox Sunni Muslims, however, have praised Mahmoud Ghazan as a Muslim. Muhammad Hisham Kabbani says:

“In fact, Ghazan Khan was a firm believer in Islam. Al-Dhahabi relates that he became a Muslim at the hands of the Sufi shaykh Sadr al-Din Abu al-Majami’ Ibrahim al-Juwayni (d.720), one of Dhahabi’s own shaykhs of hadith….During his rule he had a huge mosque built in Tabriz in addition to twelve Islamic schools (madrasa), numerous hostels (khaniqa), forts (ribat), a school for the secular sciences, and an observatory. He supplied Mecca and Medina with many gifts. He followed one of the schools (madhahib) of the Ahl al-Sunna [who are the orthodox Sunnis] and was respectful of religious scholars. He had the descendants of the Prophet mentioned before the princes and princesses of his house in the state records, and he introduced the turban as the court headgear” {29}.

Muhammad ibn ‘Abdl-Wahhab would later follow Ibn Taymiyah’s footsteps and slaughter thousands of Muslims in Arabia.

Orthodox Sunni scholars who refuted Ibn Taymiyah’s pseudo-Sunni positions

Ibn Taymiyah was imprisoned by a fatwa (religious edict) signed by four orthodox Sunni judges in the year 726 A.H for his deviant and unorthodox positions. Note that each of the four judges represents the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence that Sunni Muslims belong to today. This illustrates that Ibn Taymiyah did not adhere to the authentic teachings of orthodox Sunni Islam as represented by the four schools of Sunni jurisprudence. There is no evidence to indicate that there was a “conspiracy” against Ibn Taymiyyah to condemn him, as Wahhabis and other salafis purport in his defense.

The following are the names of the four judges who signed a fatwa against Ibn Taymiyah:

  • Qadi Muhammad Ibn Ibrahim Ibn Jama’ah ash-Shafi’I
  • Qadi Muhammad Ibn al-Hariri al-`Ansari al-Hanafi
  • Qadi Muhammad Ibn Abi Bakr al-Maliki
  • Qadi Ahmad Ibn `Umar al-Maqdisi al-Hanbali.

Some other orthodox Sunni scholars who refuted Ibn Taymiyya for his deviances and opposition to the positions of orthodox Sunni Islam include:

  • Taqiyy-ud-Din as-Subki
  • Taj ud-Din as-Subki
  • Faqih Muhammad Ibn `Umar Ibn Makki
  • Hafiz Salah-ud-Din al-`Ala’i
  • Qadi and Mufassir Badr-ud-Din Ibn Jama’ah
  • Shaykh Ahmad Ibn Yahya al-Kilabi al-Halabi
  • Hafiz Ibn Daqiq al-`Id
  • Qadi Kamal-ud-Din az-Zamalkani
  • Qadi Safi-ud-Din al-Hindi
  • Ibn Hajar al-Haytami
  • Faqih and Muhaddith `Ali Ibn Muhammad al-Baji ash-Shafi’I
  • Historian al-Fakhr Ibn al-Mu`allim al-Qurashi
  • Hafiz Dhahabi
  • Mufassir Abu Hayyan al-`Andalusi
  • Hafiz `Alaa al-Din al-Bukhari
  • Najm al-Din Sulayman Ibn `Abd al-Qawi al-Tufi
  • Abd al-Ghani an-Nubulusi
  • Faqih and voyager Ibn Batutah
  • Shaykh Muhammad Zahid al-Kawthari
  • Shaykh Abu Hamid Ibn Marzooq
  • Shaykh Tahir Muhammad Sulaiman al-Maliki

Najd – A place not so holy

Najd, in Saudi Arabia, is where the founder of Wahhabism came from. It was a mostly barren and dry land inhabited by Bedouins who used to graze animals. With sparse water, it is not the most comfortable of places since its climate has extremes of heat and cold in the summer and winter seasons. Najd has a notorious reputation in the orthodox Sunni community for originating seditions (fitan) long before Muhammad ibn `Abdl-Wahhab came. Indeed, it is known to have harbored many trouble mongering individuals who challenged the Muslims both spiritually and physically.

The orthodox Sunni Iraqi scholar Jamal Effendi al-Zahawi says:

“Famous writers of the day made a point of noting the similarity between Ibn ‘Abdl-Wahhab’s beginnings and those of the false prophets prominent in Islam’s intial epoch like Musaylima the Prevaricator, Sajah al-Aswad al-Anasi, Tulaiha al-Asadi and others of his kind” {30}. 

Fenari says that although Najd is closest to to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, it has only been dispraised by Prophet Muhammad in authentic traditions.

He raises another interesting point that while many Arabian tribes were praised by Prophet Muhammad, the Banu Tamim – the most well known tribe of Central Arabia where Muhammad ibn `Abdl Wahhab was from – is praised only once.

Moreover, authentic traditions that “explicitly critique” the Banu Tamimites are far more numerous. Ibn al-Jawzi, an orthodox Sunni scholar, documents the evolution of the Kharijite movements and illustrates how the tribe of Banu Tamim played a leading role in it. Imam Abd al-Qahir also states that the Tamimites – and the Central Arabians in general – were intimately involved in the Kharijite rebellions against the Muslims, contrasting their immense contribution to the minimal contribution of members of the tribes of Medina and Yemen.

It is from Banu Tamim where a man name Abu Bilal Mirdas came from, who, although being a relentless worshipper, turned out to be one of the most barbaric Kharijite fanatics. “He is remembered as the first who said the Tahkim – the formula ‘The judgment is Allah’s alone’ – on the Day of Siffin, which became the slogan of the later Kharijite da’wa.” It is reminiscent of what Wahhabis say today – that they strictly adhere to nothing but the Qur’an and Sunnah – although it is merely a jumble of words without coherent meaning. Najda ibn Amir of the tribe of Banu Hanifa was a Kharijite whose homeland was Najd, and the best known woman among the Kharijites was a Tamimite named Qutam bint `Alqama.

It is fascinating to see that fanatics of all types came from a region where the fanatic Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab came from.

The Wahhabi assault on graves and the massacre of Muslim communities in Riyadh and Karbala

With the ferocious zeal of a “divine” mission, aimed at terminating what they perceived as the filthy polytheistic scum of Arabia, the Wahhabi army led by Muhammad ibn Sa’ud first destroyed graves and objects in Najdi towns and villages that were used for what they condemned as “polytheistic practices.” The Wahhabi movement mustered supporters who rallied behind their cause, increased the size of their army, and successfully united most of the people of Najd under the banner of Wahhabism by 1765.

The assault and “jihad”of Wahhabism did not stop after the death of Muhammad ibn Sa’ud in 1765, but continued with unrelenting and barbaric force under the leadership of his son, Abdl-Aziz, who captured the city of Riyadh in 1773. Muhammad Ibn Abdl-Wahhab later died but left a few sons who continued spreading Wahhabism and strengthened the Wahhabi family’s alliance with the Al-Sa’ud {31}.

Later, in 1801, the Wahhabi army marched to Karbala with a force of 10,000 men and 6,000 camels {32}.

Upon reaching Karbala, they mercilessly and indiscriminately attacked its inhabitants for eight hours, massacring about 5,000 people. Moreover, they severely damaged Imam Hussein’s mosque, looted the city, and left the carnage-laden city with its treasures on 200 camels {33}.

This holocaust won the Wahhabi criminals the unforgiving hatred and wrath of the Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims, who, until this day, curse them passionately. The Shi’ite Muslims consider Imam Hussein, a grandson of Prophet Muhammad, one of the most sacred figures and his tomb one of the most sacred sites on earth. Every year, thousands of Shi’ites gather at the site to commemorate the death of Imam Hussein.

I remember visiting Karbala myself in 1989 before the Persian Gulf war, and it indeed filled me with awe and spiritual strength as a devout Sunni. Shi’ite wrath, of course, didn’t mean much to the Wahhabis. The Shi’ites, along with the Sunnis, had already been labeled as “blasphemors” for practicing tawassul and tabarruk. What are these practices? Are they part of Sunni Islam or not?

Tawassul and Tabarruk

Nuh Keller, an orthodox Sunni scholar, defines tawassul as “supplicating Allah by means of an intermediary, whether it be a living person, dead person, a good deed, or a name or attribute of Allah Most High”. I remember doing tawassul in 1989 at Imam Abu Hanifah’s tomb, the noble and renowned Islamic scholar whose ijtihad the majority of Sunni Muslims follow. Although I had not studied much about Islam and the practices of tawassul at that time, I had been told by trustworthy Muslims that using pious individuals as intermediaries when asking Allah for something was a blessed opportunity that I couldn’t afford to miss. I had also visited the tomb of the great sufi and saint Abdl-Qadir Jilani and performed tawassul over there. An example of tawassul is:

“Oh Allah, I ask you to cure my illness by means of the noble status of Imam Abu Hanifah (pbuh).”

When doing tawassul, the source of blessings (barakah) when asking Allah through an intermediary is Allah – not the intermediary. The intermediary is simply a means to ask Allah for things. Although it is not necessary for a Muslim to use a pious intermediary when asking Allah, it is recommended because it was a practice of Prophet Muhammad, the Companions, and of the great scholars of Islam. It is not only prophets and saints (in their graves) that are used as means to asking Allah. A Muslim can also ask Allah through relics (tabarruk) that belonged to pious people, and may even use amulets with verses on the Qur’an on them as a means of asking God for protection from evil. It is not the means that provides protection, but Allah.

Wahhabis reject a type of tawassul accepted by orthodox Sunni Muslims

Although Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Wahhabis believe that tawassul by one’s good deeds, a name or attribute of God, or intercession by someone who is alive and present is permissible, Wahhabis accuse Sunnis (and Shi’ites) of committing shirk (attributing partners in worship to God) when doing tawassul through an intermediary who is not alive or present (in the worldly life). That is, to a Wahhabi, tawassul through an intermediary who has died and is in his grave is ugly blasphemy.

This is critical to know because this is the primary reason why Muhammad ibn `Abdl-Wahhab and the Al-Sa’ud criminals that collaborated with him massacred many Muslims in the Arabian peninsula. Muslims had been doing this form of tawassul for over 1,000 years but the Wahhabis believed it was blasphemy that had to be exterminated by the sword. What Wahhabis were doing in actuality was massacring orthodox Sunni Muslims, even though they foolishly believed they were fighting against evil blasphemors that didn’t deserve to live.

Wahhabis were not following the footsteps of the pious Salaf, but the footsteps of Ibn Taymiyah who a couple of hundred years before them denounced that particular form of tawassul as sinful. Wahhabis today forbid Muslims from doing tawassul through Prophet Muhammad, and have enforced strict rules around his grave in Medina, Saudi Arabia. It is for this reason that Wahhabis forbid Muslims from visiting the graves of pious Muslims, and have destroyed markings on graves to prevent Muslims from knowing the specific spots where saints are buried. Yet, it is interesting to note the hypocritical nature of the Wahhabis when they had refused the demolishing of the grave of Ibn Taymiyah in Damascus, Syria to make way for a road. Somehow, this is not “polytheism” to them, but it is “polytheism” for the majority of the Islamic community.

The flawed Wahhabi understanding of tawassul: confusing the means with the Giver

Wahhabis wrongly accuse orthodox Sunnis of committing shirk (polytheism) when asking God for something using an intermediary, whether the means is a pious human being in his grave, objects (tabarruk), or seeking protection from God using amulets with verses of the Qur’an written on them (ruqya). The Wahhabi believes that asking God for something through a means is the same as worshipping the means itself. That is, for people who do tawassul through a pious saint in his grave is asking the pious saint – and not God – for things.

People who do tabarruk through a relic of Prophet Muhammad are asking the relic – and not God – for blessings, and people who wear ruqya are asking the ruqya itself for protection – and not God. When a Muslim visits the Prophet Muhammad’s grave and calls on the Prophet, “Oh Prophet,” (Ya Rasulullah), the Wahhabis accuse such a person of worshipping the Prophet and refuse to accept the understanding that the Prophet himself is a means to asking God for things. Such an act to Wahhabis drives a Muslim out of the realms of the religion of Islam. In sum, the Wahhabis believe that such people are worshipping creation alongside God, and are therefore guilty of polytheism – attributing partners in worship to God.

The now deceased former Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdl-Aziz ibn Abdullah Ibn Baz, defends Ibn Abdl-Wahhab’s accusation of polytheism that he had heaped on the Muslim masses and his resorting to “jihad” by saying that Muslims had gone astray because they had “worshipped” things rather than God:

“The people of Najd had lived in a condition that could not be approved of by any believer. Polytheism had appeared there and spread widely. People worshipped domes, trees, rocks, caves or any persons who claimed to be Auliya (saints) though they might be insane and idiotic.

There were few to rise up for the sake of Allah and support His Religion. Same was the situation in Makkah and Madinah as well as Yemen where building domes on the graves, invoking the saints for their help and other forms of polytheism were predominant. But in Najd polytheistic beliefs and practices were all the more intense.

In Najd people had worshipped different objects ranging from the graves, caves and trees to the obsessed and mad men who were called saints.

When the Sheikh [Ibn Abdl-Wahhab] saw that polytheism was dominating the people and that no one showed any disapproval of it or no one was ready to call the people back to Allah, he decided to labour singly and patiently in the field. He knew that nothing could be achieved without jihad (holy fighting), patience and suffering” [italics mine] {34}.

Orthodox Sunnis, however, have never claimed to worship the means, but only God. Because Wahhabis didn’t tolerate this, they massacred thousands of Muslims who they saw as being “polytheists” in Arabia. In actuality, they were Sunni Muslims who were following Islam in its purity as taught by the pious ancestors that lived in the time period of the Salaf.

Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged accomplice of the 9/11 hijackers, declared his brother and sister heathens for doing the orthodox Sunni practice of tawassul. Abd Samad, brother of Zacarias, was told a secret by Jamila, his sister:

“The previous year Zacarias had been to see her and had said, ‘Abd Samad and Fouzia [Abd Samad’s wife] are doing tawassul, they’re heathens. Be on your guard with them, but whatever happens, don’t say anything to them” {35}.

Abd Samad, after explaining what tawassul means, is sickened to learn that his brother, Zacarias, had adopted extremist Wahhabi beliefs :

“But Wahhabis are extremists; their rejection of tawassul is a pre-text for declaring that all Muslims in the world are heathens and idolators who must be dealt with. When Jamila told me what my brother had said, it made me feel sick – literally. I ended up in the emergency room with shooting pains in my stomach. Zacarias’ argument instantly reminded me of Wahhabi beliefs, and I’d never suspected that my bright, well-educated brother, with his stalwart character, could possibly be taken in by that ideology” {36}.

Wahhabis attribute a place and direction to Allah

While accusing the masses of Muslims of being polytheists, Wahhabis themselves have differentiated themselves from other Muslims in their understanding of creed. Due to the Wahhabis’ adherence to an unorthodox, literal understanding of God’s Attributes, they believe without knowing that Allah has created or human attributes, and then attempt to hide their anthropomorphism by saying that they do not know ‘how’ Allah has such attributes. For example, Bilal Philips, a Wahhabi author and “scholar,” says in his book, “The Fundamentals of Tawheed”:

“He has neither corporeal body nor is He a formless spirit. He has a form befitting His majesty [italics mine], the like of which no man has ever seen or conceived, and which will only be seen (to the degree of man’s finite limitations) by the people of paradise.”

Discussing each part of his statement will shed light into his anthropomorphic mind. Bilal Philips says that “Allah has a form befitting His majesty…” What he confirms in his mind is that Allah definitely has a form. He even specifies the kind of form by saying: “He [Allah] has neither corporeal body…” meaning that Allah has a form that is not like the forms of creation, and then says, “nor is He a formless spirit. Then he says, “He has a form befitting His majesty…”

The problem with such statements to a Muslim is that they express blatant anthropomorphism. What Bilal Philips is doing here is attributing a “form” to God that, to him, nobody has ever seen. Therefore, Bilal Philips believes that God has some type of form, or non-corporeal body. No orthodox Sunni Muslim scholar has ever said such a thing because it contradicts the Qur’an, Sunnah, and the views of the well-known, illustrious scholars of Sunni Islam.

Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, one of the greatest mujtahid Sunni imams ever to have lived, refuted such anthropomorphic statements over a thousand years before Bilal Philps was born. The great Sunni Ash’ari scholar, Imam al-Baihaqi, in his Manaqib Ahmad relates with an authentic chain that Imam Ahmed said:

“A person commits an act of disbelief (kufr) if he says Allah is a body, even if he says: Allah is a body but not like other bodies.”

Imam Ahmad continues:

“The expressions are taken from language and from Islam, and linguists applied ‘body’ to a thing that has length, width, thickness, form, structure, and components. The expression has not been handed down in Shari’ah. Therefore, it is invalid and cannot be used.”

Imam Ahmed is a pious adherer of the time period of the Salaf that was praised by Prophet Muhammad who Bilal Philips contradicts. How can Bilal Philips claim to represent the pious forefathers of the Salaf?

Blatant anthropomorphism is also illustrated by the Wahhabi Ibn Baz’s commentary on the great work of Imam Abu Ja’afar at-Tahawi called “Aqeedah at-Tahawiyyah” (The Creed of Tahawi), a work that has been praised by the orthodox Sunni community as being representative of Sunni orthodoxy. The now deceased Ibn Baz was Saudi Arabia’s grand Mufti.

Article #38 of Imam Tahawi’s work states:

“He is beyond having limits placed on Him, or being restricted, or having parts or limbs. Nor is He contained by the six directions as all created entities are.”

Ibn Baz, in a footnote, comments in the way of anthropomorphism:

“Allah is beyond limits that we know but has limits He knows.”

In another footnote, he Ibn Baz says:

“By hudood (limits) the author [referring to Imam Tahawi] means [limits] such as known by humans since no one except Allah Almighty knows His limits.”

Ibn Baz deceptively attempts to represent the noble Sunni Imam al-Tahawi as an anthropomorphist by putting his own anthropomorphic interpretation of Imam Tahawi’s words in his mouth. It must be emphasized that not a single orthodox Sunni scholar understood Imam Tahawi’s statement as Ibn Baz did.

Ibn Baz also shows anthropomorphism in a commentary by the great Sunni scholar Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani. Ibn Baz says:

“As for Ahl ul-Sunna – and these are the Companions and those who followed them in excellence – they assert a direction for Allah, and that is the direction of elevation, believing that the Exalted is above the Throne without giving an example and without entering into modality.”

Another now deceased Wahhabi scholar, Muhammad Saleh al-Uthaymeen, blatantly expresses his anthropomorphism. He says:

“Allah’s establishment on the throne means that He is sitting ‘in person’ on His Throne.”

The great Sunni Hanbali scholar, Ibn al-Jawzi, had refuted anthropomorphists who were saying that Allah’s establishment is ‘in person’ hundreds of years ago:

“Whoever says: He is established on the Throne ‘in person’ (bi dhatihi), has diverted the sense of the verse to that of sensory perception. Such a person must not neglect that the principle is established by the mind, by which we have come to know Allah, and have attributed pre-eternity to Him decisively. If you said: We read the hadiths and keep quiet, no one would criticize you; it is only your taking them in the external sense which is hideous. Therefore do not bring into the school of this pious man of the Salaf – Imam Ahmad [Ibn Hanbal] – what does not belong in it. You have clothed this madhab [or school of jurisprudence] with an ugly deed, so that it is no longer said ‘Hanbali’ except in the sense of ‘anthropomorphism.’”

Sulayman ibn `Abdl Allah ibn Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab, the grandson of the Wahhabi movement’s founder, says:

“Whoever believes or says: Allah is in person (bi dhatihi) in every place, or in one place: he is a disbeliever (kafir). It is obligatory to declare that Allah is distinct from His creation, established over His Throne without modality or likeness or exemplarity. Allah was and there was no place, then He created place and He is exalted as He was before He created place.”

Just as Bilal Philips affirms a form to Allah,Ibn Baz confirms limits to Allah, and al-Uthaymeen confirms that Allah is literally sitting ‘in person’ on the Throne. All of them have loyally followed the footsteps of Ibn Taymiyyah and Muhammad ibn `Abdl-Wahhab who were instrumental in causing tribulation (fitna) and division among the Muslim masses because of their many unorthodox, anthropomorphist understandings of belief.

To an orthodox Sunni Muslim, the Throne is located in a particular direction and a certain place. By understanding Allah to be above the Throne literally as the Wahhabis do, they are attributing Allah with created attributes and, as a result, are implying that a part of the creation was eternal with Allah. This opposes what the the Qur’an and the following hadith authentically related by al-Bukhari says:

“Allah existed eternally and there was nothing else.”

Sunni orthodoxy clears Allah of all directions and places. To a Sunni, Allah has always existed without the need of a place, and He did not take a place for Himself after creating it. Orthodox Sunni scholars have said exactly what was understood by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his Companions (pbuth). Imam Abu Hanifah, the great mujtahid Imam who lived in the time period of the Salaf said: “Allah has no limits…”– period. And this is what Sunni orthodoxy represents.

Orthodox Sunni scholars oppose Wahhabism

I end this article with a selected list of orthodox Sunni scholars who have refuted Wahhabism and warned Muslims from its poison. The list of scholars, along with names of their books and related information, is quoted from the orthodox Sunni scholar Muhammad Hisham Kabbani {37}. I have extended the list of scholars against Wahhabism with additional research:

Al-Ahsa’i Al-Misri, Ahmad (1753-1826): Unpublished manuscript of a refutation of the Wahhabi sect. His son Shaykh Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn `Abd al-Latif al-Ahsa’i also wrote a book refuting them.

Al-Ahsa’i, Al-Sayyid `Abd al-Rahman: wrote a sixty-seven verse poem which begins with the verse:

Badat fitnatun kal layli qad ghattatil aafaaqa
wa sha“at fa kadat tublighul gharba wash sharaqa

[A confusion came about like nightfall covering the skies
and became widespread almost reaching the whole world]

Al-`Amrawi, `Abd al-Hayy, and `Abd al-Hakim Murad (Qarawiyyin University, Morocco): Al-tahdhir min al-ightirar bi ma ja’a fi kitab al-hiwar [“Warning Against Being Fooled By the Contents of the Book (by Ibn Mani`) A Debate With al-Maliki (an attack on Ibn `Alawi al-Maliki by a Wahhabi writer)”] (Fes: Qarawiyyin, 1984).

`Ata’ Allah al-Makki: al-sarim al-hindi fil `unuq al-najdi [“The Indian Scimitar on the Najdi’s Neck”].

Al-Azhari, `Abd Rabbih ibn Sulayman al-Shafi`i (The author of Sharh Jami’ al-Usul li ahadith al-Rasul, a basic book of Usul al-Fiqh: Fayd al-Wahhab fi Bayan Ahl al-Haqq wa man dalla `an al-sawab, 4 vols. [“Allah’s Outpouring in Differentiating the True Muslims From Those Who Deviated From the Truth”].

Al-`Azzami, `Allama al-shaykh Salama (d. 1379H): Al-Barahin al-sati`at [“The Radiant Proofs…”].

Al-Barakat al-Shafi`i al-Ahmadi al-Makki, `Abd al-Wahhab ibn Ahmad: unpublished manuscript of a refutation of the Wahhabi sect.

Al-Bulaqi, Mustafa al-Masri wrote a refutation to San`a’i’s poem in which the latter had praised Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab. It is in Samnudi’s “Sa`adat al-Darayn” and consists in 126 verses beginning thus:

Bi hamdi wali al-hamdi la al-dhammi astabdi
Wa bil haqqi la bil khalqi lil haqqi astahdi

[By the glory of the Owner of glory, not baseness, do I overcome;
And by Allah, not by creatures, do I seek guidance to Allah]

Al-Buti, Dr. Muhammad Sa`id Ramadan (University of Damascus): Al-salafiyyatu marhalatun zamaniyyatun mubarakatun la madhhabun islami [“The Salafiyya is a blessed historical period not an Islamic school of law”] (Damascus: Dar al-fikr, 1988); Al-lamadhhabiyya akhtaru bid`atin tuhaddidu al-shari`a al-islamiyya [“Non-madhhabism is the most dangerous innovation presently menacing Islamic law”] (Damascus: Maktabat al-Farabi, n.d.).

Al-Dahesh ibn `Abd Allah, Dr. (Arab University of Morocco), ed. Munazara `ilmiyya bayna `Ali ibn Muhammad al-Sharif wa al-Imam Ahmad ibn Idris fi al-radd `ala Wahhabiyyat Najd, Tihama, wa `Asir [“Scholarly Debate Between the Sharif and Ahmad ibn Idris Against the Wahhabis of Najd, Tihama, and `Asir”].

Dahlan, al-Sayyid Ahmad ibn Zayni (d. 1304/1886). Mufti of Mecca and Shaykh al-Islam (highest religious authority in the Ottoman jurisdiction) for the Hijaz region: al-Durar al-saniyyah fi al-radd ala al-Wahhabiyyah [“The Pure Pearls in Answering the Wahhabis”] pub. Egypt 1319 & 1347 H; Fitnat al-Wahhabiyyah [“The Wahhabi Fitna”]; Khulasat al-Kalam fi bayan Umara’ al-Balad al-Haram [“The Summation Concerning the Leaders of the Sacrosanct Country”], a history of the Wahhabi fitna in Najd and the Hijaz.

Al-Dajwi, Hamd Allah: al-Basa’ir li Munkiri al-tawassul ka amthal Muhd. Ibn `Abdul Wahhab [“The Evident Proofs Against Those Who Deny the Seeking of Intercession Like Muhammad Ibn `Abdul Wahhab”].

Shaykh al-Islam Dawud ibn Sulayman al-Baghdadi al-Hanafi (1815-1881 CE): al-Minha al-Wahbiyya fi radd al-Wahhabiyya [“The Divine Dispensation Concerning the Wahhabi Deviation”]; Ashadd al-Jihad fi Ibtal Da`wa al-Ijtihad [“The Most Violent Jihad in Proving False Those Who Falsely Claim Ijtihad”].

Al-Falani al-Maghribi, al-Muhaddith Salih: authored a large volume collating the answers of scholars of the Four Schools to Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab.

Al-Habibi, Muhammad `Ashiq al-Rahman: `Adhab Allah al-Mujdi li Junun al-Munkir al-Najdi [“Allah’s Terrible Punishment for the Mad Rejector From Najd”].

Al-Haddad, al-Sayyid al-`Alawi ibn Ahmad ibn Hasan ibn al-Qutb Sayyidi `Abd Allah ibn `Alawi al-Haddad al-Shafi`i: al-Sayf al-batir li `unq al-munkir `ala al-akabir [“The Sharp Sword for the Neck of the Assailant of Great Scholars”]. Unpublished manuscript of about 100 folios; Misbah al-anam wa jala’ al-zalam fi radd shubah al-bid`i al-najdi al-lati adalla biha al-`awamm [“The Lamp of Mankind and the Illumination of Darkness Concerning the Refutation of the Errors of the Innovator From Najd by Which He Had Misled the Common People”]. Published 1325H.

Al-Hamami al-Misri, Shaykh Mustafa: Ghawth al-`ibad bi bayan al-rashad [“The Helper of Allah’s Servants According to the Affirmation of Guidance”].

Al-Hilmi al-Qadiri al-Iskandari, Shaykh Ibrahim: Jalal al-haqq fi kashf ahwal ashrar al-khalq [“The Splendor of Truth in Exposing the Worst of People] (pub. 1355H).

Al-Husayni, `Amili, Muhsin (1865-1952). Kashf al-irtiyab fi atba` Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab [“The Dispelling of Doubt Concerning the Followers of Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab”]. [Yemen?]: Maktabat al-Yaman al-Kubra, 198?.

Ibn `Abd al-Latif al-Shafi`i, `Abd Allah: Tajrid sayf al-jihad `ala mudda`i al-ijtihad [“The drawing of the sword of jihad against the false claimants to ijtihad”].

The family of Ibn `Abd al-Razzaq al-Hanbali in Zubara and Bahrayn possess both manuscript and printed refutations by scholars of the Four Schools from Mecca, Madina, al-Ahsa’, al-Basra, Baghdad, Aleppo, Yemen and other Islamic regions.

Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab al-Najdi, `Allama al-Shaykh Sulayman, elder brother of Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab: al-Sawa’iq al-Ilahiyya fi al-radd ‘ala al-Wahhabiyya [“Divine Lightnings in Answering the Wahhabis”]. Ed. Ibrahim Muhammad al-Batawi. Cairo: Dar al-insan, 1987. Offset reprint by Waqf Ikhlas, Istanbul: Hakikat Kitabevi, 1994. Prefaces by Shaykh Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Kurdi al-Shafi`i and Shaykh Muhammad Hayyan al-Sindi (Muhammad Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab’s shaykh) to the effect that Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab is “dall mudill” (“misguided and misguiding”).

Ibn `Abidin al-Hanafi, al-Sayyid Muhammad Amin: Radd al-muhtar `ala al-durr al-mukhtar, Vol. 3, Kitab al-Iman, Bab al-bughat [“Answer to the Perplexed: A Commentary on “The Chosen Pearl,”” Book of Belief, Chapter on Rebels]. Cairo: Dar al-Tiba`a al-Misriyya, 1272 H.

Ibn `Afaliq al-Hanbali, Muhammad Ibn `Abdul Rahman: Tahakkum al-muqallidin bi man idda`a tajdid al-din [Sarcasm of the muqallids against the false claimants to the Renewal of Religion]. A very comprehensive book refuting the Wahhabi heresy and posting questions which Ibn `Abdul Wahhab and his followers were unable to answer for the most part.

Ibn Dawud al-Hanbali, `Afif al-Din `Abd Allah: as-sawa`iq wa al-ru`ud [“Lightnings and thunder”], a very important book in 20 chapters. According to the Mufti of Yemen Shaykh al-`Alawi ibn Ahmad al-Haddad, the mufti of Yemen, “This book has received the approval of the `ulama of Basra, Baghdad, Aleppo, and Ahsa’ [Arabian peninsula]. It was summarized by Muhammad ibn Bashir the qadi of Ra’s al-Khayma in Oman.”

Ibn Ghalbun al-Libi also wrote a refutation in forty verses of al-San`ani’s poem in which the latter had praised Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab. It is in Samnudi’s Sa`adat al-darayn and begins thus:

Salami `ala ahlil isabati wal-rushdi
Wa laysa `ala najdi wa man halla fi najdi

[My salutation is upon the people of truth and guidance
And not upon Najd nor the one who settled in Najd]

Ibn Khalifa `Ulyawi al-Azhari: Hadhihi `aqidatu al-salaf wa al-khalaf fi dhat Allahi ta`ala wa sifatihi wa af`alihi wa al-jawab al-sahih li ma waqa`a fihi al-khilaf min al-furu` bayna al-da`in li al-salafiyya wa atba` al-madhahib al-arba`a al-islamiyya [“This is the doctrine of the Predecessors and the Descendants concerning the divergences in the branches between those who call to al-salafiyya and the followers of the Four Islamic Schools of Law”] (Damascus: Matba`at Zayd ibn Thabit, 1398/1977.

Kawthari al-Hanafi, Muhammad Zahid. Maqalat al-Kawthari. (Cairo: al-Maktabah al-Azhariyah li al-Turath, 1994).

Al-Kawwash al-Tunisi, `Allama Al-Shaykh Salih: his refutation of the Wahhabi sect is contained in Samnudi’s volume: “Sa`adat al-darayn fi al-radd `ala al-firqatayn.”

Khazbek, Shaykh Hasan: Al-maqalat al-wafiyyat fi al-radd `ala al-wahhabiyyah [“Complete Treatise in Refuting the Wahhabis”].

Makhluf, Muhammad Hasanayn: Risalat fi hukm al-tawassul bil-anbiya wal-awliya [“Treatise on the Ruling Concerning the Use of Prophets and Saints as Intermediaries”].

Al-Maliki al-Husayni, Al-muhaddith Muhammad al-Hasan ibn `Alawi: Mafahimu yajibu an tusahhah [“Notions that should be corrected”] 4th ed. (Dubai: Hashr ibn Muhammad Dalmuk, 1986); Muhammad al-insanu al-kamil [“Muhammad, the Perfect Human Being”] 3rd ed. (Jeddah: Dar al-Shuruq, 1404/1984).

Al-Mashrifi al-Maliki al-Jaza’iri: Izhar al-`uquq mimman mana`a al-tawassul bil nabi wa al-wali al-saduq [“The Exposure of the Disobedience of Those Who Forbid Using the Intermediary of the Prophets and the Truthful Saints].

Al-Mirghani al-Ta’ifi, `Allama `Abd Allah ibn Ibrahim (d. 1793): Tahrid al-aghbiya’ `ala al-Istighatha bil-anbiya’ wal-awliya [“The Provocations of the Ignorant Against Seeking the Help of Prophets and Saints”] (Cairo: al-Halabi, 1939).

Mu’in al-Haqq al-Dehlawi (d. 1289): Sayf al-Jabbar al-maslul `ala a`da’ al-Abrar [“The Sword of the Almighty Drawn Against the Enemies of the Pure Ones”].

Al-Muwaysi al-Yamani, `Abd Allah ibn `Isa: Unpublished manuscript of a refutation of the Wahhabi sect.

Al-Nabahani al-Shafi`i, al-qadi al-muhaddith Yusuf ibn Isma`il (1850-1932): Shawahid al-Haqq fi al-istighatha bi sayyid al-Khalq (s) [“The Proofs of Truth in the Seeking of the Intercession of the Prophet”].

Al-Qabbani al-Basri al-Shafi`i, Allama Ahmad ibn `Ali: A manuscript treatise in approximately 10 chapters.

Al-Qadumi al-Nabulusi al-Hanbali: `AbdAllah: Rihlat [“Journey”].

Al-Qazwini, Muhammad Hasan, (d. 1825). Al-Barahin al-jaliyyah fi raf` tashkikat al-Wahhabiyah [“The Plain Demonstrations That Dispel the Aspersions of the Wahhabis”]. Ed. Muhammad Munir al-Husayni al-Milani. 1st ed. Beirut: Mu’assasat al-Wafa’, 1987.

Al-Qudsi: al-Suyuf al-Siqal fi A`naq man ankara `ala al-awliya ba`d al-intiqal [“The Burnished Swords on the Necks of Those Who Deny the Role of Saints After Their Leaving This World”].

Al-Rifa`i, Yusuf al-Sayyid Hashim, President of the World Union of Islamic Propagation and Information: Adillat Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama`at aw al-radd al-muhkam al-mani` `ala munkarat wa shubuhat Ibn Mani` fi tahajjumihi `ala al-sayyid Muhammad `Alawi al-Maliki al-Makki [“The Proofs of the People of the Way of the Prophet and the Muslim Community: or, the Strong and Decisive Refutation of Ibn Mani`’s Aberrations and Aspersions in his Assault on Muhammad `Alawi al-Maliki al-Makki”] (Kuwait: Dar al-siyasa, 1984).

Al-Samnudi al-Mansuri, al-`Allama al-Shaykh Ibrahim: Sa`adat al-darayn fi al-radd `ala al-firqatayn al-wahhabiyya wa muqallidat al-zahiriyyah [“Bliss in the Two Abodes: Refutation of the Two Sects, Wahhabis and Zahiri Followers”].

Al-Saqqaf al-Shafi`i, Hasan ibn `Ali, Islamic Research Intitute, Amman, Jordan: al-Ighatha bi adillat al-istighatha wa al-radd al-mubin `ala munkiri al-tawassul [“The Mercy of Allah in the Proofs of Seeking Intercession and the Clear Answer to Those who Reject it”]; Ilqam al hajar li al-mutatawil `ala al-Asha`ira min al-Bashar [“The Stoning of All Those Who Attack Ash’aris”]; Qamus shata’im al-Albani wa al-alfaz al-munkara al-lati yatluquha fi haqq ulama al-ummah wa fudalai’ha wa ghayrihim… [“Encyclopedia of al-Albani’s Abhorrent Expressions Which He Uses Against the Scholars of the Community, its Eminent Men, and Others…”] Amman : Dar al-Imam al-Nawawi, 1993.

Al-Sawi al-Misri: Hashiyat `ala al-jalalayn [“Commentary on the Tafsir of the Two Jalal al-Din”].

Sayf al-Din Ahmed ibn Muhammad: Al-Albani Unveiled: An Exposition of His Errors and Other Important Issues, 2nd ed. (London: s.n., 1994).

Al-Shatti al-Athari al-Hanbali, al-Sayyid Mustafa ibn Ahmad ibn Hasan, Mufti of Syria: al-Nuqul al-shar’iyyah fi al-radd ‘ala al-Wahhabiyya [“The Legal Proofs in Answering the Wahhabis”].

Al-Subki, al-hafiz Taqi al-Din (d. 756/1355): Al-durra al-mudiyya fi al-radd `ala Ibn Taymiyya, ed. Muhammad Zahid al-Kawthari [“The Luminous Pearl: A Refutation of Ibn Taymiyya”]; Al-rasa’il al-subkiyya fi al-radd `ala Ibn Taymiyya wa tilmidhihi Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, ed. Kamal al-Hut [“Subki’s treatises in Answer to Ibn Taymiyya and his pupil Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya”] (Beirut: `Alam al-Kutub, 1983); Al-sayf al-saqil fi al-radd `ala Ibn Zafil [“The Burnished Sword in Refuting Ibn Zafil (Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya)” Cairo: Matba`at al-Sa`ada, 1937; Shifa’ al-siqam fi ziyarat khayr al-anam [“The healing of the sick in visiting the Best of Creation”].

Sunbul al-Hanafi al-Ta’ifi, Allama Tahir: Sima al-Intisar lil awliya’ al-abrar [“The Mark of Victory Belongs to Allah’s Pure Friends”].

(Shi’ah scholar) Al-Tabataba’i al-Basri, al-Sayyid: also wrote a reply to San`a’i’s poem which was excerpted in Samnudi’s Sa`adat al-Darayn. After reading it, San`a’i reversed his position and said: “I have repented from what I said concerning the Najdi.”

Al-Tamimi al-Maliki, `Allama Isma`il (d. 1248), Shaykh al-Islam in Tunis: wrote a refutation of a treatise of Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab.

Al-Wazzani, al-Shaykh al-Mahdi, Mufti of Fes, Morocco: Wrote a refutation of Muhammad `Abduh’s prohibition of tawassul.

al-Zahawi al-Baghdadi, Jamil Effendi Sidqi (d. 1355/1936): al-Fajr al-Sadiq fi al-radd ‘ala munkiri al-tawassul wa al-khawariq [“The True Dawn in Refuting Those Who Deny the Seeking of Intercession and the Miracles of Saints”] Pub. 1323/1905 in Egypt.

Al-Zamzami al-Shafi`i, Muhammad Salih, Imam of the Maqam Ibrahim in Mecca, wrote a book in 20 chapters against them according to al-Sayyid al-Haddad.

Ahmad, Qeyamuddin. The Wahhabi movement in India. 2nd rev. ed. New Delhi : Manohar, 1994.

Other orthodox Sunni scholars who have opposed Wahhabism (author’s research):

Shaykh Hussain Ahmad al-Madani

Shaykh Ahmed Raza Barelawi (“Fatawa ul-Haramain”)

Shaykh Ahmad Ghummari

Shaykh Muhammad Baqhit al-Muti’i

Shaykh Shu`ayb al-Arna`ut

Sayyid Abdu-r-Rehman, Mufti of Zabid

Sayyid Muhammad Atta`ullah Beg (“Wahhabilere Rediyya”)

Hadhrat Mustafa ibn Ibrahim Siyami (“Nur-ul-Yaqin”)

Shaykh Ayyub Sabri Pasha

Sayyid Abdul-Hakim al-Marwasi (“Kashkul”)

Maliki commentator of Qur’anic exegisis, Shaykh Ahmed Sawi:

He provides commentary for the following verse of the Qur’an: “Truly, the Devil is an enemy to you, so take him as an enemy: he only calls his party to become of the inhabitants of the blaze” (Qur’an 35:6).


“It is said this verse was revealed about the Kharijites [foretelling their appearance], who altered the interpretation of the Qur’an and sunna, on the strength of which they declared it lawful to kill and take the property of Muslims—as may now be seen in their modern counterparts; namely, a sect in the Hijaz called “Wahhabis,” who “think they are on something, truly they are the liars. Satan has gained mastery over them and made them forget Allah’s remembrance. Those are Satan’s party, truly Satan’s party, they are the losers” (Qur’an 58:18–19). We ask Allah Most Generous to extirpate them completely” (Sawi: Hashiya al-Sawi ‘ala al-Jalalayn, 3.255). [Cited from Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller; Mas’ud Ahmad Khan’s web page on Islam, under “The Re-formers of Islam”]

Hadhrat Shah Ahmad Said Dahlawi (“Tahqiq ul-haqqil Mubin”)

Shaykh Muhammad Abu Zuhra (“Tarih ul-Madhahib il-Islamiyyah”)

Mufti Ahmad Sahib (“Raddi Wahhabi”)

Mawlana Muhammad Kutyy (“Kitab-us-Sunni”)

Shaykh Muhammad Hilmi Effendi (“Mizan-ush-Sharia Burhan ut-Tariqa”)

Sayyid Ahmad Hamawi (“Nafahat-ul-qurbwal-ittisal bi-ithbat-it-tasarrufi li awliya-illahi ta’ala wal-karamati ba’dal-intiqal”)

Shaykh Muhammad Abdur-Rehman Silhati (“Sayf-ul-abrar-il-maslul”)

Scholar Ahmad Baba, from Ghana (“Sayf-ul-haqq”)

Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller

Shaykh Abd al-Hakim Murad

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks

Works Cited
(Because this article was written many years ago, all links may not work. Non-functioning links below are in the process of being updated)

[1] Hooper, John and Whitaker, Brian (2001). “Extremist view of Islam Unites Terror Suspects: Salafi Purist Teaching Backed by Saudi Royals.” The Guardian. Friday October 26.

[2] Karatnycky, Adrian (2001). “Under Our Very Noses. The Terrorist Next Door,” National Review, November 5. Available on Freedom House website:

[3] Ibid., Hooper and Whitaker.

[4] Under Our Very Noses. The Terrorist Next Door,” National Review, November 5, 2001, by Adrian Karatnycky; Available on Freedom House website:

[5] Throughout the article, “pbuh” means “peace be upon him,” and “pbuth” means “peace be upon them.”

[6] Rashid, Ahmed. (2001). Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil & Fundamentalism in Central Asia. Yale University Press. pg. 201.

[7] Ibid., Rashid. pg. 201. Footnote #12; cites Obaid, Nawaf, “Improving US Intelligence Analysis on the Saudi Arabian Decision Making Process,” Harvard University, 1998.

[8] Ibid., Rashid. pg. 264. Footnote #11.

[9] BBC News online. “American Taleban’s Yemen Connection,” by Richard Engel. Friday, 18 January, 2002. Available:

[10] AFP, “Laden planned a global Islamic revolution in 1995,” August 27, 1998. (Cited from Rashid’s Taliban, pg.256, footnote #6).

[11] Ibid., Rashid. pg. 131.

[12] Cooley, John J. (2000). Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism. New Edition. Pluto Press. pg. 40.

[13] Ibid., Cooley. pg. 40.

[14] Lacy, Robert. The Kingdom: Arabia & the House of Sa’ud. p. 59.

[15] This is Our Country, published by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Information, copyright 1991. pg. 7.

[16] Ibid., This is Our Country, pg. 8 footnote.

[17] Ibid., This is Our Country, pg. 7.

[18] Ibid., This is Our Country,pg. 8.

[19] Saudi Arabian Information Resource. A website of the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information. Available:

[20] Ibid., Lacey. pg. 63, footnote.

[21] Ibid., Lacey. pg. 63, footnote.


[23] Zahawi, Jamal E (1996) “The Doctrine of Ahl al-Sunna Versus the ‘Salafi’ Movement.” Translated by Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani. As-Sunna Foundation of America.

[24] For example, orthodox Sunni scholar Abu Ala Bukhari accused people of unbelief (kufr) if they called Ibn Taymiyah “Shaykh”. Imam Zahid al-Kawthari accused Ibn Taymiyah’s positions on the creed to be tantamount to apostasy.

[25] Gilles, Kepel. Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam. pg. 317.

[26] Ibid., Kepel. pg. 318.

[27] Ibid., Kepel. pg. 72.

[28] Sivan, Emmanuel. Radical Islam: Medieval Theology and Modern Politics. Yale University Press, New Haven and London. pg. 102-103.

[29] Kabbani, Hisham M (1996). Islamic Beliefs & Doctrine According to Ahl al-Sunna A Repudiation of “Salafi” Innovations. Volume I. As-Sunna Foundation of America.

[30] Ibid., Zahawi.

[31] Safran, Nadav. (1988). Saudi Arabia: The Ceaseless Quest for Security. Cornell University Press: Ithaca, NY. Pg. 12.

[32] Ibid., Safran. pg. 11.

[33] Bagot, Blubb, Sir J. (1961). War in the Desert .New York: Norton. Pg. 44.

[34] Abdul Aziz ibn Abdullah ibn Baz. “Shaykh Muhammad Ibn Abdul-Wahhab.” Available:

[35] Moussaoui, Abd Samad (with Florence Bouquillat). Zacarias, My Brother. Seven Stories Press. New York. 2003. p.111.

[36] Ibid., Moussaoui. pg.111.

[37] Ibid., Zahawi. pp. 7-15.

– Does CAIR Represent Most American Muslims?

(© Zubair Qamar 2014)


There has been much suspicion by many Americans about an organization called the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). CAIR, one of the largest organizations in the US that claims to promote civil advocacy on behalf of American Muslims, would like to represent most or all American Muslims in the United States, just as any other American Muslim advocacy organization would.

Perhaps due to CAIR’s wide presence in the US with national and local chapters spread across the country, and its alleged links to extremist groups, CAIR often attracts the attention of the media. CAIR representatives, for example, have frequently appeared in Fox News, including in the Bill O’Reilly show. This is not surprising considering the words of CAIR Executive Director, Nihad Awad, who in his own words in 1994 said that he was

 “in support of the Hamas movement more than the PLO.”

The above words of course do not necessarily mean Nihad Awad espouses the same view today as he did 20 years ago. Moreover, the posting of the video from Steve Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism website should not be construed as an agreement of all that Emerson projects about Islam and Muslims.

Emerson’s credentials, shoddy reporting, and alliances with Islamophobic “experts” are well known. While he has some useful information on his website, he mixes this information with false allegations, such as his portrayal of Muslim moderates like Hamza Yusuf and Zaid Shakir as extremists, and even describing a moderate, non-Muslim author and professor, John Esposito, as an apologist of Islamism.

As a result of media attention, CAIR is projected on television screens of millions of viewers.  This exposure has resulted in a mistaken image by many that CAIR is the representative of Muslims in the US, just as CAIR would like to be seen.

Any allegation, whether true or not, against CAIR for ties to extremism sheds a negative light on millions of Muslims. This causes many to erroneously paint CAIR and the Muslim masses, especially in the US, with the same brush as if their understandings of Islam and politics, as well as their goals, are the same. Muslim and Islam haters use this as fodder to confirm their wrong suspicions that Muslims in the US, through representatives such as CAIR, aim to infiltrate and/or take over the United States.

Who is to blame? Both the media and CAIR are at fault because, I believe, they feed on each other to attain their own respective aims and benefits while ignoring the views of America’s Muslim majority. This includes what the majority of Muslims in the US believe about the Muslim organizations that represent them. And this brings us to a very important question:

 Which Muslim organizations do American Muslims believe represent them?

To clear the confusion caused by both the media and CAIR, the answer to this question was fortunately answered in a Gallup Poll conducted from 2008 to 2011. The survey report, “Muslim Americans: Faith, Freedom, and the Future” was released by Gallup in August 2011.

In the report, American Muslims were asked:

Which American Muslim organization most represents your interests?

The results for CAIR, the organization of concern, are:

 CAIR: 12% males; 11% females

The results are clear that the vast majority of American Muslims do not believe that CAIR represents them. This means that one cannot paint CAIR and other American Muslims with the same brush, no matter what Fox News portrays or who CAIR says it represents.

But how do the majority of American Muslims feel they are represented by other Muslim organizations in the US? The results are just as interesting:

-Islamic Society of North American (ISNA): 4% males; 7% females

-Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC): 6% males; 1% females

-MAS: 0% males; 2% females

-Imam W.D. Muhammad Group: 3% males; 1% females

-Islamic Circle of North American (ICNA): 2% males; 0% females

-Other: 6% males; 20% females

-None: 55% males; 42% females

While CAIR has minimal support by American Muslims, other organizations are supported even less. This does not mean that CAIR represents American Muslims. It means that there is a crisis of leadership among Muslims in the United States – if the American Muslim majority even chooses to be represented by any organization.

The myth of American Muslims’ support for CAIR, as well as what the media and CAIR wrongly portray, has been laid bare. This is bad news to Muslim organizations that seem to pretend to represent the American Muslim majority when they actually do not, and also for media “pundits” and Islamophobes who do not educate and inform the American public, but contribute to magnifying a distorted and unrealistic understanding of what the majority of American Muslims really think.

– Sunnis Against Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).

(© Zubair Qamar 2013)



Professor Sohail Hashimi says:

“So far, no systematic work has been done by Muslim scholars on how nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons relate to the Islamic ethics of war. This is an astonishing fact in light of the development of nuclear technology by several Muslim countries and the repeated use of chemical weapons by Iraq.”

Even more unfortunate, the acquisition of WMDs was and is a goal of al-Qa’eda. Militant preachers were quick to recognize and fill in this gap.

Osama bin Laden in a 1998 Time interview with Rahimullah Yusufzai made that crystal clear, in which Rahimullah asked bin Laden,

“The U.S. says you are trying to acquire chemical and nuclear weapons. How would you use these?”

Osama bin Laden responded,

“Acquiring weapons for the defense of Muslims is a religious duty. If I have indeed acquired these weapons, then I thank God for enabling me to do so. And if I seek to acquire these weapons, I am carrying out a duty. It would be a sin for Muslims not to try to possess the weapons that would prevent the infidels from inflicting harm on Muslims.”

In a 2001 interview by Pakistani journalist, Hamid Mir, Osama reiterated this support. In the same interview, al-Zawahiri boasted,

“If you have $30 million, go to the black market in central Asia, contact any disgruntled Soviet scientist, and a lot of dozens of smart briefcase bombs are available. They have contacted us, we sent our people to Moscow to Tashkent to other central Asian states, and they negotiated and we purchased some suitcase bombs.”

Al-Zawahiri, known to be a braggadocio and manipulator, may have been overdramatic in this interview to stir fear in the masses. But his desire to acquire such weapons and harm the masses is real. It is to be noted that OBL explicitly advocated the possession of a nuclear weapon as a deterrent. However, one need not have an explicit statement from OBL that advocates usage. OBL clearly believes that killing Muslim and non-Muslim civilians is permissible.

OBL and other militants have never specified a limit or threshold of how many innocent Muslims can be killed as “collateral damage” in such attacks, which makes the use of nuclear weapons (and other WMD) – or any other weapon for that matter – perfectly valid from the militant perspective. As long as such weapons are used on “infidels,” that is what matters, no matter how many Muslims are massacred in the process.

Addressing the matter of “collateral damage” of innocents from the Sunni point of view is therefore a key argument against militants who have a distorted understanding of the matter.  (The manipulation of al-Tatarrus by al-Qa’eda, the “law on the use of human shields,” is discussed in another post.)

Because of this surprising gap in knowledge, and perhaps induced by al-Qa’eda’s repeated desire to acquire WMD, extremists capitalized on this by filling in the gap and producing perhaps the first in-depth “fatwa” on WMD in 2003 that “justified” its use from a militant perspective. The notorious pro-WMD fatwa was by the Saudi Wahhabi extremist, Nasir al-Fahd, who was a student of the late Hamoud al-Oqala al-Shu’aybi, who endorsed the September 11th 2001 attacks. Two other extremists of the “Shu’aybi school,” Ali al-Khudair and Ahmed al-Khaldi, also endorsed the pro-WMD fatwa. Though they later recanted, surely by pressure from Saudi authorities, militants nevertheless found the justification they needed for the use of WMD.

This was reflected in al-Zawahiri’s  Exoneration where he took from Nasir al-Fahd’s so-called fatwa and expanded on it to ensure that any use of such weapons was completely justified Islamically:

“Nasir al-Fahd’s 2003 fatwa is built in its entirety into Exoneration: the same ideas, thoughts, examples and scholars to justify equal retaliation—“repaying like for like”. The similarities between the two texts are nothing short of striking. Virtually every single cleric, scholar, and example used by al-Fahd to justify the use of WMD has been resurrected in near-symmetry throughout “Exoneration”. While a handful of the same individuals were cited by both al-Fahd and Zawahiri to justify different issues, nearly 30 authors were identically sourced with correlating content. Indeed, Zawahiri tended to expand on the thoughts and ideas of al-Fahd by diving into a more comprehensive justification with even further citations.”

(Source: Rolf Mowatt-Larssen. (January 2011). “Islam and the Bomb: Religious Justification for and Against Nuclear Weapons. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Kennedy School of Government. p.35.)

Mufti Ali Gomaa’s Fatwa Against WMDs

Fortunately, Egypt’s Mufti, Ali Gomaa, gave a Fatwa against the use of WMD which can be used to counter al-Qa’eda and other militants.

Below are excerpts from a Fatwa by Mufti Ali Gomaa against the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).

(Beginning of quoted Fatwa excerpts from Mufti Ali Gomaa)

Recently, various sects and groups issued several publications asserting the permissibility of using weapons of mass destruction against non-Islamic countries claiming that their allegetions conform to Islamic law. They substantiate their claims with proof from some juristic texts, and on analogy to turs [En. human shield], tabyīt [En. surprising the enemy at night] and tahrīq [En. killing with fire] mentioned in some books of Islamic jurisprudence.

Possessing these kinds of weapons to deter enemies is a requirement of Islamic law. This is evidenced by the words of Allah: “And prepare against them whatever you are able of power and steeds of war by which you may terrify the enemy of Allah and your enemy”

In his interpretation of the verse, the luminary, al-Alusi, said: “Anything that can be used as a deterrence in war” [10/24 Dar al-Turath al-Arabi]. In the previous verse Allah commands Muslims to deter their enemies who may be inclined to attack Muslims. Apart from being a principle of Islamic law that factors in punishments and disciplinary actions, deterrence is also a legitimate political principle sanctioned by states in their defense policies and established in military strategies.

It is well known that acquiring and possessing WMDs creates strategic and military bal- ance between states and serves to deter any state that is tempted to launch a hostile attack against a Muslim country therefore preventing them from being dragged into an undesired war. This applies to acquiring WMDs and using them to deter enemies and oppressors. There is a difference between acquiring these weapons to deter potential aggressors and between initiating their use.

The scenario of initiating the use of WMDs which is based on the personal reasoning and opinions of individual sects, factions, and groups is prohibited by Islamic law. Any opinion that maintains its permissibility or attributes it to Islamic law and its scholars is a false claim and accusation against [sacred] law and religion. This is substantiated by the following:

The decision to declare war

The principle in war is that it should be launched with the authorization of the Muslim ruler; it is imperative that the decision to declare war be based on his own reasoning and his subjects must obey him. A ruler is authorized to declare war due to his knowledge of evident and hidden matters, the consequences of actions and the interest of his people. For this reason, a ruler is authorized to declare wars and hold domestic or international treaties as soon as he assumes office. In turn, he does not issue decisions based on [personal] whims. He declares a war only after consulting specialists in every relevant field such as technical specialists, military personnel, and political consultants who are indispensable in the military strategy.

A person or persons who independently determine the use of WMDs not only impose their opinion on their rulers but on the entire [Muslim] community. They give themselves the right to make decisions relating to the destiny of the entire community without recourse to ahl al-hall wal-’aqd [En. those who are qualified to elect or dispose of a ruler on behalf of the Muslim community] in matters that expose the country or people to great dangers.

Breach of international agreements and treaties

Islamic states must abide by the agreements and treaties that they acknowledged and entered into on their own accord; standing firmly with the international community towards achieving global peace and security [only] to the extent of the commitment of the signatory countries.

Using WMDs involves killing people and taking them by surprise

Abu Hurairra (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “A believer is not to kill [others]. Faith is a deterrent to killing”. Ibn al-Athir said: “Killing [here] means taking others by surprise and killing them while they are unprepared” [Al-Nihaya fi Gharib al-Hadith wa al-Athar 3/775]. The hadith means that faith is a deterrent to attacking others suddenly while they are unprepared. The Prophet’s words: “A believer is not to attack [others] by surprise” is a clear prohibition since it involves deception. Khubayb al-Ansarī (may Allah be pleased with him) was captured by the polytheists and sold in Mecca to Banī al-Hārith ibn ‘Amir ibn Nawfal ibn abd Manāf. It was Khubayb who killed al-Hārith ibn ‘Amir in the battle of Badr. He remained a prison- er with them for some time. Once, he asked the daughter of al-Harith for a razor to shave and placed her son on his lap. When she came upon this scene and saw Khubayb holding the razor in his hand and her son on his lap, she became scared. Thereupon, Khubayb said to her: “Are you afraid that I might kill him? I will never do that.” She said: “I never saw a captive better than Khubayb.” This is an example of a Muslim imprisoned by his enemies who plotted to kill him. In spite of being on the verge of death, he refrained from killing their son when he had the opportunity to do so. The manners of a Muslim are free from deception and killing others by surprise.

Killing and harming women and children

Al-Bukhari and Muslim reported through Abdullah ibn Umar (may Allah be pleased with them both) that a woman was found dead in one of the battles fought by the Prophet. There- upon he condemned killing women and children. Another phrasing of the hadith states: “The messenger of Allah forbade killing women and children.” Imam al-Nawawi said: “There is a scholarly consensus on putting this hadith in practice as long as the women and children do not fight [the Muslims]. If they do, the majority of scholars maintain that they should be killed” [Sharh Muslim 12/48].

Killing and harming Muslim residents of the target countries

Targeting other countries with WMDs will endanger the lives of Muslims residents, natives or visitors. The noble Shari’ah honors the life of Muslims and warns against shedding their blood without right. Allah Almighty says: “But whoever kills a believer intentionally—his recompense is Hell, wherein he will abide eternally, and Allah has become angry with him and has cursed him and has prepared for him a great punishment.” [Al-Nisa`]

On that account: We ordained for the children of Israel that if any one kills a person—unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land—it would be as if he killed the whole people, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all people [Al-Maeda. Abdullah ibn ‘Amr (may Allah be pleased with them both) narrated that the Prophet said: “The perishing of this world is easier in the sight of Allah than taking a Muslim’s life” [Sunan al-Nassa’i].

The ramifications of using WMDs

Such a foolish act will bring about catastrophes not only upon Muslims but upon the entire world because the countries under attack may retaliate either in kind or in a more brutal manner. Moreover, the destructive effects of some of these weapons may exceed the targeted area and spread by wind to other countries not involved in the conflict. Hence, the immedi- ate and far reaching evils of WMDs are greater than the benefits, if any. It is worthy to men- tion at this point that preventing harm is among the principles of Islamic law. This is based on legal maxim, “Preventing harm takes precedence over gaining benefit.”

Consequences of using WMD

Some of these weapons damage individual and public properties, wasting wealth which is forbidden by Islamic law. The prohibition is greater if the wasted wealth belongs to the oppressed. Thus, this prohibition lies in violating Islamic law on the one hand and the rights of others on the other.

The use of some of these weapons may require the perpetrator to enter the target

Permission to enter a country is considered a non-verbal security agreement not to cause corruption in the host country.

Imam al-Khurqī said in his Mukhtasr: “Whoever enters enemy lands in safety is not allowed to cheat them of their money.” Commenting on this statement, Ibn Qudāma said that it is prohibited to betray them [non-Muslims in non-Muslim countries] because there is an unspoken covenant to enter in safety on the condition that the person who seeks permission to enter a foreign country does not betray or oppress them. So whoever enters our lands in safety and betrays us violates this security agreement. This is prohibited because it involves treachery which is forbidden in our religion. [Al-Mughni 9/237].

The legal and juristic texts used as evidence to spread this extreme idea are taken out of context. Using these texts in such a manner disturbs peace, ignoring the differences between states of war and peace, and the special rulings pertaining to each of them. This is a compel- ling difference that is inconsistent with using WMDs weapons based on textual evidence on the permissibility of tabīt and ramy al turs. It is a grave mistake to make this analogy even though they are valid in themselves within the context cited by the authors of these texts. It is dangerous to take these rulings from their context and apply them to different situations. Moreover, it is impermissible to derive a ruling permitting the use of WMDs against an op- pressor based on analogy since it is established that there is a difference between the rulings for repelling an aggressor and those of jihad [En. fighting for the cause of Allah]. These in- clude repelling the aggressor by the least violent means. If it is possible to resolve the conflict in a peaceful manner, it is prohibited to use weapons against the aggressor. Using WMDs against others is not consistent with Islamic values.

It is invalid to base the permissibility of using WMDs on analogy [Ar.qiyās] to tabyīt, using the catapult, or tahrīq

There are great and manifest differences between the two situations. The prophetic traditions mentioned on tahrīq, tabyīn, and the catapult were narrated in a state of war; there is a differ- ence between a state of war and peace. There is a great difference in the effects of throwing stones at the enemy using the catapult and between using WMDs. The effects of the catapult are relatively restricted as compared to the effects of WMDs. The above methods of warfare mentioned in the prophetic traditions were conducted with the approval of rulers. Giving a person, [other than a ruler], the right to declare war is a crime against the [Islamic] community and its rulers under the pretext of jihad.

Even if we assume the authenticity of these prophetic traditions, we must note that they refer to specific incidents and cannot be put into general practice. For this reason, some scholars maintained that the principle [in war] is to avoid tabyīt, tahrīq, and destruction; they base their opinion on the general religious texts which discuss the ethics of war.

Our opinion is that WMDs that cause fires must not be used due to the prohibition of burning. After ordering his troops to use fire, the prophet forbade its implementation as a weap- on even though the Muslims were in a state of war. Abū Hurayrah narrated that the prophet [pbuh] said: “Allah alone has the right to punish with fire” [Bukhārī]. It is known that many WMDs cause huge fires, therefore it is better to ban their use even in a state of war.

It is a mistake to base the issue of the use of WMDs on tabyit because scholars restricted its permissibility by the following: It must be implemented in a state of war. The enemy must be from among those whom Muslims are permitted to fight as compared to the enemy with whom Muslims have a truce. It is impermissible to attack the enemy under the cover of night because it is a violation of the security pact between them in terms of lives, wealth, and hon- or. If it is prohibited to attack under the cover of darkness the enemy with whom Muslims have a security pact, then it is even more prohibited to use such lethal weapons against them.

Human Shields

It is impermissible to use human shields save in state of war and under specific conditions detailed by jurists. [Bahr Ra`iq 80\5, Hashiyat ibn ‘Abī Dīn 223\3, Rawdat al Tablibīn 239\10, Mughnī al Muhtāj 223\4, Mughni ibn Qudāma 449\8, 386/10].

(end of quoted Fatwa excerpts from Mufti Ali Gomaa)

– Al-Tatarrus: Al-Qa’eda’s Manipulation of the “Law on Using Human Shields”.

(© Zubair Qamar 2013)

Al-Qa’eda and other militants manipulate the issue of human shields in Sunni Islam to justify their killing of masses of civilians. It is well-known that most of al-Qa’eda’s victims have been civilians. Their claim that such “collateral damage” is necessary belies the Sunni tradition they claim to follow.

Using classical Sunni sources, Egypt’s Mufti, Ali Gomaa, said,

“It is impermissible to use human shields save in state of war and under specific conditions detailed by jurists.”
[Bahr Ra`iq 80\5, Hashiyat ibn ‘Abī Dīn 223\3, Rawdat al Tablibīn 239\10, Mughnī al Muhtāj 223\4, Mughni ibn Qudāma 449\8, 386/10]

Classical Sunni jurists differed in their understanding of what these “conditions” were. Regarding “Muslim individuals, in general, or Muslim prisoners of war, or individuals from ahl al-dhimmah (non-Muslim citizens of the dar al-Islam), or any individuals” living in countries that have peace accords, Ahmed al-Dawoody in The Islamic Law of War (p.117) says, in regards to targeting them in a legitimately sanctioned war against the enemy:

“al-Awza’i, the Maliki jurists, al-Lu’lu’i, Abu Thawr, al-Layth, and Ahmed ibn Hanbal, it is impermissible to attack the enemy if they take as human shields Muslims, dhimmis, or any individuals who belong to a country which which Muslims have a peace accord.”

However, according to

“…the majority of… jurists, including Abu Hanifah, Abu Yusuf… and al-Thawri, advocate that it is permissible … to attack the enemy because of military necessity, provided that the Muslim army intends to direct its attack against the combatants and avoid the human shields.”

While Sunni jurists differ in their views of al-tattarus, their disagreements lay within the confines of their understandings of what constitutes a legitimate combative jihad. Many of these conditions, including having a ruler proclaim jihad, not killing civilians, having war between two armies (and not vigilante groups like al-Qa’eda) are violated by terrorists today. Therefore, the discussion of al-tattarus by terrorists is misplaced because it does not apply to the actions of terrorists who have violated conditions that are required for any discussion of al-tattarus and related aspects of war to take place. (Read this post to learn the differences between combative jihad and terrorism, and this post to understand how classical Sunni Islam is against terrorism.)

Moreover, Sayyed Imam al-Sharif, the radical who was considered a religious guide to al-Qa’eda, and who had a fallout with al-Zawahiri, also spoke against al-Qa’eda’s methods in regards to human shields. In describing Sayyed Imam’s understanding of the matter, researcher Marwan Shehadeh, says:

“The second concept that Sayyed Imam criticizes is al-tatarrus, an important concept in the context of the combative jihadist doctrine of al-Qaeda and the violent jihadist Salafist movement. Al-tatarrus refers to enemy soldiers’ practice of using in­nocent Muslim civilians as shields directly or indirectly during confrontation, which entails, in cases of clashes with non-Muslim soldiers, killing the civilians. Historically, Muslims experienced al-tatarrus in many battles, and therefore scholars determined precise conditions for permitting the killing of shielded soldiers. They also obligated military leaders not to expand the application of this concept themselves, i.e. not to use non-Muslim civilians as shields for Muslim soldiers in order to preserve human life. Scholars classified al-tatarrus under the “necessities” that can only be resorted to in cases of absolute need. However, al-tatarrus has been greatly abused by contempo­rary jihadist groups who ignored most of the constraints and conditions that scholars agreed upon unanimously. Killings started to target innocent civilians without ob­serving those restrictions and conditions or considering the preventions that guard against the spilling of “protected” blood based on insubstantial excuses and argu­ments. Perhaps all post Sept. 11 bombings involved lack of commitment on behalf of these groups to the concept of al-tatarrus and its constraints.”

Abdullah Warius and Jarret Brachman were on the mark and in line with traditional Sunni Islam when they explained the twisted understanding of al-Tatarrus by al-Qa’eda, and how it contradicted the understanding of 14 centuries of Islamic scholarship:

“In the course of defending al-Qa`ida against charges of unjustly killing innocent Muslims during his April 2, 2008 “open interview,” Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri reintroduced Hukm al-Tatarrus (the law on using human shields) into the debate. A relatively unfamiliar term to non-Muslims and Muslims alike, al-Tatarrus refers to God’s sanctioning of Muslim armies that are forced to kill other Muslims who are being used as human shields by an enemy during a time of war. Al-Tatarrus is a religiously legitimate, albeit obscure, Islamic concept that al-Qa`ida ideologues have been increasingly using in order to exculpate themselves from charges of apostasy. The method in which al-Qa`ida is promoting al-Tatarrus, however, seeks to facilitate the sacrifice of Muslim lives in contravention of 14 centuries of religious teachings. For instance, both al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula and the al-Qa`ida Organization in Yemen hid behind the protections offered by al-Tatarrus in their justification of terrorist attacks that resulted in significant Muslim casualties.”

Warius and Brachman continue to explain in detail how Abu Yahya al-Libi manipulated the traditional Islamic understanding of al-Tatarrus to serve his own (read: al-Qa’eda’s) nefarious ends:

“Abu Yahya begins his theological upheaval by explaining that…early thinkers [of Islam] were not specific enough in their discussions on the use of human shields nor did they adequately articulate the conditions under which it is permissible to shed Muslim blood in the course of warfare against a non-Muslim enemy when they take Muslims as human shields. This perceived historical failure of the early scholars to deal with al-Tatarrus honestly and comprehensively, whether due to their fear or embarrassment, he says, has led to a condition wherein the unjustified spilling of Muslim blood has become pervasive.”

The authors then explain the arrogant rejection of al-Qa’eda of the law of al-Tatarrus through their selective and manipulative understanding of Sunni tradition:

“As if criticizing 14 centuries of Islamic thought on the matter was not enough, Abu Yahya decides to reject the premise, saying, “I have never seen [al-Tatarrus as an explicit concept] mentioned in hadiths of the Prophet or in the biographies of the fighting companions in this same particular way that scholars have expressed it.” By calling the conditions placed on al-Tatarrus by Islamic scholars something “new” (and thus an “innovation”), he grants himself the religious authority to not only reject the entire body of Islamic literature (and accompanying restrictions) on the killing of innocent Muslims, but he positions himself as the sole arbiter of what constitutes “permissibility” with regard to killing.”

They go on to explain how Abu Yahya al-Libi chose to omit what did not serve his agenda. Namely, incorporating the human body in al-Tatturus but omitting property:

“Abu Yahya’s essay contains several major oversights that one can only believe are intentional given the depth of his knowledge on the issue. The first oversight is regarding the fact that al-Tatarrus is not limited to the human body, but is commonly extended to the enemy’s use of Muslim property, including buildings, infrastructure and vehicles as a deterrent in times of war. Abu Yahya’s decision to leave out Muslim property becomes clearer when viewed in the light of his second major oversight: compensation for damage caused.”

The authors then discuss how the issue of “compensation” is completely ignored by militants:

“Most discussions of al-Tatarrus during the past 14 centuries include reference to the necessary compensation required by God for damage caused to Muslim lives, property or wealth. The most blatant evidence of Abu Yahya’s intentional avoidance of compensatory damages appears in the peculiar way that he cites the Qur’an, noting: “Never should a believer kill a believer but (if it so happens) by mistake.” Had Abu Yahya continued his quote to the next verse of the sura, he would have been forced to reveal it as,

“Never should a believer kill a believer but if it so happens by mistake, compensation is due: If one so kills a believer, it is ordained that he should free a believing slave, and pay compensation to the deceased’s family, unless they remit it freely. If the deceased belonged to a people at war with you, and he was a believer, the freeing of a believing slave (is enough). If he belonged to a people with whom ye have treaty of Mutual alliance, compensation should be paid to his family, and a believing slave be freed. For those who find this beyond their means, is prescribe a fast for two months running: by way of repentance to Allah: for Allah hath all knowledge and all wisdom.”

“As the above verse suggests, there are two general forms of compensation that are relevant to the al-Tatarrus discussion. The first is kaffara, defined as the atonement to God or repayment made for some failure to act, or harm done to another. It usually mandates that the one who spilled Muslims’ blood either fast for a period of time (usually one or two months) or serve charitable acts (such as serving 60 poor Muslims food for a period of time). The second form of compensation is diyya (blood money), which is a monetary compensation paid as a fine to the next of kin of someone who was killed intentionally.”

This, in a nutshell, is the approach of militants: manipulating Sunni tradition to justify their terrorist actions.