Bilal Khuraysat, an al Qaeda ideologue in Syria, has issued a religious justification for Shabaab’s fight against the Islamic State’s arm in Somalia. Khuraysat’s treatise, which is filled with references to Islamic texts, was first published in written form by Bayan Foundation for Media Production late last year. Then, on Jan. 20, Bayan posted an audio version, with an English translation, on its website and Telegram channel.
Khuraysat (also known as Abu Khadijah al-Urduni) has become a prolific al Qaeda thinker, as he regularly comments on current affairs and hot button topics. Bayan promotes his work, as well as the statements and messages of various other al Qaeda actors.
In mid-November, the Islamic State declared war against Shabaab, al Qaeda’s East African branch. The two sides have clashed in the weeks since. But the intra-jihadi conflict isn’t new. Shabaab has sought to contain the self-declared caliphate’s expansion in East Africa since 2015, if not earlier.
And Khuraysat wants Shabaab’s men to know that, in his view, it is imperative for them to continue fighting Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s loyalists. His tract is titled, “So the Way of the Criminals Will Become Clear.” Bayan’s audio version is accompanied by various images of Islamic State figures, including Baghdadi, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani (the group’s deceased spokesman) and Turki al-Bin’ali (a deceased Islamic State cleric). All three played instrumental roles in the conflict with al Qaeda.
“My brothers of tawheed and aqeeda in the beloved land of Somalia, Allah, the Blessed and Exalted, made clear to us in his Noble Book the obligation of fighting against certain sects from amongst the Muslims, from those who testify that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and how to deal with those groups and sects,” Khuraysat argues. “These sects are many and varied. Perhaps in this brief message we can clarify something of their rulings.”
Khuraysat then offers various texts to support Shabaab’s war with the “transgressors,” meaning the Islamic State.
He begins with a quote from the Quran (Surat Al-Hujurat): “And if two factions among the believers should fight, then make peace between the two. But if one of them oppresses the other, then fight against the one that oppresses until it returns to the Command of Allah. Then, if it returns, then make reconciliation between them justly and be equitable…The believers are but brothers, so make reconciliation between your brothers, and fear Allah that you may receive mercy.”
Khuraysat explains that “[t]his noble verse dictates the obligation of fighting against the transgressing sect, keeping in mind that Allah, the Blessed and Exalted, described this sect as believers, however, so long as it remains in transgression then it is an obligation to fight them until they return to the Command of Allah.”
“Likewise,” Khuraysat adds, “this noble verse dictates the obligation of fighting whoever refuses to perform a right from the obligatory rights of the Sharia or refuses a law from the manifest laws of Islam such as the call for prayer, for example.”
Khuraysat builds his case against Baghdadi’s followers, arguing that the holy texts confirm the necessity of countering the “assailant, the oppressor who transgresses without right” and the “one that assaults against the wealth, self and sanctity (of the Muslims).” Islamic “scholars are unanimous that the evil of this assailant,” including Muslims who betray their coreligionists, “must be repelled even if it means killing them.”
Allah has also “made it obligatory to fight” the “(highway) robbers, those who sow corruption on the earth, causing chaos, spilling blood, looting wealth, disgracing the sanctities (of the Muslims) and destroying the crops and livestock.”
Khuraysat cites another Quranic verse (from Surah al-Ma’idah) to underscore the severity of the punishments that can be meted out: “The recompense of those who wage war against Allah and his Messenger and make mischief in the land is only that they shall be killed or crucified or their hands and their feet be cut off on the opposite sides, or be exiled from the land. That is their disgrace in this world, and a great torment is theirs in the Hereafter.”
The al Qaeda ideologue cites other Quranic verses and hadith to justify his position – stressing that it applies to other Muslims who transgress, even if they “fast and pray.” That is, Khuraysat argues that the texts he cites apply to even outwardly observant Muslims. (In reality, however, al Qaeda has often taken a more pragmatic approach when it comes to implementing its draconian legal code. Al Qaeda realizes that its severity can alienate local populations.)
Fighting the “Khawarij” from Baghdadi’s Islamic State
Al Qaeda has repeatedly referred to Baghdadi’s men as the “Khawarij,” or “Kharijites” (a reference to an early sect of extremists) since the Islamic State rose to prominence in 2013 and 2014. Al Qaeda’s argument is that the Islamic State is extreme even within the world of jihadism, as Baghdadi and his lieutenants have targeted not only believing Muslims, but also other jihadists whose beliefs shouldn’t be all that different from the Islamic State’s doctrine.
Allah “has made it obligatory to fight” the “Khawarij, the people who have caused corruption in the lands and (in the minds and religion of) the people,” Khuraysat argues. The Prophet (PBUH) also “ordered” the Khawarij “to be fought against in numerous hadith.” The “Khawarij share the severest portion of all those aforementioned” transgressors, as they have “reached and exceeded all levels of corruption,” Khuraysat says.
Khuraysat relies heavily on the teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah (“Sheikh al-Islam”), a medieval theologian whose writings are routinely integrated into al Qaeda’s doctrine, to explain the necessity of fighting the “Khawarij.”
Reading between the lines, it seems that some of Shabaab’s members are hesitant to battle their Islamic State rivals, either for theological or personal reasons, as some of them are former comrades in arms. Khuraysat stresses that Ibn Taymiyyah long ago established that it was necessary to fight the “Khawarij.”
In case there is any ambiguity, Khuraysat makes it clear that the “Khawarij who we are fighting against today are from the followers of the misguided (Abu Bakr) al-Baghdadi.” The al Qaeda ideologue makes a claim that Ayman al-Zawahiri and others have advanced in the past – namely, that the Islamic State is really serving the interests of the West and other disbelievers by splitting the mujahideen’s ranks.
The Islamic State’s men “are fighting against us today alongside the global system of disbelief,” Khuraysat claims. He adds that they are all in a “united camp with one goal,” which is to “bring an end” to the effort “to spread Islam with a guiding book and a supporting sword. “
“Thus, their fighting has become part of the struggle between Islam and the Muslims and between disbelief and the disbelievers,” Khuraysat says. The disbeliever camp supposedly includes America (“the defender of the cross”), the “cartoonish Arab regimes,” the “Shiite sects,” “misguiding religious organizations,” “hired media pulpits,” political Islamists, and others.
For Khuraysat, there is an “alignment” between all of these “forces,” with the “Khawarij” in the Islamic State serving as the “spearhead in their war against the Jihad and the Mujahidin.” He says Baghdadi’s men have declared “takfir” on the mujahideen, thereby “making the blood, wealth and sanctities” of their rival jihadists “permissible” to take. The Islamic State has distorted the “image” of jihad with its actions, Khuraysat says.
Toward the end of his diatribe, Khuraysat repeatedly addresses his “brothers…in the beloved land of Somalia,” saying they shouldn’t be reluctant to take the fight to the “Khawarij.” Any hesitation to do so “is founded on false piety and lies,” as some are “hiding behind the Sharia texts or manipulating them and producing a kind of apologetic (Islamic) Jurisprudence (Fiqh) to flee from fighting those Khawarij, which creates larger and greater obstacles to purifying the ranks of the Jihad and the Mujahidin.”
Khuraysat says the Islamic State stands in the way of Shabaab’s “great goal,” which is establishing Allah’s sharia. “If those Khawarij possessed any religion to deter them or any intelligence to benefit them, they would have aimed their arrows at the enemies of Islam from the Jews, the Christians and the Arab and non-Arab apostates,” he argues. (Of course, the Islamic State does fight some of these parties – in addition to its jihadi opponents.)
The al Qaeda man explains that his ilk tried to reform the self-declared caliphate’s approach, but failed. “Our noble scholars expended their efforts to advise, guide and direct this sect that perhaps their words might find hearts that understand or ears that hear. However, they were met only by misguidance, arrogance, takfir, insult and defamation and other things that one is ashamed to mention.”
Therefore, Khuraysat says, Shabaab must fight the Islamic State. There “remains naught but the sword between us and them,” he says. The goal must be: “Severing their roots, uprooting their canker, erasing their trace and making them an episode from the episodes of history to be remembered in its pages as a reminder and lesson for every generation.” Failing to fight the Islamic State would be “a great corruption, a huge catastrophe and a dark danger.”
Islamic State continues to battle al Qaeda and like-minded jihadists
Khuraysat’s text comes at a time when the Islamic State continues to battle al Qaeda and like-minded jihadists in multiple theaters.
In a video released on Jan. 23, the Islamic State’s Somali arm reminded viewers of the rivalry, briefly including a screenshot of Mohammed Makkawi Ibrahim’s Rewards for Justice page. Ibrahim was wanted by the US for his alleged role in the murder of John Michael Granville, a diplomat for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and his driver in Khartoum, Sudan on Jan. 1, 2008. Ibrahim eventually escaped to Somalia, where he joined Shabaab. Shabaab reportedly killed Ibrahim in 2015, after defected to the so-called caliphate. It was part of a broader campaign against Baghdadi’s loyalists that was launched by Shabaab’s ruthless Amniyat, which acts as its internal security service.
Both the Islamic State’s arm and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have reported clashes in recent weeks. Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS), which used to be known as Al Nusrah Front (openly an arm of al Qaeda until July 2016), claims to have uncovered Islamic State cells in Idlib in the past week. HTS has publicly advertised the executions of a number of presumed caliphate men. And the Islamic State’s Khorasan arm regularly reports encounters with the Taliban’s members in Afghanistan.
Therefore, the rivalry between the two hasn’t subsided. And Khuraysat’s critique of Baghdadi’s caliphate is relevant not only in Somalia, but also elsewhere.