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Losing Faith In Al-Baghdadi – Part 2: 'Extremists' Explain Why They Left ISIS

By: R. Green*

As noted in the first part of this report, Losing Faith In Al-Baghdadi – Part I: Islamic State Supporters Openly Criticize, Renounce Al-Baghdadi And The 'Caliphate', sentiments of disappointment and disenchantment with the Islamic State (ISIS) and its leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi have been publicly expressed on both the more "moderate" and the "extremist" sides of the increasingly apparent ideological and theological divide within the movement's ranks. Even in the early stages of the establishment of the Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate, proponents of a hardline takfiri stance had already publicly renounced Al-Baghdadi, with some openly rebelling against him.

The following document provides a glimpse into the worldview of these ultra-radical elements, and illustrates, in the words of three prominent adherents of this stream, why they became disappointed with the Islamic State and lost faith in Al-Baghdadi as the legitimate leader of Muslims. Insight into the mindset of these "extremists" is important for a number of reasons: First, it is crucial to understanding the ideological divide within ISIS. Second, the "extremists" have regained power within ISIS and currently influence its highest echelons, and possibly hold sway over Al-Baghdadi himself. 


ISIS is notorious for its radical ideology and extreme views on Islamic religious issues, notably the ease with which it invokes takfir – the excommunication of other Muslims. Nevertheless, since its inception, ISIS has been forced to deal with elements which espouse views on takfir that are even more extreme than its own. These elements have been a source of ongoing unrest within ISIS ranks, constantly pushing the leadership to embrace a more radical position on takfir. The most extreme elements have gone as far as to pronounce takfir on ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi himself, and declare that the ISIS entity is un-Islamic.

Over the past two years, while it has been facing major setbacks on the battlefield and expulsion from its strongholds, ISIS has been roiled by ideological struggles related to takfir. At one point its leadership seemed to adopt a harsher stance, apparently due to growing influence of the extreme ultra-takfiri camp. This was illustrated in a memo which presented takfir as a fundamental principle of Islam, and essentially decreed that the residents of countries under non-Islamic rule (including countries whose populations are generally considered to be Muslim) should not be considered Muslim until proven otherwise.[1]  

History Of ISIS Efforts To Purge Ultra-Takfiris

In the early days after it declared itself as a caliphate, ISIS conducted a purge of members who were accused of espousing ultra-takfiri views. They are often referred to as followers of the Saudi cleric Ahmad Al-Hazimi, who is currently in jail in Saudi Arabia. Al-Hazimi is known for his hardline stance on takfir, especially with respect to the question of "excusing the ignorant."

In brief, the debate over "excusing the ignorant" deals with the question of who should be excommunicated from the Islamic faith and under what conditions and regulations. The 18th century theologian Muhammad Abd Al-Wahhab, who founded the Wahabi trend in Islam, laid down 10 theological principles, known as "nullifiers," which seek to define the boundaries of the Islamic faith. According to Abd Al-Wahhab, if a Muslim transgresses even one of them, he should be considered a non-Muslim. The third nullifier holds that one who does not declare that polytheists are unbelievers cannot be considered a Muslim himself. For example, if one refrains from calling the Christians unbelievers, he himself is declared to be an unbeliever. In the contemporaneous context, some scholars have understood that this principle can be taken to extremes and applied widely to large groups and segments of Islamic communities. Therefore, to curtail the potential abuse of the application of the third nullifier, they devised a mechanism known as "excusing the ignorant." This means that one can suspend judgment regarding others who refrain from declaring the unbelievers to be such, by excusing their ignorance – attributing their failure to declare others unbelievers to their lack of theological knowledge. However, Al-Hazimi ruled that this mechanism is unacceptable, and that since it falls under the third nullifier it, in itself, is grounds for excommunication. His radical position was adopted by a small but vocal and dedicated group of followers who joined ISIS and propagated his views within the organization's ranks.[2]

At the time, the ISIS leadership issued a statement forbidding any discussions of the excuse of ignorance.[3] The ISIS internal security apparatus also reacted swiftly and decisively, instigating a purge of Al-Hazimi's radical followers, arresting dozens of them, and executing several members and officials. Among those executed was a Kuwaiti religious official, Hussein Ridha Lari, aka Abu Omar Al-Kuwaiti, and a Tunisian man called Khattab, who were among the prominent leaders of this circle.[4]

In another instance, several extremist members were accused of forming a covert cell with the goal of instigating a rebellion. ISIS security apparatus captured the cell members, and a video featuring their confessions and executions was released as a warning to others.[5]

In the summer and fall of 2017, while ISIS official religious bodies attempted to put an end to the controversies related to takfir, its internal security apparatus conducted another purge, once more arresting and executing members accused of espousing extremist views.[6] Those arrested were forced to repent and renounce their negative opinion of ISIS, and some of those who were imprisoned and interrogated were released after repenting. Several members who refused to relinquish their extremist views managed to flee ISIS territories to Turkey or the rebel-held area of Idlib.

The Current State Of Extremists Within ISIS

Despite their setbacks following the summer and fall of 2017, the extremists seem to have returned to some positions of power within key organs of ISIS. Al-Baghdadi himself is said to have adopted an approach closer to that held by the extremists. This change of heart is noticeable in the persecution of "moderate" scholars, as described in Part I of this report. A Telegram channel associated with the extremist trend also attests to this: "The [entity] that is in charge of all this [i.e. the jailing of scholars] is the so-called Diwan of the Caliph. This means that everything that is being done is authorized by Al-Baghdadi himself. As it has reached me, he has amended on many issues, and has begun to revise [his positions] and correct his ways."[7]

Notable Ultra Takfiris And Their Online Screeds Against Al-Baghdadi And ISIS

To shed light on the phenomenon of the "extremist" camp in the ISIS orbit, this report presents the stories of individuals from within it, which reveal their beliefs and the reasons why they have lost faith in ISIS and its leadership. These men joined ISIS but became disenchanted with it, eventually abandoning the organization as a result of theological disagreements, and ultimately harboring enmity toward the organization and viewing it as un-Islamic. The report deals with three individuals: the Algerian Muhammad Yahya Qirtas, aka Abu Mu'adh Al-'Assimi or Abu Mu'adh Al-Jaza'iri; a Turkish individual nicknamed Abu Al-Mahi Al-Muhajir; and Al-Nadhir Al-'Uryan. Abu Mu'adh Al-'Assimi played a leading role in an internal rebellion against Al-Baghdadi and published numerous essays attacking him and criticizing ISIS theology. The Turkish Abu Al-Mahi Al-Muhajir was a mid-level operative and military trainer who related his story on a blog run by ultra-takfiris. The third, Al-Nadhir Al-'Uryan, has assumed the nickname of another former ISIS member who claims to be close to the leadership.

The above banner advertises a compilation of anti-ISIS articles on the 'extremist' website, Misbah Al-Zalam.

  1. Algerian Abu Mu'adh Al-'Assimi

On July 27, 2016, the ISIS Delegated Committee[8] distributed a circular to all ISIS provinces and departments ordering them to search for an individual who was wanted because he had pronounced takfir on ISIS. The circular read: " The person named Muhammad Yahya Qirtas, nicknamed Abu Muhammad Al-Jaza'iri Al-'Assimi, is a fugitive wanted by the Islamic State, since he rebelled against the community of the Muslims and incited to pronounce takfir on it, fight it, and consider the Muslims' property and honor licit [meaning that it is legitimate to appropriate their property or violate their honor (women)]. We hereby direct the soldiers of the Islamic State to capture him or kill him wherever they are able to seize him, since he adheres to the methodology of the extremist Khawarij."[9]

"Wanted" notice issued by ISIS for Muhammad Yahya Qirtas. 

Qirtas is evidently one of the "extremists" who were purged from ISIS ranks. At one point he was jailed by ISIS, but he managed to flee to Turkey, and has been wanted by the organization ever since.

One of Qirtas/Al-'Assimi's Twitter accounts.

Writing under nicknames on multiple Twitter accounts, Qirtas has published online screeds against ISIS and its leader Al-Baghdadi. As ISIS accuses him, he considers ISIS to be an infidel group and Al-Baghdadi himself to be an apostate. These judgments are based on the ISIS stance on the issue of takfir, which in Qirtas' opinion is too lenient. In the past Qirtas used Twitter to propagate his ideas and distribute his anti-ISIS writings, but like other ISIS members he now relies increasingly on Telegram.  

In an article titled "Al-Baghdadi the Unbeliever, He Will Have the Punishment of Hell and the Fire Unless He Repents"[10] Al-'Assimi lashes out at the ISIS leader for the organization's abuse and torture of the true "monotheists" – the extremist camp within ISIS. The term "monotheists" (muwahidun), of course, is one which ISIS reserves for its followers, but Al-'Assimi believes that only those who adhere to his positions on takfir are worthy of it.

The above is the cover image of Al-'Assimi's article "Al-Baghdadi the Unbeliever."

The following are excerpts from Al-'Assimi's article:

"I haven't found anyone who resembles the Companions of the Trench[11] as much as Al-Baghdadi and his ilk do, and I haven't found anyone who resembles the believers tormented by the Companions of the Trench as much as the believers tormented by Al-Baghdadi and his ilk. Here was a young monotheist Muslim [Al-'Assimi himself] who was eager to know the truth and its followers and act upon it, who then found a taghut [false idol, a term often used by jihadis to denote the secular rulers of Islamic countries] who was lying in wait for him, wishing to turn him away from this [his quest for truth], just as the tawaghit [pl. of taghut] of every time and every place try to do. This is how the taghut Al-Baghdadi behaved when he opposed a group of believers who believed in Allah and disbelieved in him [Al-Baghdadi], and so he tormented them...

"I have experienced these people's jails, and know what I'm talking about from the inside. Monotheists are tortured with the harshest types of torture and punishment. In the case of the early believers, trenches were dug for them [to torture them]. As for the believers in the state of Al-Baghdadi, they are hung for a week or more on machines prepared for them, until one of them confesses his faith or names his brothers who adhere to his faith, to the extent that they are tracked down, imprisoned or forced to flee. Whereas the first believers were burned with fire, then by Allah that there is no God besides Him, the believers in the state of Al-Baghdadi were and are tormented with electricity. Let Al-Baghdadi take pleasure in his polytheist predecessors, and let the believers take pleasure in their predecessors the believers.... In the past, Al-Baghdadi told the believers: abandon your faith or we'll throw you in jail. But now – only killing."

In another essay titled "Al-Baghdadi as a Taghut" Al-'Assimi further expounds upon his objection to ISIS and its leader.[12] Taghut refers to an idol or false god, or entities worshipped instead of Allah. Renouncing taghut is an essential element of confirming one's Islamic faith. Islamists and Salafis use the term to refer to unjust tyrannical rulers, since they have supposedly exceeded their limits as human beings and assumed rights that are reserved exclusively for God. Calling Al-Baghdadi a taghut, therefore, is the utmost act of rejection and rebellion against him, using the same basic religious principles which are fundamental to the ISIS creed.

Al-'Assimi begins his essay by explaining the concept of taghut and the necessity to renounce it: "The general meaning of the taghut is everything by which the slave exceeds his limit to the point where he reaches the level of tyranny which excludes him from Islam, whether this is by following or legislation, as well as anything worshipped besides Allah with any form of worship... Unbelieving in the taghut includes pronouncing the polytheists who worship entities other than Allah... or rule that polytheists are Muslims.

"This should clarify to you the reason for Al-Baghdadi... a taghut who is worshipped besides Allah, as well as the [ISIS] commanders and judges who are in his mold. Al-Baghdadi and his ilk are a bunch of Balaams[13] [evil clerics], who devised a religion Allah did not permit. They excluded the pronunciation of takfir of polytheists from the fundamental principle of unbelieving in the taghut, and accused the creed of the people of truth of being misguided and  deviant. He is followed in this by many men from unbelievers of the internal security apparatus and others, who chase down the monotheists [i.e., Al-'Assimi and his friends]...

"We have received news of the jailed brothers, regarding the offenses they were captured and imprisoned for, and the topics of their interrogations, and the questions they were asked, which mostly touch upon these issues:

  • The legal status of the State of Tajahum[14] [i.e., the interrogated prisoners were asked how they view ISIS and whether they see it as a legitimate Islamic authority]

  • The legal status of one who excuses the polytheists [and does not pronounce them to be unbelievers][15]

  • The legal status of the polytheist peoples who are associated with Islam[16]...

"Al-Baghdadi altered the rulings of Allah regarding the foundations of religion. The textbooks that are taught in their training camps testify to this.[17] Therefore, how can it be considered acceptable for one who claims to be a monotheist to remain obedient to [Al-Baghdadi]?... By Allah, he is no different from the Arab rulers...

"Beware [that] Day of Resurrection will come while you are loyal to Al-Baghdadi..."

  1. Abu Al-Mahi Al-Muhajir – An Ultra-Takfiri's Journey In Iraq And Syria

Another member of the ultra-takfiri circle, a Turkish man writing under the nickname Abu Al-Mahi Al-Muhajir, detailed his experience as a fighter and military trainer in the ranks of ISIS in a blog post titled "My Journey in Iraq and Syria."[18] His post was published in a blog operated by like-minded "extremists" called Misbah Al-Zalam (The Lamp of the Darkness). Like Qirtas, Abu Al-Mahi became disillusioned with ISIS due to what he views as its lax stance on takfir.

Banner accompanying Abu Al-Mahi Al-Muhajir's blog post

Abu Al-Mahi Al-Muhajir is apparently of Turkish origin, although he is also fluent in Arabic. While he was still a member of ISIS in Syria he used the nickname Sayfullah Al-Turki. The following are the main points expressed in his blog post:

Initially, writes Abu Al-Mahi, he was lured to join ISIS due to its image as a protector of Sunni Islam against its enemies: "I was one of those misled by the guise of fighting the rafida [Shi'ites] and helping the Sunnis. I was one of those who wanted to support their religion. Zeal led me to travel to the [Islamic] State and join it."

He began his service in ISIS as a translator for Turks and Uzbeks in a guesthouse in Jarablus, a town along the northern border of Syria, during the early days of the battle of Kobani, around late 2014.

Later he was dispatched alongside dozens of Turks and Europeans to Al-Furat Province, to the town of Al-Qa'im, where he served as translator and assistant to the local "governor" Abu Anas Al-Iraqi ("May Allah break his back and perish him," Abu Al-Mahi adds), with whom he argued about whether Saddam Hussein should be considered a Muslim and memorialized. Abu Al-Mahi was subsequently referred to a shari'a official, and reprimanded for this position, and was instructed to refrain from delving into issues of takfir. Regardless, he says that at the time he himself was "a polytheist."

ISIS fighters attending a course on Islamic law in Hadhramawt, Yemen, 2015

Abu Al-Mahi was then sent to serve as an instructor in a training camp in Al-Khalidiyyah in Anbar, where "most of the fighters were Iraqis who knew nothing of Islam." To his consternation, the trainees were shown videos of fighting, but not given lessons on religion. When a senior commander requested that a group of fresh fighters be allocated to him, Abu Al-Mahi protested: "These men don't know how to purify themselves from ritual impurity, they pray in impurity, they don't know the meaning of taghut, and the training isn't over yet." The senior commander answered that jihad comes first. "For these people [ISIS commanders], jihad and fighting take precedence over the study of basic religious matters! We seek recourse from Allah!" moans Abu Al-Mahi.

Subsequently, Abu Al-Mahi left Iraq and travelled to Syria, where he stayed in Raqqah and then moved to Aleppo, where he participated in fighting with the Furqan Brigade. He requested and was granted a period of vacation, during which he devoted himself to religious studies, and this is when he first embraced his ultra-takfiri ideas to which he was introduced by "brothers on Facebook" whom he doesn't identify. They "counseled me, taught me, and warned me about the methodology of this evil State. I found it very odd, and felt that I was misguided like sheep or even worse. I started to research the State's creed and asked religious officials about its methodology."

Abu Al-Mahi began to read ISIS training camp textbooks about religion, and found elements of unbelief in them. He showed proof of these allegedly un-Islamic positions to other ISIS members, some of whom were fellow members of his Al-Furqan Brigade. He writes that they also found these positions odd, and Abu Al-Mahi claims that some of them renounced their support for ISIS, while some remained perplexed.

Abu Al-Mahi raises four main points of contention:

The issue of "pronouncing takfir on the excuser" [takfir al-'adher], i.e. whether a person who avoids excommunicating others based on their ignorance should be excommunicated himself;

The issue of The Peoples, i.e. whether the populations of countries which consider themselves Muslim should in fact be considered infidels;

The issue of "proof," referring to what constitutes a legal "proof" for excommunicating someone. Many would argue that the very existence of the Quran and Islam are ample legal "proof," and that anyone who does not adhere to Islam properly following their appearance is automatically an infidel, since their existence is widely known and acknowledged.

Whether the Shi'ites, the members of the Free Syrian Army, and the "atheist" Kurds are Muslims who became apostates, or whether they were originally polytheists.

Abu Al-Mahi continues "Several days after my meeting with Al-Furqan Brigade's shari'a official, the main judge for Al-Bab [a town northeast of Aleppo, which was under ISIS control at the time], Abu Yasser Al-Jazrawi, the infidel, came with a paper and held a meeting for several hours with Abu Talha [Al-Tunisi] and Abu Zinad Al-Tunisi, and then left. Abu Talha told me that Abu Yasser Al-Jazrawi said that several days before Abu Muhammad Al-'Adnani[19] came to Al-Bab he heard from many soldiers that they were feuding and discussing the foundations of religion, and that some of them were excommunicating others. So Abu Yasser warned of this issue so that the number of khawarij would not grow, and told [Abu Talha] that it was forbidden to discuss these matters, and whoever speaks about them will be punished...

Abu Muhammad Al-'Adnani (d. 2016), ISIS spokesman, in charge of Syria and external operations apparatus

The next morning I heard that overnight members of ISIS internal security apparatus fought with some of the brothers... calling them khawarij who excommunicated the general masses of the Muslims and made their blood licit [meaning that they deemed it legitimate to kill them]."

Abu Al-Mahi describes theological arguments he had with ISIS religious officials pertaining to the questions of the status of the peoples and the status of those who excuse infidels.

Abu Al-Mahi also relates that an Azeri fighter named Bakr Al-Azeri confirmed to him the account of an extremist cell which was liquidated by ISIS internal security. The story was revealed in a video released by the organization's Raqqah Province.[20]

On one occasion, Abu Al-Mahi's commander, Abu Talha Al-Tunisi took him to meet Abu Muhammad Al-'Adnani when the latter attended a meeting of senior commanders in Al-Bab. He asked Al-'Adnani about his theological questions, and was answered harshly: "The fronts take precedence over these matters you speak of. Go see how your brothers are sacrificing their lives for the sake of Allah while you discuss these matters. I don't have time to talk to discuss these issues with stupid people." Hours later Al-'Adnani was killed in an airstrike.

Abu Al-Mahi says that he and another adherent to the ultra-takfiri stance carried out an assassination of a security official and took his gun and cash. He then fled from the Aleppo area to Raqqah.

He provides firsthand testimonies from ISIS men's prisons about the harsh treatment of prisoners, many of whom were accused of fleeing the battlefield. Eventually, Abu Al-Mahi had to abscond to Syria. He writes:

"Allah can testify to what I'm about to say: I was determined to remain in the lands of Syria, in spite of the fact that they [ISIS] adhered to this diluted methodology. But when the operatives of the security apparatus became aware of my beliefs they began to pursue me and hunt me down... The crime I was being accused of was openly advocating for monotheism – [by] pronouncing takfir on the polytheists and those who excuse them. By Allah I never for a day thought I'd leave the land of Syria, until these infidels began to pursue me and so I was forced to leave it. I ran for my life and my religion."

Abu Al-Mahi names the leading ultra-takfiris who were denounced by the ISIS religious and security organs: Abu Zayd Al-Tunisi alongside 11 others who were executed in Al-Mayadeen, Syria; Abu Mu'adh Al-'Assimi (Qirtas); Abu Ayyub; a group of men from Sukhna in the Syrian Desert; and Abu Khattab Al-Urduni, an alleged spy for Jordanian intelligence.

Lambasting the leadership of ISIS, Abu Al-Mahi states: "You killed the monotheists with the harshest forms of torture. By Allah, you did things that both Arab and non-Arab tyrants were not able to do, they only dreamed of doing. By Allah, the only God, you – oh soldiers of ISIS – are more infidel and more unbelieving than the polytheists of the Quraish tribe [from the Prophet Muhammad's lifetime] and from the polytheists of the era of the Prophets. Those polytheists expelled the prophets from their villages, but you – you gave us promises and nullified the treaties [with us]; you killed the monotheists and persecuted them. By Allah you are the worst type of unbelief and polytheism on the face of the earth."

  1. Al-Nadhir Al-'Uryan: "Oppression And Doctrinal Confusion Have Accompanied [ISIS] Since Its Founding"

Another vocal member of the extremist camp who is active on Telegram under the name Al-Nadhir Al-'Uryan ['The Naked Herald'], published a lengthy post in which he laid out the reasoning that led him to leave ISIS. He explains that he came to the conclusion that ISIS is doomed due to its "confusion" on theological matters, and states that this is Al-Baghdadi's fault. The following are excerpts from his post:

"By virtue of my proximity to the positions of power since the beginning of the establishment of the [Islamic] State in Syria, I cannot hide from you, oppression and methodological confusion have accompanied it since its founding..."

The above image depicts Al-Nadhir Al-'Uryan's Telegram profile.

Al-Nadhir Al-'Uryan criticizes ISIS for its doctrinal confusion regarding takfir since its establishment: "As for the doctrinal confusion, it too has accompanied ISIS since its founding. For a while, [ISIS] prohibited pronouncing takfir on Al-Qaeda, afterward it pronounced it [officially]. Sometimes it declared [a certain person] to be Muslim, and sometimes it declared him an infidel. I used to attribute this to the novelty of its status as an emerging state, to the paucity of religious scholars [in its ranks] and to its preoccupation with wars, and to the fact that even the scholars did not have the capacity to deal with issues of unbelief and faith.

"One day I looked around me... and I didn't find any of the veterans I knew, those who I knew were adherent to the truth and the path of the people of Sunnah... I asked about this man, they told me he was killed, I asked about that man they told me he left, about another one – they told me he fled. Are all of them wrong, and only 'the people of the series'[21] [the moderate scholars' camp] and those behind them right? I became confused: I looked right and left and found no one to ask for religious rulings, they've all been jailed!"

"Al-Baghdadi Is The One Who Brought ISIS To This Sorry State"

Al-Nadhir Al-'Uryan continues: "I woke up for prayer in the morning, and I couldn't bring myself to pray for those who played games with the State and with the souls of the emigrant fighters. I said, oh Lord, bring down their reign, trample upon them and take vengeance on them one by one. At the time, ISIS still controlled large swaths of land, so how could its reign fail? It eluded me, that no one can debilitate Allah, and that Allah's custom of replacing does not show favor to anyone.

ISIS members who left Al-Baghouz, after surrendering to the Syrian Democratic Forces. Source:, February 24, 2019.

"Praise be to Allah, mere days passed and the Nusayris [pejorative for 'Alawites, the Syrian army] took over [the parts of] Hama [Province which were under ISIS control] and the city Deir Al-Zour, and they began to control the villages until they reached Al-Mayadin, the ISIS stronghold and its capital at that time. After that, towns began to fall one after the other at astonishing speed, and those I cursed were killed or imprisoned.

"Now, a year or more later, I look around me and I'm convinced deep inside myself that ISIS is doomed, undoubtedly doomed. Its leaders deny this and dispute this, as they treat what is happening to ISIS as tribulations and a purification of the ranks. It is as though they don't see that those who remain in ISIS are the scum and that most of the emigrants do not control their fate.

"The stream of tajahum[22] blames those they call extremists. While the extremists, to which I belong, we blame the scholars and shari'a officials, the people of tajahum and irja'.[23] Both sides exchange accusations [about the state ISIS is in]. But the truth is that the one responsible for the fall of ISIS and its arrival at this state is Al-Baghdadi himself. Yes, Al-Baghdadi is the one who brought ISIS to this sorry state...

"The scholars from both sides would not have been able to act of their own accord had there been a clear, written creed in place, which everybody was obliged to adhere to. Whoever did not like its path would be free to leave or stay if he wanted. But he [Al-Baghdadi] tried to satisfy all sides, not wanting to lose fighters. The result was the death of many of the brothers for disagreeing with the State's current beliefs...

"Don't believe that a stone is moved without the agreement of Al-Baghdadi himself. I have read letters from him, written in his own hand, which he sent to the previous [Delegated] Committee, the one which was removed [during the memo controversy], saying that everyone should be forced to adhere to [the takfir memo]. Of course, this was before he changed his mind and ordered to retract the memo.

"Despite the situation ISIS reached, a collapse of religious [standards], economic, social and daily living conditions, to the extent that soldiers are unable to find their daily sustenance, the 'imam' [Al-Baghdadi] is still hiding. I do not know what is preventing him from sharing the soldiers' perseverance and steadfastness. Is his life more precious than the lives of dozens of soldiers and their families, women and children, who are being killed on a daily basis in the coalition bombing? Why does he not come out and fight for the sake of Allah, kill rather than isolating himself from the soldiers and the citizenry. It's as though he's saying 'Let everyone die so long as I am well, for I am the State and the State is me. Any eye that can see knows that ISIS is doomed, inevitably doomed, for Allah's custom of replacement does not show favor to anyone. Oppression and nepotism have consumed it, not to mention innovation in religion as represented by the so-called 'doctrinal' series. The first and last person responsible for this is Al-Baghdadi who brought it to this state. The accusation of dividing the ranks must be directed, first of all, at him, for he is the one who split the group with his contradictory decisions...

"The proper thing for him to do, if he decides to change, would be to announce his repentance and cancel the series [of lectures on doctrine] and clarify the ISIS doctrine on disputed matters. Most importantly, he should apologize for the killing of hundreds of monotheists – locals and foreigners – for their belief. Otherwise, any revision is meaningless, and should be considered no more than rumors spread by those who surround him and by his supporters, the camp [that declares that ISIS] will remain and is spreading, [who chant] 'with our soul and blood we shall redeem you, oh imam,' using it as a tranquilizer shot for the soldiers who were on the verge of revolting against him and those who surround him. Not for religion, but because of hunger. We have seen what hungry people can do if they rebel, as the so-called Arab revolutions have taught us..."[24]

* R. Green is a research fellow at MEMRI


[3] For more on this memo and the dispute which ensued following its publication, see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1324, Dispute Over Takfir Rocks Islamic State, August 4, 2017. 

[3] For background on the Saudi cleric Al-Hazimi and the influence of the pro-Hazimi trend on ISIS see: Tore Hamming, 2016, The extremist wing of the Islamic State,

[3], September 7, 2014.

[4], September 7, 2014.

[6], June 17, 2016; accessed July 26, 2017.

[7], November 6, 2018.

[8] The Delegated Committee is the second highest authority in ISIS. It supervises the work of the organization's departments and territorial units on behalf of its leader. The Delegated Committee is the body that released the memo on takfir which stirred controversy in the ISIS ranks.

[9] Wilayat Idlib, June 1, 2017.

[10], June 5, 2017. The title is a reference to Quran 85:10: "Indeed, those who have tortured the believing men and believing women and then have not repented will have the punishment of Hell, and they will have the punishment of the Burning Fire

[11] A group of people denounced in chapter 85 of the Quran for tormenting believers.

[12], February 18, 2017. 

[13] Balaam – according to some commentators on the Quran, the biblical character Balaam is mentioned in Quran 7:175-176. His name is used here as a term to describe evil clerics who spread lies and oppose God's will.

[14] Tajahum or jahmiyya is a pejorative term used by radical Salafis to describe those who are more moderate. The term refers to an early Islamic theologian, Jahm Ibn Safwan, who argued that no Muslim has the ability to judge the quality of another's faith, for only Allah can see what is in people's hearts.

[15] This refers to the controversy over the application of the "third nullifier" and the question as to whether it is permissible to excuse those who refrain from pronouncing others as apostates.

[16] The "polytheist peoples who are associated with Islam" is a way of speaking about the general population of Islamic countries. The ultra-takfiris do not consider the peoples of these countries to be Muslims, holding that each individual must be individually examined. The ultra-takfiris refer to these people as "polytheist" for several reasons, mostly having to do with their perceived acceptance of and participation in the political process. This is one of the most controversial issues in the Salafi-jihadi trend of Islam, and one that differentiates "extremists" from those who hold the standard viewpoint.

[17] The followers of the extremist camp were very critical of certain textbooks which were used in the ISIS training camps and institutions, since these books presented a more moderate view on matters of takfir. When the ISIS Delegated Committee was led by extremist elements, it issued a decree to withdraw certain textbooks which were considered too lenient. See JTTM report, ISIS Recalls Own Textbooks On Religion From Training Camps, July 6, 2017.

[18], April 9, 2017.

[19] Taha Subhi Falaha aka Abu Muhammad Al-'Adnani was ISIS's official spokesman, as well as its top official for Syria and head of its security apparatus. He was killed in an airstrike near Al-Bab in August 2016.

[21] The People of the Series refers to the moderate scholars. After the retraction of the takfir memo, ISIS released a series of audio recordings on its radio station, Al-Bayyan, which detailed its official creed regarding takfir. The series was titled ’Scholarly Series Explaining Doctrinal Issues’ [silisilah ’ilmiyyah fi bayyan masa’il manhajiyya]. It was written and narrated by members of the moderate scholars’ camp. It was also published in the official ISIS magazine, Al-Naba'. However, it remained controversial, as extremists within ISIS adhered to a harsher stance on takfir.

[22] See no. 13 above

[23] Irja' – postponing. The concept of Irja' or Murji'a (those who practice irja') refers to the postponement of judgment regarding the faith of others. Murji'a is a school of thought opposing the practice of Muslims declaring other Muslims as apostates; the ISIS extreme form of Salafism denounces irja' and uses it as a derogatory term in internal disputes with other Salafis. It is used as a pejorative term among jihadis for Islamists whom they consider too moderate.

[24], December 5, 2018.