September 27, 2006 No.

Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya vs. Al-Qaeda

On August 4, 2006, Al-Qaeda released a video in which Ayman Al-Zawahiri claimed that the Egyptian Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya group had joined its ranks. Later, in his videotape on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Al-Zawahiri repeated his claim that Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya - together with the Algerian GSPC (Groupe salafiste pour la predication et le combat) - had joined Al-Qaeda.

Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya was quick to deny this claim. One of its leaders, Najih Ibrahim, told the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that they had refused to join Al-Qaeda "because their goal is jihad, whereas our goal is Islam." [1]

Indeed, Al-Gama'a has ceased to be a terrorist organization and has undergone an ideological reversal in which it renounced violence; since it announced its unilateral cease-fire in 1997 it has conducted no terrorist activities. Moreover, its historic leadership has published a series of books known as the "Concept Correction Series" in which they renounced indiscriminate violence and extremist interpretations of Islam. One of the books in this series is even titled Al-Qaeda's Strategy and Bombings - Errors and Dangers.

Between August 27 and September 4, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat published excerpts from the latest book in the series, titled Islam and the Laws of War (Al-Islam wa-tahdhib al-hurub). The book was authored by 'Issam Al-Din Darablah, who is serving a life sentence for his involvement in the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. [2] In the book, Al-Gama'a attacks Al-Qaeda on a number of fronts: Al-Qaeda's fatwas permitting killing civilians, their declaring other Muslims to be apostates, their endorsement of suicide bombings, and their categorical rejection of the West and its Muslim allies.

MEMRI will soon be publishing a comprehensive historical and analytical study of Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya's ideological reversal. The study details not only its rejection of terrorism, but also its revised views on fundamental issues in the interpretation of the Koran, the hadith, and Islamic law - views which challenge the theoretical bases of Islamist ideology.

The following are excerpts from Islam and the Laws of War on these issues:

"Islam Forbade Targeting Civilians"

"Islam forbade targeting civilians… When Allah's Prophet and the Caliphs made an absolute prohibition against targeting women, children, the elderly, [Christian] monks, and peasants, we learn from this Islam's true position on targeting civilians, as the modern expression has it. If we consider these categories: women, children, the elderly, the disabled, peasants, [Christian] monks, slaves, and servants, we can see that these, taken together, make up those who do not rise up to fight and do not take part in the battles. Does the expression 'civilians' today have any meaning other than this? Whence the opinion of the majority of [Islamic] jurisprudents that forbids the killing of those who are not capable of fighting… or 'civilians' in modern terminology.

"This prohibition against targeting civilians… was not the result of a choice on the part of the jurisprudents, nor was it a matter of preferring an overriding common interest. Holy texts forbade targeting the majority of these groups in Prophetic statements and divine revelation. This raises the severity of this prohibition in the soul of every believer to the highest level of warning lest they violate it…

"Ibn Taymiyya [3] said: 'Since the basis for fighting according to shari'a is jihad, and its goal is that religious allegiance be entirely to Allah and that Allah's word should be supreme, then whosoever refuses [Islam] should be fought, and all Muslims agree on this. As for those who are not capable of fighting… like women, children, [Christian] monks, the elderly, the blind, and those like them: Most religious scholars say that they should not be killed unless they fight, in word or in deed, though some scholars hold that it is permitted to kill them all simply because they are infidels, apart from the women and children, as they [will become] the Muslims' property. But the first [opinion] is the correct one, since [we] are to fight [only] against those who fight us, since we want to make Allah's religion triumphant, as Allah said [Quran 2:190]: 'Fight for the sake of Allah those that fight against you, but do not attack them first. Allah does not love aggressors.'…

"If religion forbids killing these [civilians] in [the case of] the outbreak of war, is it imaginable that this would be permitted in a case where war has not broken out?...

"This distinction between fighters and civilians with regard to whom one is allowed to kill is a venerable wisdom which derives from a profound philosophy that is dedicated to respecting the human soul, which Islam has come to remedy. How can it go about annihilating the soul, when it wants its good?" [4]

"Al-Qaeda Classifies the Entire World as the Abode of War"

"The unrestricted requirement in [Al-Qaeda's] fatwa to kill American civilians and soldiers anywhere and at any time includes everyone who has American citizenship, without regard to his religion, age, sex, or profession. It also extends to include every place in the world… whether there are treaties between these countries and America or not.

"Therefore, this fatwa means that it is permitted to kill women, children, the elderly… and [everyone] who has American citizenship, even if they have not fought against the people of Islam through their opinions or in practice, and [according to the fatwa] it is permitted to kill Muslim civilians who have American citizenship…

"The shari'a principles on which the fatwa [permitting] the killing of civilians is based are that the entire world is classified as the abode of war [dar al-harb] and that there does not exist in the world a single abode of Islam [dar al-islam], except for the emirate of Afghanistan that existed at the time, and that there are no countries that are at peace with the Muslims. Thus, Al-Qaeda and its fighters will not abide by any agreements between America and any other state...

"[According to the fatwa, Americans] are infidels, and the factor that permits [their] being killed is the very fact of their being infidels, and not of any of them having risen up to fight. [Al-Qaeda claims that] they [also] agree to American policies, and support them through their complying in paying taxes... and thus they are [considered] fighters, even if they are civilians... and Muslim civilians who have acquired American citizenship have this same status of American civilian fighters, since with their acquiring American citizenship they can no longer be considered Muslims, or at least have the status of one who supports, aids, or abets [the Americans]…"

The First Amendment Guarantees Muslims' Freedom of Religion [in America]

"[Al-Qaeda's] fatwa was wrong in considering American citizenship a sufficient cause for killing American civilians and [Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya] rejects [the idea] that everyone with American citizenship is an infidel, since having American citizenship does not require adherence to another religion apart from Islam, and does not require [the adoption of] any belief contrary to one's religion, since the First Amendment to the American Constitution specifies that 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or preventing the free exercise thereof.'

"This means that the American government and the legislative authority take a position of neutrality with respect to belief in any religion and the free exercise of that religion, and this means that Muslims there are not obligated to anything that contradicts their Islamic belief.

"So it is clear that the very fact of having American citizenship does not necessitate considering Muslims with American citizenship infidels, and does not necessitate making all Americans, among them the Muslims, into fighters whom it is permitted to kill."

"The Conception That America is Waging a Crusade Against Muslims is Not True"

"The conception that America is waging a Crusade against Muslims is not true… in the worst of cases [one can say that] at times there have been American policies that have had a religious dimension in opposing some - and not all - of the Islamic world's causes. [The fact that this is not a Crusade] explains America's positive stand in supporting the Afghani mujahideen in their fight against the Soviet occupation, and [America's] positive stand [against] the ethnic cleansing operation against the Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the province of Kosovo.

"Likewise, the conception that America aimed to bring down the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and could not have been deterred from doing so is not true. Reality attests to the fact that America attempted to come to terms with the Taliban regime in order to realize common strategic goals… and these attempts to come to an understanding ran up against the Al-Qaeda organization's actions, which were launched from Afghanistan and targeted America, and which the Taliban authorities did not restrain…

"America at that time was looking for new strategies for a new century, and if the Front [i.e. Al-Qaeda] and other interpreters of Islam had adopted a serious Islamic strategy that would have given consideration to American interests together with Islamic interests, this would have prevented the continuation of this war or [at least] would have kept it from taking on a comprehensive nature…" [5]

Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya's Position on Suicide Bombings

Concerning suicide bombings, Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya summarized the arguments of the scholars who support suicide bombings as follows: "A Muslim is permitted to attack enemy ranks in order to inflict severe damage on them, even if he believes that he is likely to be killed. This is not the same as one who puts his own life in jeopardy, on whom many religious scholars of the righteous generations placed conditions that he must fulfill. [The supporters of suicide bombings say that] one who ventures to blow himself up for the sake of elevating Allah's word and liberating his country from the imperialists cannot be called one who commits suicide, since one who commits suicide does not die for principles and for religion, in contrast with the one who carries out this attack.

"Among the modern scholars who ruled in this fashion are Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi; Dr. Nasr Farid Wasil, the former mufti of Egypt; Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hajj Nasir, an expert from the International Academy of Islamic Jurisprudence in Morocco; Dr. Fathi Al-Darini, a member of the Jordanian Fatwa Council; and the Islamic thinker Sa'id Quffa…

"[In contrast to these scholars, we say that] performing these attacks is not permitted unless the conditions and precepts laid down by shari'a are fulfilled, as the religious scholars made clear, and they are the following: that there not be any way other than blowing one's self up to achieve the goal behind the attack; that it not result in additional drawbacks, like the possibility of the perpetrator being caught and thus the occupation forces receiving intelligence on the resistance cells through the prisoner's confession; that the ranks that the one carrying out this attack is attacking be ranks that it is permitted to kill, without those whom it is not permitted to kill being intermingled with them; and that through this attack a benefit be achieved that is necessary, definite, general, and preponderant, and that it not bring about a drawback that outweighs the benefit…

"If we are to apply these precepts to what is going on in Iraq, we need to ask: Where is the lawfulness in this war such that it may be [considered] a just war?" [6]

"Hijacking Planes… is Forbidden in Shari'a"

"Hijacking planes and blowing them up involves frightening and killing those whom it is forbidden to terrorize and kill, either because there are Muslim passengers on the plane, or because there are non-Muslim children and women and elderly, whom it is not permitted to kill even in a state of war - in addition to the possibility of killing those whom it is not permitted to kill if the plane crashes into a civilian target when the hijacker does not know who is there.

"In addition, hijacking and blowing up a plane involves a breach of faith towards the company that owns the plane and towards the passengers. The company gave the hijacker a ticket to use its plane on the condition that he not endanger its wellbeing and the wellbeing of the passengers, and when the hijacker hijacks and blows up the plane, he has violated this pledge. Likewise, the passengers all believe that the other passengers do not want to harm them and do not harbor them any ill will, and this is based on custom and the established usage among those who do business with airlines. This amounts to a guarantee of security [aman], or something approaching it, which forbids one to inflict harm…

"Hijacking planes and using its passengers as bargaining chips in order to achieve [the hijackers'] demands, and terrorizing them, and perhaps [even] killing them in order to put pressure on the governments of their countries or those countries' occupiers, is forbidden in shari'a, because this is tantamount to punishing innocents (i.e. the passengers) in order to compel the occupier or the transgressor to comply with the demands of the hijacker, and because most of these passengers do not have anything to do with the hijackers' cause, and perhaps they are even sympathetic to them without the hijackers' knowing this, and all of this is contrary to justice…" [7]

"The Judgment That the Muslim Peoples are Apostates… is a Perverted Judgment That Lacks any True Proof"

"…Some of those who carry out bombings [in Muslim countries] rely on [the claim] that the peoples of the Islamic countries have apostatized from Islam, and that there does not remain there today anyone other than apostates, dhimmis who have violated the contract [regulating their behavior], and heretics, and thus there is nothing wrong with targeting them for killing through indiscriminate bombings…

"There is no doubt that this characterization is wrong. The judgment that the Muslim peoples are apostates, and that all of the dhimmis have violated their contract, is a perverted judgment that lacks any true proof that the Muslims in their entirety have fallen into collective apostasy. This is an opinion that lacks proof, and reality disproves it, as we see the majority of Muslims performing their shari'a obligations and not getting drawn into any of the sins that remove one from Islam…

"Likewise, the reliance on the fact that many sins are widespread among the Muslims, like theft, adultery, drinking wine, and so forth, in order to support the opinion that they have apostatized from Islam - this is a false opinion… The committing of these sins does not remove one from Islam, and these transgressions derive from insufficient belief, and not from the negation of belief…" [8]

On the Coalition in the First Gulf War: "Decision to Form an Alliance With America… Was Irreproachable From the Religious Perspective"

"The Saudi position on inviting American troops and welcoming the international coalition forces so as to liberate Kuwait [in 1990] was based on a correct reading of the following reality: Saddam Hussein's history, which was full of military adventures, and a psychological analysis of his personality, required that they be wary of his adventure extending to Saudi Arabia after his having digested Kuwait.

"In addition, the Arab and Islamic countries did not have sufficient capability - and some of them did not have sufficient will - to stand up to Saddam Hussein, so having recourse to asking these countries for help would have [only] led to the prolongation of the conflict and would not at all have prevented international intervention in the crisis. Also, the United States - in addition to its being the power capable of opposing Saddam Hussein - would never have remained with its arms folded in the face of this occupation, [even] if it had not been called upon [by Saudi Arabia]. If America was going to intervene in any event, it was preferable that it intervene under conditions that Saudi Arabia would have a part in defining instead of America going it alone.

"As for the true shari'a basis for the Saudi position on the crisis… there were two issues on which the Saudi position was criticized: calling on non-Muslims for help in fighting the Iraqi army, and permitting the presence of polytheists and Christians in the Arabian Peninsula…

"[As for the first issue,] there is no doubt that this kind of alliance is permitted according to shari'a, because the Prophet said: 'You will indeed make peace with Byzantium, and you and they will attack an enemy beyond you'. This is a proof that this kind of alliance is permitted in principle… and [it is also permitted] because various and sundry [non-Muslim] tribes entered into the Prophet's confederacy against Quraysh… [and there was also] the Prophet's alliance with the Jews in the defense of Medina against any enemy that might attack it…

"Putting an end to Saddam Hussein's adventure was one of those things that are dear to Allah for which one may be helped [by non-Muslims] and for which one may request help. These proofs show clearly that the decision to form an alliance with America and with the other countries in the alliance was irreproachable from the religious perspective, in light of these conditions… [9]

"[As for permitting the presence of non-Muslims in the Arabian Peninsula,] the definition of the Arabian Peninsula has been the subject of a great difference of opinions among the schools of jurisprudence, from those who say that it encompasses the area stretching from Yemen to the cultivated areas of Iraq in the north and from Jeddah on the Red Sea to the Arab [i.e. Persian] Gulf in the east; to those who say that it means the Hijaz, which is Mecca and Medina and other places in their vicinity.

"[In addition, there is disagreement] over the definition of what is forbidden [to the non-Muslims] in the Arabian Peninsula. They [i.e. Al-Qaeda and others] think that any presence [of non-Muslims is forbidden], whereas the religious scholars allowed them to be present and to pass through [the Arabian Peninsula] so long as they did not settle there.

"According to this, it may be said that what is forbidden to polytheists, Christians, and Jews is only settling in the Hijaz, and the Hijaz is the area stretching from Mecca to Medina and their vicinity. This is the opinion of most of the religious scholars…

"As we arrived at the conclusion that what is forbidden [to non-Muslims] is permanent settlement in the Hijaz - Mecca and Medina and their vicinity - we can see that the objection to Saudi Arabia's position, or the targeting of Saudi Arabia [in terror attacks], under the claim [that it allowed] the presence of polytheists in the Arabian Peninsula, is an objection that does not hold up against the proofs and statements that we brought from the [Islamic] nation's religious scholars…" [10]

[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 13, 2006. Among the members of Al-Gama'a who Al-Zawahiri claimed had joined Al-Qaeda was Muhammad Khalil Al-Hakayma, who appeared in the videotape and called on the Al-Gama'a leadership in Egypt to "pave the way for the people to fight against the Jews in Palestine and Lebanon and against the Crusaders in Afghanistan and in Iraq" and to "revive the military wing of Al-Gama'a." In response, the Shura Council of Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya released a statement, signed by all of its members, saying that they do not know Al-Hakayma and that he "never served a single day in any senior position in Al-Gama'a." Al-Hayat (London), August 7, 2006. Al-Hakayma, for his part, launched his own website ( ) on which he attacks the Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya leadership in Egypt and emphasizes the ideological differences between the Egyptian leadership and a number of the organization's members living in exile. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 25, 2006. The GSPC, on the other hand, confirmed that they had joined Al-Qaeda in a statement posted on their website,

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 2, 2006.

[3] Ibn Taymiyya was a medieval Muslim scholar (1263-1328) who is viewed by most contemporary Islamists as their mentor.

[4] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 2, 2006.

[5] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 28, 2006.

[6] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 29, 2006. This view is reminiscent of that of the Islamic scholar Abu Basir Al-Tartusi; see MEMRI Special Report No. 40, "Expatriate Syrian Salafi Sheikh Al-Tartusi Comes Out Against Suicide Attacks," February 10, 2006, Expatriate Syrian Salafi Sheikh Al-Tartusi Comes Out Against Suicide Attacks .

[7] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 1, 2006. The Mufti of Saudi Arabia had already expressed his opposition to plane hijackings in April 2001. See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 53, "Debating the Religious, Political and Moral Legitimacy of Suicide Bombings Part 1: The Debate over Religious Legitimacy," May 2, 2001, .

[8] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 30, 2006.

[9] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 27, 2006.

[10] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 4, 2006.