The April 19 ISIS video showing the killing of 30 Ethiopian Christians in Libya by the Islamic State (ISIS) received extensive international coverage. Media outlets showed edited portions of the killings or screenshots of the now-familiar images of bound men in orange jumpsuits with masked jihadists ready to kill.
Strangely enough, there was very little press coverage on the bulk of the 29-minute video - 24 minutes of it - that focused not on the killings themselves but on ISIS's view of Christianity and Christians and how they should be treated. While their actions may be different, an analysis of the content of this video and an analysis of fatwas featured on the Saudi government's official website government show considerable overlap in views on Christians and how they should be treated.
The video, titled "Until There Came to Them Clear Evidence" (taken from Surat Al-Bayyinah, 98:1), the video opens with the traditional polemical view of Christianity buttressed by Koranic quotes: a restating of strict monotheism, how the faith and practice of Christians are lacking, how they corrupted the Gospel (the Injil) delivered to the "last prophet to come from the children of Israel" Isa Ibn Maryam (Jesus the Son of Mary), how Christ was not really crucified but a substitute was crucified in his place, and how Christians are "mushrikeen" who "associate partners with God."
Using extensive footage from movies ("Kingdom of Heaven" and "The Passion of the Christ"), the video then relates a skewed and hostile version of Christian history and denominations: the Roman Catholic Church "established in the 8th century," the Coptic Orthodox Church, with its Ethiopian and Armenian subsets, the Eastern Orthodox Church in Greece and Russia, and "the Protestant Church." Christians (Al-Nasara) are described as "a nation that deviated from the benevolent religion of monotheism." The Koran, the hadith, and Islamic consensus are all marshalled to prove this disbelief.
Following this six-minute introduction, the video introduces its "star" Abu Malik Anas Al-Nashwan (real name Abu Malik Al-Tamimi Al-Najdi), a senior ISIS Sharia official and Saudi who graduated from Imam Muhammad Bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh with the highest marks. Al-Tamimi was an enthusiastic member of the Saudi religious police who was being groomed for a position in the Saudi Ministry of Justice before leaving the country in 2009 for Afghanistan, where he fought in Kunar and Nuristan and was lightly wounded. He eventually moved to Syria, where he swore allegiance to ISIS. Supposedly he was No. 3 on Saudi Arabia's most wanted list in 2011.
Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University has been described by Saudi dissident blogger Raif Badawi as a "den of terrorists." Some of the 9/11 terrorists had a connection with that university, which also produced "jihadi jailbird" and influential ideologue Nasir Al-Fahd. Imprisoned since 2004, Al-Fahd posted a 2012 fatwa online calling for jihad against "the cursed Jews everywhere" as a supreme duty.
The same university produced Abd Al-Aziz Fawzan Al-Fawzan, who, unlike Al-Tamimi and Al-Fahd, is very much an establishment figure. Not only is he a Professor of Islamic Law at that university and a member of the Saudi Human Rights Commission, but he also taught in the U.S. and founded, and directs, a well-funded Spanish-language satellite television station based in Madrid - Cordoba Television International - aimed at converting Spanish speakers in Spain and Latin America to Salafi Islam. Ironically, the Moroccan government refused to allow the station to be set up its territory. Al-Fawzan gained some notoriety in 2005 when he called for "positive hatred" of Christians for their religious beliefs. He topped that when he came out as a 9/11 truther, claiming about Americans that "either they were accomplices in 9/11, or else they carried it out." He has frequently denounced Shi'a Muslims, and described ISIS as an "American, Zionist, Safavid" organization.
Al-Tamimi makes five appearances in the video, all in Arabic with no translation. His focus, which comprises the bulk of the video, is on how Christians should be treated when Muslims rule. In addition to sending a bloody message to Christians, the video is didactic, instructing other Muslims in how they should implement a well-known but disused call to action. Christians should be given three choices; convert, pay the jizya tax and be protected as long as they fulfill certain conditions, or be killed. The 14th century Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim Al-Jawziyya is quoted as saying that the purpose of the jizya is ultimately "to subdue and humiliate" the unbelieving Christians. Faith in God is "the humiliation of disbelief, its scorn and imposition of jizya and slavery on the unbelievers."
Al-Tamimi also quotes hadith and the influential 14th century scholar Ismail Ibn Kathir, who instructs Muslims to "not initiate the Salam to the Jews and Christians, and if you meet any of them in a road, force them to its narrowest alley. This is why the Leader of the faithful 'Umar bin Al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, demanded that his well-known conditions be met by the Christians, these conditions that ensured their continued humiliation, degradation and disgrace."
While some apologists have sought to portray ISIS's world view as somehow aberrant, their stance on Muslim-Christian relations closely mirrors that of state Salafism. The official fatwa website of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is in Arabic and English, prominently features the fatwas of the late Abdulaziz bin Baz which, not surprisingly, match Ibn Al-Qayyim and Al-Tamimi word for word:
"There are many Hadith that carry the same meaning and these Glorious Ayahs (Koranic verses) clearly indicate the obligation to fight the Kafirs (disbelievers) and Mushriks (those associating others in worship with Allah) - after Islam has been conveyed to them and they have been invited to it, and they still insist on their Kufr (disbelief) - until they worship Allah Alone, believe in His Messenger, Muhammad (peace be upon him), and follow what he brought. Their blood and properties are not inviolable without this. This is so for both types of Jihad, and there is no exception from this, except for those who abide by the Jizyah (poll tax required from non-Muslims living in an Islamic state) and its conditions, if they are among the people to whom its ruling applies, acting upon the Saying of Allah."
Although bin Baz has been dead for years, his influence remains. He was a controversial figure among Salafists, principally for his generally strong support for the government, but not for his conservatism. Rulings by the KSA Permanent Committee for Scholarly Research and Ifta agree with the ISIS view of Christians as unbelievers (kufar) and mushrikeen "who should be treated as such regarding the rulings of this world and the hereafter." Christians and Jews in Saudi Arabia are unknowingly fortunate in that the country in which they are working does not practice on a daily basis what it, and ISIS, so strenuously preach - that is, that they be killed or enslaved, or pay.
ISIS's media prowess seems to backfire, as the next segment of the video interviews a series of Christians who are paying the jizya in the Islamic State's de facto capital of Raqqa. The interviewees are wary and nervous-looking old men interviewed at their work places or at the sharia court, unsmiling and humbled. A street sign seen in the video advertises the office of an Armenian dentist, Dr. Ara Sanosian, and several of these "Christians from the people of protection" call on their co-religionists to return. But there are no images of Christian life in Raqqa and, not surprisingly, no images of Christian worship in Raqqa, given that all church buildings were desecrated in 2013. At least one church was turned into an Islamic center in 2014.
Former Armenian Orthodox Church of the Martyrs in Raqqa (source: Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, September 25, 2014)
In Al-Tamimi's last two appearances in the video, he castigates the Christians of Mosul for not submitting like the Christians of Raqqa. He claims that the Nineveh Christians chose their own fate and were not killed but only expelled because of a merciful decision by ISIS Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Their property was then expropriated.
The video then segues into the part that everyone knows - the killing of 30 Ethiopians ("worshippers of the cross of the hostile Ethiopian Church") with the English-speaking leader of the ISIS death squad promising more killing "unless you pay jizya and feel yourself subdued."
Al-Tamimi's rhetoric can find open echoes in the remarks of the most establishment figures in today's Saudi Arabia, with Sheikh Adil Al-Kalbani, one of the Imams at the Grand Mosque in Mecca who was lauded in the New York Times as some sort of liberal, commenting recently that "it is enough for me that I live in a country where I don't have to listen to the ringing of church bells."
One of the challenges in confronting the discourse of ISIS is that it is part of a much larger discourse promoted by other Salafis, even governments, throughout the region. ISIS justifies its actions against Christians using the words of influential conservative clerics - Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn Al-Qayyim, Ibn Kathir - that are widely accepted in at least some important religious circles and are echoed in the contemporary official religious rulings of an important regional power. Brooklyn Imam Tariq Yusuf Al-Masri places the blame on these key scholars who influence Salafism in general and ISIS in particular:
"Who instilled so much hatred in these generations? It is the ideology present in the books - the ideology of Ibn Taymiyyah, of Ibn Al-Qayyim, of Al-Nawawi. These are the pillars of this ideology. In modern times, we have Ibn Baz, Ibn Al-Uthaymeen, Al-Huweini, Muhammad Hassan... These people are responsible for instilling hatred in human beings. Anyone claiming that we are not allowed to wish the Christians happy holidays has prepared the killers in France, Boston, in Iraq, in Syria, in EgyptÔÇªThese people constitute the fertile ground for terrorism, which they present as the religion of Allah, conveyed to the Prophet Muhammad, while Islam has nothing to do with them."
While the Saudis, as part of an American-led coalition, participate in an air war against ISIS, underwrite an expensive de-radicalization program, and arrest many homegrown terrorists within their country, they are very much a house divided against itself. This is not a new connection; it has been written about before. Arabic-language media reported on May14 that Al-Tamimi was killed leading the ISIS forces seizing the town of Al-Sukhna in Syria. The last footage available of him shows him exhorting ISIS fighters to obtain "victory or martyrdom." But with his bloodstained exposition of ISIS's most extensive primer on how Christians are to be treated - and how they have been treated in Raqqa, Mosul and Libya - the connection of current Saudi education and contemporary Saudi religious guidance to the brutal, extreme action by ISIS remains very much alive.
*Alberto M. Fernandez is Vice-President of MEMRI.
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