The London-based Islamist Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, leader of the Al-Muhajiroun movement, who describes himself as the principal lecturer at the "London School of Shari`ah," has published an article on the present-day meaning and application of the term Jihad on the Muhajiroun website.
The article is interesting and significant because it appears to deviate from the Al-Qa'ida ideology endorsed by Sheikh Bakri and by other militant Islamist groups which call for the violent removal of "impious regimes" in Muslim countries as well as for Jihad in Western countries.
Sheikh Bakri's main religious ruling is that while Jihad to liberate "occupied Muslim lands" remains obligatory - other types of war, such as the violent removal of "impious Muslim regimes" and acts of war throughout the world are not Jihad and are not sanctioned by Islamic law.
Mistaken Interpretations of the Term Jihad
Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad begins the article by rejecting three different but, in his view, equally mistaken interpretations of the term Jihad. These interpretations are: 1) that the purpose of Jihad is the forcible conversion of non-Muslims; 2) that its purpose is the establishment of an Islamic state; 3) that Jihad refers to the personal efforts of the individual to become "a model citizen in whatever society one finds oneself in." Having rejected all of these interpretations, he continues: "Rather, Jihad is the method adopted by Islam to protect land, honor and life and to save humanity from slavery to man-made regimes."
Sheikh Bakri argues that Jihad today should be understood and applied in a restricted sense. At the end of a long and repetitious presentation of the positions of eminent medieval Muslim scholars, Sheikh Bakri reaches the following conclusion: "The question of whether Jihad can be used to remove existing regimes is a relatively new issue which must be addressed. The Muslim Ummah has never before been in a position where we are divided into over 55 nations each with its own oppressive kufr [infidel] regime ruling above us. There is no doubt therefore that the vital issue for the Muslims today is to establish the Khilafah [caliphate]. Allah (be He praised) makes it clear in the Qur'an that there is no compulsion in the Deen ["religion", i.e. Islam] hence we do not fight the Kuffar [infidels] to become Muslims."
"There is also ample proof from the sayings and the actions of the Messenger Muhammad (may Allah pray for Him) that non-Muslims have sanctity for their lives unless they are at war with the Muslims either determined by the Khalifah (Caliph) in his foreign policy or (as in today's situation) they are violating the sanctity of Muslim land, honor or life. Much advice has also been given by the Messenger Muhammad (may Allah pray for Him) on Jihad which makes it clear that this duty is pro-life as opposed to anti-life, such as not killing women and children, not killing the elderly or monks, not targeting the trees or animals, etc..."
"Hence, although foreign forces occupying Muslim land are legitimate targets and we are obliged to liberate Muslim land from such occupation and to co-operate with each other in the process, and can even target their embassies and military bases, there is no divine evidence for us to fight against Muslims who are part of the regimes in Muslim countries as a methodology to establish the Khilafah. Rather, we urge our Muslim brothers in Islamic Movements who are engaged in this violation of the Shari`ah to look at the evidences and follow that which is based on Yaqeen (indisputable legal knowledge) and may Allah (be He praised) guide us all to the best."
Sheikh Bakri makes it clear that nowadays Jihad becomes a religious obligation only "when the enemy enters Muslim land, such as Palestine, Chechnya, Kosova or Kashmir." This obligation applies to "all Muslims living within travelling distance of the aggression," and, if they are unable to liberate the occupied land, then the obligation extends to all other Muslims living in the adjacent regions. Muslims worldwide "will [also] have an obligation from the first day [of conflict] to support those fighting, which support can be physical, verbal or financial...."
Some Well-Known Islamic Concepts No Longer Apply
Significantly, Sheikh Bakri argues that the well-known Islamic concepts of Dar Al-Islam versus Dar Al-Harb no longer apply. This means that the implicit obligation of Muslims to wage war on Dar Al-Harb ("The Abode of War," i.e. territory ruled by non-Muslims) is no longer applicable. Sheikh Bakri argues that the concept of Dar Al-Islam implies the existence of a Khilafa (Caliphate) and that because there is no Khilafa nowadays (since the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate in March 1924), there is no Dar Al-Islam and, consequently, no Dar Al-Harb.
Nevertheless, he continues, when the kuffar (infidels) occupy Muslim land, then this occupied land becomes, to all practical purposes, Dar Al-Harb, and Muslims are required to fight for its liberation, "as in Palestine, Chechnya, Bosnia, etc." He adds that such territories may also be defined as Dar Al-Ghasab ("usurped land"). Among such territories he lists Kashmir, Palestine and Northern Spain (sic).
Sheikh Bakri stresses that when fighting to liberate occupied Muslim land, "the divine rules of Jihad must be observed, i.e., Muslims are forbidden from killing women, children, the elderly or trees unless killed accidentally and unavoidably because, for example, they are located amongst the enemy. But the military institutions and governments of any country occupying Muslim land are legitimate targets and if its liberation cannot be achieved without their destruction, then their destruction will become obligatory."
Dhimmitude Still Applies
On the questions of the status of non-Muslims living in Muslim countries, Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad rules that the traditional concept of Dhimma still applies: "We cannot simply say that because we have no Khilafah we can just go ahead and kill any non-Muslim, rather, we must still fulfill their Dhimmah..." This means that Christians and Jews should continue to enjoy their traditional protected status in Islam, even though the caliphate has ceased to exist.
It appears that, while enjoining war to liberate Muslim countries such as Palestine, Kashmir, and Kosova, as well as, parts of Spain, Sheikh Bakri firmly rejects the call for Jihad against both non-Muslim countries and their 'infidel' inhabitants, as well as the call for Jihad against 'impious' Muslim regimes.
These rulings clearly deviate from his (and other Islamist groups') pro-Qa'ida positions.