December 24, 2013 Special Dispatch No. 5575

Saudi Journalist: The Notion Of Jihad In Syria Is Not Wrong, But Has Been Twisted By Al-Qaeda

December 24, 2013
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 5575

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, manager of Al-Arab TV and former editor of the official Saudi daily Al-Watan, dedicated his November 23, 2013 column in the London daily Al-Hayat to the topic of youths who are tempted to travel to jihad in Syria. The title of the column calls to provide those who want to join the Jihad in Syria with a "different address" (i.e., a different ideological basis for jihad). Khashoggi describes a young Saudi man's journey to Syria, starting with his surfing the internet at home and being exposed to sheikhs sanctioning jihad in Syria, and ending with his arrival in the country. Khashoggi claims that jihad, especially against Assad in Syria, is a fundamentally legitimate and proper notion, but that people require guidance regarding it, because it has lost its true path and has been twisted by Salafi-jihadi movements like Al-Qaeda, as evident today in Syria. Khashoggi suggests that jihadis who fought in Afghanistan in the 80s but remained moderate and level-headed should hold a dialogue with the more moderate jihadis in Al-Qaeda, like the fighters of Jabhat Al-Nusra, in order to reform them and dismantle the organization's ideological framework.[1]

It should be mentioned that Khashoggi, who was in Afghanistan in the 80s as a journalist, has spoken positively of the jihad there and said that he even intended to join it, for example in an interview with the Arab channel Rotana in July, 2012.[2]

Jamal Khashoggi (image:, June 20, 2009)

Khashoggi in Afghanistan in 1989 (image: Sabq, Saudi Arabia, July 23, 2009)

The following is a translation of Khashoggi's column:

"So long as Bashar Al-Assad remains and continues his crimes, Syria will be a 'magnet' for a new generation of Arab jihadis. Naturally, the Arab security [forces] do not desire this, but must admit that they cannot stop the stream of those wishing to join the ranks of jihad in Syria. So what can be done? Before answering this, we must acquaint ourselves with these new jihadis. They are normative young people in their early twenties or even younger, still in high school, from all social classes, who are [still] living with parents and siblings. They are not necessarily devout, and their behavior does not [necessarily] betray their intentions. Moreover, they [themselves] do not expect to do what they do [i.e. set off for jihad in Syria].

"For the last two and a half years they have been undergoing a harsh trial: On news channels, in meetings, and on social networking [sites] they encounter the horrors being committed in Syria against youths like them, against young women like their sisters, and against honorable men and women like their parents. They also follow statements by Arab and foreign officials who condemn these crimes but do not stop them. They follow the summits, they follow U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who makes statements here and there, and U.S. president Obama, who forewent punishing Bashar Al-Assad at the last minute [even though] the latter crossed the red line that Obama himself had set, namely the use of chemical weapons. Bashar did this and killed some 2,000 Syrians, most of them children at the age of [the new jihadis'] younger siblings. They hear their grandmothers curse Bashar and say to themselves: 'We must do something in addition to cursing.'

"They remember what they heard from their teachers about the virtues of jihad, and repeat the hadith: 'He who dies without embarking on jihad or even considering it in his heart dies while in a state of hypocrisy.' One of them reaches for the iPad that his mother gave him several weeks ago and types into Google: 'I want to join the jihad in Syria.' The page fills with responses, and he spends an hour reading them. Some advise him to donate [the mujahideen money], since they do not need more men. Someone else says: Go to Turkey and travel to one of the southern cities, [then] find some Syrians there and look for a guide.

"From Google Answers he goes on to more specific websites like Minbar Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad ['The Pulpit of Monotheism and Jihad'] [3] and finds deeper religious studies and answers to questions that trouble him, the most important of which is does he require his parents' permission [to join the jihad in Syria]. A sheikh he does not know, named Abu Mundhir Al-Shinqiti,[4] responds that he does not require [permission from his parents] if the jihad is 'individual duty jihad.' But what is 'individual duty jihad', the young man asks himself while everyone at home is already asleep, and researches the religious law concerning jihad on Google. He finds that the events in Syria [are considered] 'defensive jihad [i.e., a struggle against an occupier] whom every individual Muslim is obliged [to join] if he can.'

"Our friend continues to drift through jihadi fatwas, and, through this new term he has encountered – 'defensive jihad' – he becomes acquainted with the types and conditions of jihad, and delves into discussions regarding [the need] of a guardian's approval and the banner of tribal zealotry.[5] He becomes acquainted with [more] sheikhs he has never heard of before, like Al-Tartusi, Al-Naqib, and Al-Heweny,[6] and finds fatwas by senior Saudi religious scholars like Sheikh Saleh Al-Fawzan, which urge jihad and desire it, but condition it upon receiving permission from one's guardian, both parents and the ruler. However, he also finds those who object to this and who do not recognize the legitimacy of any guardian [in this context].

"The call for the morning prayer saves him from these contradicting thoughts and fatwas. He turns off his computer and shuts his eyes, and the call for prayer still surrounds and beckons him, and so do the images of the killing [in Syria]. Suddenly he [recalls] Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah telling his supporters that his forces and men will remain in Syria. This was the last thing he saw on the news with his father the last night. He feels angry, but he collects his thoughts, leaves his bed, and goes to purify before entering the mosque for morning prayers. The last time he did this was during Ramadan. At the mosque he meets his uncle, who is his neighbor, and smiles at [his uncle] and greets him. In the afternoon the uncle calls [the youth's] father and says: 'He came to pray with us this morning, which is unusual, so keep an eye on him!'

"Our friend will find his path to jihad. He may find the first lead [to jihad] in his own city, [or] he may embark on an adventure and try to find [the lead] in Turkey or Jordan. But he will eventually find it, since there is an active underground network, [which operates] via the internet and direct contact, and will lead him to one address – which is Al-Qaeda.

"The solution may be to create another address, since the notion of jihad and aid to the Syrian people is not a fundamentally wrong. It is Al-Qaeda's presence [in Syria] that has caused governments that identify with the Syrian people to ban their citizens not only from joining in the fighting [against Assad] but even from volunteering for aid activity, which could attract many enthusiastic youths. The experience in Afghanistan in the 1980s was successful, despite the attempts by some people to twist it today. I say this out of knowledge and experience. [This experiment] did not deviate from its path until the appearance of takfiri and jihadi streams that did an injustice to Salafi ideology by associating themselves with it.

"Most of those who took part in that stage returned to their homelands calm and moderate and gained a positive reputation. They are [certainly] jihad fighters, but, as befitting jihad fighters, they eschewed exaggeration and violations, [and] they respected their governments and public order. They matured into moderate and serious middle aged men, and they can take part in a project for containing these youths and protecting them from deviation and from falling into Al-Qaeda's trap. Moreover, with support from clerics, they may even succeed in starting a dialogue with the moderate forces in Al-Qaeda, such as Jabhat Al-Nusra, who has also realized the exaggerated extremism of the actions of ISIS,[7] and restore them to the middle path that can contain us all. This will be another round of the war against terror via an ideological struggle that will help dismantle the ideological framework of Al-Qaeda.

"This program does not need to be [officially] declared and it does not require funding, since it can fund itself. It is enough to supervise it from a distance and divert attention away from it, and later supervise it like we did in Afghanistan. No one can tell us that this is an Afghanization of Syria, since Afghanization has already occurred in Syria. It is true that this is a crazy idea, but isn't everything that is happening in Syria crazy?"


[1] Al-Hayat (London), November 23, 2013.

[2] Sabq (Saudi Arabia), July 23, 2012.

[3] Minbar Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad is a leading Salafi-Jihadi website. The site's Shari'a committee, led by Sheikh Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi, is a primary source of authority for extremist Salafis around the world.

[4] Abu Mundhir Al-Shinqiti is a member of the Shari'a committee of Minbar Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad, and has published dozens of fatwas on various topics in recent years, many of which deal with calls for jihad and encouraging terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings.

[5] Referring to a hadith that states that one who dies fighting for the banner of tribal zealotry dies an infidel.

[6] Abu Basir Al-Tartusi is an exiled Syrian Salafi-jihadi sheikh living in Britain; Ahmed Al-Naqib and Abu Ishaq Al-Heweny are Egyptian Salafi sheikhs.

[7] ISIS is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – an organization established in April 2013 when the head of the Al-Qaeda affiliate Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, announced that his organization was expanding its activity to Syria. The organization champions extremist Salafi ideology and global jihad. It has established itself as one of the most powerful and influential forces in Syria thanks to thousands of foreign fighters who have joined its ranks. It sees itself as the nucleus of the future caliphate and insists that all fighters and organizations in Syria come together under the leadership of Al-Baghdadi, whom they consider the legitimate leader of the entire Muslim nation.

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