Is the Islamic world rejecting al-Qaeda theology, thanks to the War in Iraq?


We’ve often heard critics of the war in Iraq assert that we’ve diverted attention away from the real war on terror, and need to focus attention on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan (as if we aren’t engaged against al-Qaeda operatives all over the world). Even Presidential candidates think it’s a winning statement, to push forth the belief that Iraq is still a disaster, and that we’ve only succeeded in “emboldening our enemies” and “We are seeing al-Qaeda stronger now than at any time since 2001.” The other criticism is to dismiss the level of influence of al Qaeda in Iraq, because foreign fighters make up a low percentage number of the insurgents.

Yet developments in Iraq have seen not only the success of the Surge, but also a rejection of al-Qaeda by all Iraqis including (and especially by) Sunnis; as well as a growing rejection of al-Qaeda theology in the Muslim world, in general. Iraq damaged al Qaeda’s image and any prestige they might have commanded, at one point. Al Qaeda knows this. Why doesn’t Senator Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Ariana Huffington?

Last year, Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, a popular Saudi Islamic scholar criticized Osama bin Laden who once lionized him.

Mufti Sheikh Abd Al-’Aziz bin Abdallah Aal Al-Sheikh, the highest Islamic religious authority in Saudi Arabia, issued a fatwa prohibiting Saudi youth from engaging in jihad abroad. Tareq Al-Humaid, the editor of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, points out the significance:

“It is true that some of these [young people] have become enslaved by Al-Qaeda and its ideology, and are now beyond hope; however, the importance of the fatwa lies in the impact that it will have on most of the Saudi public, and in particular the fathers and mothers. Its value lies in the fact that it will wrest from the hands of the ‘politicized sheikhs’ the card that they have been using all this time.

“Where are the moderates?” Mainstream Muslims have been rejecting terrorism and al Qaeda’s brand of Islamic ideology, even as we remain suspicious of the sincerity and heart of those who profess to be practitioners of the Islamic faith.

The most recent astonishing and important rejection and condemnation of al Qaeda comes from Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, also known as Dr. Fadl.

Who is Dr. Fadl?

Lawrence Wright, author of the most definitive account of the history of al-Qaeda, The Looming Tower, writes in the New Yorker:

Last May, a fax arrived at the London office of the Arabic newspaper Asharq Al Awsat from a shadowy figure in the radical Islamist movement who went by many names. Born Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, he was the former leader of the Egyptian terrorist group Al Jihad [Egyptian Islamic Jihad], and known to those in the underground mainly as Dr. Fadl. Members of Al Jihad became part of the original core of Al Qaeda; among them was Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s chief lieutenant. Fadl was one of the first members of Al Qaeda’s top council. Twenty years ago, he wrote two of the most important books in modern Islamist discourse; Al Qaeda used them to indoctrinate recruits and justify killing. Now Fadl was announcing a new book, rejecting Al Qaeda’s violence. “We are prohibited from committing aggression, even if the enemies of Islam do that,” Fadl wrote in his fax, which was sent from Tora Prison, in Egypt.

Fadl’s fax confirmed rumors that imprisoned leaders of Al Jihad were part of a trend in which former terrorists renounced violence. His defection posed a terrible threat to the radical Islamists, because he directly challenged their authority. “There is a form of obedience that is greater than the obedience accorded to any leader, namely, obedience to God and His Messenger,” Fadl wrote, claiming that hundreds of Egyptian jihadists from various factions had endorsed his position.

Why my emphases? Because of my recent arguments with fellow war-on-terror conservatives, regarding the nature of Islam, and what approach to use in dealing with a religion of 1.5 billion, that seems to have a serious anger management problem.

Andrew McCarthy, author of Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad, estimates that perhaps 20% of Muslims are an issue, when it comes to Islamic terror and Islamism. They are a vocal, “dynamic minority”, he said yesterday in an interview on the Dennis Prager Show. Most readers find Spencerian agreement with McCarthy in his assessment of the Islamist threat. But I do not think he goes so far as to condemn Islam as a whole, falling into the pitfalls of educated religious bigotry.

Can terrorists be reformed? Yes. Dr. Fadl may still be an Islamist whose values we still differ strongly with; but if he rejects the violence of terrorism and is a legitimate, influential voice for Islamic scholarship, then he is an important chess piece in winning the Long War.

The fact that a major, influential player in the “jihad” movement has now come out in rejection of violence as a method to spreading Islam should be welcomed and encouraged. And he is not alone:

Another important event occurred in October 2007, when Sheikh Abd Al-’Aziz bin Abdallah Aal Al-Sheikh, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, issued a fatwa prohibiting Saudi youth from engaging in jihad abroad.


Sheikh Salman alAwdah, an influential Saudi cleric whom Mr bin Laden once lionised, wrote an “open letter” condemning Mr bin Laden. “Brother Osama, how much blood has been spilt? How many innocents among children, elderly, the weak, and women have been killed and made homeless in the name of al-Qaeda?” Sheikh Awdah wrote. “The ruin of an entire people, as is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq . . . cannot make Muslims happy.”

If we are going to win the War against Islamic Terror, it will not be by violently eradicating 1.5 billion plus Muslims into extinction, but by converting hearts and minds to reject terrorism; by convincing those who practice Islam that what they have been told by the Zawahiris regarding persecution from the West, is propaganda and lies. al-Qaeda has murdered more Muslims than President George W. Bush; and they have deceived and misled many more.

Islam critics claim that Islam cannot be reformed (unless, of course, it’s in the direction of more violence), that it’s incompatible with democracy, that there is no such thing as “radical” Islam. But a “pacified” Islam is exactly what was and has been taking place in Muslim countries. Many Muslims have accepted living under secular governments and not Sharia. It is the wahhabists, salafi fundamentalists, and modern “jihad” movement, as instigated by the likes of Zawahiri, Dr. Fadl, and Sayyid Qutb, who wish to derail the secular modernization of the Islamic faith- what they see as the erosion of “true” Islam- with their own backward reformation movement.

But al Qaeda is the enemy of us all, including Islam. it is influential modern works of Islamist scholars, such as Dr. Fadl’s ” “The Compendium of the Pursuit of Divine Knowledge” as much as anything found in the Koran or Hadith, from which “jihadis” draw their inspiration and motivation. Good, peaceful Muslims also read from the Koran. Not from the interpretive writings on Islam by radicalizers such as Sayyid Qutb and Abdul Qader bin Abdul Aziz (Dr. Fadl’s pen name under which he wrote the Compendium used for al Qaeda recruitment).

Today, Dr. Fadl’s most recent book “undermined the entire intellectual framework of jihadist warfare.” and is “a trenchant attack on the immoral roots of Al Qaeda’s theology”. And that’s a good thing.

There is an ideological/theological split in the “jihad” movement, and we should take advantage of that. Merely condemning Islam as an evil religion, as some commenters have done on my previous posts of this nature, does nothing to encourage this tearing asunder and fomenting of an ideological “civil war”.

If Islam wishes to survive beyond the 21st century, it will not be by embracing the romanticized, revisionist delusions of political Islamic scholars who wish to reform Islam away from secularized compatibility and modernity, and back toward 7th and 12th century intolerability and past glory.

Read the entire Lawrence Wright article. And also Peter Wehner’s take on it.

Hat tip: Hugh Hewitt
(*UPDATE*: Curt posts part of yesterday’s Hewitt interview with Lawrence Wright)

Related post: CiA tells Congress Al Queda is losing hearts and minds

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UGH! Perfect comment eaten by a keyboard fart!


Here’s a quick reconstruction:

The broader question here is how widely are these moderating voices being heard and how effective are they in moderating the attitudes of those who once considered violent jihad to be a religous command?

Also, President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq may turn out to the pivotal and decisive move to win the global war on terror.

Once Saddam was deposed, Al Queda and Shia extremists flooded into Iraq under the banner of jihad. But now, they have been humiliated by defeat at the hands of U.S. troops, and more importantly, rejected by the Iraqis themselves.

The question I have when all the dust has settled: Will Democrats who would have withdrawn in defeat ever be held accountable for their lack of vision, foresight and fortitude?

P.S. How does this new moderating influence help with deal with the problem of cultural jihad?

The Cost of Appeasement

I would say it’s not the religion, but the culture that’s dictating the religion. One of the key points this century is that the begining of every century with at least one Mujaddid. Apparently the religon gets corrupted and must be revised. That’s the job of the Mujaddid.
Sheikh Abd-al-Aziz ibn Abd-Allah ibn Baaz and Sheikh Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani both died in 1999. The Mujaddid comes from Heaven, but it’s politics which is preventing one from being recognized. So far the nominees have all denounced terrorism and much of the lifestyle that critics have pounced on. Of course this gets in the way of people using faith to promote their agenda and that’s why there is no Mujaddid. I believe that the religion has been hijacked for Earthly gains, but that could happen to any religion (see the Spanish Inquisition, Manifest Destiny, the justification of having slaves and the violence against Mormans and Jews by the U.S. and the U.S.). Any legit Jihad would be for a revolt againt the hijacking and put the religion back into Islam.

Excellent post Word and it should be a must read by those who believe the only way to win this War on Terror is to destroy Islam. The way to win this war is for those moderates who do not advocate violence to stand up and be counted. To become those strong leaders for the youth to emulate.

Sunnis make up just 20% of the population of Iraqi. Al Qaeda never had any support amongst the majority Shia 60%

Well, no kidding. Anything else you want to add to your point as it relates to the post, Mr. Ryan?

Surprise. Surprise.

Turns out ‘Muslims’ haven’t been all about the destruction of the west and world domination after all.

Except for Rachel Ray apparently.

What’s a matter Artie… you don’t get enough attention at Mike’s America?

Your comment is pointless as usual.

Wordsmith: I’ve seen the Pew report and it’s nearly a year old. I was hoping to see something more recent. Maybe they will update it in July.

In other news: Arthur is still afflicted with a chronic case of cranial rectal inversion.

That’s not a surprise.

Al Qaeda never had any support amongst the majority Shia 60%

Saddam didn’t have that 60% support either, John Ryan. Are you suggesting that it’s impossible for a minority to have dictatorial rule over the majority? In which case, you are ignoring decades of history in that very country.

Arthur, it has never been suggested that *all* Muslims support a caliphate. However a minority of militants, using violence, fear and weaponry, can take over a nation and enforce their will… see the case of Saddam and a minority, ruling for decades over the majority.

You are on point with this assessment. I have Muslim friends and I can tell you that they are no more terrorist sympathizers than you or I. However, if we make Islam the enemy rather than the extremist who seek tyranny under the guise of religious doctrine, then we will find ourselves in a never-ending battle.

To MataHarley’s point: It is true that a minority can enforce its will on the majority given the right circumstances and armed strength. But as we have seen in Iraq, al-Qaeda was only as strong as its support from the Sunni population.

The major concern I have with our reaction to extremist is that we turn everything representing Arab culture into symbols or terrorism. When an American company has to pull an ad due to a scarf – we are not far from the edge. I can see a day when a Persian rug becomes evidence of sympathizing with Iran.

Right on, James Manning… INRE “turn everything representing Arab Culture into symbols or terrorism”.

I have complained for a very long time about the inadequate definition of the enemy – the global Islamic jihad movement. We westeners do not enjoy the ability to see the Arab or Muslim perspective with accuracy because of our upbringing, and our privilege of freedom at birth in this country. The only views provided are thru the eyes of a western press, using generalized, over simplified analogies.

i.e., it is not always Sunni vs Shia. They have been known to cooperate in many a mission against a common foe. Hezbollah and Hamas enjoy interrelations and support that would surprpise many. Fact is, an Iranian-Shia theocracy is no better for the population at large, or their economy, than a Sunni theocracy.

Islamic rule as law of the land results in 3rd world conditions and human rights violations at every turn. Modern Islam rejects this type of governance with elections at every turn (with the exception of Palestine, which voted for Hamas socialist welfare programs).

I too will rue the day when we lose the valuable culture contributions of the Middle East because of too broad of associations. However humanity and public opinion, in their simplicity and lack of perspective, often tends to react in the extreme.

Sure glad I learned how to make my own hummus tho…. LOL