Throughout the years, the number of jihadi writings has grown enormously. Nowadays, books and fatwas on any given subject related to jihadi thought can easily be found and downloaded from the internet. As a service to those who can’t see the forest for the trees anymore or to those people who simply want a brief overview of what every budding jihadi theorist should know, the Shari’a Council of the Jama’at al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad in Gaza (not to be confused with the Shari’a Council of the Minbar al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad, on which I wrote previously) produced what can be described as a crash course in jihadi theory some time ago. The book, entitled The Gift of the Unifiers on the Most Important Issues of the Basics of Islam (also available here), describes the theoretical underpinnings of jihadis’ animosity towards Muslim states and their policies in a mere 273 pages. This post is the first of a series in which I discuss this book.
The book starts by focusing on one of the central terms of jihadi discourse, namely taghut (pl. tawaghit). Traditionally used to refer to idols, the authors of this book describe it as something that makes you cross the proper boundary of worship and obedience. In other words, a taghut is anything “one appeals to (yatahakamuna ilayhi) besides God and his Messenger or worships besides God”. The authors go on to state that “every human being needs to disbelieve in all types of taghut because that is the precondition of Islam”, which should be expressed by one’s heart, tongue and limbs (i.e. actions).
So far so good, one might think. The authors, however, continue by listing three types of taghut and this is where their true intentions become clear. Besides mentioning actual idols and other objects of what can clearly be described as worship, they also name “the idol of judgment” as a type of taghut. This category encompasses “the rulers, princes, kings, ministers, deputies, heads of tribes and judges […] if they do not judge by what God has revealed”. The idea is that following another type of legislation besides the shari’a amounts to accepting another legislator apart from God. Since God is believed to have the sole right to legislate, allowing another person to do this effectively means that one permits someone else to do part of God’s job, thus treating him/her like God. This way, the authors imply, a legislator is turned into another god, an idol. The concept of taghut thus gives these scholars the tools to equate political rulers and their governments with idols, making them fair game for the jihad they advocate.
The authors list the most important idols that tend to be “worshipped”. Interestingly, while Satan is mentioned first as the one who “calls [people] to worship [others] besides God”, “the despotic ruler who changes the rule of God” and “the one who rules on the basis of something other than what God has revealed” are listed as numbers 2 and 3, even before actual idols that people worship, which indicates how important politics and politicians are to the authors. Other tawaghit include lusts, magicians, (non-Islamic) laws and legislation, the nation and all other religions besides Islam. It speaks for itself that the authors believe that people who do “worship” such idols cannot be seen as Muslims but should be labelled “helpers of the idols” (ansar al-tawaghit) and excommunicated as infidels, for which they offer several pages of “evidence” from the Qur’an and the Sunna (the example of the Prophet Muhammad). While they certainly present many verses that condemn polytheism, these only seem to focus on the actual worship of concrete idols, not political rulers. The clever part of their reasoning is, however, that because the authors have just equated “un-Islamic” rulers with idols, they can bring down the full weight of the Qur’an and the Sunna on these political leaders every time those sources mention the word “taghut” unfavourably.
The authors subsequently analyse whether the wives and children of these political tawaghit or their helpers may also be seen as infidels. Their answer to this question is that It depends on whether or not they are aware of their husbands’ and fathers’ unbelief. If they know and agree, they are infidels too; if they don’t, they are excused. The Shari’a Council also points out that not everyone who works for a taghut is automatically an unbeliever. Economic jobs for the government, for example, or making deliveries are not necessarily forms of unbelief (kufr) but should be seen as forbidden (haram).
A special chapter is dedicated to the concept of democracy. Because democracies are ultimately ruled by the people, the latter become the source of legislation instead of God, turning the people themselves into idols. The authors are clearly against democracy and list their grievances about that system, including freedom of conscience, the right to become an apostate, freedom of expression, equality and other things that the authors consider incompatible with Islam. Interestingly, the authors also compare the concept of democracy with the Arabic shura (consultation). While some Muslim scholars have argued that shura is a pre-modern, Qur’anic and therefore authentically Islamic form of democracy, the writers of this book disagree, primarily because the (nominal) head of a shura is God, while this is not the case in a democracy.
Because democracy is so awful according to the Shari’a Council, the authors claim that it is a taghut that actually hurts and damages Islam. They state that it pervades Muslim rule and gives unbelievers power over Muslims. This is also why the authors reject setting up one’s own political party or entering parliament. Although these scholars leave themselves some room to be able to deny that all politicians are inbelievers, they are pretty sweeping in their judgement, allowing only MPs who are willing to ignore and actively disavow the constitution and other “un-Islamic” legislation to run for parliament, which basically excludes most if not all of them.
Another taghut the authors pay special attention to is secularism. Although not as strong a trend in the Arab world as a century or so ago, the writers apparently still feel the need to spend some time on this subject. They see the “worship” of the idol of secularism as responsible for moral decay in the Muslim world’s educational facilities, believe it hampers the spread of Islam’s message, leads to the persecution of Islamic preachers and, interestingly, leads to the cancellation of the duty to perform jihad.
Although this duty of jihad is not mentioned very often throughout the book, it is clear that the condemnation of political rulers in the strongest Islamic terms possible is expressed in order to show the governments’ illegitimacy and justify fighting against them. What other ways the authors of this book use to achieve the same goal will be dealt with in the next parts of this series.
To be continued…