A Crash Course in Jihadi Theory (Part 4)

As we saw in the previous parts of this series, the Shari’a Council of the Jama’at al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad in Gaza wrote a book that can be described as a “crash course” in jihadi theory. In part 1, I described how the council used the term taghut (idol, pl. tawaghit) to accuse the rulers of the Muslim world of unbelief and why they were adamantly against both democracy and secularism. In part 2, we saw that the council believes Muslim rulers should be overthrown because of their man-made legislation but that something beneficial for Muslims should replace them, with the obvious favourite being a truly Islamic imamate of course. Finally, in part 3 it became clear that, its radicalism notwithstanding, the council did not believe any sinful Muslim should simply be fought by means of jihad but that one should be careful in applying takfir (excommunication). The “infidel” rulers, though, should preferably be fought since they cannot possibly claim ignorance of the major tenets of Islam that they are apparently violating so clearly.


This final part of the series on the council’s “crash course” deals with several subjects that are closely related to previous ones. The first of these is “loyalty” (wala’), which the authors state Muslims should always show towards each other but never towards non-Muslims, whom they should stay away from through disavowal (bara’). The concept of al-wala’ wa-l-bara’, the authors state, is “among the most prominent beliefs” of Islam. The authors distinguish between tawalli to “infidels”, which is a form of wala’ that is kufr akbar (major unbelief, which expels the culprit from Islam), and muwalat, which only amounts to kufr asghar (minor unbelief, which is sinful but does not expel one from Islam). This way, the authors link up their description of al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ with the various types of kufr dealt with in other parts of their book (see here).

The authors move on to describe what forms of wala’ to non-Muslims amount to tawalli (and therefore justify takfir and jihad) and what forms are simply muwalat, which do no just legitimise such measures. Not surprisingly, the “sins” that irritate the council most (the rulers’ support for non-Muslims and their adherence to “un-Islamic” legislation) are in the more serious tawalli category, while relatively minor issues such as resembling non-Muslims in manners and celebrations are only labelled muwalat. Thus, the authors again use their interpretation of a new concept (in this case al-wala’ wa-l-bara’) to show that their views on the unbelief and “un-Islamic” legislation of the rulers are completely accurate.

The “Abodes”

The next section of the book deals with an age-old subject, namely “the abode of Islam” (dar al-Islam) and “the abode of unbelief” (dar al-kufr). While most readers of Jihadica will be familiar with these terms (or similar ones such as dar al-iman and dar al-harb), the authors specify them in a way that seems much too detailed for a “crash course”. They define “the abode of Islam” as the land where Islamic legislation and power rule supreme, even if the majority of its inhabitants are non-Muslims; “the abode of unbelief”, on the other hand, is the land where “infidel” rules are applied, even if Muslims are the majority of its population. This latter term is specified into three different terms: the original abode of unbelief (dar al-kufr al-asli), such as the U.S. and Europe; the unusual abode of unbelief (dar al-kufr al-tari’), which was once under Muslim rule but not anymore, such as Spain and Israel; and the abode of apostasy (dar al-ridda), which obviously includes Muslim countries whose rulers have supposedly abandoned Islam.

The authors continue by distinguishing a number of other “abodes”: the dar al-kufr may, for example, be dar al-harb (the abode of war) or dar al-‘ahd (the abode of the treaty). The former is obviously a country or part of the world that is formally at war with the Muslims while the latter is not dar al-Islam but has established a treaty with it, hence its name. In order to complicate things further, the authors add – crisscrossing the abodes already distinguished – “the abode of security” (dar al-amn) and “the abode of chaos” (dar al-fitna), referring to the lands where Muslims are safe and those where they are not, respectively. The council comes up with more terms and asks questions such as: “Can the dar al-kufr become dar al-Islam and vice versa?” The answer is obviously “yes”, since even cities such as Mecca and Medina once used to be part of the dar al-kufr and, considering the allegedly “infidel” nature of the Saudi regime, may be so again.

Emigration and International Relations

Strongly related to the different “abodes” is the question of emigration (hijra) from one abode to the other. The authors state that, with regard to Islamic law, hijra can be described as either a) moving from the dar al-kufr or dar al-fitna to the dar al-Islam or dar al-amn; or as b) moving away from one’s sins and starting a new and more pious life. Concentrating on the former, the council discusses whether hijra from the dar al-kufr to the dar al-Islam is compulsory (wajib), deplorable (mandub), neither, or forbidden (muharram). This is a complicated discussion that not only involves texts but also questions such as whether Muslims are able to “show Islam” (izhar al-din) in the lands in which they live. Since exact definitions of what “showing” Islam really means are often lacking, the authors simply provide all points of view, showing that there is no clear-cut answer but that each situation needs to be looked at separately.

Expanding further on the distinction between the two abodes, the council states that international relations in Islam are really about conflict and that war is actually the basis of the ties between the dar al-Islam and the dar al-kufr. There can be treaties between the two abodes, as mentioned above, but there can never be true peace. It should perhaps be mentioned that this discussion on the different abodes, how they should interact and what Muslims living in the West should do is obviously not only relevant to jihadis but is also frequently discussed by more irenic Muslim scholars in the U.S. and Europe as well as the Muslim world itself. Unlike the latter group of thinkers, the members of the council claim that war is the constant state in which the two abodes exist and come up with a large number of verses from the Qur’an such as Q. 2: 193 (“Fight them, till there is no persecution is God’s”) that they believe support this claim.


The rest of the “crash course” deals with “miscellaneous subjects,” such as whether photography is allowed or not, but does not go into any depth on either of them. Of course, detailed analysis was probably never the intention of the authors since this book can, after all, justifiably be called a “crash course”. The strength of the book therefore lies not so much in its comprehensive treatment of the topics dealt with but in its clear-cut answers, the fact that it’s to-the-point and offers lots of seemingly convincing evidence. As such, the book displays a great deal of ideological coherence, making this “jihadi catechism” perhaps more dangerous than it looks.

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