Al-Qaida Advises the Arab Spring: Al-Maqdisi

As Cole Bunzel pointed out some time ago, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, the famous Jordanian radical Salafi scholar, has published several fatwas and other documents in the last few months. Cole mainly dealt with only two of al-Maqdisi’s recent publications, however, while there are several others he wrote afterwards that are quite interesting as well.

Joining rallies

Several months ago, al-Maqdisi started publishing a series of short documents containing one or more fatwas. It’s not clear who’s asking the questions, but this doesn’t make his answers any less interesting. In the first installment of the series, al-Maqdisi discusses questions that are quite similar to some that his brother in arms Abu l-Mundhir al-Shinqiti also dealt with several years ago, namely whether or not it is allowed to participate in rallies against the regime. Al-Maqdisi’s answer is similar to al-Shinqiti’s – it is allowed – but far more detailed.

Al-Maqdisi states that every period in history has its own methods and weapons to demand people’s rights and that one would be foolish not to make use of these. The period that we are in now – that of the Arab Spring – has shown, al-Maqdisi states, that the regimes in the Arab world fear the masses. In fact, the revolutions that have taken place are based on these massive demonstrations against the regimes, al-Maqdisi maintains.

He further claims that Muslim scholars have stated that every legitimate method that instills fear in the enemies of Islam can and should be used as a means to repell them and wage jihad against them. If mass rallies in which people demand their rights, call for the application of the shari’a, insist on fighting corruption or ask for help for the Syrian people constitute such methods, then Muslims should use them.

Al-Maqdisi subsequently mentions several hadiths to “prove” that Islam allows instilling fear in the hearts of the Muslims’ enemies. Al-Maqdisi would not be al-Maqdisi, however, if he didn’t add that jihadis should try to coordinate such activities and organise them well so that no sinful things will happen and the enemy is not able to drive a wedge between them.


The emphasis on unity among Muslims is an issue that al-Maqdisi dwells on further in his answer to the second question of the same document. Asked whether Muslims are allowed to enter alliances with other (non-Salafi) Islamist movements, al-Maqdisi again answers in the affirmative. Interestingly, the questioner draws a parallel with the hilf al-fudul, an alliance between several polytheist Qurashi clans during the life of the Prophet Muhammad. The latter is said to have claimed later in life that, had he been given the chance, he would have joined this alliance. This suggests that the Prophet would not have objected to alliances with polytheists.

The interesting aspect about the hilf al-fudul and Muhammad’s comments on it for our discussion here is that they are sometimes used as prophetic legitimisation of “political” cooperation between Muslims and non-Muslims. Islamists have sometimes used this example as a justification of their willingness to engage in the parliamentary politics of secular or less than perfectly Islamic states. Jihadi-Salafis have always rejected the parallels between this example and modern-day politics, which makes al-Maqdisi’s response all the more surprising.

Al-Maqdisi quickly makes clear, however, that such alliances should be forged with Islamic movements – not with “apostate” regimes – and should serve the propagation of Islam (da’wa). Any cooperation, moreover, should be based on piety and, of course, nothing can be done that violates the absolute unity of God (tawhid).

For the same reason, al-Maqdisi also allows people to ask the authorities for permission to set up charitable organisations. As long as Islam is served by it and no Islamic rules are violated in asking for such permission, one should not be like the “zealots” (mutashaddidun) who forbid such requests, simply because they are directed at “apostate” regimes. Al-Maqdisi has long maintained that not all rules in non-Islamic states are necessarily bad or “anti-Islamic” and laws that allow people to do good and pious things through charitable organisations are apparently among the “good” laws.


Another question deals with the organisation of jihadis. How does al-Maqdisi feel about organising their affairs by setting up a council (majlis) for every region, with a media spokesperson for all of them? Given al-Maqdisi’s tendency to stress organisation and collective efforts in his writings, he wastes no time in saying that “the true scholars” see this as “one of the most necessary duties”.

Al-Maqdisi stresses, based on several hadiths, that every group, no matter how small, should have a leader and contends that if “the ant and the bee” live in a very organised way, so should human beings. (The more Biblically inclined readers of Jihadica may recognise a touch of Solomon in this remark, by the way, of which a partial Qur’anic parallel can be found in Q. 27: 18-19.)

Palace scholars

A second important treatise that al-Maqdisi published recently deals with a fatwa written by what al-Maqdisi calls “palace scholars” (my rough translation of ‘ulama’ al-sulta). This fatwa was published by the General Fatwa Department in Jordan and seems to be part of a wider effort by Jordanian Muslim scholars to provide so-called “moderate Islam” with theological underpinnings. This process was kicked off by the “Amman Message”, a speech by the Jordanian King ‘Abdallah II on what Islam is all about, delivered in 2004.

Since 2004, King ‘Abdallah II has presided over several meetings with Muslim scholars who denounce radical Islam and provide a more tolerant alternative. As the people who follow me on Twitter know, a major meeting with scholars from all over the world was held just this week in Amman (see here and here, for example). Al-Maqdisi has explicitly denounced the Amman Message in a separate treatise. Although neither is explicitly linked to the Arab Spring, they were published this year and deal with issues that are quite relevant for the post-revolutionary phase that several Arab countries are in right now.

Al-Maqdisi believes that Islam is complete and perfect the way it is and that any additions to it, for example in the form of the Amman Message, are entirely unnecessary and even sinful. Moreover, the brotherhood and tolerance that is spoken of in the Amman Message should, in al-Maqdisi’s view, not be extended to non-Muslims but should strictly apply to Muslims only. There is, furthermore, no equality between Muslims and adherents to other religions. Such talk, al-Maqdisi claims, deviates from the shari’a and should have no place in Islam.

The type of scholars who support these messages are also responsible for the fatwa of the General Fatwa Department mentioned earlier. They claim that elections are legitimate and Islamic means to choose representatives in parliament that even the companions of the Prophet Muhammad used. Al-Maqdisi disagrees with this, of course, since he believes that democracy gives people the power t0 legislate, which is a right that belongs only to God. Democracy therefore infringes on God’s sole right to be sovereign in every sphere of life, which in turn violates his absolute unity. This is polytheism (shirk), which cannot be forgiven.

Shura and ‘Urafa’

He further contests the scholars’ use of shura (consultation), which many Islamists see as an Islamic form of democracy since the idea behind it is to ask people for advice before taking a decision. Al-Maqdisi claims, however, that shura only means consultation in areas in which the shari’a is not clear; whenever there is a clear rule, this should simply be followed. Thus, al-Maqdisi claims, shura is consultation within the bounds of the shari’a, while democracy is people power within the limits of a secular constitution.

Al-Maqdisi further objects to the scholars’ use of the term ‘arif (pl. ‘urafa’) to describe members of parliament (MPs). ‘Urafa’ in early Islam were civil or military leaders recognised by Muhammad. By equating MPs with these ‘urafa’, the scholars seem to legitimise the former on Islamic grounds. Al-Maqdisi dismisses this comparison, however, since MPs are engaged in creating “un-Islamic” legislation, while ‘urafa’ were not. If MPs were truly ‘urafa’, they would refrain from making “man-made laws”, al-Maqdisi maintains. The job of MP, in short, is kufr (unbelief), although al-Maqdisi explicitly denies calling every voter an unbeliever.

While the Arab Spring has brought new challenges and new opportunities, al-Maqdisi thus sticks to his old ideas. He is willing to adopt new measures in the new circumstances that the Arab Spring has brought about, but still rejects democracy in every form. Although it is unlikely to change his mind, it would be interesting to see if al-Maqdisi could keep up this attitude if real democracy were ever to take root in countries such as Egypt and Syria. With the situation being as it is now, however, it seems unlikely that al-Maqdisi will ever see that day.

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