Maqdisi’s High-Wire Act

On December 4, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi–Zarqawi’s former mentor and one of the world’s most influential Jihadi ideologues–spoke briefly to the al-Ansar Paltalk chat group.  In his brief remarks, Maqdisi appears to distance himself from the Jihadi revisionists:

For you and me I prescribe the fear of God, working for the sake of this religion, and being its helpers in the time before the victory (al-fath).  God, powerful and mighty, says: “Those of you who spent and fought before the victory are not equal (to those who didn’t); you are greater in rank than those who spent and fought afterwards” (Q 57:10).  Today, brothers and friends, you see the nations assailing us and there is no doubt that we are like the Companions of the Prophet (PBUP) before the victory.  I beseech God to hasten the victory for the people of Islam and the people of monotheism.  

Action for the sake of the religion at a time like this…the one who aids (the religion) and tries to assist it, establish it, and raise its banners–there is no doubt that he is greater in rank than those who act after the victory.  I prescribe for you and for myself constancy in this religion and working to aid it and raise its banner and to always be concerned with steadfastness–to be steadfast in (the religion) and in the truth and to not turn back, turn toward those who retreat, or turn toward those who fall away.  We must always remember the hadith of the Prophet (PBUH): “A group in my umma will always manifest the truth.  Those who oppose them cannot harm them, neither can those who abandon them, until the command of God is fulfilled.” 

Despite Maqdisi’s appeals to constancy, I wouldn’t take his rhetoric at face value given that he has made clear efforts to shift the course of Jordanian Jihadism in a different direction, as I and Abu Rumman have pointed out.  Maqdisi’s primary audience is militants, so he has to engage in a very careful balancing act.  Compare this to Sayyid Imam, who can dispense with such subtleties since Jihadis are not his primary audience.

Document (Arabic): 12-5-08-shamikh-transcript-and-audio-of-maqdisi-paltalk-session

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9 Responses

  1. Thanks for all the great work you’re doing on this website. I’ve been following your discussion of Al-Maqdisi’s alleged revisionism for some time and I can’t help but disagree. The statements that he made in the recent communique on jihadis in Zarqa as well as comments about Al-Zarqawi are all part of long-held beliefs by Al-Maqdisi. If you look carefully, you can see that he does not distance himself from jihad or takfir at all, just the extreme and/or unwise expressions of those concepts in the world today. These are, in fact, beliefs he has espoused since the 1980s. In his writings from the late 1980s and the 1990s, you can already see that he consistently rejects the label of “khariji” or “takfiri” while promoting takfir of the rulers in the Muslim world and jihad against them at the same time.
    Taking Al-Maqdisi’s statement that you quoted at face value is therefore exactly what you should do. It’s not that I’m willing to believe him; he’s just giving an accurate description of the beliefs that he’s held for a very long time.
    As for Muhammad Abu Rumman, I talked to him last summer and he told me that Al-Maqdisi had told him that he had started his criticism of extreme takfiris because many of his students had misunderstood his writings, not because he wanted to revise his views. A close reading of his books supports this view, since he never promoted takfir of societies or unlimited jihad.
    What is often forgotten is that the same books criticizing extreme takfir or jihad (“Al-Risala al-Thalathiniyya”, “Waqafat ma’a Thamrat al-Jihad” etc.) very clearly state that takfir and jihad are good and honourable concepts that should be used against Muslim rulers in this day and age. It is, for example, interesting to see that in “Waqafat ma’a Thamrat al-Jihad” (2004), he praises the people behind 9/11 but still says that their jihad is a form of qital al-nikaya (fighting to cause damage) which, though permitted, should preferably give way to a different form of jihad called qital al-tamkin (fighting to settle down). Al-Maqdisi’s belief that the root of all evil lies in the deviation from tawhid in (amongst other things) legislation dictates that he believes Muslims should work towards establishing a truly Islamic state prior to just going off into all kinds of places to bomb things. This balance of praise on the one hand and criticism on the other is typical of Al-Maqdisi’s consistent policy of holding on to a position of what I call a moderate extremist.
    Furthermore, Al-Maqdisi’s recent writings clearly show that he is still the same guy he has always been. In a very recent piece called “Al-Thabat al-Thabat fi Zaman al-Taraju’at” (what’s in a name, eh?) he states that, when pressured by the prison authorities to recant his beliefs so that he would be allowed to visit his father’s funeral, he says he told them that he would not change a single letter of what he believes “even if my entire family dies one by one, my mother, my children, my wives and my brothers”. Not exactly the words of a revisionist. From my research on Al-Maqdisi’s stay in prison, I believe that Al-Maqdisi may actually have spoken these words since he was known among his fellow inmates to be very open, blunt and even plain rude about such matters, even to the people in prison who had the power to hurt him.
    You are certainly correct to point out that Al-Maqdisi does not espouse the extreme ideas on takfir that his former pupil Al-Zarqawi did, as I myself have pointed out in an article for the May issue of the CTC Sentinel. This is a far cry, however, from the sort of revisionism that we have seen from the Egyptian Jama’a Islamiyya. The idea that Al-Maqdisi is actually revising his ideas and becoming more moderate is, as of yet, still wishful thinking.
    Nevertheless, I truly value your work and I sincerely hope you will keep up the good work. It’s highly appreciated.

  2. Joas,

    Thank you for that detailed response. I think you’re the only Maqdisi expert in the world! I haven’t seen your article but I’ll make sure to put it on my list of desiderata.

    I have been arguing, it seems unsuccessfully, for exactly the position that you articulate: Maqdisi is trying to reign in some of the extreme elements of the movement he helped create. You are absolutely right that doesn’t reject takfir or jihad (neither does Sayyid Imam for that matter). He just doesn’t like the extreme expressions of it. That doesn’t make him a moderate in my moral universe, but it does in his. He’s not revising in the GI sense–I’ve never argued that–but he’s not exactly standing still either. As I wrote several weeks ago, “Although the statement is far short of the revisions of Sayyid Imam, it’s a step down the road and will cause another convulsion in the Jihadi Movement.”

  3. I agree. Neither Sayid Imam nor Maqdisi are rejecting the takfir or violent jihad. There is certainly nothing moderate about Imam’s revisions.
    As I commented to an earlier post about Maqdisi and as Will mentioned, it will be interesting to see how far down this road Maqdisi will go.
    Qital al-Nikaya would more accuratley be translated as “fighting for spite”, which is fighting to hurt the enemy back, or to annoy them, but not cause real damage.
    Qital al-Tamkin is “fighting for achievment (or victory)”, which is fighting in order to reach a certain goal.
    This is the major difference between Imam and Zawahiri. Imam has no problems with murder and violence, as long as it is for “tamkin” and achieves tangible results for the mujahedeen.
    Or is that mogahedeen

  4. Dear Caliph (I’ve never addressed anyone like that!),

    I believe you are mistaken in your translation of “nikaya” and “tamkin”. The former term does refer to doing damage and hurting the enemy, not necessarily for reasons of spite. The latter term, at least as Al-Maqdisi uses it, refers to using fighting to create a safe haven for mujahidin, preferably an Islamic state. “Tamkin” therefore indicates that fighting does not just entail setting off bombs and blowing things up but actually leads to the consolidation of power of the mujahidin.
    Your comment that Al-Maqdisi is going “down this road” still misses the point, I believe. We agree that Al-Maqdisi is not rejecting jihad or takfir but neither is he rejecting any of his former beliefs. The only difference between what he is saying now and what he used to say is that he is stressing different aspects of his ideology now without rejecting, revising, forgetting or dismissing any of the other aspects. Whereas in the past he used to stress the legitimacy of takfir of and jihad against the rulers while only mentioning his relative moderation on these issues in passing, the situation since the late 1990s has been more balanced. It may be that the widespread use of takfir in countries like Algeria and the irresponsible “zealous youngsters” (as he calls them) in Jordan caused him to stress his relatively moderate views on takfir a bit more. He is, however, not going into a direction that he hasn’t gone into before. The situation has changed, not the man or his ideas.

  5. Dear Joas,
    Thanks for the reply.
    I believe that we are saying the same thing regarding the translation of “nikaya” and “tamkin”. “Nikaya” means that you hurt the enemy, causing some damage to of course, but not necessarily destroy or vanguish that enemy. “Nikaya” in Arabic means spite.
    “Tamkin” on the other hand, as you say, means that the mujahedeen would emerge from this victorious, or at least that would be their goals, which is what I wrote in my earlier post.
    I was not refering to the actual results of these forms of jihad, but the intention at the onset.
    With regards to Al-Maqdisi “going down this road”, you are right that he has no yet “revised” his earlier writings, but neither has Sayid Imam for that matter. They both are pointing to what some of these “zealous youngsters” are doing and saying “well, I never wanted them to do THAT.”
    Imam denounced Zawahiri, denounced Al-Qaida’s “new form of Islam” and accused them of changing his earlier books, but he never once said that anything he wrote in those books was wrong, though he hinted at it.
    In Arab culture, admiting wrongdoing is very, very rare, as is changing one’s statements or backtracking.
    You are absolutely right, the situation has changed, not the man.

  6. Caliph and Joas,

    Nikaya vs. Tamkin – My understanding of this comes from Naji’s Idara. Nikaya, or “vexing” you opponent, is something you do when you have not “established” (tamkin) a state. It’s the tool of the less powerful. Once you have a state–or attained tamkin–supposedly you can launch conventional operations because you are on a more equal footing with the nations around you. I don’t recall seeing qital al-nikaya and qital al-tamkin, but that’s probably the distinction Maqdisi had in mind.

    Maqdisi – I agree that he hasn’t changed the fundamentals underlying his views, but as Caliph says, neither has Sayyid Imam, who claims to have been saying the same thing all along. It is, as Joas argues, a matter of emphasis, which I think is also tempered by audience (Imam -> fence-sitting youth; Maqdisi -> Jihadis). It is definitely not the sort of “revising” that the Islamic Group has been engaged in but it’s also not status quo. It’s too late now, but perhaps we can call Imam’s and Maqdisi’s version “reining in” (كبح) rather than “revising” (مراجعة).

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