The increasing extremism within the Islamic State

This is the fifth Q&A of the interview series with Ahmed Al Hamdan (@a7taker), a Jihadi-Salafi analyst and author of “Methodological Difference Between ISIS and Al Qaida“. Al Hamdan was a former friend of Turki bin Ali, and a student of Shaykh Abu Muhammad Al Maqdisi under whom he studied and was given Ijazah, becoming one of his official students. Also, Shaykh Abu Qatada al Filistini wrote an introduction for his book when it was published in the Arabic language. The interview series contains contains five themes in total and will all be published on Jihadica.com. You can find the first Q&A here, the second here, the third here and the fourth here. This is the fifth and final part.

Tore Hamming:

A recent interesting development is the dismissal of Turki al-Binali from the IS Sharia Council [still not confirmed] allegedly due to his ‘moderate’ view on the ‘excuse of ignorance’ and Takfir al-Adhir. This could be interpreted as a defeat of the Bin’ali trend within IS and a victory for the so-called Hazimis (followers of Ahmed al-Hazimi). How do you interpret this development?

Ahmed Al Hamdan:

Extremism in Takfeer is the filthy germ which is found in every Jihadi group because of ignorance and impulsiveness and due to feeling oppressed and other such reasons. However, each group deals with this disease in different ways. There are those who take a gradual approach in dealing with it in which those who have extremism are made to undergo Shariah courses like what happened with a group of youth in Waziristan. The officials of Al Qaeda put them under a Shariah course to correct their thinking. (1) Or it would be by expulsion from the group like what happened when Shaykh Abu Mus’ab az-Zarqawi expelled a coordinator who made it a condition that a person should make Takfeer on the Saudi scholars like Bin Baz and Ibn Uthaymeen in order to be sent to Iraq for Jihad (2). But there are also groups who do not immediately deal with this disease or even try to treat it, and so it takes root and spreads inside the group, and then suddenly you see its leaders coming under pressure from a lobby of the extremists, and they get compelled to adopt their ideology, or they revolt against it as had happened with the GIA in Algeria when the group with Zaytouni carried out a coup against the leadership and took control of the group and then imposed their ideology on the group as a whole (3).

ISIS is amongst those groups that did not deal with this extremism from the beginning, and so it gradually spread within its ranks. I guess, without me being absolutely sure, that the leadership felt confused in front of its soldiers who used to exaggerate in Takfeer, and they were afraid to appear weak in front of them, and so they tried to get along with them so that they may prevent them from going further to the point of making Takfeer upon themselves, so that the issue will not aggravate soon to a situation of internal fighting.

  1. What prompts me to say this are several things amongst which are: They espoused certain matters relating to Takfeer and then suddenly they began to say that those who espoused this are deviated!
  2. What was stated by Abu Yazin Ash Shami – a member of the Shura council of Ahrar ash Sham – in the debate which took place between him and Abu Muhammad Al Adnani and a group of Shariah officials in ISIS after announcing their state in Sham, when one of those who were present there mentioned that we have become forced to be defensive and are under pressure from our soldiers after Sheikh Al-Zawahiri began to address Morsi with the title “Doctor” Morsi! So they are attacking and we are defending (4).

So it is clear that this group ISIS is trying to silence all of its soldiers who oppose them who are accusing them of being weak. Thus, their policies stemmed from reactions due to the behavior of these soldiers, and they confronted extremism with a counter-extremism.

However, before we speak about the issue of Takfeer on the ‘Aadhir’ we must clarify the concept, which states ‘There is no excuse for ignorance in the issue of major Shirk’.

Shaykh Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab explained the writings of some of the scholars before him saying that a Muslim who falls into major Shirk is not excused due to ignorance or misinterpretation. In fact, he is only excused in one case only and that is when he is compelled or really forced by the enemies. For example:

If I prostrate to a grave and supplicate to the dead person that is in the grave and I say to the dead person “oh Ali, make my matters easy for me and help me.”

From amongst the acts of worship which should be for Allah alone is prostration and supplication for needs which no one except Allah is capable of fulfilling. So when you stand and prostrate to other than Allah, this means that you have made someone else a partner with Allah in a matter that should not be made for anyone except for Allah alone.

So then now you have fallen into Shirk (by associating partners with Allah).

And if I am ignorant that this action is Shirk (associating partners to Allah), will Shaykh Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab excuse me for this ignorance? The answer is no. And if I did this due to a misinterpretation thinking that this person is an intermediary between me and Allah, will Shaykh Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab excuse me for this misinterpretation?  The answer is no.

But he will excuse me if a group of people came and threatened me with weapons and they were serious in their threats and I was unable to escape from them, and they said to me “prostrate to this grave or else we will kill you”. So here it is allowed to prostrate as long as you hate to do this action. And this is the only case in which I will be excused by Shaykh Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab.

But why will I not be excused in the first two cases? It is because Allah has warned from Shirk in a very clear manner in the Quran in verses which are easily understandable. So whichever person the Quran has reached, he has received the Hujjah (clear message) and it is not necessary to further clarify it for him. So based upon this, whoever the Quran has reached, he has received the Hujjah (the clear message).

So the matter of making Takfeer on a Muslim if he commits major Shirk is a matter which was agreed upon by the Salafi school (or as known in the west as the Wahhabis) generation after generation. It was only after the establishment of the third Saudi state (the current one) that this matter got reviewed again, and now we find different points of view (5). Despite that, some Saudi official religious figures still support this juristic view. For example:

  • the member of the committee of the senior scholars (Kibaar ul Ulama), Dr. Saalih al Fawzan, who has written an introduction to two books ‘Daabit Takfeer al Mu’ayyan’ and ‘Aarid al Jahl’ by Shaykh Rashid Abul Alaa, which are amongst the books which are being circulated in the Saudi prisons.
  • And also the member of the ‘presidency of scientific research, Fatwas, propagation and guidance’ (Riaasath al Buhooth al Ilmiyya wal Iftaa wa Da’wah wal Irshad), Shaykh Ibn Jibreen when he wrote an introduction to the book “Al Udhr Bil Jahl Tahta al Mihjar Ash Shari’e” by Shaykh Mad’hat al Farraj which is also one of the books circulated in the Saudi prisons.

So the Salafi schools and trends even if they conflict in some matters, they however are in agreement in the others.

But if every group and lobby within ISIS adopts this position of not excusing the ignorant person in the matters of major Shirk, then what is the problem? The disagreement is in one issue only, and it has a relation to the legitimacy of ISIS and its leader. It is the issue of Takfeer ul Aadhir (making Takfeer on the one who excuses the ignorant) and a series of chain Takfeer based on this.

Let us give an example: “Sulayman” does an act of Shirk and so he is a Mushrik Kaafir according to all these groups with no disagreement. However, “Ahmed” does not make Takfeer on this “Sulayman” because of some doubt he has in this matter. Here they get divided into two groups – The group with Turki Bin’ali says that Ahmed does not become a Kaafir except after clarifying the matter to him regarding Sulayman’s action of Shirk and the doubts have been removed and the matter has been explained to him. (This act of clarifying is known as providing the Hujjah).

So Turki Bin’ali says about the person who does not make Takfeer on a Mushrik or a Kaafir: “As for the one to whom it has become clear through evidences from the Sharia about the Kufr (disbelief) of a person and then he still did not make Takfeer on him, he is a Kaafir” (6). So it also becomes understood from this statement that the one to whom it has not become clear, it is not allowed to make Takfeer on him. The Hazimi group would immediately make Takfeer on Ahmed without any need to clarify the matter to him and remove the doubts. In fact, they even make Takfeer on the one who does not make Takfeer on him!!

The Shariah official of ‘the Islamic state’ in Yemen, Abu Bilal al Harbi who was one of those who had previously been close to al-Hazimi said “We are free from his latest Fitna (ordeal) which is to make Takfeer on the Aadhir (the excuser) and we believe that the one who excuses is not to be made Takfeer upon except after the matter has been made clear to him and the doubts have been removed. I asked al-Hazimi about chain Takfeer and he said it goes up to the third person (i.e. Takfeer is made till the third person in the series of the one who excuses the one who excuses the one who excuses the one who commits Shirk – i.e. three people in the chain of excusers) and I asked him for the evidence that it is made till the third person only and he gave me no evidence for that” (7).

How does this disagreement affect the legitimacy of ISIS and its leader?

– The Shia are Mushrikeen and Kuffar by the agreement of these people.

– Shaykh Ayman al Zawahiri does not make Takfeer on all the Shia. He excuses their general masses and because of this he himself is a Kaafir Mushrik according to the Hazimi wing.

– Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi addressed al Zawahiri previously saying “May Allah protect him” and as “the Shaykh the Mujahid”, and this means that he does not make Takfeer on him.

– So then he (Baghdadi) himself is a Kaafir..!

And if the leader is a Kaafir then it is not an Islamic state..!!

The second problem is that amongst many who do not speak the Arabic language and who speak in Russian and English, there is a matter that is spreading amongst them gradually, and appears to be taking root in them. And that is the issue of the Takfeer on the Aadhir (on the excuser). ISIS has been spreading their propaganda strongly in these two languages and also amongst many who come to them especially those who speak Russian who have engrossed themselves deeply into this innovation of making Takfeer on the Aadhir. And the ranks of these people are gradually growing stronger inside ISIS due to many people who have this belief entering ISIS. And they are divided into three groups:

  1. The first group is of those who have fought against ISIS (8).
  2. The second are those who have disassociated from ISIS and are trying to split from it (9).
  3. And a (third) group that is still within its ranks and spreading these thoughts.

Previously ISIS used a technique of eliminating the leaders of these people (10), but now it has gone out of control and these people who make Takfeer on the Aadhir have increased in large numbers, and it is difficult to deal with them all using the same method which was previously used when they were only a few.

Now we will deal with the final point, which is the statement attributed to ISIS regarding the issue of the Aadhir “the excuser” (11). The reality is that this statement does not agree with the bases of those who make Takfeer on the Aadhir, rather there are radical differences, such as:

  • In the first page it demonstrated the mistake in the arguments of those who make Takfeer on the Aadhir since those who make Takfeer on the Aadhir say that the Aadhir becomes a Mushrik by not making Takfeer on the one who does an act of Shirk, whereas the statement says that this argument is wrong because we don’t say that the one who does Shirk and the one who does not do it are equal, and this argument will necessarily lead to chain Takfeer.
  • In the second page ISIS forbade the use of certain terms such as “the foundation” and “necessary implications” in the meaning of “there is no God but Allah” and “Kufr bi Taghut” and the term “Takfeer on the Aadhir” whereas these terms are the central themes of those who propagate Takfeer on the Aadhir..!
  • And in the third page it says that the issue of Takfeer on the Aadhir is an issue which changes depending on the circumstances and it is not always the same. Sometimes the person who doesn’t make Takfeer on the Mushrik does not become a Kaafir because the matter is unclear and ignorance is widespread and propagation is weak and doubts are widespread. So here it is necessary to clarify the matter (i.e. provide the Hujjah), and if he still abstains from making Takfeer after the matter has been clarified then he will become a Kaafir. This is contrary to the beliefs of those who make Takfeer on the Aadhir who do not accept these kinds of excuses which can prevent Takfeer. Rather, they make Takfeer even on the one who abstains from Takfeer even at a time when ignorance is widespread, propagation is weak and doubts are common.
  • Also, in the third page, they said that there is an exception which is during a situation in which there is an Islamic state which preaches Tawheed and renounces Shirk “like our state now” (as per their claim). So here there does not exist anything that can prevent Takfeer on the one who does not make Takfeer on the Mushrikeen, because the matter has become clear (in an Islamic state). Even though both the groups would reach the same conclusion here, the arguments taken from the Shariah by both the groups to view the matter, are different. ISIS applies this ruling inside their borders only, which would mean that this is not applicable to those outside ISIS, because there the voice of Islam is not loud enough or there does not exist an Islamic state which calls towards renouncing Shirk and towards Tawheed, as per their claim. So based upon this, this ruling applies only in areas under their control and does not extend to the rest of the lands. And this is contrary to the arguments of those who make Takfeer on the Aadhir, who as we have stated in the previous point do not give any consideration to such differences in circumstances.
  • However, in the fourth page they used flexible terms which can take many meanings. They say in it that it is necessary for the preacher in the Islamic State to remove the doubts in abstaining from Takfeer on the Mushrikeen, but in the previous page they say that this is a clear and evident matter! So I do not know how this matter can be clarified to the people when it is already a clear matter! As if they are still dealing with it as if it is an unclear matter!!!

So ISIS has two solutions, and each one is equally difficult.

To formally adopt the belief of making Takfeer on the Aadhir in the form put forward by those who make Takfeer on the Aadhir. And by that they will have given to their opponents in the other Islamic groups such as Al Qaida the proof that they are extremists, who have no connection to the Jihadi methodology and its previous Shaykhs, in a clearer manner than before. This will weaken their propaganda amongst their supporters abroad. Or be silent or oppose this thinking, which will increase the numbers within its ranks by new members joining them or by being convinced of it, who will then become an obstacle for them, destroying them from the inside, whether they refrain from fighting or they fight against ISIS themselves for not adopting their view.



(1) – In fact Shaykh Usama Bin Ladin used to prohibit speaking about making Takfeer on the common soldiers. He said, “In an authentic Hadeeth from our Prophet, may prayers and peace be upon him, he said “If a person makes Takfeer on his brother, then one of them would definitely become a Kaafir”. If the one who has been called a Kaafir is indeed a Kaafir then it is over, and he is a Kaafir. But if he was not a Kaafir then it returns to the one who said it (on the one who made Takfeer). So this is a very, very, very severe warning against getting involved in this issue, especially in regards to Takfeer on a specific individual. So fear Allah, glory be to Him, and beware, and again beware…! Making Takfeer on the people is a very great sin, and from amongst the very major sins. So safeguard your tongues. And when we speak, if the speaker is from the people of knowledge and knows the rules of Takfeer, there is no problem if he speaks about this and clarifies it to his brothers, like when sometimes some people commit nullifiers of Islam. So it is detailed and sensitive issue. Sometimes a person may do an act of Kufr but he will still not be a Kaafir due to his ignorance or due to some compulsion. These are detailed issues and it is not easy for the brothers in general to learn it or specialize in it. But we normally speak on matters in general. So fear Allah and stay away from this matter, and busy yourselves by remembering Allah a lot and supplicating to Him and by acknowledging the blessings of Allah and being grateful for these blessings, until we meet Allah while He is pleased with us. So before you speak, think about what will be the consequences of this statement, and strive hard in obeying Allah and in Jihad for the sake of Allah. And fear Allah in those matters in which you do not have a deep knowledge. And to fear Allah means you should not boldly issue Fatwas. [“Faith defeats arrogance” at 58:00 minutes, by As Sahaab Media foundation]

The former Mujahid in Afghanistan and the ex-detainee in Guantanamo, Waleed Muhammad Al Haajj, said on his Twitter page: “The commander Shaykh Usama Bin Ladin, may Allah have mercy upon him, gathered all the Mujahideen at the Farooq military camp leaving only the guards at the gate when he had heard that some of the Mujahideen at the camp had made their main concern to say that such and such a person is a Kaafir and such and such a person is an apostate. So he gathered them together and said “Oh my sons, you came here to train and prepare, so do not concern yourselves with Takfeer, and leave it to the scholars”.

Links to the tweets:- (12)

(2) – A member of the Shariah committee of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Maysarah al Ghareeb said: “I met a brother from Sham who had recently entered Iraq. He told me about an incident that occurred to him, which in brief was that prior to his entry into Iraq he had met a brother who came from the Arabian Peninsula, at one of the guest houses. And while they were eating, the coordinator asked the brothers about their beliefs regarding Bin Baz and Ibn Uthaymeen, and it became clear to him that the brother from the Peninsula did not make Takfeer on them. So this host was surprised at that and he rebuked the brother, telling him that Shaykh Abu Mus’ab makes Takfeer on them both and that the one who does not make Takfeer on them will not enter the land of Jihad. At that, the brother asked in amazement “So you are stopping me from entering Iraq?” and the host said “Yes”, and he did what he threatened him of doing and he sent him back to where he had come from. But the brother who spoke to me was afraid and he did not say his opinion regarding the matter due to his fear that he also will be prevented from entering the land of Jihad and Ribat. I immediately raised the case to our Shaykh (Zarqawi), may Allah have mercy on him, especially since he had entrusted me to tell him everything that was happening in the field due to his fear that his followers may not be able to reach him because of him remaining hidden for the sake of security. So he became very much angry and threatened the one who attributed an opinion to him which he did not believe in, and ordered his deputy to investigate this matter and if it was found to be true, then to expel the host from the group. Then the Shaykh told me “It is true that I consider them as having misled the Ummah by their Fatwas, but I do not make Takfeer on them. By Allah, even if the brother from the Peninsula does not make Takfeer on (King) Fahad, I would still not prevent him from Jihad. Many have entered Iraq who do not make Takfeer on the Saudi government.” [Al Zarqawi as I knew him” –3/6 released by Al Furqan Foundation]”

(3) – Shaykh Atiyatullah who was at that time in Algeria spoke on the details of a coup led by Jamaal Zaytouni (Abu Abdur Rahmaan Ameen) against the leadership of the group by putting pressure on the media official to issue a statement under the name of the Shura council stating that the previous leader had been removed and Zaytouni has been appointed in his place and he spread it quickly to the battalions and to the brigades for the matter to become firmly established. Then he met with the actual leader and the Shura council and refused to step down saying “what will decide between me and you is killing”. So they stepped down and left their leadership to him to prevent bloodshed. (Refer to the book: “The Algerian experience”, by Atiyatullah, P.16)

(4) – Refer to “The details of the debate with the group ISIS” by Shaykh Abu Yazen ash Shami, with comments by the previous head of the Shariah office in Ahrar ash Sham, Shaykh Abu Muhammad as Saadiq P.6

(5) – From those major scholars during the period of the third Saudi State who adopted a somewhat different view are: Ibn As-Sa’adi who wrote on that in (Fataawa as-Sa’adi, P.447) and Ibn Uthaymeen in (Sharh Kashf Shubuhaat, P.37)

(6)– “Al Kawkab Ad-Durrie Al Muneer”, p.11, Sharh Nawaaqid Al Islam Al Ashrah, lesson 2 (50:00), Tawheed broadcast in the city of Sirte, 3rd August 2013

(7) – The letter: “Al Hazmi from a close look”, p.5, 5th August, 2014

(8) – For example Abu Mu’az al Aasmi, one of the former soldiers of ISIS who were imprisoned previously in the prison of Raqqa and fled after the US bombed it, wrote an article on 3rd October 2016 entitled “The reality of the clash at Aleppo and the cowardice of the soldiers of Al Baghdadi, the Taghut of Shaam”, and in it he mentioned about a fight that took place between this group and Baghdadi’s group in the city of Al Baab and then at a farm between Al Raii and Jarablus.

(9) – Al Aasmi also stated in the above mentioned article that “After Allah guided a group of Muhajireen brothers towards Tawheed in the city of Al Baab, in Aleppo, the security apparatus of the ‘Idols’ State’ began to plot against them after they saw that the call towards Tawheed had reached everyone and the one who has not been guided towards it would leave fighting until he gets clarification and searches for the truth”.

(10) – On 16th August 2014 a statement was published entitled “Aiding the imprisoned brothers in the Kaafirs’ Jahmiyyah State” in which it was stated that these:- “(Abu Ja’far al Hattaab, Abu Mus’ab At-Tunisi, Abu Usayd al Maghribi, Abul Hawraa al Jazaairi, Abu Khalid Ash-Sharqi, Abu Abdullah al Maghribi and Abu Umar al Kuwaiti) have been arrested by ISIS for making Takfeer on the Aadhir, and since the past two years their fate has been unknown, and it is likely they have been executed.”

(11) – It is the statement number 155, issued by Al Maktab al Maqreezi Li Mutaaba’ah Ad-Dawaween Ash-Shariea”, on 25th May 2016.

Tore Hamming:

Even in Jihadi circles the issue of takfeer [excommunication] is a delicate matter. Scholars and Jihadi leaders, including Usama bin Laden and Abu Yahya al-Libi, have continuously emphasised that takfeer should be applied extremely cautiously as it is a complicated matter that should be left for the knowledgeable people only to decide upon.

The use of takfeer is probably the main issue causing fragmentation between Sunni Jihadi groups, both now and in the previous decades. After the Jalalabad defeat in 1989, proponents of a more extensive use of takfeer started to appear, especially within the Algerian community, and it developed within the Groupe Islamique Armé in Algeria in the 1990s resulting in severe conflict between Jihadi groups and individuals.

I have myself described the disagreement within the Islamic State in a post here on Jihadica (See article), but due to the complexity of the matter, I have found myself confused on a regular basis trying to understand the Islamic State position on takfeer (and takfeer on the excuser). Ahmad Al Hamdan does a good job explaining the problem the Islamic State is facing internally as it seeks to avoid extremism in takfeer while, at the same time, managing its followers with an extreme on takfeer. Giving in to the extremists within its ranks could lead to self-destruction as prophesised by Nelly Lahoud.

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Tore Hamming

Tore Hamming is a senior fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, King's College

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