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jihad/terror, radicalisation / counter-radicalisation, responses

My article – Refuting Islamic State (IS) Jihad Propaganda With the Story of Uwais Al-Qarni

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Published in Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses, vol. 10, no. 10, October 2018, pp. 12-6. Click here.

Introduction                                      

One of the arguments that was put forth by the so-called Islamic State (IS) to attract Muslim youths to wage jihad and travel to Iraq and Syria centres on the irrelevance of parental consent. IS has interpreted its jihad as fard `ayn (personal obligation) whereby Muslim youths do not need to feel guilty about ignoring their parents’ disapproval. This article seeks to refute the above argument using the story of Uwais Al-Qarni who was not able to migrate to Medina and participate in jihad as he was taking care of his aged mother in Yemen. In spite of this, he was still praised and honoured by the Prophet more highly than other senior Companions. Although this refutation counters IS ideology, it could also be applied to similar religious justifications by other terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda (AQ) and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

IS’ Ideological Threat

Despite IS’ defeat in Iraq and Syria, the group still poses a dangerous threat in three ways. Firstly, IS has highly committed cadres who continue to solicit support and instigate Muslims worldwide to commit acts of terrorism in the name of IS’ vision of jihad. Second, the ideology adopted by IS is masked with theological arguments and opinions of past classical scholars which can influence young Muslims with limited religious knowledge. Third, IS propaganda is still circulated through the Internet, where regulation by state authorities remains difficult.

IS’ ideological threat from the three aforementioned factors is heightened by attempts to establish a base in the Mindanao islands in southern Philippines.[1] The conflict-stricken area has experienced decades of clashes between Moro Muslims and the Philippine government. Even though IS was eventually defeated in Marawi, its affiliated groups and members continue to operate and spread propaganda. The active networks and desire to hold territory in the Philippines allow easier recruitment for IS, in comparison to traveling to Iraq and Syria. Both Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, and Malaysia, a Muslim majority country, have had traction with extremist groups similar to IS. Both of these factors are worrying for mainstream and moderate Muslims who seek to protect the religion from extremist ideologies.[2]

IS’ Misguided Argument

IS propaganda aims to gain Muslims’ support to mount attacks in its name by claiming that armed jihad against infidels today is fard `ayn (personal obligation). The overall objective is to liberate Muslim lands from the occupation of non-Muslim armies and to re-establish the historical Islamic caliphate.

Under this condition, young Muslims who wish to join IS and migrate to its territories are not required to seek their parents’ consent to fulfil the obligation, similar to the performance of the obligatory five daily prayers. Thus, according to IS, even if their parents disapprove, there should not be any feelings of guilt in disobeying them as one’s duty to God must be above one’s duty to their parents.[3]

Dabiq[4], IS’ official online magazine, states that:

“Amongst the major sins that many parents order their children with is the abandonment of the fard ‘ayn jihad (jihad which is obligatory upon each and every individual). They intentionally or unintentionally distort the meaning of various ahadith on the obligation to obtain the permission of one’s Muslim parents before performing fard kifayah jihad (jihad which is an obligation on the Ummah as a whole but not obligatory upon each and every individual)…The scholars mentioned numerous cases that make jihad against the kuffar fard ‘ayn, including the invasion of the Muslims’ lands, the imprisonment of Muslims, the imminent threat of attack against the Muslims, and the faceoff of the opposing armies. The Khalifah (hafidhahullah) has made a call for a general mobilisation, further emphasizing this obligation – as one of the cases making jihad fard ‘ayn is the Imam commanding all the Muslims with jihad – so how can one ignore this clear-cut obligation now and be satisfied with submission to his lower self? How can one claim to be a muwahhid.”[5]

This ideological justification is a key reason for the sudden disappearances of young Muslims without informing their families. According to reports, many parents were unaware that their children had been radicalised and were in Iraq or Syria as members of IS.[6] Thus, countering and refuting this propaganda is important to mitigate IS influence and ability to radicalise young Muslims. In this regard, the story of Uwais Al-Qarni contains several arguments against IS’ fallacious argument.

Story of Uwais Al-Qarni[7]

Al-Qarni’s full name is recorded in his biography by Muslim scholars as Abu Amr Uwais bin Amir bin Juz’ bin Malik Al-Qarni. Although he lived during Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime, he was not one of the Prophet’s Companions, as he never had the opportunity to meet him.  Al-Qarni was thus regarded only as a Tabi` (sing. of Tabi`in – a Muslim who met a Companion of the Prophet and died as Muslim).

Al-Qarni embraced Islam when it was spread to Yemen by the Prophet’s Companions. He was held back in Yemen from joining the Prophet in Medina as he was taking care of his aged mother. However, it was reported that Al-Qarni once sought permission from his mother to travel to Medina to meet the Prophet in person. His mother had asked him to return back to her after meeting the Prophet, and not to stay in Medina.

When Al-Qarni visited Medina, the Prophet was travelling on a military expedition. Al-Qarni waited for three days and returned back to Yemen without meeting the Prophet. Even though Al-Qarni never met the Prophet and never participated in jihad, he was not condemned. The Prophet did not declare that Al-Qarni was sinful, disobedient or negligent in performing jihad by prioritising his mother above jihad or his faith.

On the contrary, the Prophet praised Al-Qarni for his personal righteousness and dedication to his mother when he heard about his story after returning to Medina. The Prophet then announced to his Companions that God had bestowed a privilege on Al-Qarni whereby God would always forgive the sins of any person who Al-Qarni prayed for. The Prophet also announced that anyone who had the opportunity to meet Al-Qarni during his lifetime should ask him to pray to God for the forgiveness of their sins. This was an honour that was not bestowed upon even the Prophet’s senior Companions who had endured hardships during the Meccan period and had performed jihad after their migration to Medina.[8]

Argument Against IS

Based on Al-Qarni’s story, IS’ claims — that Muslims who do not join the group to wage jihad have sinned — are misguided and inaccurate. They are merely an attempt to arouse fear in Muslims who lack religious knowledge and are doubtful about IS’ vision of jihad. In addition, IS’ justifications nullifying parental consent for jihad are a ruse to induce young Muslims to disobey their parents without the fear of committing a sin. This is evident from the following questions:

If non-migration and non-participation in jihad (when it is deemed fard `ayn) are deemed to be sinful, why was Al-Qarni still praised and given a high status by the Prophet?

If hijrah (migration) to a caliphate is obligatory and living under a non-Muslim rule is sinful for Muslims, why was Al-Qarni not reprimanded by the Prophet for remaining in Yemen to take care of his mother?

If living outside the caliphate is contemptible in Islam, lowers a Muslim’s level of faith and would incur God’s wrath, why was Al-Qarni bestowed high honours by God? Al-Qarni attained closeness to God to the extent that He would forgive the sins of any person whom Al-Qarni prayed for – an honour that was not given even to senior Companions of the Prophet such as Abu Bakr and Umar, the first and second caliph after the Prophet respectively. It was even reported that Umar envied Al-Qarni for the privilege and requested Al-Qarni to pray for forgiveness of his sins when he chanced upon him during his rule.[9]

It was the Prophet’s duty to explain an act that was sinful or against the spirit of Islam. The fact that he did not condemn Al-Qarni implies that what Al-Qarni did was permissible. In addition, all classical scholars who wrote biographies of the Companions and Tabi`in recorded Al-Qarni’s biography impeccably.[10]

Here, a comparison can also be made between the Prophet and IS. The Prophet did not attempt to influence Al-Qarni to abandon his mother in favour of supporting his jihad. In contrast, IS intentionally instigates Muslims to ignore their parents and the adverse consequences their children’s departure would inflict on them.

Moreover, Al-Qarni’s story is also consistent with the stories of other individuals intending to participate in jihad. These are related in the following hadiths:

“Abdullah bin Umar narrated: A man came to the Messenger of Allah asking permission to go out for jihad. The Messenger of Allah asked him: Are your parents alive? He replied: Yes. The Messenger of Allah then said to him: Then your jihad would be with them (in looking after them and being at their service).”[11]

“When a man came to the Prophet from Yemen to participate in jihad, the Prophet asked him: Did they [your parents] give you permission?’ The man said: No. He said: Go back to them and seek their permission, and if they give you permission, then go for jihad, otherwise honour and respect them.”[12]

 “Abdullah bin Amr bin Al-As narrated: A man came to the Prophet and said: I came to you to take the oath of allegiance to you on emigration, and I left my parents weeping. He (the Prophet) said: Return to them and make them laugh as you made them weep.”[13]

However, IS propagandists may argue that the above hadiths refer to jihad when it was considered as fard kifayah (collective obligation). Thus, they are not relevant to jihad which becomes fard `ayntoday because many Muslim territories are allegedly occupied by non-believers and non-Muslim armies, and the caliphate is not established.

This claim can be refuted by referring to the occupation of Mecca and Jerusalem by pagan Arabs and Roman Christians respectively during the Prophet’s lifetime. Although two of the holiest sites in Islam – the Kaabah in Mecca and Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem — were located in the two cities, the Prophet did not declare that jihad was fard `ayn in order to liberate both cities; nor did he encourage Muslims to abandon their parents and join him in Medina. There is no evidence that the Prophet applied the same ruling adopted by IS today.

Since IS’ dismissal of parental consent for joining its jihad is anchored on the argument that jihad is fard `ayn today, it must be highlighted that Al-Qarni’s story also informs us that the fard `ayn or kifayah status of jihad falls under the sole jurisdiction of a legitimate Muslim authority that bears semblance to the position of the Prophet during his lifetime. It cannot be dictated by extremist Islamist groups such as IS, AQ and JI. This is the definitive position of many Muslim scholars:

“…it is important to note that Muslim scholars have ruled that laws of war can only be administered and executed by the Ulil Amri, or persons of appropriate authority. No individuals or groups are allowed to declare and wage war or jihad in the name of Islam or the community. As war will always affect the public at large, the declaration of war requires a proper mandate. The best people to hold such a mandate are those who are mandated to be the government. Furthermore, the teaching of syura (consultation) in Islam requires proper consultation of the people before war can be waged in their name. A serious matter such as the waging of war, if left to individuals or Muslim groups to decide and without going through a proper consultation process, will only create chaos and injustice – which is against the principle of any religion.”[14]

Even though the two holy lands were in the hands of Pagan Arabs and Roman Christians, the fact that the Prophet did not apply the same ruling issued by the IS implies that it was his discretionary power to declare whether jihad is fard ayn or kifayah.

In today’s context, jihad becomes fard `ayn: (i) only when a legitimate Muslim authority declares so in response to an enemy’s transgression of a Muslim land, and (ii) and if one is a professional soldier serving in a country’s military.[15] In other words, Muslims do not carry the burden of jihad as fard `ayn based on any declaration or exhortation by Muslim groups with dubious religious credibility. Further, the individual Muslim does not automatically bear the burden of jihad when a Muslim land is being invaded, before a legitimate Muslim authority issues such a ruling. Since extremist Islamist groups like IS do not have the theological mandate to issue such a ruling, Muslims should not hesitate to ignore their propaganda or calls to jihad.

Conclusion

This article has attempted to expose the fallacies in a key aspect of IS’ misinterpretation of jihad that has influenced a segment of Muslim youth today. Even though the issue addressed here relates specifically to IS, the story of Al-Qarni could also be applied in countering the propaganda of groups such as AQ and JI on the irrelevance of parental consent in jihad that is fard `ayn.[16]The counter-argument to IS’ recruitment rhetoric could be useful in deradicalisation efforts and be incorporated in theological refutations against IS in the online and off-line domains.

——————–

Note:

[1] The so-called Islamic State (IS) attempted to takeover Marawi city in May 2017 with the Philippine security forces liberating it in October the same year.

[2] The Straits Times (2018), Philippine Congress passes autonomy bill for volatile Muslim region, 30 May, available at https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/philippine-congress-passes-autonomy-bill-for-volatile-muslim-region (28 June 2018); Joseph Liow Chin Yong (2018), “Shifting Sands of Terrorism in Southeast Asia”, RSIS Commentary, 15 February, available at https://www.rsis.edu.sg/rsis-publication/rsis/co18025-shifting-sands-of-terrorism-in-southeast-asia/#.WzCphNIzbs0 (28 June 2018); Emile Amin (2017), “Southeast Asia: The New Terrorist Destination”, Asharq Al-Awsat. 20 November, available at https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1089481/southeast-asia-new-terrorist-destination (28 June 2018); Greg Fealy (2017), “The battle for Marawi and ISIS in Southeast Asia”, The Strategist, 23 August, available at https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/battle-marawi-isis-southeast-asia/ (28 June 2018). See Rohan Gunaratna (2016), “The Islamic State’s eastward expansion”, Countering Daesh Extremism: European and Asian Responses, Singapore: Konrad-Adenaeur-Stiftung and RSIS, pp. 9-26; Vanessa Panes (2016), “The Influence of Daesh in Philippines”, Countering Daesh Extremism: European and Asian Responses, Singapore: Konrad-Adenaeur-Stiftung and RSIS, pp. 124-38; Kumar Ramakrishna (2017), “The Growth of ISIS Extremism in Southeast Asia: Its Ideological and Cognitive Features—and Possible Policy Responses”, New England Journal of Public Policy, 29:1, pp. 1-16.

[3] Dabiq (1436H), no. 10, pp. 14-7; Dabiq (1437), no. 13, pp. 3-4.

[4] Dabiq is now discontinued. It was issued from July 2014 to 2016 and has 15 issues.

[5] Ibid, pp. 15-6.

[6] Kevin Sullivan (2014), “Bolingbrook teens’ parents ‘stunned’ by Islamic State recruitment claims”, Chicago Tribune, 9 December, available at http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/bolingbrook-plainfield/ct-chicago-islamic-state-met-20141208-story.html (28 June 2018); Mario van San (2018), “Belgian and Dutch Young Men and Women Who Joined ISIS: Ethnographic Research among the Families They Left Behind”, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 41:1, pp. 39-58; Lizzie Dearden (2016), “Mother of British teenager killed fighting for Isis starts group to help parents counter radicalisation”, Independent, 3 December, available at https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/isis-foreign-fighters-british-islamic-state-syria-rasheed-nicola-benyahia-birmingham-radicalisation-a7453936.html (28 June 2018); Janet Reitman (2015), “Children of ISIS: Why did three American kids from the suburbs of Chicago try to run away to the Islamic state, and should the Feds treat them as terrorists?”, Rolling Stone, 25 March, available at https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/teenage-jihad-inside-the-world-of-american-kids-seduced-by-isis-20150325 (28 June 2018); CBS (2015), Desperate Alabama family: Woman, 20, left to join ISIS, 21 April, available at https://www.cbsnews.com/news/desperate-alabama-family-woman-20-left-to-join-isis/ (28 June 2018).

[7] See Sahih Muslim, The book of the merits of the Companions, Chapter: The virtues of Uwais Al-Qarni, hadith no. 319, available at https://sunnah.com/muslim/44/319 (28 June 2018); Al-Zahabi (2001), Siyar A`alam Al-Nubala’, No place: Muassasah Al-Risalah, vol. 4, pp. 19-33.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] See Biography of Uwais Al-Qarni (may Allah have mercy on him), islamqa.info, available at https://islamqa.info/en/125276 (28 June 2018).

[11] Al-Bukhari, Sahih Al-Bukhari, Chapter: One should not go for Jihad without the permission of the parents , available at https://sunnah.com/bukhari/78/3 (6 August 2018); Muslim, Sahih Muslim,  Chapter: Being dutiful to one’s parents, and which of them is more entitled to it, available at https://sunnah.com/muslim/45/5 (6 August 2018).

[12] Abu Dawud, Sunan Abu Dawud, Chapter: Regarding a man who goes to battle while his parents object, available at https://sunnah.com/abudawud/15/54 (6 August 2018).

[13] Ibid, available at https://sunnah.com/abudawud/15/52 (6 August 2018).

[14] Muhammad Haniff Hassan (2006), Unlicensed to Kill: Countering Imam Samudra’s Justification for the Bali Bombing, Singapore: Peace Matters, p. 75. See also Wahbah A l-Zuhaili (1996), Al-Fiqh Al-Islami Wa Adillatuh, Damascus: Dar Al-Fikr, vol. 6, p. 419; Ibn Qudamah (1984), Al-Mughni, Beirut: Dar Al-Fikr, vol. 10, pp. 368-7; Al-Mawardi (1982), Al-Ahkam Al-Sultaniyah, Beirut: Dar Al-Kutub Al-Ilmiyah, p. 35.

[15] See Muhammad Haniff Hassan and Mohamed Ali (2007), Questions and Answers on Jihad, No place: No publisher, p. 15, available at https://counterideology2.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/my-booklet-questions-and-answers-on-jihad/ (28 June 2018); Yusuf Al-Qaradawi (2009), Fiqh Al-Jihad, Cairo: Maktabah Wahbah, vol. 1, pp. 95-105.

[16]See Inspire (2009), no. p. 43; Inspire (2014), no. 13, p. 49; Inspire (2016), no. p. 38; Ayman Al-Zawahiri (no date), Al-Tabriah, No place: As Sahab Media, pp. 83-88; Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Exoneration (translation of Al-Tabriah), Federation of American Scientist, chapter 5, available at https://fas.org/irp/dni/osc/exoneration.pdf (28 June 2018); Muhammad Haniff Hassan (2006), Unlicensed to Kill, p. 74-84; Muhammad Haniff Hassan (2014), The Father of Jihad: `Abd Allah `Azzam’s Jihad Ideas and Implications to National Security, London: Imperial College Press, pp. 114-119.

About Muhammad Haniff Hassan

Muhammad Haniff Bin Hassan is a Fellow. He holds a PhD and M.Sc. in Strategic Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (previously known as the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies), Nanyang Technological University. He received his early education in Aljunied Islamic School. He then continued his tertiary education at the Faculty of Islamic Studies, National University of Malaysia, with honours in Syar`iah and Civil law. Mr. Haniff is also active in social activities as a member of the Islamic Religious Council Appeal Board, HSBC Insurance Islamic Advisory Board from 2000 to 2014, Association of Islamic Religious Teachers and Scholars of Singapore (PERGAS) and Management Committee of Al-Irsyad Islamic School. He writes extensively in Berita Harian (a local Malay newspaper) and has also published articles in The Straits Times. He has published six books in his name, co-authored a monograph and helped publish two books for PERGAS and the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore. His personal website in Malay is at www.haniff.sg

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