The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, has announced the creation of a new school named the Imam al Shafi’i Institute for Islamic Studies. The group is promoting the institute on Twitter. And Abu Sulayman al Muhajir, a senior sharia (Islamic law) official in the Al Nusrah Front who relocated from Australia to Syria last year, is collecting donations for it.
The school will instruct students in the Al Nusrah Front’s version of Islamic jurisprudence and the proper way to wage jihad, according to posts on Twitter.
Several advertisements for the school have been posted on Twitter. One such ad, shown below, says that the institute has been set up by Al Nusrah’s general sharia committee. “To support please contact Shaykh Abu Sulayman al Muhajir @abushulayman321, a member of the general shar’ia committee of Jabhat al Nusrah,” the bottom of the ad reads.
Abu Sulayman became well-known in Australia for his support of the jihad in Syria. But the extent of his involvement in al Qaeda’s international network was not publicly understood until he emerged as one of Al Nusrah’s leading ideologues.
Abu Sulayman has been a fierce critic of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), which was disowned by al Qaeda’s general command in February. In a video released by the Al Nusrah Front on March 17, Abu Sulayman explained that he was appointed to be part of the first mediation attempt between ISIS and Al Nusrah.
In another Al Nusrah video released in April, Abu Sulayman described al Qaeda’s structure. Al Qaeda has divided the jihadist endeavor into several regions, with an emir appointed to oversee each region, Abu Sulayman explained.
A second banner advertisement for the institute, seen below, also asks for support and includes a quote from Ibn Qayyim al Jawziyyah, an Islamic thinker who lived in the 13th and 14th centuries. “The foundation of the religion is knowledge and jihad,” the quote reads, and jihad has “two varieties.” The first is one of combat, “the hand and the spear,” while the second is of “argumentation and statement,” which “is the better of the two jihads due to the greatness of its utility, the intensity of its sustenance, and the multiplicity of its enemies.”
A third banner pictures the English-speaking Abu Sulayman in the lower left-hand corner and says that supporters can contact a member of Al Nusrah’s sharia committee to help fund the institute. In addition to Abu Sulayman, at least two other members of the sharia committee are active Twitter users.
Twitter has become an increasingly popular platform for jihadist fundraising. Al Qaeda and associated ideologues use heavily trafficked accounts to drive donations. For instance, Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, a popular Saudi cleric who is affiliated with al Qaeda, regularly uses Twitter to collect funds for the jihad in Syria. Muhaysini currently has more than 300,000 followers, while Abu Sulayman has just over 10,000.
Oren Adaki, a research fellow and Arabic language specialist at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, prepared translations used in this article.