Influential Jordanian ideologue argues against Islamic State’s caliphate

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Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi (right). The photo was posted on Twitter by sharia officials in the Al Nusrah Front, as well as other jihadists, after Maqdisi’s release from prison in Jordan in mid-June.

Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, an influential jihadist ideologue who was recently released from prison in Jordan, has released a new statement concerning the Islamic State’s advances in Iraq. Maqdisi has long been critical of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), as the Islamic State was previously known. The Jordanian’s latest message demonstrates that he has not changed his opinions, and he fears that the Islamic State will use its recent power grab to target its jihadist foes.

In late May, Maqdisi issued a stinging rebuke of the ISIS, calling it a “deviant organization.”

Online jihadists have speculated that Maqdisi’s denunciation of the ISIS and other statements critical of the group were either coerced by Jordanian security services, or were misinformed because of his status behind bars. Some jihadists even wondered if he was going to retract or modify his previous missives, especially his wholesale condemnation of the ISIS.

But Maqdisi dismisses these claims and stands by his previous statements, saying they were issued after various attempts to reconcile the ISIS to its rivals failed.

“Moral pressures had been exerted upon me to retract the statement that I had issued [in May] after the fruit of long communication with the parties involved in the reconciliation or in the adjudication that the group of the State [ISIS or the Islamic State] had refused,” Maqdisi argues, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group. The “claims by some people … that the statement is null or will be voided” are not true, Maqdisi writes, adding that he “did not promise [to retract his statements] to anyone.”

In his statement in late May, Maqdisi revealed new details about his own role in the attempts to mediate between the ISIS and the Al Nusrah Front. The Jordanian ideologue explained that he had been in contact with both the ISIS head Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri.

“I advised him [Baghdadi] privately and advised his [organization] publicly,” Maqdisi claimed in his May statement. Maqdisi said he “also wrote to our beloved brother, the Sheikh, the Commander, the Mujahid Ayman al Zawahiri (may Allah protect him)” to “put him in the picture regarding my efforts at a reconciliation initiative or adjudicating between” the ISIS and its rivals. Maqdisi promised Zawahiri that he “would authorize some of [his] closest students to carry this out.”

Maqdisi’s efforts, like those of other jihadist ideologues, failed. And he criticized the ISIS for rejecting the advice and orders of jihadist leaders, including “especially” Zawahiri.

In his new message, Maqdisi defends his condemnation of the ISIS. The statement “came as a result of communications and correspondence with all the parties, especially the party [the Islamic State] that had rejected previous initiatives and that is refusing the adjudication of the Shariah,” he writes.

And while Maqdisi applauds the jihadists’ recent gains in Iraq, he fears that the group now called the Islamic State will use its improved position to quash its rivals.

Maqdisi says that he was “asked about the victories of the Islamic State in Iraq,” which is one of the Islamic State’s previous names. “There is no believer who does not rejoice for the victories of the Muslims no matter who they are,” Maqdisi says. But the “fear is for the consequences of these victories and how the Sunnis and the other preaching or jihadi groups and Muslim masses will be treated in the liberated areas.”

The Jordanian ideologue asks, “And against whom will the heavy weaponry taken from Iraq and sent to Syria be used?”

Maqdisi raises the same concern when addressing the Islamic State’s announced caliphate. While he does not object to the goal of resurrecting the caliphate, Maqdisi fears that the Islamic State will use its new self-proclaimed status to continue targeting rivals.

The Jordanian jihadist asks, according to SITE’s translation: “Will this Caliphate be a sanctuary for every oppressed one and refuge for every Muslim? Or will this creation take on a sword against those who oppose it from the Muslims, and strike away with it all the emirates that came before their declared state, and nullify all the groups that do jihad in the cause of Allah in the different battlefields before them. ”

To buttress his point, Maqdisi points to the Islamic Caucasus Emirate (ICE) and the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan. As the jihadists’ regional emirates, they would technically fall under the authority of the caliphate, if it has been truly resurrected.

But Maqdisi says that in the case of the ICE, the group did “not make anything obligatory upon the Muslim masses in the world.” Nor, Maqdisi argues, did the Taliban demand allegiance from jihadists elsewhere around the world, as the Islamic State now has.

With the Islamic State now claiming to be above all other jihadist organizations, Maqdisi wonders what will come “of the various fighting groups that pledged” obedience to other leaders in Iraq and Syria.

The straightforward meaning of Maqdisi’s arguments and questioning is to challenge the Islamic State’s demand of obedience from all other jihadist groups now that it claims to rule as a caliphate. By comparing the Islamic State to the Taliban and the ICE, Maqdisi is pointing out just how much power Baghdadi’s group is really claiming to now wield.

Maqdisi was released from prison in mid-June. His freedom was celebrated by many jihadists, including leading figures in the Al Nusrah Front, which is al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria and one of the Islamic State’s chief jihadist adversaries.

Maqdisi’s new statement shows that he is still on the side of the jihadists opposed to the Islamic State.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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1 Comment

  • wallbangr says:

    Interesting. I suppose it isn’t too surprising considering he made a similar rebuke of his protege, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, when the latter declared wholesale war on the shi’a community in the height of his reign over AQI. Many are calling him soft or are accusing him of being coerced by the Jordanian special services, but I doubt a man in his position would be so easily swayed, even under the threat of further detention/enhanced interrogation techniques. This cat should by no means be confused for a moderate but at least seems a lot more practical than many of his contemporaries insofar as the application of jihad for the betterment of the greater Muslim world. Clearly, in the mind of Abu Bakr, this opinion means nothing. It will be interesting how the “Muslim Street” views this, especially if Zawahiri comes out with a similar statement. The whole I-am-your-caliph-and-thou-shalt-pledge-obedience thing seems to have left many bristling. His point that the infighting and sectarianism has only served to limit the gains of jihadists is a valid one. Hopefully, this will be the downfall of the IS. Either way, there will likely be a lot more Muslim blood shed than non-Muslim.


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