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Religion and Culture

Saudi Mufti used ISIL’s favorite weapon, takfir, to declare Iranians non-Muslim

Saudi Mufti used ISIL’s favorite weapon, takfir, to declare Iranians non-Muslim

Proving the point raised by critics of Saudi religious figures who often use religion to silence dissenters, the Grand Mufti of the kingdom took a page from ISIL’s book and issued a fatwa declaring all Iranians kuffar (non-Muslim) after the leader of that country accused the rulers of the kingdom of negligence when managing Hajj. More than 450 Iranian pilgrims died last year-2015, among thousands more mostly from Africa and Asian countries, and no credible investigation was conducted to reassure pilgrims and punish those found guilty of negligence. The Kingdom established a committee headed by the crown prince, who is also the interior minister, the institution that is overseeing Hajj. In a sense, the rulers established an investigative committee headed by the same person accused of incompetence. Even so, the committee, still, has not published its findings.
Instead of addressing the issue, the Mufti, Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh, used religion and issued the exclusion decree, takfir, labeling Iranians “non-Muslim, majus, who worship fire.”

Perhaps realizing the gravity of this practice, the kingdom announced that the Mufti will not be giving the sermon in the pilgrimage this year, a first in more than 30 years.

Grozny Conference: The first international conference dedicated to answering the question: Who are the Sunnis?

Grozny Conference: The first international conference dedicated to answering the question: Who are the Sunnis?

On August 25-17, more than 200 Sunni Muslim scholars from around the world convened in Grozny, Chechnya, to answer the question: who are the Sunnis? Representing the most prominent Sunni institution of learning and religious guidance, al-Azhar, the Grand Imam, Ahmed al-Tayeb, opened the international conference with a statement stressing the importance of reclaiming the true teachings of Sunni Muslims (Ahl al-Sunna wa-‘l-jama`a), which, he argued, have been corrupted by extremists and terrorists. This important event did not receive wide coverage because of the coordinated attack by religious and political leaders of Saudi Arabia who contended that the conference was meant to exclude Wahhabi Salafism
The conference is important because it started a conversation within the Sunni community about issues made taboo by Wahhabi Salafists and their political patron—the Saud family that rules Saudi Arabia. The kingdom used its huge wealth to redefine Islam by building religious institutions that preached Wahhabism disguised as Sunni Islam and publishing books on Islamic traditions that are derived exclusively from Salafism.

Saudi religious clerics accused the organizers of the conference of “dividing Muslims” and placing Salafism outside Islam. It is important to note, however, that the scholars attending the conference did not define who is “Muslim” and who is not. The conference‘s stated aims was to define Sunnism and religious groups that historically shaped Sunni Islam. Wahhabi Salafist scholars, on the other hand, preach that only Sunnis are Muslims and all other groups are deviant, heretic, and/or apostate. Scholars attending this conference, however, reject conflating Sunnism with being Muslim to the exclusion of all other religious groups:
Sunnis [Ahl al-sunna wa-‘l-jama`a] are the Ash`arites and the Maturidites in terms of theology (i`tiqad), the Hanafites, Malikites, Shafi`ites, and Hanbalites in terms of law (fiqh), and Sufis who adhere to Imam al-Junayd’s path in terms of ethics and practices.
This definition excluded Wahhabi Salafists from being Sunni simply because Wahhabi scholars disagree with it: Wahhabi Salafists consider Sufis (and followers of all other sects that are not Sunni) to be deviant, heretic, non-Muslim. It is that belief of exclusion (takfir) that is fueling and justifying the killings, beheadings, and civil wars. 

Saudi Arabia worked its sources to discredit the conference internationally. The Secretariat of the International Islamic Fiqh Academy(IIFA), part of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) (formerly Organization of the Islamic Conference), which is controlled by the Saudi rulers, released a press release defining Sunnis, in meaningless broad terms to appear inclusive: 

The IIFA Secretariat also believes that the Ahlu-s-Sunnah wa-l-Jamaa‘ah is anyone who testifies that there is no deity except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, who respects the companions of the Messenger of Allah, who has high regard for members of the Prophet’s household and loves them.

The IIFA affirms that Ahlu-s-Sunnah wa-l-Jamaa‘ah is anyone who believes in the articles of faith, who is certain about the pillars of Islam, who does not deny any information that is self-evidently part of Islam,  including making lawful what is prohibited by religious law such as killing.


For the first time in nearly 50 years, Sunni Muslims are challenging the ideology that sustains the genocidal wars waged by groups like al-Qaeda and its derivatives who are waging wars with the intent to purge countries from people who are not followers of “true Islam” as they define it.

Islamic societies, including Sunni and Shia ones, need to interrogate some of the sources of modern Islamic teachings and practices. A conference like the one held in Chechnya is a good start. It constituted a legitimate voice directed at those who want to monopolize Islam in the name of orthodoxy and other labels of exclusion and racism.



Conference communique and recommendations:


Will hubris bring the end of the Saudi regime?

Will hubris bring the end of the Saudi regime?

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*


Saudi Arabia’s bizarre behavior was on display, again, during the last two weeks. The recent actions reveal how Saudi Arabia’ rulers leverage the kingdom’s oil-generated wealth, Wahhabism, and religious sites and institutions to exert unmatched control in world politics–unmatched even by the superpowers of today.
Here is the chain of events.
On Thursday, June 2, the United Nations released its blacklist of states and armed groups that violate children’s rights during conflict. In it, Saudi Arabia–and its coalition partners but mainly Saudi Arabia–was found responsible for “killing and maiming children in Yemen.” The report concluded that the coalition led by Saudi Arabia “was responsible for 60 percent of child deaths and injuries last year, killing 510 and wounding 667… The coalition carried out half the attacks on schools and hospitals.”

Saudi Arabia’s PR and diplomatic missions’ machines shifted into overdrive. First, as reported by several news outlets, its top diplomats informed UN officials that unless Saudi Arabia is removed from the list, the kingdom will stop funding all UN agencies. Second, and to facilitate its break with the UN, the rulers summoned Wahhabi religious clerics to meet and issue a fatwa declaring the UN “anti-Muslim”, thereby justifying the cutting of aid and dues to the UN. Third, the rulers called on members of its coalitions–the Arab coalition supporting its war on Yemen and the Islamic coalition supporting its alleged anti-terrorism efforts–to pressure the UN to remove the kingdom from its blacklist. Within a week, the UN announced that it was removing Saudi Arabia and its war on Yemen coalition partners from the list pending a joint investigation.

Have the rulers of Saudi Arabia achieved anything from this show of power and influence? Yes, they have achieved this: a clear demonstration that money offers rich individuals and nations immense power to obfuscate the truth. At what cost? The Saudi rulers multiplied their losses rather than curtail them.

1. Once on the list, the image of the kingdom has been irreversibly tarnished. By forcing the UN, through reported threats and enticements, to remove it from the blacklist, it added new damage: it exposed the kingdom’s rulers as bullies, arrogant, and thugs who resort to blackmail to achieve political goals.

2. When they called on their religious figures to issue a fatwa against the UN, they solidified the perception and the reality of their use of Islamic institutions in service of political masters, not the other way around as suggested by the titles the rulers choose for themselves: Servants of the Two Noble Sanctuaries.

3. The pressure the Saudi rulers exerted on their already reluctant coalition partners will gradually alienate those countries who find other reliable partners who will not use them the way the Saudi rulers do. Once that happens, the government of Saudi Arabia will be on a path to being isolated.

4. The Saudi rulers’ reliance on religious institutions as a convenience kiosk of fatwas-on-demand exposes the rulers’ insidious campaign to define Sunni Islam through a Wahhabi filter.

The events unleashed by the so-called Arab Spring have transformed Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies in ways they hardly imagined. First, Qatari satellite TV channel, Aljazeera, which reserved the right to criticize all Arab governments except those ruling the CCG member states, was exposed as a sectarian political tool in the hands of the ruling elite. Second, Saudi Arabia’s aggressive interference in the affairs of Muslim countries through bribes and threats was exposed. Some of the recently revealed actions show the extent of their otherwise secret dealings:  giving millions to Malaysian politicians, supporting Sunni tribes in Iraq to remove the elected prime minister—Nouri al-Maliki, arming Salafi fighters in Syria to overthrow the Syrian government, bombing Yemen to extend the rule of an interim president, offering refuge to a Tunisian dictator wanted for murder and embezzlement, supporting Egyptian military rulers who removed a democratically elected president, blocking the selection of a president in Lebanon, reneging on a gift to Lebanese military, and supporting Morocco to punish Algeria for challenging its control over the Arab League.

This problem with the UN report is indeed all bad news for the Saudi rulers. But it ought to be good news for the Muslim peoples. It exposes the Saudi rulers’ use and abuse of religious institutions and their perversion of Islam to preserve their corrupt, clannish control over sites revered by billions of Muslims around the world. This exposure is a necessary step for dealing with one of Saudi Arabia’s most dangerous brainchild: al-Qaeda and its derivatives. By examining the Saudi use of wealth and religious institutions, Sunni Muslim thinkers will begin to address the origins of ISIL’s corrupted interpretation of Islam and act against its genocidal agenda that is rooted in Saudi Wahhabism.
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Saudi Arabia is a not great American ally; it is a liability

Saudi Arabia is a not great American ally; it is a liability

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
At the same time President Obama was meeting with the rulers of the GCC member states, Foreign Policy magazine published an article by Michael Pregent arguing that “Saudi Arabia is a great American ally.” Responding to the increased number of critics of Saudi Arabia, the author ignored all the facts and relied instead on two logically flawed arguments: (1) Iran is worse than Saudi Arabia, and, (2) Saudi Arabia has long been at war with al-Qaeda. Saudi Arabia, too, used these two specious arguments to cajole its Western economic partners into ignoring its appalling human rights record, its role in the perversion of Islam, its bulling of poor Arab and Muslim countries, and its support for brutal authoritarian regimes in Islamic societies.
Great allies are not default allies. Yet, that is exactly the author’s argument: Saudi Arabia is great ally because Iran will make a very bad one, as if Iran and the U.S. are actually wanting to be allies. Given the U.S.’s publicly stated commitment to human rights norms, representative governance, and rule of law, it is in the interest of the American people and their administrations to distance themselves from all regimes that do not share a commitment to these principles.
The author repeated Saudi Arabia’s claim that it has its own war on “al-Qaeda and its extremist affiliates” and therefore, it is a reliable ally. All evidence point to the fact that Saudi Arabia has used al-Qaeda and its derivatives as strategic tools abroad. The Saudi rulers had targeted al-Qaeda members only when they threatened the rulers’ hold on power at home. The origins and ideology of al-Qaeda and its derivatives also show the undeniable connection to Saudi Arabia.

1. al-Qaeda (and its derivatives) is exclusively a Saudi brainchild. Ideologically, members of al-Qaeda, ISIL, al-Nusra, and Jaish al-Islam follow Wahhabism. Wahhabism, the radicalized, politicized, and now weaponized version of previously docile Salafism, is exclusively a Saudi creation. With that being that case, not just fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 attackers were Saudi, all nineteen attackers, and their spiritual leader–Bin Laden, were Wahhabi Salafists with roots in Saudi Arabia. If if we were to give the Saudi rulers the benefit of the doubt and believe that they are, now, fighting al-Qaeda, one would still think that they must. After all, they are responsible for al-Qaeda’s existence in the first place.
2. Saudi Arabia’s anti-terror laws are not enacted to combat Wahhabi terrorism. They are often used to persecute and prosecute human rights activists, bloggers, and anyone who criticizes the rulers of GCC member states. Raif Badai is not a terrorist. Yet he was sentenced to a 10 year prison term and 1000 public lashes. Former al-Qaeda members are sent to rehabilitation centers, instead.
3. The strange military coalitions the King’s son, the inexperienced deputy Crown Prince, and head of the Defense Forces, Mohammed Ibn Slaman, announced thus far are meant to provide the regime with a “Sunni” cover to confront Iran and other governments that resist or oppose Saudi influence. The coalition of ten states provided cover for the Saudi regime to launch its brutal war on Yemen, killing thousands of civilians thus far, as documented by NGOs. Similarly, the announced 34 nation Sunni military coalition is clearly made to confront the Iranian presence in Syria and Iraq not to fight al-Qaeda and its derivatives. When the U.S. anti-ISIL coalition denied them ground presence in those countries, the coalition showed off Saudi military hardware instead during war games. The Saudis have never been serious about confronting al-Qaeda and all evidence points the fact that the rulers are in fact using these Wahhabi fighters as Special Forces outside the kingdom’s borders.
3.1. Before the start of the Saudi war on Yemen, al-Qaeda fighters there were under pressure from U.S. drones attacks. ISIL’s leaders complained that the group’s supporters in Yemen failed to establish a foothold for the “caliphate” in that country. Now, both ISIL and al-Qaeda fighters control numerous towns and provinces from which the Yemeni military and Houthi fighters retreated due to heavy Saudi bombardment. Many of the neighborhoods in Aden, supposedly the temporary seat of the pro-Saudi Yemeni government (led by Hadi), are now controlled by al-Qaeda and its derivatives.
3.2. In Syria and Iraq, the Saudi government did not take a significant part in the military operations targeting ISIL, al-Nusra, and other al-Qaeda derivatives. In fact, the Saudis facilitated the transfer of fighters who belonged to UN designated terror organizations to other equaled violent, genocidal groups like Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham and supplied them with more weapons.
3.3. The Saudi rulers, like the AKP leaders in Turkey, continue to insist that, as long as Shia or pro-Shia governments are in power in Iraq and Syria, they will continue to tolerate al-Qaeda and its derivatives and use them as foot soldiers to change those regimes. The Saudi and Qatari intervention in Libya, which is now a failed stated governed by at least three different “governments”, ought to caution all those who want to do the same in Syria.
4. The rulers of Saudi Arabia are overstating the Iranian threat for a number of reasons. First, as adherents to puritan Wahhabism which sees Shia as a deviant sect, the mere existence of a Shia Iran is unacceptable—regardless of Iran being an actual threat or not. Second, the Saudi Arabian rulers want to mask their own problems by overstating imagined outside threats–Iran or some other invented one. In reality, it is Saudi Arabia that is meddling in the affairs of other countries.
It is Saudi Arabia that is now bombing Yemen. It is Saudi Arabia that is offering protection to Ben Ali who is wanted in Tunisia for killing protesters and corruption charges. It is Saudi Arabia that had sent its military to crush a peaceful protest movement in Bahrain. It is Saudi Arabia that is arming rebels in Syria. It is Saudi Arabia that stood by Mubarak when his regime attempted to put down the rebellion. It is Saudi Arabia that bough influence by paying off politicians in Malaysia. It is Saudi Arabia that first donated to Lebanon $4 billion to upgrade that country’s military to combat the Wahhabi threat then ungifted it when the Lebanese foreign minister refused to support Saudi-drafted resolutions in the Arab League. It is Saudi Arabia that is punishing Algeria for opposing its hegemony on the Arab League. It is in Saudi Arabia where nearly 4000 pilgrims from all over the world died due the rulers negligence without an apology and compensation for the victims. It is Saudi Arabia that has built madrasas and centers that spread perverted interpretation of Islam disguised as Sunni Islam all over the world. Add to this partial list, the Saudi government’s role in funding some of 9/11 attackers that might be revealed once the classified 28 pages report are made available would leave no doubt that the Saudi rulers are not just a bad ally, they are a threat to U.S. (and (world) security.
5. The Saudi rulers have used their oil-generated wealth to influence, bride, and blackmail governments and individuals around the world. The reported threat that the kingdom would pull out $750 billion off the U.S. economy is evidence of their strategy for remaining in power at home and relevant around the world. Blackmail is not the behavior of a great ally.
U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia is a heavy burden. As that region transitions towards representative governance, Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, its support for dictators like Ben Ali, Mubarak, al-Sisi, Umar al-Bashir and other authoritarian leaders, and its export of the perverted Wahhabi interpretation of Islam will necessarily force Western governments to choose between the peoples of the region or continue their support for unelected rulers. An alliance that does not take into consideration the interests of peoples is an alliance of convenience that cannot stand the test of time. U.S.-Saudi Alliance is such alliance; it has outlived its utility.
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

The Genealogy, Ideology, and Future of ISIL and its Derivatives

The Genealogy, Ideology, and Future of ISIL and its Derivatives

Abstract: The organization known today simply as the “Islamic State,” or by its Arabic acronym, Daesh (English, ISIL), has historical and ideological roots that go beyond the territories it now controls. These deep roots give Daesh confidence that it will succeed in dominating the world, but give others reasons to believe that it will fail in controlling even a single nation. Mixing puritan religious and political discourses, ISIL managed to dominate all other armed opposition groups in conflict zones (Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya) and has inspired individuals in many other countries (Egypt, Pakistan, France, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia) to carry out brutal attacks in its name.

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Dogmatic Origins: Traditionism
In Islamic societies throughout history, Islam has been defined by one fundamental question: are religious foundational principles, as expressed in the Qur’an, created or eternal? For more than two centuries, Muslim religious scholars’ opinion, which informed political authorities, held that religious principles were created. Individuals seeking government jobs were required to answer a simple yes/no question: is the Qur’an created? The correct answer during the first two centuries was yes. This era, on balance, could be called the Age of Reason I, during which a school of thought led by a group of thinkers known as al-Mu`tazilah—generally categorized as Reasonists (Ahl al-ra’y)—dominated public life. 
With time, this elite theological and legal position, which was backed by the office of the caliph, grew stronger and became a tool for suppressing dissent. Resistance was inevitable. Some religious scholars refused to go along and produce the expected answer, choosing instead to say, “it was God’s words.” These figures were known as Traditionists (Ahl al-hadith), as opposed to Reasonists. While Reasonists held that reason and circumstance must play a role in interpreting and applying religious principles and imperatives, Traditionists believed that tradition cannot be superseded by reason or circumstance.
There are many other points of contention that divided Muslim communities during the formative period (first three centuries) of Islam along at least three sects (Ibadism, Sunnism, and Shi`ism) and eight legal denominations (Malikism, Ja`farism, Hanafism, Hanbalism, Shafi`ism, Zaydism, Isma`ilism, and Ibadism). However, the point of contention that truly explains current crises in Islamic societies is whether religious principles are tools to promote social justice and address social problems, or whether they are sacred principles that must be applied regardless of their effect on humans. Division over the primacy of religious principles cuts across sectarian and legal currents, most pronouncedly among the so-called Sunni communities.
Traditionism in the context of Islamic societies is best expressed in Hanbalism, founded by Ahmad Ibn Hanbal in the first half of the third Islamic Century. Traditionism, called Salafism by its adherents, holds that the purity and authenticity of Islam is ascertained through an organic chain of authorities and institutions that connect today’s Muslim community to the original teachings and practices of Islam through the opinions and practices of the ancestors (salaf). The Salaf, thus understood, consists of the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad (Sahabah), the Followers of (or those who came after) the Companions (Tabi`in), the Followers of the Followers (Tabi`i al-tabi`in), and the masters of the schools of jurisprudence (Ayimmah, Mujtahidun). Although, in principle, Salafists contend that opinions of any of masters of the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence (Malikism, Hanafism, Hanbalism, Shafi`ism) are equally authoritative, in reality, Salafist scholars privilege Hanbalism over all other schools of thought. To some extent, according to Salafism, the authentic sayings and practices of ancestors are as authoritative as the texts of the Qur’an itself. A true Salafist cannot rely on reason to override the opinion and practice of a Companion of the Prophet or a Follower of a Companion of the Prophet.
Ultimately, Salafism is a specific stream of Traditionist interpretation of Islam that relies on a selective chain of scholars that inform the broader base of adherents. The chain of Salafi scholars is not continuous. It is bridged by textual traditions that inform modern figures about opinions of their predecessors who might have lived a century or two apart. For example, modern Salafi figures like Usama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Umar Mahmoud Uthman (Abu Qutada al-Filistini), Isam al-Barqawi (Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi), Abu Azzam al-Jazrawi, Abdullah al-Muhaisini, Mustafa al-Jakiri al-Rifa`i (Abu Mus`ab al-Suri), Ibrahim Awwad al-Samura’i (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), cite works of individuals whom they never met like Mohammed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn Qayyim, and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal. In the end, modern Salafism is ancient Traditionism reconstructed from text-based historical events and sayings.
Today, the struggle that is fueling civil wars and sectarian tension is about the function and status of shari`a, one of the generic terms that refers to religious legal principles and imperatives, which are believed to be derived from the primary sources of Islamic traditions and practices. As it has been the case throughout the history of Islamic societies, what distinguishes Reasonist Muslims from Salafists is the answer to one general question: Is the shari`a a tool for realizing social justice on earth or are humans mere agents that must be sacrificed to impose the shari`a?
Political Origins: Umayyad Caliphate System
Salafism is about religious tradition and the preservation of that tradition in its literalist form. According to Salafi dogma, any deviation from established understanding of religious norms and practices is an innovation, and any innovation is strictly prohibited. The preservation of established tradition goes beyond religious texts. It is also about accepting the political order as is. For Traditionists, the caliphs were guardians of religious traditions. To raise doubt about any given caliph’s ethical and legal standing would amount to raising doubt about the authenticity and transcendence of religious truths. Therefore, Salafism does not dwell on the causes of the civil wars during the reign of the third and fourth caliphs, does not dwell on the transgressions and crimes of the Umayyads, and does not challenge the reign of the Saud clan over Arabia as long as the Saudi rulers act as protectors of pure Sunni Islam and guardians of holy places.
It is worth noting that Traditionism was most successful when it was allied with political rulers. Traditionists were strong when al-Mutawakkil adopted their teachings as Sunni orthodoxy. Salafists are strong now because of their alliance with the wealthy rulers of Saudi Arabia. State-enabled theology was their best path to project influence. Their disdain for reason limited their ability to influence public opinion through the deliberative processes, and because of that they have preferred a top-down process of imposing what they see as religious principles.
The most advantageous path to power and influence for Salafism is through the brute force of the sword or gun and strong alliances with powerful governments. By declaring the re-establishment of the caliphate, ISIL essentially declared Salafi independence from the Saudi patronage that sustained Salafism for nearly a century. Salafism is now enabled by the “Islamic State,” formerly known as the ISIL, which was formerly a branch of al-Qaeda.
ISIL’s Connections: U.S.-Saudi-Wahhabi Tripartite
In modern times, and in order to keep Salafists in check, the sponsors of the Traditionist creed created two streams of Salafism, each built on a distinct strategy: 
1. Religious purity/authenticity is ascertained through separation of religion from politics. This path created a form of secularism that recognized two parallel authorities—one religious and one political. These Traditionists formed al-Da`wa wa-‘l-tabligh, who went on proselytizing without engaging political issues. In return they were allowed to preach publicly and enjoy some governmental and private support. These groups, generally, belonged to what became known as Learned Traditionism (al-Salafiyya al-`ilmiyya). 
2. To meet some international challenges and to help project influence globally, the sponsors and sustainers of Traditionists also encouraged some Salafists to combat ungodly ideologies, like communism and atheism. They were taught that stopping the spread of communism and atheism, ideologies strictly prohibited in Islam because they deny the existence of God—according to Saudi religious scholars, was a religious obligation. These adherents subscribed to Combatant Traditionism (al-Salafiyya al-jihadiyyah). 
Eventually, the two groups complemented one another. Learned Traditionists provided religious context for ideological wars. They helped produced the body of literature, institutions, and networks that sustained Traditionism in general. When necessary, these ideologically trained adherents joined Militant Traditionists in defense of the community (ummah) from ungodly ideologies such as communism in Afghanistan—justifying the war against the Soviet Union, and secularism (`ilmaniyyah) in Algeria, Tunisia, and almost all other Muslim majority countries. They worked to impose religious order on corrupted Muslim societies from Morocco to Malaysia.
What we ought to remember, however, is that the US-Saudi alliance that empowered Militant Traditionists in Afghanistan produced Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. The invasion of Iraq and the US-Saudi alliance against Assad in Syria produced ISIL. These are not abstract speculations. Even the architects of the Iraq war admit as much.  Tony Blair, Bush’s ally and strong supporter of the illegal invasion of Iraq recently declared:
Of course you can’t say that those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation [in Iraq] in 2015… There are elements of truth in the fact that the invasion is responsible for the rise of ISIS. –Tony Blair, CNN, October 25, 2015). 
The Future of ISIL and its Derivatives:
ISIL is the expression of a Traditionist position that is present in all Semitic traditions, if not all religions. As the data shows, Traditionists who do not believe in broad, free public participation in defining and applying religious traditions are strongest when enabled by the state or when relying on brute force to impose their will from the top down. This model cannot survive the test of time.
ISIL’s teachings and practices might be enough to sustain a culture. But it is not capable of sustaining a worldview or civilization. Combatant Traditionism in Islamic societies is a backward-looking ideology with no place for diversity, plurality, reason, art, or any other human invention that has no roots in the formative period of Islam. An ideology that aspires to establishing a monolithic community is in conflict with its own sources of authority and with human nature. Even the literal interpretation of some Islamic texts suggest that God does not wish to coarse all humans into accepting one faith: “Had your Lord wished it, He could have made all of the earth’s inhabitants, all of them, believers. Is it up to you, then, to force people to believe?” [Qur’an: Yunis, 99]; see also [Qur’an: Hud, 118-9]. 
To aim for an earth inhabited by people who follow a single creed and live by one law is to be delusional in aspiration and genocidal in practice. Neither religious tradition nor historical records support the Traditionists’ position and aims. 
The world in which we live has always been full of people with diverse ideas, diverse racial backgrounds, and diverse social orders. Throughout the history of Islamic societies, there has never been a caliphate that imposed one law and one orthodoxy and lasted beyond the reign of one caliph or one dynasty. Even the most idealized caliphal period, known as the Righteously Guided Caliphate, was full of dissent, tension, rebellion, revolution, and bloodshed.
During the righteously guided caliphate, the most prominent leaders of that era held that the principles derived from religious texts were intended to establish social justice, not to be blindly imposed. In other words, they understood that the shari`a is supposed to be in service of human beings, not that human beings can be sacrificed to impose the shari`a. The second caliph, Umar Ibn al-Khattab, nicknamed al-Faruq for his commitment to fairness, invented an inheritance law principle that contradicted the explicit Qur’anic dictates. The principle of proportional distribution of legacy, `awl, diminished all the Qur’anic share otherwise due to Qur’anic heirs to accommodate grandparents in the presence of first and second generation heirs. Moreover, Umar reportedly suspended hudud rules during harsh economic times. 
Today, the conflict between theory and practice is evident even in Traditionism formulated and implemented by the same generation of adherents. In theory, Salafism united scholars and adherents from all over the world. Salafist ideologues prophesized that once a pure “Islamic state” is established, it will self-sustain (Baqiyah) and it will self-perpetuate (Mutamaddidah) until the end of time. Such self-assuredness enticed Traditionists from all over the world to make the journey to the lands under the control of ISIL in Syria and Iraq. However, months later, that influx of supporters decreased, the number of Syrian and Iraqi citizens who lived in or near the towns and cities under ISIL’s control left it all behind and sought refuge in European countries, far away from ISIL’s control and influence, prompting the latter to issue a religious edict prohibiting relocation to the land of unbelievers (Kuffar).
In 2014, ISIL and other Salafi affiliated armed groups in Syria went to war against one another prompting Salafi religious figures to call for a truce. A document entitled, Mubadarat al-ummah, drafter and signed by a number of Salafi figures instructed all parties to stop the infighting and put the matter in the hands of a shari`a court. When ISIL rejected the plan, even the most committed authorities of Combatant Traditionism issued opinions invalidating the procedure and substance of ISIL’s project to re-establish the Islamic caliphate. 
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the most militant Salafi combatant and successor of Usama Bin Laden rebuked ISIL’s leaders and declared their state null and void. The Jordanian Salafist, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi (Isam al-Barqawi), who spent many years in prison for his support of Combatant Traditionism, also rebuked ISIL leaders and their state, arguing that they have poor understanding of Islamic tradition and he argued that “ISIL does not have a single scholar who trusted and supported them.” Many other Salafist scholars who previously supported al-Qaeda and its derivatives rejected ISIL’s caliphate, including, Abu Qatada al Filistini, Sami al-Uraydi, Sadiq al-Hashimi, Muslih al-Alyani, Abu Sulayman al-Ustrali, Abu Azzam al-Jazrawi, al-Mu`tasim Billah al-Madani, and Abdullah al-Muhaysini.
The Mufti of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi establishment’s authority of Salafism, also determined that ISIL, like al-Qaeda, is a deviant trend (fi’ah baghiyah) and that it must be fought and defeated. Many other scholars of Salafism held similar opinions on ISIL’s ideology and practices. If ISIL cannot enjoy any degree of consensus about its interpretation of Islam and its political theory, how could it secure the support and consent of other Sunni Muslims, especially those who are Reasonists, let alone adherents to other sects, religions, and seculars?
Another problem with the ideology espoused by ISIL and its derivatives is that it is an elitist, top-down vision of Islam because it is derived from textual evidence. Writing is not an activity that preserves the values and practices of ordinary people or the consensus of the community. Writing has been, for most of history, a mode of communication dominated by the elite, the wealthy, and the powerful. Writing and publishing is an expensive and complex mode of producing narratives and recording historical events. Historical written texts are not inclusive or diverse. To reconstruct Islam through the interpretation of a select group of ancient texts is to presume that those texts represented a broad consensus or authoritative preservation of Islam. They do not. Islam was once said to be the religion of an illiterate for the illiterate. Then it was co-opted by the elite aristocrats, like the Umayyads, in the second half of 7thcentury, and the Saud Clan, in the 20th century.
Salafism exists today because it aligned itself, directly and indirectly, with two of the most powerful political orders in the world: a regional power, Saudi Arabia, and a global power, the United States. Salafism’s reach and influence are deep because they are enabled by state agencies and the generosity of wealthy individuals from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar. 
Today, the Saudi rulers’ belligerent arrogance is stunning. While their air force bombarded the impoverished Yemeni people for months killing scores of civilians and destroying schools and hospitals, they continue to argue their bizarre logic of equating the brutality of Assad’s government to the horror Daesh and its derivatives inflict on civilians around the world.
The Arab Spring put in motion a movement whose effects cannot be fully contained, reversed, or redirected. The Arab countries must adapt to a new reality where the people no longer fear the rulers. This problem is more complex for the rulers of Saudi Arabia. For nearly a century, they presided over a society with no civil institutions like opposition political parties, a free press, or non-governmental organizations—a society dominated by the corrupt clan government or by exclusionary Salafi religious institutions. Should the Saudi government fall, the only group that would be prepared to take power is the Salafist, a religious order that aspire to dominate all others who do not share its views and beliefs. 
The Saudi rulers’ refusal to eradicate Combatant Traditionism is, in many ways, another form of preserving and prolonging their own hold on power. The existence of Combatant Traditionism makes the Saudi regime appear “moderate,” the same way the rise of Daesh made other al-Qaeda derivatives, like al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, seem “moderate.” However, Muslims, and the world community at large, must realize that they do not have to choose between Combatant Traditionism and the Saudi regime. Given the evident historical and ideological connections between the Saud clan and Combatant Traditionism, confronting both, the Saudi regime and Combatant Traditionism, at the same time, might be the only path to ending this petrodollar-empowered genocidal alliance.
The Saudi rulers could save themselves and their country from total destruction. They could stop blaming their neighbors, abandon their sectarian rhetoric, and allow scholars from other Sunni schools of thought to engage Salafism, which has enjoyed a virtual monopoly over educational and religious institutions since the Kingdom was founded.
The rise of Combatant Traditionism might also be an opportunity for Muslim thinkers, scholars, and educators to revive Reasonism, the discourse that guided the development of Islamic thought and practices during the formative period (first two centuries of Islam). While Combatant Traditionism is attempting to transcend geographical border to impose a particular narrow understanding of Islam with blind zeal, those who believe in the universality of human dignity need to articulate their commitment to social justice in a way that transcends sectarian, ethnic, religious, national, and ideological fault lines. The Saudi rulers’ sponsored culture puts religious dogma above human dignity. Confronting that culture will launch a social justice driven movement within Islamic societies and lay a strong foundation for dignity-centered movement that transcends all other boundaries.
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.
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