Sunday, June 08, 2008

Jihadi 'dialectic of enlightenment'

Osama Bin Laden
"Now look, this charisma thing has gone far enough!"
(Image from Wikipedia)

In "Anatomy of the Salafi Movement," Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 29, No. 3 (2006) 224-225, Quintan Wiktorowicz distinguishes among three types of Salafis: 1. purists; 2. politicos; and 3. jihadis.

One can arrange these three on two opposing scales, either from most knowledgeable to least knowledgeable (purist --> politico --> jihadi) or from most radical to least radical (jihadi --> politico --> purist).

As one might surmise, the distinction between expertise and activism could lead to questions concerning the legitimacy of jihadi actions. Because jihadis often felt that especially purists but even politicos did not understand the requirements imposed by the battlefield, they found themselves stymied by traditional sources of authority and began to look beyond those sources for others, as noted by Dr. E. Alshech, of MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute), in his intriguing article for Inquiry & Analysis (Nr. 446, June 2008): "The Emergence of the 'Infallible Jihad Fighter': The Salafi Jihadists' Quest for Religious Legitimacy" (pdf):
For example, the jihadi Salafis sanctioned the use of extreme violence, and hastened to engage in takfir (i.e., to accuse other Muslims of heresy) -- positions that the politicos explicitly denounced. (5b)
Three ideologues present three different and increasingly radical positions:
Yousef Al-'Uyairi Al-'Uyairi then argues that a jurisprudent who wishes to rule on matters of jihad must consult the mujahideen, regardless of his own knowledge and qualifications. In fact, the article [that he wrote in 2003] presents the mujahideen as the only legitimate source of information on matters of jihad, and implies that in the absence of such information, the jurisprudent's ruling would be less well-grounded. (6b)
Here, the Salafi scholar, perhaps a purist, retains authority but must consult with the jihadi on matters of jihad. Some jihadis, however, are dissatisfied with this view:
A more radical opinion is presented by Sheikh Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi, a Jordanian scholar of Palestinian origin who is greatly respected by the mujahideen (and regarded as Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi's mentor). He does not only characterize the mujahideen experts on the reality of jihad, but claims that they posses divinely inspired insight. "The faithful mujahideen," he writes, "are among the most knowledgeable of persons, and possess superior insight. This, because the mujahid is forced to study the reality . . . around him [i.e. the circumstances of jihad] just as he masters the [theoretical religious] laws pertaining to jihad. [However, even] if he does not [adequately master the laws of jihad], but is faithful in his [efforts to wage] jihad, Allah grants him insight as a reward for his jihad . . . [and as a result,] his comprehension, knowledge, and grasp of the truth are much greater than [those of] other people [italics mine -- E.A.]." In support of his view, Al-Maqdisi cites Koran 29:69: "Those who fight for Our cause, We will surely guide [them] to Our path." He explains that in this verse, "Allah indicates that he bestows upon the mujahideen the ability to receive guidance to the truth, to prosperity, and to the right path to Him, [as well as] an understanding of Him and His way."

In Al-Maqdisi's view, then, the mujahid is not just an indispensable source of information on the facts and realities of jihad -- he is also endowed by Allah with special jurisprudential insight superior to that of other human beings. (6b-7a)
The jihadi thus receives divine perspicuity in Islamic legal rulings concerning jihad, according to Al-Maqdisi, but Hossein Ibn Mahmoud goes even further:
[I]n a highly influential article from 2003 by Sheikh Hossein Ibn Mahmoud, a respected legal scholar and prolific contributor to Islamist websites . . . takes Al-Maqdisi's argument one step further by describing the mujahideen as infallible.

In setting out his argument, Ibn Mahmoud first explains that the "enemies of Islam" use three methods to divert the Muslims' attention away from jihad: they arouse the Muslims' desire for this world and its pleasures, they cause them to fear death, and they plant doubt in their minds. Ibn Mahmoud then explains why these schemes will never work against the mujahideen: "With respect to the doubts, whoever . . . devotes his soul to Allah, Allah will render him immune [ya'simuhu allah] to the lies of the deceitful... For Allah said: 'Those who fight for Our cause, We will surely guide [them] to Our path [Koran 29:69].' This indicates that it is the mujahideen who are most likely to agree on the correct [view] . . ."

The reference to "agreeing on the correct [view]" in this passage is very revealing. Islamic tradition (hadith) maintains that the Islamic nation as a collective can never agree on a mistaken view, since the Prophet Muhammad said, "My nation will never agree on an error." Ibn Mahmoud, however, attributes this inability to err exclusively to the mujahideen, who, in his opinion, are uniquely invulnerable to deception and spiritual weakness. Accordingly, he maintains that the mujahideen have privileged access to "the truth."

Ibn Mahmoud reiterates this argument in a 2004 article titled "Resolutions and Ideological Principles of Jihad." In discussing the question of scholars who disagree with the mujahideen, he states: "Undoubtedly, whoever risks his life and rushes towards danger for the sake of his religion has total faith in the truth of his path and in the validity of his course of action . . . Whoever wishes to contradict the mujahideen in matters of jihad should first visit the fronts himself, witness the conditions [there], and taste the taste of [divine] grace [karama] on the battlefield for a few moments. Then he can issue a fatwa [based on] the inspiration he receives from Allah . . ."

According to this view, it is not erudition and scholarship that provide access to the truth, but the willingness to sacrifice one's life for the sake of Allah on the battlefield. (7b-8a)
What is happening here is something described by Max Weber nearly 100 years ago:
In essence, the texts cited above, and other like them, present a concept of authority that is grounded in charisma, defined by Max Weber as "a certain personal quality by virtue of which an individual is considered extraordinary and regarded as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least exceptional power or quality." The mujahid's authority, as presented in these texts, is not based on his scholarship or intellectual credentials, but is essentially metaphysical: it is anchored in a unique relation with Allah, which grants him at least some immunity from the human propensity to err. (8b)
As Alshech notes, this is a controversial development that even Bin Laden has protested against. But who can persuade these charismatic jihadis that they are wrong since they are . . . well, infallible?

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