A previous issue of Terrorism Monitor discussed a document issued by Sayed Imam Abdulaziz al-Sharif, an imprisoned founder of the Egyptian Jihad organization and a prominent jihad theoretician better known as “Doctor Fadl.” The work, called Tarshid al-amal al-jihadi fi misr wa al-alam (Rationalizing the Jihadi Action in Egypt and the World), was a critical look at Salafi-jihadist extremism (see Terrorism Monitor, December 10, 2007; Terrorism Focus, January 8). As predicted, al-Qaeda did not open direct dialogue with Dr. Fadl but rather responded with a book of their own refuting the document. In March the second man in al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, published a 188-page document through al-Sahab Islamist media called A Treatise Exonerating the Nation of the Pen and the Sword from the Blemish of the Accusation of Weakness and Fatigue (The Exoneration), refuting the views expressed in Dr. Fadl’s document.
Al-Zawahiri, once a close associate of Dr. Fadl, begins his critique of the document with the claim that it serves the Crusaders, Zionists and infidel Arab leaders by attempting to anesthetize the mujahideen and force them out of the jihadi field. Al-Zawahiri claims this document has been the most difficult of all the arguments he has ever had to address concerning the jihadi doctrine. Al-Zawahiri questions the timing of Dr. Fadl’s document, alleging the document uselessly tries to counter the great wave of jihadi awakening that is shaking the Islamic world and attempts to dissuade Muslims from taking up jihad against the Crusaders and Jews. The sole beneficiary of Rationalizing the jihadi action in Egypt and the world is the United States, reiterates al-Zawahiri, because the United States recognizes the threat posed by al-Qaeda and the jihadi movement. To further undermine the document, al-Zawahiri recalls that Dr. Fadl gave up jihad in 1994 and afterward kept to himself, living and peculiarly coexisting with Yemeni security forces until 9/11, when Yemeni authorities had to hand him over to Egypt under U.S. pressure:
“I warn the writer and signatories to this document to watch where this document is leading them. You say you hail this document because it calls for an end to internal fighting. I ask you, when has the internal fighting stopped? The government is practicing internal fighting every day. We, at the jihadi base, aim to evict the invaders of Muslim countries and erect an Islamic law by striking at Crusaders’ and Zionists’ interests and overthrowing the local corrupt regime.”
In his Exoneration, al-Zawahiri states that jihadis are not influenced by such charades, for they are determined to keep up jihad by displaying absolute loyalty to the achievement of their goals, a propaganda message clearly directed at jihadis. Al-Zawahiri calls the supporters of the document “fatuous writers, agents and microphone heroes” and dares them to allow opposition forces to speak about the document. According to al-Zawahiri, Dr. Fadl’s document was not only written under duress, threat and incarceration, but also under the “supervision, guidance and funding of the Crusader/Zionist campaign.” He added: “I declare to all Muslims, if I or any of the brothers are captured and later diverge from our convictions while in prison, do not recognize or accept it.”
With regard to Dr. Fadl’s Rationalization, al-Zawahiri makes the following points:
• The document jumped directly on the alleged mistakes in jihad without explaining the circumstances surrounding these mistakes.
• The document overlooks the crimes of the Crusaders and their agents and focuses on jihadi mistakes.
• The Rationalization represents a personal diagnosis of the problem without suggesting a remedy.
• The document contains baseless accusations against the mujahideen.
• An unscientific approach is used in presenting Islamic jurisprudence.
• There is a false presentation of jihadi operational chronology.
• The document is filled with unproven claims.
• Important issues previously mentioned in Dr. Fadl’s 1988 book Al-omda fi eddad al-edda (The Master in Making Preparation [for Jihad]) are held back.
• In his book Al-jamia fi talab al-elam al-sharif (The Comprehensive in Seeking the Noble Science), Dr. Fadl considered the rulers of Muslim countries to be anti-Shari’a apostates and claimed all the judges, security and military forces, journalists and official scholars working for these states were infidels, a stance Dr. Fadl has broken with.
Al-Zawahiri highlights many inconsistencies between Dr. Fadl’s previous literature and the latest document. On the ideological/jurisprudence level, al-Zawahiri contests Dr. Fadl’s work in a detailed 19-page section of religious quotes and Quranic verses by many prominent Salafi-jihadist scholars from both the medieval and contemporary Islamic world.
There is no doubt al-Zawahiri’s reaction to Dr. Fadl’s ideological retractions is comprehensive, using religious arguments and logic to refute and highlight weaknesses in the document. On the other hand, the lengthy response demonstrates that al-Qaeda is seriously alarmed by the possible negative consequences the document might inflict on their ideology and the jihadi movement.