This is a letter written by ICSVE’s Islamic scholar, Sheik Omar, to Jermaine Grant, a young British convert, who, following his new-found beliefs that he should take hijra and travel to lands governed by shariah law and join in the terrorist jihad, left the UK to travel to Kenya. Anne Speckhard and Ardian Shajkovci interviewed Jermaine on October 23rd , 2018. At the time of the interview, Jermaine expressed his desire to receive further correspondence from Sheik Omar, namely to further discuss and illuminate on Islam and purported religious justifications for the use of violence, which Jermaine held strong convictions about.
Peace be upon you brother. I heard about your story through Anne. I believe you are on the right path to improve your life, introduce new and positive changes, and return to your family and friends.
Let me first introduce myself. My name is Omar, and I am from Iraq. I started studying shari’ah in 1992. I was a student of more than one scholar, and it took me 15 years to finish the three levels of shari’ah. This, my brother, is the only way to become a scholar of Islam. Our famous scholars put this plan forward over a hundred years ago. The reason is that we, the Islamic nation, are a nation of evidence. My certificate goes across prominent scholars back to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
From what I heard from Anne, you had some interesting discussions on Islam and religious justifications for the use of violence, among others. Thank you for the opportunity to be included in the discussion. I would love to further discuss and hopefully clear some of the arguments for you, hoping that Allah might bless you with the understanding, which qualifies you to be a real Muslim—the one who preaches Islam with knowledge and who defends it properly.
You shared that strong scholars are the ones who are aligned with the mujahedeen. I have a different take on the issue. A strong scholar is the one who engages in at least 15 years of continuous study and who undergoes numerous examinations before being awarded a certificate (Ijaza). It is only after such a grueling test of commitment and perseverance that a person becomes qualified to discuss and interpret the Quran and Sunna, including to criticize the opinions of other scholars, as appropriate. In my life and line of work, I met many claiming to be scholars, though they possessed limited to no knowledge about Islam.
I understand that in your opinion, and in the opinions of many other Muslims today, those who commit jihad are considered to be the most honest and the real scholars. To a certain extent, I must agree with the first part, for I know there are many honest and highly committed people in these groups. The second claim, however, remains debatable, in part because Islamic knowledge has nothing to do with honesty or commitment to Islam, for knowledge does not come by revelation nowadays. Merely reading the Quran and Sunna and other religious books does not make one a scholar, and in fact, if a person does not have a certificate granted by prominent scholars, in Islam, he or she is not allowed to deal with the Quran and Sunna for deriving shari’ah law. In other words, as in other realms of professional life, credentials do matter in Islam as well.
Every Muslim, a man or a woman, is obliged to study, as the Prophet (PBUH) said: “Seeking knowledge is an obligation on every Muslim, meaning both men and women.” He also said: “Whoever told people a false Hadith about me is granted a place in hell.” You might also know that misinterpreting the sayings of the Prophet is regarded as telling a false Hadith. Many people we know, who are regarded as scholars of Islam, are in fact not scholars. Let’s take as an example UBL, Zawahiri, Zarqawi, and Baghdadi. They have no certificates, and they themselves did not allege that they are scholars. Thus, until proven otherwise, we must regard them as ordinary individuals with no religious knowledge and authority.
Brother, you told Anne, “Jihad for me is to strive for self, to make the religion of Islam victorious.” This is true according to Islam and making Islam victorious comes through seeking knowledge and preaching to others with wisdom. Fighting is a tool to deliver justice to people, Muslim and non-Muslims, but it is always our last resort.
You also told Anne that Allah’s word was delivered to the Prophet Mohammed about what is allowed and not allowed in jihad, and added that, “I can’t decide for myself, they [regulations in Islam] don’t come from me. I must follow the law.” You also told her that fard al ayn – is that in which every individual Muslim has to defend Islam. That is true according to Islam. And you told her that when the religion of Islam is under attack—that is, when Muslim lands and Muslims themselves are under threat by an enemy—that Muslims have a right to defend themselves. That is also true according to Islam, but there are important nuances in interpretations for you to consider in this regard.
You also told Anne that there is no jihad without prison—that every jihadi must expect to be killed, wounded, or be put in prison, and that Muslims believe that for any hardship you go through, you will in the next life be more comfortable. Allah is rewarding for all the hardship one undergoes.
Indeed, Allah is always observant of our behaviors and will reward the believer for hardships he or she undergoes in the path of Allah, but hardships endured outside this path are not rewarded. In fact, going to fight for a militant group that claims, but has no true Islamic standing, is brutally killing and punishing outside the law of Allah—for instance, punishing with fire, as ISIS did to the Jordanian pilot; or making prisoners drink urine and eat feces for breaking shariah law as it pertains to dress code or for smoking or imbibing in drinking alcohol, as al- Shabaab did; and beheading carried out by both groups of those they capture—are not actions in the path of Allah.
Moreover, some of the aforementioned arguments about jihad hold true only in a time of war, namely when one’s life is threatened and when the enemy invades lands and takes all ones belongings. I understand from Anne that prior to coming to Kenya [and Somalia] you lived in the UK. To my understanding, no one threatened you in the UK. You also had the freedom to practice your religion. Is it right to assume that you were not in danger, my brother? In fact, I would argue, your situation, as a Muslim in the UK, was far better than mine here in Iraq! I am originally from Mosul, a place where Baghdadi made his one and only speech. And let me tell you what ISIS did to people there: killed innocent, raped women before killing them, beheaded, and murdered those who committed minor sins. Why? I still struggle to find religious basis and justifications for their actions. Can one consider such actions to be in line with shari’ah law? Can we justify killing of individuals solely relying on doubts? I would argue, no.
So, my brother, let us look at some of the questions that are equally important:
Q- When is it obligatory to commit jihad (jihad al-daf’a)?
- In three situations:
- When the enemy is invading your country and you are sure that they will wipe you out.
- When the two armies clash, so you cannot walk away.
- When an authentic and true Muslim leader calls for it.
Q- Can we implement the opinions of our old scholars nowadays?
- There is a consensus among our scholars that Islam is an immortal religion in that it deals with every situation in any time. This point –as they made it clear- comes from the flexibility of the legislations of Islam. So, if we check these opinions, we will find that some of them can be easily implemented, such as ablution and prayer, etc. But there are other opinions, which are rather impossible to implement in our situations, such as the legislative policy (al-Siyasa al-Shar’iyya). The reason is that they were applicable for their time, as the geopolitical status was such that, “if you do not invade, then you will be invaded”. There were no states, no borders, no united nations, and no international law. We can find only empires that fought against each other to expand their lands. Our scholars’ opinions came in harmony with that situation, so it is normal to find some fallacies if we compare them to our situation today, where there are states, borders, and national and international laws that govern both. That, my brother, is the misunderstanding that most of the Muslim fighters nowadays have.
Q- How many categories does Islam divide the non-Muslims into?
- There are two main categories:
-Fighter: Who is committing the action of aggression against Muslims.
-Contractor: Who is not committing the act of aggression against Muslims. This category contains those who have a peace treaty with Muslims. This means those who live with us in our land, and those who have special permission to come to our land for trade or other things.
Q- Is it permissible to spill the blood of non-Muslims?
- The basic principle in Islam is to protect humans. Spilling blood is an exception, so it is only permissible with the fighters who are imposing a real threat to your life or your family, and in fact, it is not necessary for the fighter to be a non-Muslim for you to have permission to kill him. Even if he was a Muslim, you have the permission to kill him if he is trying to kill you or your family.
You told Anne that Belgian is darl harb (the country of war), or the country that is hostile toward Islam. In this regard, you stressed that military operations are permitted inside Belgium, and the entire West in fact, but they should not target Muslims. You also clarified that, if a Muslim dies unintentionally in attacks, such as at the Zaventem airport attack carried out by ISIS, which she asked you about , you said diya blood money should be paid toward the family but the military operations should not stop. You shared how UBL, Zawahiri, and Abu Bakr al-Baghadi all announced that Western countries, including Europe and US, are fighting Islam, and these are therefore warzones for Islam. You also believe that Muslims who continue to reside there are in a war zone and therefore an attack can take place anytime, and that it’s not a problem for mujahedeen and that they don’t need to stop.
My brother, I would urge you to reconsider such claims in light of the following. Firstly, as stressed earlier, these people (e.g. UBL, Zawahiri, Baghdadi, etc.) are not scholars, so they are not qualified to derive shari’ah law. Secondly, they take a reductionist viewpoint on the meaning of darl harb (the country of war), as our prominent scholars described it. According to Islam, it is simply a place in which a Muslim is threatened and cannot practice his religion freely. So, what should Muslims do if they find themselves in such a place, where they truly cannot practice their religion? They should leave! Easy and simple, Allah said: “And the angels who take those who wronged themselves will say: ‘In what condition were you? ‘ They will reply, ‘we were oppressed in the land.’ They (the angels) will say: ‘was not the earth of Allah wide enough for you in order that you migrate in it? ‘ Those, their shelter will be Gehennam (Hell), an evil arrival” Sura al-Nisa’, Aya 97. So, it is obvious that it is haram (forbidden) to stay in that place.
Then comes the second issue: What if a Muslim could not leave, can we target that place? The answer is simply no, as Allah says: “If it had not been for certain believing men and certain believing women whom you did not know, you might have trampled upon them, and so sin reached you because of (killing) them while you did not know. In order that Allah admits into His Mercy whom He will, had they (the believers) been easy to distinguish, We would have punished the unbelievers among them with a painful punishment.” Sura al-Fath, Aya 25.
This aya was revealed to show Muslims that there were believers in Mecca, but no one but Allah knew about them, and because of them, the Muslims thinking of waging battle against Mecca were not allowed to wage war then or now, against the disbelievers in order to protect the believers. Can you imagine what Allah is saying and what these people in al Qaeda and ISIS and other similar groups say? They are in contradiction, so you have the liberty to choose which one to follow, a choice which tells you who is right and who is wrong. Thirdly, diya blood money is paid when the killing is by mistake, such as you shoot at a bird and the bullet goes up and falls down to kill someone. Or when you hit someone with something that does not kill, such as a punch. But what about bombings or exploding or shooting with a machine gun? These things usually kill, so it is considered intended killing, and therefore Allah said: “The recompense for he who kills a believer deliberately is Gehennam (Hell), he is eternal there. Allah will be angry with him and will curse him and prepare for him a great punishment” Sura al-Nisaa, aya 93.
UBL, Zawahiri and Baghdadi will not save anyone in doomsday, so truly brother, we should compare what Allah says and what they say, and then decide for yourself.
Q- Is it permissible to kill civilians in their country under the pretext of (they are helping their army who is invading our lands and killing our families?)
- No, it is not permissible, as they are non-fighters. The pretext of them helping the army does not stand against the saying of the Prophet in the two sahihs: “The Prophet denounced killing women and children,” and in another saying in musnad Ahmed and sunan Abi Dawood: “the Prophet (PBUH) sent a messenger to Khalid Bin al-Waleed (the leader of the army) to tell him not to kill a woman or a hired man,” and in sunan Abi Dawood: “the Prophet sent an army and told them: Go along in the name of Allah and do not kill an old man, a small child, or a woman and do not steal and be just.” There is also other evidence that confirms this same point.
Q- What is the difference between the past and now?
- In the past, there were no rules that restrict countries from invading other countries, and the powerful used to control the weak ones. Now, most countries have a norm of peace treaties through diplomatic representation, and even treaties invoking self-defense, so that if any one of them is invaded, the others come to defend according to international law and treaties. It is a norm now that all those countries under the umbrella of the U.N. are agreeing to mutual peace pacts, and this is like the peace contract our scholars talked about. Thus, no person, be him a Muslim or not, has the ability to break such a treaty, as Allah says: “Fulfill the covenant of Allah, when you make a covenant and do not break your oaths after they have been confirmed (by swearing in His Name) for you make Allah your surety. Allah has knowledge of what you do” Sura al-Nahl, Aya 91.
Q- What if a Muslim killed a contractor?
- The prophet (PBUH) said: “Whoever killed a person having a treaty with the Muslims, shall not smell the smell of Paradise though its smell is perceived from a distance of forty years.” As it is obvious, this saying of not entering paradise is only figurative, for the door of repentance is always open, so we all have to repent and ask Allah for guidance.
Regarding indiscriminate killing and killing of civilians – You discussed with Anne that in jihad, explosives are just another weapon, like a gun. My brother, we can’t underestimate the fact that explosives are often used to kill indiscriminately, and to kill civilians.
Regarding taking sabayah and taking Sunni women as slaves, please do your own research if you can. You will find, as many of us have, that while ISIS made their own fatwa against it, they, according to many witnesses—including those Anne has interviewed—did this very thing to Sunni women whose men they had captured or killed. In regard to the Yazidi women, they have a peace treaty with the Muslims for hundreds of years. Indeed, they fought with the Iraqis against our enemy and they were paying taxes as everyone else, so ISIS broke that treaty.
When you see something very wrong violating Islam, should you continue in it? As you told Anne, “If I am wrong, I have to change my opinion, as a Muslim cannot continue to follow if he knows it’s wrong.” Yes brother, if you know something is wrong, you must leave this path and repent.
ISIS is wrong in many things:
- They forced people to give bay’ah to Baghdadi. Yet, we do not know who he is, and he does not have the qualifications required for a leader. Choosing a leader in Islam comes only by Shurah (consulting) and then prominent people choose the best. This did not happen; he just came and gave his speech, calling foreigners to come join his “jihad” and build his “Caliphate.” His followers subsequently forced others to give him bay’ah.
- They kill, whip, and punish people for minor sins, and they were implementing extreme opinions of old scholars regarding them as equal to the Quran and Sunna. No Aya nor Hadith give us the punishment of a gay as throwing him from a roof. In the Quran Allah said: “If two among you commit it (indecency) punish them both. If they repent and make amends, leave them alone. Allah is the Relenter, the Merciful” Sura al-Nisaa, aya 16. How can they repent if you throw them from the roof of a tall building? How can they repent if you killed them? This is against what Allah says in the Quran.
- Enslaving women who were in a peace treaty. Even if you want to break the treaty, which is wrong, you should warn them and give them your new conditions and wait to see if they like them or not.
The same things can be applied to Qaeda and al Shabaab. They all misunderstand Islam and misinterpret the Quran and Sunna in many ways.
Brother, I repeat, UBL, Zawahiri and Baghdadi will not save anyone in doomsday. So, truly brother, you should compare what Allah says and what they say, and then decide for yourself. And while it’s hard to do, and takes real courage, if you know something is wrong, you must leave this path and repent. I hope you walk away from al Shabaab and the rest. Looking forward to hearing back from you. May Allah bless you.