[ by Charles Cameron — keeping up with Aaron Zelin on a good day can be quite a feat — this post has taken me a few days to write! ]
Let’s start with this avatar business. I picked it up from Gregory Johnsen, who applied the term in a tweet a few days ago to Aaron Zelin:
I chuckled at the description and RT’d Johnsen’s tweet at the time — but a day later the full force of the words “more than just a high producing avatar” came back to me, when I took a look at the things I wanted to pass along here on Zenpundit from that day’s haul, and found that three of them came via Aaron.
First up on the 14th: Aaron’s own post on Foreign Policy‘s Middle East Channel, Maqdisi’s disciples in Libya and Tunisia.
This featured the Benghazi and Tunisian groups that share the name Ansar al-Sharia (ASB and AST), and points to the idea that:
much of the scope of their activities lies outside violence. A large-portion of the activities of these groups is local social service provision under their particular dawa (missionary) offices. This broader picture is crucial to better understanding emerging trends in societies transitioning from authoritarian to democratic rule.
This emphasis, Aaron suggests, derives from the writings of Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi:
One of the main critiques Maqdisi presents, and hopes to create a course correction within the jihadi movement, is his differentiation between the idea of qital al-nikayya (fighting to hurt or damage the enemy) and qital al-tamkin (fighting to consolidate ones power), which he expounds upon in his book Waqafat ma’ Thamrat al-Jihad (Stances on the Fruit of Jihad) in 2004. Maqdisi argues the former provides only short-term tactical victories that in many cases do not amount to much in the long-term whereas the latter provides a framework for consolidating an Islamic state. In this way, Maqdisi highlights the importance of planning, organization, education, as well as dawa (calling individuals to Islam) activities.
Finally, Aaron places ASB (Benghazi) and AST (Tunisia) in the wider context of Islamist movements, both Sunni and Shia, writing:
By providing charity, care, and aid ASB and AST are acting similarly in their operations (though should not be confused for allies with or having ideological connections) to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Providing social services has provided leverage for these groups to gain wider popularity and support within the local community.
For more detailed discussion of Maqdisi, Aaron points us to Joas Wagemaker‘s essay, Protecting Jihad: The Sharia Council of the Minbar al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad.
By my count, therefore, we now have at least five tendencies to think about: (i) politically engaged Islamists, such as the Brotherhood and the Ennahda movement, (ii) jihadists who hope to topple the “near” enemy, ie local despotic rulers of Muslim-majority states, (iii) jihadists who hope first to cripple the “far” enemy, following bin Laden‘s doctrine, (iv) jihadists in the wake of Abu Musab al-Suri‘s nizam, la tanzim (system, not organization), with its implication of decentralized jihad and leaderless resistance, and (v) the distinctive approach to jihad that Aaron discusses, in which al-Maqdisi’s theories are implemented:
ASB and AST do not buy into the democratic process and in spite of it are attempting to consolidate their future Islamic State one small act of charity at a time.
Second, Aaron’s Jihadology blog the same day hosted a fascinating piece by Jack Roche, a former member of Jama’ah Islamiyyah, titled The Indonesian Jama’ah Islamiyyah’s Constitution (PUPJI).
One point of interest to me here was a version of the well-known “saved sect” hadith, which has been specifically viewed as referring to al-Qaida on occasion:
It was narrated from ‘Awf bin Malik that the Messenger of Allah said: “The Jews split into seventy-one sects, one of which will be in Paradise and seventy in Hell. The Christians split into seventy-two sects, seventy-one of which will be in Hell and one in Paradise. I swear by the One in Whose Hand is the soul of Muhammad, my nation will split into seventy-three sects, one of which will be in Paradise and seventy-two in Hell.” It was said: “O Messenger of Allah who are they?” He said: “Al Jama‘ah – The main body.” (Sunan Ibnu Majah 3992).
I’d seen versions of the hadith in which it is promised that one Islamic sect will endure to the end and be worthy of paradise, but I’m not sure I’d ever seen this version, with one Jewish and one Christian sect similarly treated.
I imagine the “three” sects are in fact the “one” sect of those who, in the different Abrahamic traditions, have remained faithful to the one truth taught by all the prophets from Moses via Jesus to Muhammad — but might there be some Christians faithful to this day, as is perhaps suggested by Qur’an 5.82 —
The nearest to the faithful are those who say “We are Christians.” That is because there are priests and monks among them and because they are free of pride.
The first part of that verse, be it noted, is less than flattering regarding the Jews…
Again, this post of Roche’s lead me to another source, in this case Nasir Abas‘ book, Exposing Jama’ah Islamiyah. This presumably belongs on the mental shelkf next to Muhammad Haniff Hassan‘s Unlicensed to Kill: Countering Imam Samudra’s Justification for the Bali Bombing [both links are to free, downloadable e-books].
There is much reading to be done…
Last, to return to the matter of Twitter, there was Aaron’s response to an FBI announcement —
The FBI tweet actually came after they had made the announcement Aaron was responding to, but his critique still stands…
There may be some flattery in this post, but if so, it’s not Aaron’s fault; there’s certainly a sincere compliment intended from my side. But what this post really is — and the length of time it’s taken me to write this has made the timing right — is a “Follow Friday” #FF for @azelin on Twitter, and the articles and resources his twitter feed will lead you to.
consider Aaron a friend in the digital way of things, but my point here is point you towards him if you do not already follow him, and to raise just a few of the issues that struck me in reading just one day’s worth of his output.