By Bruce Phillips
In his two most recent columns, Bruce Phillips, who has nearly 40 years of experience in Middle East affairs, examined whether or not the Palestinian party Fatah is really as moderate is we have been led to believe. Part 1 provided an analysis of Fatah’s own trademark logos and posters while Part 2 looked at recent statements and actions of Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas and current Fatah leadership.
[Note from the author: None of the terms or phrases used in this article are of my own invention; every term or phrase, including the title itself, is derived exclusively from primary Islamic sources, such as the Quran, Hadith, Tafsir and Shariah. I encourage everyone to access the hyperlinked references, then evaluate each for accuracy and completeness.]
The purpose of this article is to introduce the complex, abstract concept of fitnah to those in the non-Islamic world who are concerned about the apparent rising tide of global violence associated with Islam.
After several years of intense study and discussion with colleagues, I have come to believe that fitnah is the most essential motivational component of Islamic theology. It is the cornerstone of an adversarial, confrontational worldview that inevitably leads to a state of perpetual conflict with the non-Islamic world.
In fact, fighting against the multi-faceted threat of fitnah is such an essential part of a Quran-based worldview that it is both the strategy and tactics and the “beating heart” of the global Islamic movement, the GIM.
Removing fitnah from the world is so fundamental to Islamic ideology that every primary source contains extensive references to the concept.
It also follows, that if fitnah is the gravitational force behind the GIM, then some essential tactical elements, or operative verbs, must also be understood. For this reason, two of these key tactical verbs – qital and kharaj, or “kill/slaughter/slay” and “displace/expel/drive out,” respectively – are discussed in this article.
You will also notice that, except for brief references within a discussion of Quran 2.217 and several major Fatwas (see “Five Major Fatwas” below), this article does not include an analysis of the word jihad. My threefold reason for this is that the verbs qital and kharaj are not only much more graphic and violent than the word jihad, and occur several times more frequently in the Quran than jihad. But they are much more revealing in terms of gaining a Quran-based perspective of the strategy and tactics of the GIM.
Another assertion I will present here is that fitnah, as defined in Quran and Hadith, has been re-formatted into what I call a “secular-political narrative,” which has gained a remarkable and ominous degree of international influence. Those who are concerned about growing threats against free speech have probably already guessed that I’m referring to the term “Islamophobia.”
According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations homepage: “Islamophobia is a closed-minded prejudice against or hatred of Islam and Muslims. An Islamophobe is an individual who holds a closed-minded view of Islam and promotes prejudice against or hatred of Muslims.”
Putting aside this highly subjective definition, Islamophobia is really just another “non-religious” word for fitnah.
Can we ever hope to understand global Islamic movement?
On Dec. 28, 2014, Maj. Gen. Michael K. Nagata, commander of American Special Operations forces in the Middle East, made the following public statement: “We do not understand the movement, and until we do, we are not going to defeat it. We have not defeated the idea. We do not even understand the idea.”
Retired Adm. James A. Lyons made a similar observation Aug. 29, 2014, when he wrote: “America’s inconsistent response to the current Islamic State atrocities indicates that we are failing to understand, or deliberately ignoring, the facts that drive the terrorist organization’s ideology. … As a result, our warfighters and law enforcement agencies have been denied critical information on combating the Islamic jihadists we are fighting today.”
Now, more than 13 years after 9/11, is it possible for those of us in the non-Islamic world to ever “understand the movement’” and/or “the facts that drive the terrorist organization’s ideology”? My firm assertion is that the answer is “Yes.”
We may not like the answer, but if we go to the primary sources of Islamic theology and ideology, as linked above, we can “understand the movement” with absolute clarity. However, once we do begin to comprehend what really “drives the terrorist organization’s ideology,” the next challenge becomes, “What then shall we do”?
Fitnah in the Quran
The Arabic root of fitnah (Fa Ta Nun / ن ت ف) occurs 60 times in the Quran in five derivative forms, sometimes as a noun and other times as a verb. Fitnah can be translated in a variety of ways, using many different descriptive adjectives.
In my experience, one of the most insightful translations of fitnah is the word “opposition.” So, for the sake of simplicity and continuity, I will use the word “opposition” throughout this article.
For additional clarity and brevity, I have summarized 16 of the most commonly encountered renditions of fitnah in Table 1 below. In addition, the right-hand column of Table 1 includes a list of non-Islamic activities and/or responses that, from a Muslim perspective, are seen as fitnah. For example, what those in the non-Islamic world see as a legitimate effort to resist the implementation of Shariah is seen as resistance, aggression or even incitement to violence (aka “Islamophobia”) by multitudes of Muslims who support and promote the worldwide expansion of Islam.
Objective: The religion of Allah will prevail in the Earth
Going back to the earlier remarks by Nagata and Lyons, I would now like to address the question, ‘What is the Strategy of the GIM’? According the Quran, the strategy comes from the phrase “Wayakuna Al-Dinu Lillahi,” which means “The religion should all be for Allah.”
Although this concept is emphasized repeatedly in the Quran, it is most clearly summarized in verses 2.193 and 8.39, which are nearly identical in content and say, “And fight them until there is no more fitnah, and the religion should all be for Allah.”
Note that in just these two verses, different respected Muslim scholars translate fitnah as either disbelief, hostility, idolatry, mischief, opposition, oppression, persecution, polytheism, temptation, tumult, unbelief and/or worshipping of others (also see Table I below).
Aamir Liaquat Hussain, the host of a popular television program in Pakistan called “Alim Online,” put it into more modern terms in August 2010 when he paraphrased verse 2.193 as follows: “Fight those who interfere with establishing the rule of Allah.”
Of course, the “rule of Allah” he mentions here is Shariah, or Islamic law.
This tactical approach – “Fighting until there is no more fitnah” so that “the religion should all be for Allah” – is so essential that it forms the ideological foundation for the Muslim Brotherhood and other macro-groups like Boko Haram, the global jihad front (aka al-Qaida) and ISIS – along with virtually every other Islamic organization in the world today and in the past.
Meanwhile, according to another well-known Islamic scholar, the mission of Islam is to “shine with the light of Allah, and gather all the people that have taken the wrong turns, and have gone out in the darkness of the lost paths, and show them where the straight line, where the straight path of light is, that will take them to Allah.”
This scholar also states that the U.S. and the West are becoming a “fertile ground for Islam, in spite of all the opposition by Zionists and secularists.” The “opposition” that he mentions here is just another way to describe fitnah, which in this case comes from “Zionists and secularists.”
In one sense, the dominant theme that emerges here is remarkably simple: The strategy of the GIM is to continue fighting against fitnah (opposition) until Islam becomes the dominant religion in the world.
According to the Quran, this fighting remains obligatory for all Muslims until the non-Muslim world finally stops opposing the advance of Islam. This deliberate and intentional opposition from the non-Islamic world is just another description of fitnah, as well as another way of defining Islamophobia.
Objective of the Global Islamic Movement: Elimination of Fitnah
Now we come to the question, “What are the tactics of the GIM”? According to the Quran, once fitnah is encountered by members of the global Islamic community, the Ummah, the Quran provides explicit tactical instructions for Muslims to continue fighting against the fitnah, until it is finally eliminated.
I refer to these explicit instructions as “operative verbs.” The two most dominant operative verbs are qital (Qaf Ta Lam / ل ت ق), which means “kill/slaughter/slay,” and occurs at least 170 times in the Quran, and kharaj (Kha Ra Jim / ج ر خ), which means “displace/drive out/expel,” and occurs at least 182 times in the Quran. In contrast, jihad occurs only about 40 times in the Quran.
Qital is an obscenely violent word that implies abject, utter humiliation, desecration and debasement. Kharaj, which is no less violent, implies forceful, merciless expulsion of anyone who does not submit to Islam.
We see real-life examples of this every night on the news – think of Boko Haram slaughtering more than 2,000 people in 16 villages in January or ISIS relentlessly driving the Yazidis from their homes last August. The tactics of qital and kharaj are also the underlying force behind the Palestinian group Fatah vis-à-vis Israel. (For more on this subject, see my previous commentary, “If Abbas is a ‘moderate,’ what’s a ‘radical’?) .
In other words, these are not just two obscure words that are rare exceptions in a list of otherwise benign, peaceful Quranic verbs and nouns. It is also important to note that these two operative verbs occur frequently in the imperative tense, which is a “grammatical form that commands, demands attention or action, implying an unavoidable obligation or requirement.”
Simply put, these verbs are seen as absolute commandments to the Islamic Ummah to never stop fighting against fitnah, whenever and wherever it is encountered, until the world as we know comes to an end. It is a call to perpetual warfare, often by cadres of otherwise peace-loving Muslims who are nonetheless “provoked by uncontrollable, irresponsible incidents.”
I use the example of a chemical reaction to help explain the relationship between fitnah and the operative verbs of qital and kharaj. If you put pure, elemental chlorine into a flask with pure sodium, they will not react. However, when a catalyst is added – in this case, water – the two elements combine violently in what is called an exothermic reaction, a release of light and/or heat. The byproduct of this particular reaction is NaCl, or common salt, which has an entirely different nature than the original inert elements. In this example, the catalyst (water) is fitnah, while the otherwise inert elements (chlorine and sodium) are qital and kharaj. In other words, Islam exists as a religion of peace (“inert”) until it encounters the catalyst of fitnah, and then it suddenly becomes violently explosive.
As with the strategy of the GIM, these tactical verbs are discussed extensively in the Quran, Hadith, Tafsir and Shariah but are perhaps best summarized in verse 2.191, which says: “And kill/slaughter/slay them wherever ye find them, and displace/drive out/expel them out of the places whence they drove you out, for fitnah is worse than slaughter.”
Put another way, no punishment is too great for the crime of fitnah, including the devastating loss of property (kharaj) and life itself (qital). Also notice that this verse commands Muslims to “slaughter them wherever you find them,” thus advocating intentional planning and forethought. The Muslim conquest of India and the Armenian genocide are two among many examples of the global advance of Islam based on these doctrines.
Famous Islamic scholar Ibn Kathir‘s Tafsir, or commentary, for Quran 2.217 is similar to verse 2.191; but the Tafsir for verse 2.217 includes some very revealing insight regarding the concept of fitnah.
In his introduction to this Tafsir, Kathir wrote the following: “Allah made it obligatory for Muslims to fight in jihad against the evil of the enemy who transgress (fitnah) against Islam. Az-Zuhri said, ‘Jihad is required from every person, whether he actually joins the fighting or remains behind.’”
Next, Kathir adds the following comments to verse 2.217: “Fighting [qital] therein [during the Sacred Months] is a great (sin) but a greater (sin) … is to prevent mankind from following the way of Allah, to disbelieve in him … and to drive out (kharaj) its inhabitants, and fitnah is worse than killing.”
In this case, the “great sin” of fitnah is caused by those who would prevent mankind from following the way of Allah.
Every Islamic group in the world today agrees with Kathir, thus claiming that both secular rulers in Muslim countries and non-Muslim leaders in Western countries “prevent mankind from following Allah” with malicious intent. Therefore, it is obligatory for all Muslims to fight against such fitnah, using whatever means possible. As mentioned earlier, the shorthand term for such ‘malicious intent’ has become known as Islamophobia.
Five major fatwas
Have modern leaders of the GIM followed the strategy and tactics of warfare, as authorized in the Quran? Absolutely. Here is a summary of five of the most significant fatwas issued in the last 17-plus years. Several of them were released to coincide with the so-called Arab Spring, and each one is solidly based on the imperative command to fight against fitnah, using the operative verbs of qital and kharaj, as found in Quran 2.193, 2.217, 8.39 and other passages.
- On Feb. 23, 1998, Osama Bin Laden, along with a coalition of four renowned sheiks and the leaders of 12 other Islamic caliphates, issued a now-infamous fatwa, calling for perpetual global jihad against “The Jews and the People of the Cross.”The introductory paragraph includes the following statement: “The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies – civilians and military – is an individual duty for every Muslim. … This is in accordance with the words of Almighty Allah, ‘Fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression [fitnah], and there prevail justice and faith in Allah.” In this case, the phrase “Al-Dinu Lillahi” (“the religion of Allah”) is translated as “justice and faith in Allah.” (See earlier discussion of verses 2.193 and 8.39 above). This is because the Arabic word “din” can be translated interchangeably as either religion, law or justice.
- On Sept. 10, 2010, Mohammed Badie, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood at the time, made the following declaration: “Resistance (jihad) is the only solution against the Zio-American arrogance & tyranny. … Islam is capable of confronting oppression and tyranny (fitnah) … the outcome of the confrontation has been predetermined by Allah.” Remarkably, this Fatwa was issued right in the middle of the Arab Spring movement, which was promoted as a popular pro-democracy revolution in support of “freedom and justice.”
- On Jan. 08, 2011, Imad Mustafa, a prominent scholar at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, issued the following Fatwa: “Fighting against non-Muslims is … a prescribed duty in cases of aggression [fitnah] from the infidels against Muslims, for we must resist them, make Jihad against them, and defend against them. This is according to the Quran, for Almighty Allah has said, ‘Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress.” This Fatwa cites Quran 2.190, which is similar to Quran 2.191, 2.193 and 8.39.
- On Jan. 17, 2011, Anwar Al-Awlaki issued a fatwa based on kharaj (displace/drive out/expel), which stated: “Not only was Jihad financed by war booty, but also throughout our early history, when the Islamic treasury itself was mostly dependent on income generated from Jihad. A tax called kharaj was placed on land opened (stolen) by Muslims, enslaved POWs would be sold, and the people of the book paid jizyah (protection tax).”
- On July 05, 2014, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi gave his first public sermon at the Grand Masjid of Mosul City, Iraq. During the course of his message, Al-Baghdadi quoted directly from Quran 8.39, saying: “He the Most High says, And fight them until there is no fitnah, and the religion, all of it, is for Allah.” Note that Quran 8.39 is one of ISIS’ favorite verses; it is usually narrated in the background of their official anthem, as well as in the execution (beheading) videos they produce. According to ISIS, all the fitnah in the world is caused by the kufarin (non-believers). This means that all of the violence and suffering such non-believers endure at the hands of ISIS is their fault, not the fault of the soldiers of Allah.
Now we come to the heart of the matter. Apologists for Islam, or advocates of the current political narrative, will insist that the premise for this article is wrong, maybe even dangerous, and that I have misinterpreted the Quran.
But the interpretations of the verses included in this article have been established for hundreds of years, and the authorized strategy and tactics of the Global Islamic Movement have not changed in nearly 1,400 years. It is only in relatively recent times – post-World War II – that modern technology has made it possible for the Islamic world to promote the global spread of Islam and fight the non-Islamic West at near-parity.
According to the Quran, any effort by non-Muslims to oppose the advancement of Islam is considered a flagrant, abhorrent crime, or fitnah. Such crimes are seen as so egregious that people can be slaughtered, honor-killed, beheaded or crucified. And, yes, all of these punishments are found in the Quran, with added endorsements and insights in the Hadith and Tafsir.
Compared to the fitnah (Islamophobia) of dishonoring Muhammad, or opposing Shariah, or calling jihadists “terrorists” or any of a hundred other outrageous offenses, the loss of life and property is considered as less than inconsequential. For proof, just run an internet query of “Charlie Hebdo cartoon protests” and you’ll see how violent and widespread these demonstrations have been. Enraged crowds in Islamic countries around the world have screamed obscene threats, destroyed property, burned churches (kharaj) and killed people (qital). And this is just the latest episode.
Concluding observations: Where do we stand?
On Jan. 27, retired DIA Chief Michael Flynn said the Obama administration is “paralyzed and playing defense in the fight against Islamic militancy,” adding that “you cannot defeat an enemy you do not admit exists.” He said the “administration is unwilling to admit the scope of the problem” and that “there are many sincere people in our government who frankly are paralyzed by this complexity,” so they “accept a defensive posture, reasoning that passivity is less likely to provoke our enemies.”
On Sept. 19, 2014, retired Gen. James Conway, who served as the 34th commandant of the Marine Corps, publicly stated President Obama’s strategy to defeat ISIS didn’t have “a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding.”
Obama could hardly argue with Conway’s assessment of ISIS, because on Aug. 28, 2014, the president said: “I don’t want to put the cart before the horse: We don’t have a strategy yet. I think what I’ve seen in some of the news reports suggest that folks are getting a little further ahead of what we’re at than what we currently are.”
In the same interview, Obama also said: ‘This should be a wake-up call to Sunni, to [Shiite], to everybody, that a group like ISIS is beyond the pale; that they have no vision or ideology beyond violence and chaos and the slaughter of innocent people.”
The problem is, groups like ISIS, Hamas and Boko Haram do have a vision and an ideology that goes well beyond the initial spasms of violence, chaos and slaughter — ironically, all adjectives describing fitnah. However, we in the non-Islamic world will remain “paralyzed and playing defense” as long as we fail to acknowledge the Quranic origin of their strategic vision and the true nature of the tactical threat we face.
Adding further irony, congressional hearings on ISIS were held in September 2014, sandwiched right between the comments by Obama and Conway. During the hearings, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both tried to explain some of the apparent contradictions of our ever-evolving policy regarding the threat from ISIS. In the end, it became very apparent ‘”that there is, and will continue to be, a gaping hole at the heart of our ISIS strategy.”
We’ll close with a final observation: The word “phobia” has two meanings: either to hate something intensely or to fear something intensely. Using these two meanings, it could be said that Muslims and non-Muslims both have “fitnaphobia” – Muslims because they hate fitnah and non-Muslims because they fear it.
However, in the case of the non-Muslim world, it appears that we are much more concerned about causing fitnah – by opposing the strategy and tactics of the Global Islamic Movement – than we are about protecting our Western civilization from the increasingly aggressive promoters of Shariah.
Bruce Phillips is a professional observer of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Islamic theology and the strategy and tactics of the Global Islamic Movement, with nearly 40 years of experience in Middle East affairs.