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Abu Mohammed al Maqdisi: al-Zarqawi &#34Spiritual Godfather&#34 | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Abu Mohammed al Maqdisi: al-Zarqawi &#34Spiritual Godfather&#34

Abu Mohammed al Maqdisi: al-Zarqawi &#34Spiritual Godfather&#34

Abu Mohammed al Maqdisi: al-Zarqawi &#34Spiritual Godfather&#34

Abu Mohammed al Maqdisi, born in 1962, has, once again, made the headlines of extremist news bulletins and amongst followers of the Salafi movement (following the methods of the early Muslims) who espouse jihad (holy struggle) and of which he can be considered “the Godfather”.

Al Maqdisi was born Isam Mohammed Taher al Barqawi, and not Asim, Mohammed Asim, or Mohammed Islam as some might believe, in Barqa, near the city of Nablus , in the Palestine . The surname Maqdisi is in reference to Bayt al Maqdis or Haram al Sharif (the Temple Mount ). He later added the title al Utaybi when signing some of his books.

I remember reading a hand-written copy of al Maqdisi’s well-known book “The Faith of Ibrahim” which he signed “Abu Mohammed isam bin Taher al Barqawi al Hafi al Utaybi al Maqdisi”, mixing his appropriated titles. The title al Utaybi is common around Barqa according to renowned Palestinian intellectual Dr. Ahmad Barqawi. Barqawi however, is a very different surname to al Hafi, each representing a distinct tribe. Some observers believe using the title al Utaybi is an attempt by al Maqdisi to establish ties with Saudi Arabia.

Whatever the name, Abu Mohammed al Maqdisi was born in the Occupied Territories but grew up in Kuwait where his family emigrated, like so many other Palestinian families did, during the 1960s and 1970s. At the time, many political groups were active in the Gulf Emirates, most notably pan-Arab and leftist groups. However, a small group of Islamists, known al Ahl al Hadith (Followers of the sayings of the Prophet) flourished. Members followed a puritanical approach and decided to consult the Prophet’s sayings in a methodical, puritanical manner. The supporters of Saudi Juhayman al Utaibi who occupied the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979 inspired the group.

The pronouncements of Juhayman and his group of “brothers” were published in Kuwait by the Dar al Taliah al Taqadumiyah (Progressive Vanguard) Publishing. One of the closest supporters of the Saudi fundamentalist was Abdel Latif al Dirbas, also known as Abu Hazza, jailed for several years in the wake of the Mecca attack and forcibly returned to Kuwait after his release.

Abu Hazza was al Maqdisi’s brother in-law, since both men married sisters. At the time, al Maqdisi was affiliated with Ahl al Hadith who did not yet sanction jihad and violent confrontation. This emphasis on theory stayed with al Maqdisi throughout his life; he was a man of words and not of the sword. This was in sharp opposition to his Jordanian student, Ahmad al Khalayleh, better known as Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

Al Maqdisi disagreed sharply with other Islamist in Kuwait , especially as he branded many individuals as infidels. He was an extremist who demanded his supporters resign from government jobs and withdraw their children from mainstream schools. Abu Hazza tried to reconcile al Maqdisi with other Islamists. After Saddam Hussein invaded Iraq , al Maqdisi wrote a book, “How to Raise Leading Knights by Abandoning Corrupt Schools”, where he attacked government schools comparing them to works by the devil.

His first mention in Saudi fundamentalist milieus came after he published a book in support of a Salafi cleric from the city of Buraidah , the capital of the Qasim in the centre of the Kingdom, Abdullah al Duwaish who died in the 1990s. The cleric had criticized Sayyid Qutb, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, for failing to abide by Ibh Hanbal’s strict criteria in a book, “In the Shadows of the Quran.” This bold move by had angered many, in Kuwait and abroad.

It is important, at this point in the discussion, to ask ourselves if al Maqdisi identified with the Muslim Brotherhood before breaking away from the group, or was he a mere observer who was familiar with their writings? Reading the book where he supports the breakaway Saudi cleric, one realized al Maqdisi was well versed in the Muslim Brotherhood’s literature. His criticism was based on a deep knowledge, resembling that of Ayman al Zawahiri in his book “The Bitter Harvest”.

It remains to be seen how close al Maqdisi identified with the group. What is certain, however, is that the Palestinian lived in an environment influenced by the Brotherhood, identifying closely with Juhayman because of his fiery tempter, drastic solutions, and Salafi tendencies.

As the arguments with supporters in Kuwait grew more frequent, al Maqdisi moved to Saudi Arabia , after the Iraqi invasion, where he lived for a short period, before returning to Jordan .

I met him in 1989, before he moved to the Kingdom, in Mecca , while he was visiting to perform the Umrah (short pilgrimage performed by Muslims anytime of the year), surrounded by a group of young men. We spoke briefly. I remember him an energetic, intelligent man, eager to promote his views to the young men who gathered around him. He had memorized many religious texts and built strong arguments, referring to these texts when he wished, especially with regard to the concepts of loyalty and disavowal, according to the Salafi interpretation.

The concept of loyalty and disavowal is one of the pillars of al Maqdisi’s thought and his favorite argument. He used it in conjunction with extracts from the Quran, the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet), Salafi teachings and the fatwas (religious edicts) of Wahabi clerics ( strict orthodox Sunni Muslims from Saudi Arabia who strive to purify Islamic beliefs and reject any innovation occurring after the 3rd century of Islam). Al Maqdisi’s use of the concept was best displayed in his famous book, ““The Faith of Ibrahim”, his most significant representation of Salafi ideology. The book is similar to Sayyid Qutb’s “Milestones” in terms of its impact on Salafi ideology. Based on a simple idea, the book advocates following the path set by the Prophet Ibrahim, because God ordered his followers to take Ibrahim as a model in the Koranic verse: “You have a good example in Ibrahim and those who were with him. They said to their people, we disavow you because what you idolize is different than Allah.”

As such, following the way of Ibrahim requires disbelieving the devil and disavowing him. The devil’s infidelity can be seen in several ways, mainly in the fact that he does not rule according to God’s ordinance. A verse in the Quran says, “Those who do not follow Allah’s revelation in their rule are infidels.” According to al Maqdisi, since all Arab governments do not rule by God’s edict, they are all infidels and need to be disavowed, as the Prophet Ibrahim did before.

The book had a powerful impact in a generation of jihadist men. Al Maqdisi, using seemingly obvious religious language and texts, motivated a number of young Muslim men and incite them to commit violence. This was best illustrated by the al Ulya explosions in Riyadh , in November 1995, when a group blew up a training center for the Saudi National Guard. Abd al Aziz al Muthim who masterminded the attack had been traveling frequently to Jordan and bringing back with him al Maqdisi’s books, listening to his teachings, and promoting his ideas. The Palestinian cleric himself paid a few visits to the Kingdom, even after he wrote “Conspicuous Manifestations of the Saudi State ’s Infidelity” where he unequivocally denounced the Kingdom’s government.

Al Muthim and his companions were the early fruits of al Maqdisi’s tree. It is hard to believe the Palestinian when he denied, in his latest interview, ever encouraging the Saudi extremist to commit violence. Al Muthim must have acted after becoming convinced by the takfir (declaring someone as an unbeliever)ideology which al Maqdisi loaded in his rifle, placing his finger on the trigger, and then saying stop.

Previosuly, al Maqdisi had traveled to Afghanistan and visited Pakistan , where he is thought to have met Zarqawi for the first time, in Peshawar . It is during his trip to Central Asia that the Palestinian cleric wrote his book on the infidelity of Saudi Arabia ’s government. The manual was widely distributed and smuggled into the Kingdom. Sources tell me the mosque affiliated by the Kuwaiti Red Crescent in the Pakistani city served as a distribution center. In total, three editions were printed.

To find our more about his relationship with Zarqawi, let us refer back to extracts from a message al Maqdisi smuggled out of his Jordanian jail, in Qafqafa, around July 2004, which was widely circulated in fundamentalist circles. In the message entitled “Support and Advice, Pains and Hopes”, he speaks about getting to know the Jordanian terrorist. “I met Abu Musab by accident in Peshawar at the house of Abu al Walid al Ansari, in the early 1990s. I had never seen him before. On his return from Central Asia , he visited me and was eager to celebrate the triumphs of Islam.”

Both men worked closely together, with al Zarqawi promoting his books and learning under him quickly. In 1995, they founded the Bayat al Imam Organization (Pledging Allegiance to the Imam), in the Jordanian city of Zarqa, a stronghold of the Salafi jihadist trend. He was subsequently arrested and sentenced for 15 years behind bars. He was pardoned by royal decree and freed in 1999, after which he left to Afghanistan .

In prison, al Zarqawi showed his true talents beyond his mentor’s abilities. Al Maqdici then handed him the Imarah (leadership) and the task of managing the group’s affairs, as is mentioned in the smuggled message. Al Zarqawi was resilient and did not let incarceration break him down. He was even critical of his mentor’s leniency with prison guards.

After his release, al Zarqawi traveled to Afghanistan where he met Saif al Adl, believed to be the nom de guerre of of former Egyptian Army Colonel Mohammed Ibrahim Makkawi, thought to be the third ranking member in the organization), Ayman al Zawahiri, and Osama bin Laden. He joined forced with al Qaeda and set up a training camp in Heart, in western Afghanistan, later entering Iraq through Iran, to eventually become the leader of “”al Qaeda Organization in the Land of Two Rivers”, in reference to the two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates that run through Iraq. Meanwhile, al Maqdisi was monitoring the activities of his disciple, until he openly called in his message from jail, to concentrate on attacking the US military and the nascent Iraqi government and avoid killing Shiaa and other civilians. The cleric preferred to concentrate the efforts of militant groups and preserve their capabilities. He also criticized Abu Musab for sending his theorist, Abu Anas al Shami, also known as Omar Yousef Jumaa, another disciple of al Maqdisi, to carry out an operation in the West of Baghdad. The latter was killed by US forces.

Despite the presence of other peddlers of extremist thought, such as Abu Qatadah, Abu Halima, Abu Basir, and many others, al Maqdisi remains on the most danferous and most active theorists of the militarized Salafi trend. The one who is applying the theory appears to be more stringent than its author, as is the case with al Zarqawi, al Muthim, and Abd al Aziz al Muqrin, all students of the Palestinian cleric.