Several months after the leaders of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) issued "corrective studies" delegitimizing the killing of civilians under the pretext of jihad, al-Qaeda leaders have still not issued a response to what appears to be one of the most serious challenges to their ideology to date.
A recent video by al-Qaeda's number two Ayman al-Zawahiri made no mention of the studies, and instead blasted US and Arab leaders for their alleged support for Israel.
The studies, entitled "Corrective Studies on the Doctrine of Jihad, Hesba and Ruling" were authored by several of the group's most important and known leaders, some of whom spent several years in Afghanistan and had direct contact with al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and his top aides. They include the brother of Abu Yahya al-Libi, who was a leader in the LIFG before he joined al-Qaeda after his escape from Bagram prison in Afghanistan in 2005. Many also had good relations with the Taliban movement and with their leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
Even though the studies presented a Fiqh (jurisprudence)-based position towards acts committed by jihadists without naming any group, much of the content in the 417-page document seems to be directed at current practices by Al-Qaeda to target civilians under the pretext of Jihad.
In a remarkable passage, the authors said one of the great "calamities" facing the Islamic world today is that individuals who issue fatwas "in matters of blood and money" are not qualified to do so.
The document says that a major source of problems in the Islamic world today is the lack of respect for scholars -- another reference that seems to be directed at groups that do not show appreciation for religious scholars' attitudes.
"Jihad in the path of God was nothing but a way to remove obstacles off the way of preachers who call others to embrace the way of God," the document states. "Therefore, Muslims were extremely keen to invite people to preach to people before fighting them, i.e. in the most intense situations and in the fields of battle against unbelievers, they wouldn't miss the opportunity to first preach to people" to convert them to Islam.
They continued, "Islam is a pragmatic religion, which acknowledges that war is a part of human life, but it doesn't call for the use of violence for the sake of change and reforms."
Unlike their critical reaction to a 2007 document written by Dr. Fadl, al-Qaeda leaders, who are under increasing pressure by Pakistani security forces including recent operations in southern Waziristan, have not yet reacted to the studies.
In 2007, Fadl's one-time friend, Ayman al-Zawahiri, wrote a 200-page letter attacking him and his position on jihad. Dr. Fadl had issued "reviews" entitled "Document Rationalizing Jihadist Action".
Dr. Fadl was one of the most prominent ideologues of armed jihadist action. Some of his books on preparing for jihad were taught to trainees at the militant al-Qaeda-linked camps in the Pakistani-Afghan border area. But the serious theological debate that Dr. Fadl's revisionist work could have raised in terms of what he considered radicalism in al-Qaeda's behavior was overshadowed by the personal attacks which he exchanged with al-Zawahiri.
The Libyan corrective studies followed similar conclusions that Dr. Fadl and other jihadi leaders in the Islamic world reached in the past. In the 1990s, leaders of the Egyptian Al-Gamaa al-Islamiya announced a unilateral ceasefire and launched a "peaceful initiative" that led them to retract their takfirist charges against the Egyptian regime and to apologize for their armed acts that injured or killed citizens, including their assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981.
The Libyan "Corrective Studies" firmly rejected all justifications embraced by the jihadist groups, including some held by the LIFG itself in the past, including the use of arms to overthrow ruling regimes.
"The established opinion of Sunni scholars is that it's forbidden to resort to arms to change the prevailing conditions. The legitimate alternatives to using weapons for reform or change are directing behavior based on what one knows to be right, and forbidding behavior based on ignorance, and calling people to embrace Allah's way is best."
Although the studies defended the idea of "resisting the colonizer," saying, "Resistance in Islam and defending against the colonizers and invaders is a concept originally agreed upon among Muslims and non-Muslims," they also prohibited "turning jihad into military and combat profession that doesn't exclude anyone," adding that "this is a distortion of Islamic concepts and ignorance of the reality of this religion."
The "Corrective Studies" delegitimized participation in what they called "sedition fighting" in all its forms. They also agreed with Dr. Fadl in saying that "No one may participate in obligatory jihad without the permission of parents and religious approval, and those who don't participate may not be defamed."
The studies mentioned a list of obligatory practices that Muslims must abide by during their fighting. Jihadi actions must be "in the path of God" first and must not include the killing of women, children, religious figures, employees, ambassadors, traders (among other occupations). They also forbade treachery and the mutilation of dead bodies. The list also includes the need to honor promises and show benevolence to captives.
Al-Qaeda tactics often included blowing up civilian targets and decapitating foreign captives.
After receiving the "Corrective Studies," Libyan officials forwarded them to a number of religious scholars to review them and give their opinion on them, including Salman bin Fahd al-Oadah (Saudi Arabia), Sheikh Mohammed Al Shangiti (Mauritania), Dr. Ahmad Al-Raysuni (Morocco) and Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi (Qatar).
Copies were also sent to renowned scholars inside Libya, including Al Sadeq Al Gheryani, Dr. Hamza Abu Faris, Dr. Sulayman Al Bira, Dr. Aqeel Hasan Aqeel and Dr. Mohammed Ahmed Al Sheikh.
Days after receiving the studies, Al-Oadah, one of the most prominent scholars that al-Qaeda defended when he was detained in Saudi Arabia in 1990s (he was seen as bin Laden's spiritual advisor), said that the "content of the studies conform to what scholars of religion and Sunna have decided."
Al-Oadah is respected in the circles of jihadists, in spite of his repeated criticisms of Al-Qaeda and its practices since the 9/11 attacks, the last of which was a message entitled "Together against al-Qaeda's Terrorism."
Similarly, Dr. Ahmad Al-Raysuni, a member of the International Islamic Fiqh Academy, issued a commentary on the "Corrective Studies" in which he said "the authors of the studies had the courage to expressly turn from wrong to right, although the distance between the two is huge."
Camille Tawil is a Lebanese journalist who specializes in Islamist groups. He has authored two books, "The Story of the Arab Jihadists", and "The Armed Islamic Movement in Algeria - From the FIS to the GIA". He wrote this analysis for Al-Shorfa.