A month after the September 11th, 2001 attacks in the US, Osama bin Laden declared that the world is divided into the "camp of disbelief" and the "camp of faith". Bin Laden and al-Qaeda used the rationale to rally Muslims to Jihad.
Former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) leader Noman Benotman rejects the concept, which is based on a traditional categorisation from the Middle Ages that divides the world into the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War.
Benotman, the former LIFG media section chief and member of the Shura Council, has travelled frequently to Libya from his London home to help broker talks between the Libyan government and imprisoned leaders of his former militant group.
In the first instalment of a two-part interview, Benotman challenges bin Laden and al-Qaeda to delineate the borders of the "camp of Islam".
"Let them designate where the Abode of Islam is, and I hope they don't say it's the caves of Afghanistan," he told Al-Shorfa.
Al-Shorfa: At the recent Mardin Conference, leading Islamic scholars agreed that the traditional categorisation of the world between "abode of Islam" and "abode of Kufr" does not stand the test of time. What is your reaction?
Benotman: I absolutely disagree with the notion of dividing the world into the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War. This categorisation is man-made, not stipulated in the Islamic religion.
Ibn Al-Qayyim, Sheikh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah's student, was the first person to define this concept using sound academic methodology during the Middle Ages in his book "Zad al-Maad" (Provisions of the Hereafter). Is it conceivable that this Middle Ages categorisation, which was an intellectual effort undertaken by thinkers trying to analyze their world at that point in time, is still valid in the 21st century?
Of course not.
So, what is needed of Muslims, and their scholars and thinkers, is to come up with a new methodology derived from the 21st century.
Al-Shorfa: What do you think that contemporary approach should be?
Benotman: If Muslim thinkers want to make a real contribution in the 21st century, they should refer to the concepts of international relations. These concepts have predominantly western characteristics because they were based on the work of western thinkers and scholars and were influenced by the development of the nation-state in the West. However, these are still concepts formulated by humanity. They are the product of endeavours towards understanding relations between states, defining points of conflict and how to achieve peace. Muslims have to take part in this human endeavour, correct the aspects they deem to be wrong and approve what they see as right. This especially applies in matters of war and peace, and relations between states.
Diplomacy is the agreed upon system of international relations. There are around 55 countries that are officially classified as Islamic states, according to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC). These countries have official and diplomatic relations and embassies in other countries around the world. What is the Islamic legal ruling on these relations? Are they unlawful and invalid in defining relations between Muslims and non-Muslims?
Al-Shorfa: Would that be the response of those who divide the world into two "camps", according to the bin Laden's classification?
Benotman: Even when we talk about the "Abode of Islam" and the "Abode of Disbelief" – as per the traditional Islamic concept – there is still ambiguity about these concepts.
The "Abode of Islam", according to the traditional meaning, is the abode where the legitimate Islamic Caliphate exists, governed by an Islamic political authority. This abode does not exist today. For the Abode of War to exist, it needs an Islamic Abode [in the political sense]. There is another Islamic definition [for Islamic abode] but that refers to a group of people who share a common faith, and they need not be organised into a political entity.
Let them designate where the Abode of Islam is, and I hope they don't say it's the caves of Afghanistan. Where is the Abode of Islam in terms of political authority, so that we can say that there is a corresponding Abode of War? There are 55 Islamic countries, so are there 55 Caliphates and 55 Caliphs? Is this conceivable?
Al-Shorfa: So, was bin Laden wrong?
Benotman: I would like to have a discussion with him on the subject of the camp that I am concerned with, which is the camp of Islam. I want him to delineate it for me, as Ibn al-Qayyim did. He must delineate it with precision. Is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia part of that camp? Is Algeria part of it? Are Libya, Morocco and Egypt also within that camp? Let him draw the borders of the camp of Islam.
Al-Shorfa: Perhaps he meant that the camp includes the regions under the control of people he considers as "Mujahideens" in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and other countries.
Benotman: Let him designate where it is. Is the camp of Islam Qandahar? Or Helmand in Afghanistan? Or Diyala Province in Iraq? Is this categorisation a valid one so we can say that this or that region is part of the Islamic camp?
I would like the one who came up with the issue of camps to specify where they are, because their answer would show the weakness of their theory. The slogan they promote about the existence of two camps is nothing but a political slogan meant to mobilise people and is not based on real concepts and knowledge.
In part two of the interview, Benotman charges that bin Laden "does not have legal Islamic guardianship" over Muslims living in the West to order them to participate in "the war effort". He also says that "revisions" issued by many Islamist groups in recent years helped to rein in the "mobilization" process carried out by al-Qaeda.