Former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) leader and Shura Council member Noman Benotman, who helped broker talks between the Libyan government and his former militant group, feels that the separation of the world into the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War is a man-made construct.
In part two of his exclusive interview with al-Shorfa, Benotman launches a virulent attack against those who justify carrying out bombings in western nations. He accuses Osama bin Laden of lacking "legal Islamic guardianship" over western Muslims.
And he poses the question: since bin Laden has no Islamic authority over Muslims in the West, how can he order them to fight against their own societies?
Al-Shorfa: You have spoken about your rejection of the two-camp theory. How does dividing the world into two camps tie in to killing civilians?
Benotman: These [bombings] cannot be justified, even under the flawed theory of the world divided into two camps.
Non-combatants or civilians, have nothing to do with military affairs and waging wars. It is not permissible to kill them, and they should not be targeted anywhere in the world.
The right Islamic principle states that any human being, be he Muslim or non-Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh or atheist, should not be killed or targeted as long as he does not engage in fighting and waging war. This is the fundamental principle, and it is unrelated to the issue of camps.
However, there is confusion regarding what is described as "Jihad in the West". This issue is of utmost importance, and many people would not be pleased with what I have to say.
We have a huge number of Muslims living in the West. The number of Muslims in Western Europe is estimated to be between 20 and 30 million, and in the United States there are between 7 and 10 million Muslims. This number will be even greater in the wider definition of the West that includes more than the US and Western Europe. However, according to the viewpoint of al-Qaeda and like-minded groups, these Muslims must immediately participate in the war effort and kill or bomb any western interest, even though the person carrying out this operation might be a citizen born in the country in which he wants to carry out bombings.
The question here is: From what Islamic legal standpoint does al-Qaeda view itself as having a "legal guardianship" authority over these people?
They are citizens who were born or who have lived in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada or France. These countries have become their home countries. They carry their nationalities and they are treated there as any other citizen, but they are Muslims. On the other hand, there are also citizens who are Christians, Jews or who are of other faiths, or atheists.
Is it permissible for the Muslim to betray people and the society in which he lives, and which is his homeland? Is it permissible for him to commit treason?
If he really wants to wage war, he should openly declare war, as it is not permissible for him to betray or act treasonously towards them, and he is not allowed to even take possession of their property, let alone fight them.
That was the method followed by the Prophet (Peace be Upon Him). It is not permissible for them to take their possessions treasonously. The Prophet put this into practice when Muslims from the tribe of Quraish came to him, and some of them had taken possession of money. The Prophet ordered them to return the money back to Quraish first, before embracing Islam and joining the Muslims.
The Prophet refused to receive those funds even though Quraish were idol-worshippers. So, how about the People of the Book?
What I want to say here is that Muslims living in the West are not under the obligation to take part in Jihad at all.
As long as they are citizens living in the West, there is no Jihad for them, because they have become part of the western social system, and subsequently are required to honor their contract, and to not betray and engage in treason, and to engage in the call to Islam using wisdom and good admonition only.
All this has its roots in Islam. Muslims in the West are not in a war zone, and no one is attacking their dignity. On the contrary, in many of these western nations, Muslims enjoy the freedom to express their views more than what they are allowed in Islamic countries.
There is an important question regarding this issue, which is: who has legal guardianship and Islamic authority to give permissions or orders to Muslims in the West to fight against their own society?
Al-Qaeda does not have an answer to this question. It does not have any legal Islamic mandate over anyone. This kind of relationship is non-existent from the Islamic legal viewpoint.
Bin Laden does not have any guardianship over anyone who has not pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda. Whoever has pledged allegiance to him has willingly chosen to be with him, and has to obey him. But, anyone who renounces him and does not think that he has any right to carry out these types of actions in the name of the Islamic nation, how then can Bin Laden think that he has legitimate guardianship of that individual and ask him to fight, or offer support or to emigrate?
These people should understand that Muslims are not considered minorities in the West. They are citizens. In the West, there is the concept of ‘local communities’, and not minorities. The era of minorities belongs to the past, and it is a term that has no meaning today. Muslims in the West are considered local communities just like other various communities. Even within the Muslim community itself, there is room for a wide array of ideas and opinions.
Al-Shorfa: You were personally involved in the LIFG's "Corrective Studies on the Doctrine of Jihad, Hesba and Ruling". What do you think about the recent "revisions" made by the Islamic groups?
Benotman: The revisions are important, and they are a laudable initiative. There are six or seven countries where this issue (the revisions) has taken place, and the rates of success were different for each country.
But the most important one, in my view, is the experience in Libya and Saudi Arabia, because it was the state that took care of this, and these two approaches complement each other.
The Libyan approach illustrates how to deal with a group as a whole, together with its leadership. When the group’s leadership became convinced (of any particular matter), it would convince the rest of its members. The fans or sympathizers of this group would subsequently be influenced.
The Saudi approach dealt with individuals on a one-to-one basis, because the leadership is in Afghanistan and not in Saudi Arabia, in addition to the fact that they are constituted of different nationalities. And we know, around 4,000 individuals have been or are currently going through a rehabilitation or reformation programme.
There are also various other approaches conducted by Yemen, Malaysia, one currently being implemented by Mauritania, Algeria and Egypt.
If we take all these approaches together into account, we have accomplished a strategic step to halting al-Qaeda’s mobilisation efforts.
The "revisions" have led to a slump in the cadence of mobilisation, which was floating the idea that the whole jihadi movement was in agreement with al-Qaeda on such and such issues. These revisions showed that there are major icons in the jihadi movement, and among those who helped found this movement 25 or 30 years ago, who have now changed their views and have issued fatwas and revisions and published books. This has led to a debate within the jihadi movement, and helped reduce its momentum.
In my view, the "revisions" of the LIFG are the best so far because they are laid out in a discourse similar to the Salafists’. Four hundred pages of the revisions (Corrective Studies) were formulated according to the Salafist discourse, meaning that it used the same methodology used by al-Qaeda and its supporters and the jihadi movement, which nowadays are called the "Salafi Jihadist".
The LIFG started off from that same methodology – the same school of thought, the same concepts, the same understanding of the texts, the same argumentation, the same references, and the same religious scholars. But they reached different conclusions from that of al-Qaeda on very important issues.
And according to my assessment, these revisions have so far helped many people to abandon their previous ideas. In the worst cases, they caused many to think deeply before undertaking any activity, while in the past they would consider these things as non-debatable, and that everyone believed in al-Qaeda's ideology. The revisions came to affirm that this is a fallacy.