Al-Qaeda's philosophy is based upon a destructive ideology that does not distinguish between combatants and peaceful civilians, not even women and children, according to Dr. Ahmed Mohammed al-Daghashi, a researcher who studies Islamist groups.
Al-Daghashi said the organisation's biggest problem is that it fights anyone who is at odds with its ideology, even Muslims. Members of al-Qaeda are convinced of the correctness of their thinking and the legitimacy of their actions, and consider individuals with opposing views as deviants.
He spoke with Al-Shorfa about al-Qaeda's teachings and the origins of its ideology, which are also the subjects of his new book, "Al-Qaeda's Pedagogical Approach: A Focus on the Yemeni Situation".
Al-Daghashi, a professor of Islamic pedagogy and philosophy at Sanaa University, has published 18 books on Islamic teachings and has written for a number of local and Arab newspapers.
Al-Shorfa: How would you analyse al-Qaeda's pedagogical approach?
Ahmed Al-Daghashi: I think whoever studies al-Qaeda's philosophy at its roots, its writings, its make-up, development, and the results of its armed struggle can only conclude that al-Qaeda's pedagogical approach can only be described as destructive, not constructive. It is based on false premises, such as the premise that the relationship between Muslims and others is rooted in war and not peace, regardless of whether the 'others' are combatants or peaceful civilians.
Al-Qaeda's biggest problem is that it fights whoever it considers to be at odds with its ideology, even Muslims. We all know what happened and continues to happen in Iraq, where al-Qaeda's victims are civilians, and individuals who are in disagreement with it are Muslims, and not non-Muslim combatants.
The danger of al-Qaeda's jihadist ideology is that it is convinced of the correctness of its thinking, the legitimacy of its positions, and the fallacy and deviance of all who oppose it. This is where al-Qaeda's pedagogical philosophy is applied, specifically its exclusion of individuals who oppose it, thereby legitimising the shedding of their blood and encroachment on their honour.
Al-Shorfa: Why is al-Qaeda targeting the youth through teachings and ideology?
Al-Daghashi: Adolescence is a time of confusion, indecision and inability to make distinctions. This makes it easier for any political or ideological movement to influence the youth. If we observe the so-called accomplished scholars among al-Qaeda's youth, specifically al-Qaeda's second and third generations, most of them are in their 20s which indicates they were molded during adolescence and rose to leadership positions in two or three years.
If we examine the biographies of Abu Basir (Nasir al-Wuhayshi), the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), or Qasim al-Rimi, the military commander of AQAP, we find that they joined the organisation as teenagers. By the age of 28 or 30 they had spent 10 years in prison or in Afghanistan or elsewhere, so when did they study and acquire the knowledge and leadership qualities needed to become religious experts and leaders?
It is during adolescence and later years when they were exposed to ideas that cause them to become as tenacious, arrogant, and intransigent as they are to the extent that they became resistant to any real influence, even if the evidence is compelling and derived from reason, reality, and the Qu'ran or the biography of the Prophet Mohammed peace be upon him and the way he dealt with his adversaries. Nevertheless, ideological dialogue remains the best way to reach and influence them.
Al-Shorfa: What are the ideological underpinnings of al-Qaeda's drive to wreak havoc on Arab and Muslim countries, notably Yemen?
Al-Daghashi: Al-Qaeda derives its ideological underpinnings from a true but misinterpreted hadith of the Prophet which said, "Expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula."
That hadith should be taken in the objective context in which it occurs. It is intended to mean that there should not be two competing religious authorities in the Arabian Peninsula, and the majority of scholars interpret the reference to the Arabian Peninsula to mean the Hijaz [Mecca and Medina] and are in consensus that Yemen does not fall within that [geographic] space.
If we accept [al-Qaeda's interpretation] of the hadiths, where does that put all the Qu'ranic verses and hadiths that urge us to treat believers of other faiths well, and the term 'Ahl al-Thimma' [referring to free non-Muslims enjoying Muslim protection] whom Islam orders us to treat righteously, a principle that ranks among the highest orders of beneficence, one considered by Allah himself to be as important as obeying one's parents?
Al-Shorfa: What are the underpinnings of al-Qaeda's pedagogical approach?
Al-Daghashi: The key pedagogical cornerstone al-Qaeda relies upon is rooted in Salafi ideology, as it relates to the organisation's founding, its make-up and its sources of knowledge. The Salafi ideology furnished the intellectual origins for al-Qaeda's pedagogical approach.
One element of Salafi thought is its revolutionary, militant approach that believes change can only come about by force, and that peaceful means of change are signs of weakness, submission and betrayal.
Another important element of al-Qaeda's ideology is its penchant for rebellion, confrontation, and accusations against others of apostasy for not applying sharia law without considering whether there was justification for not applying sharia. And even if sharia is applied, it is deemed insufficient if it conflicts with al-Qaeda's assessment of certain issues.
Al-Qaeda's pedagogical approach combines preparing the next generation for jihad in the cause of Allah against all non-Muslim enemy combatants and implementing a distinct agenda among some groups that believe in military combat as a means to achieve goals and imposing their own vision upon opponents through violence and physical force.
Al-Shorfa: Why did al-Qaeda legitimise spilling the blood of women and children even though that is forbidden in battle?
Al-Daghashi: Al-Qaeda permits that on the basis that it is permissible to shed the blood of anyone who supports tyrants who do not rule according to sharia law, regardless of whether they are children or women.
I want to emphasise the psychological aspect as bloodshed becomes commonplace to those who are accustomed to violence, and their only concern becomes to achieve their objective, regardless of whether it results in casualties among innocent [civilians].
Al-Shorfa: Why is al-Qaeda eager to settle in Yemen?
Al-Daghashi: There are doctrinal, political, and geographic factors behind al-Qaeda's quest to settle in Yemen. The doctrinal factor stems from the hadith of the Prophet which stated, "12,000 men from Aden in the cause of God and his Prophet represent the best among mine and Aden's".
Only the superficial, conventional aspect of the hadith was understood, the part addressing weapons and war and not the meaning of comprehensive victory for civilisation or bringing intellectual, social, political, and economic enlightenment to the people.
In terms of geography, Yemen's terrain is attractive for al-Qaeda, as Abu Musab al-Suri, a well-known organisation leader, said. Politically, it relates to Yemen undergoing a period of statelessness and collapse of the political system.
Al-Shorfa: What is the best way to counter al-Qaeda's ideological influence in Yemen?
Al-Daghashi: First, remove the reasons that make al-Qaeda a legitimate option for youth, reform the internal environment politically, economically, socially, culturally and intellectually, and manage the country's relationship with the outside world to ensure that it is a relationship of equals.
Educational institutions, the family, the mosque, political parties, and civil society organisations need to promote peace as a stabilising factor that will undermine al-Qaeda's message.
The Arab Spring revolutions, especially the peaceful popular revolution in Yemen, must be capitalised on and included in scholastic curricula as examples for all their great accomplishments in bringing about peaceful, non-violent change. Those peaceful revolutions proved very effective and had an impact at a lower cost and in a shorter period of time. They should be incorporated in scholastic curricula as a colossal historic and contemporary event worthy of being studied so that succeeding generations can learn from them and serve as an effective means to bring about change.