The Neglected Duty: Terrorism's Justification

The Neglected Duty: Terrorism's Justification

The connection between terrorism and the invasion of Iraq has increasingly blurred over the past few months.

The connection between terrorism and the invasion of Iraq has increasingly blurred over the past few months. While the Bush Administration has perceived the invasion of Iraq as part of the war on terrorism, critics of the administration have charged that the invasion has undermined that war. Notwithstanding the pretext under which the US had made the possession of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq the casus belli of the invasion, the administration has indeed made the right choice, but it has failed to clarify the connection between terrorism and the invasion of Iraq. At the center of this connection is the ideology justifying the terror acts committed by Bin Laden's organization, Al-Qaeda, against the United States. This ideology had been shaped by the political persecution and torture of Islamists in the notorious prisons of despotic Muslim regimes. Thus, destroying those prisons and opening up the political space in despotic countries is vital to the success of the US war on terrorism.     

Bin Laden's "World Islamic Front Statement, Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders," which was issued in 1998, began with the Koranic verse that Islamic radicals call the Verse of the Sword: "but when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, seize them, beleaguer them and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war)." In his statement, Bin Laden made the case for issuing a fatwa (religious edict) in which the "ruling to kill the Americans and their allies-civilians and military-is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it…" The basis for this fatwa, according to Bin Laden, had been the crimes committed by the United States against Muslims, the American occupation of Islam's holiest of places, devastation of Iraq and support of the Jewish state.

This fatwa, according to Bin laden, was in accordance with the words of Almighty Allah as revealed in the Koranic verses: "fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together," and "fight them until there is no dissension and religion becomes God's."

The 1998 fatwa was neither the first nor the last issued by Bin Laden. In 1996, he issued a fatwa entitled "Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places," in which he railed against the Saudi regime. He accused the regime of committing great transgressions that produced Kufr (un-belief) in the holiest of lands and referred to violence against the Kingdom and the United States as the "volcanic eruption emerging as a result of the severe oppression, suffering, excessive iniquity, humiliation and poverty." In October 2001, he issued a statement in which he said "these events [September 11 attacks] have divided the whole world into two sides: the side of the believers and the side of infidels." He also insisted that "every Muslim has to rush to make his religion victorious."

On the surface, these fatwas reveal that Bin Laden has shifted his focus from fighting the rulers of Saudi Arabia towards American soldiers and civilians, turning the US war on terrorism into a war between Islam and the West. A careful reading of the fatwas, however, reveals that they are consistent with the theological arguments drawn from the important, but almost never mentioned document, The Neglected Duty (Al-Faridah al-Gha'ibah), written by Muhammad Abd al-Salam Faraj and known as the creed of Egytian president Anwar Sadat's assassins. In fact, Bin Laden's fatwas and their implications for Muslims, whether in Islamic lands or the West - cannot be fully understood without comprehending the overall message and directives of The Neglected Duty.

This document articulated a set of ideas revolving around the establishment of an Islamic state (Caliphate). At the center of these ideas lay the modern concept of Takfir al-Hakim (Unbeliever ruler), whereby the ruler is accused of un-belief and thus of apostasy from Islam, a condition which justifies violence against him. Muslim readers have been impressed by the document, because it based its arguments mainly on the Koran, the Traditions relating to prophet Muhammad, and influential Muslim scholars. According to the document's logic, not only is the rule of God over the earth obligatory for Muslims, but also Jihad is also a duty. Jihad in this context means fighting the infidels, especially the enemies residing in the lands of Islam and/or governing through the illegal rule of Muslim leadership.

It is not a coincidence that Bin Laden's referral to the Koranic verses underpinning the arguments for his fatwa against the Jews and Crusaders had been emphasized by The Neglected Duty. The opening Koranic verse in the fatwa had been designated "The Verse of the Sword" by The Neglected Duty.

Importantly, the United States and Israel are not the only target of fundamentalists. Bin Laden and his ilk, basing their views on the logic of The Neglected Duty, implicitly perceive the Muslims who cooperate, work and live with infidels as legitimate targets. Had the fundamentalists known (or knew) about the presence of a significant number of Muslims in the New York towers, would they have changed their mind about striking the towers? The fundamentalists refer to Ibn Taymiyah's interpretations to validate their view. Ibn Taymiyah provided the theological basis for Muslims to fight the Mongols, though they had become Muslims, and many Muslims had been forced to join their armies. He, and other scholars, professed that the Mongols were not pious Muslims and that Muslims under their rule should die "jihading" for their faith or be martyred at the hands of Jihadis.

Only this logic explains the indifference with which fundamentalists regard Muslims residing in the West and/or collaborating with Westerners as those Iraqis partaking in the Coalition Provisional Authority's effort to build a democratic Iraq. The irony is that the U.S. invasion of Iraq, besides liberating Iraqis, has destroyed the prison walls within which the ideology of fundamentalists had been shaped and perpetuated. Yet, the United States is under constant attacks by critics in both the Muslim and Western worlds. Islamist terrorism has made non-Islamists the Mongols of this age. Westerners and Muslims alike need to understand the logic of this ideology. Only then will they be able to overcome it.


Messrs. Phares and Rabil are professors of Mideast Studies at Florida Atlantic University. Mr. Phares is also an analyst for MSNBC. Mr. Rabil is the author of Embattled Neighbors: Syria, Israel and Lebanon.