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Osama Bin Laden, Musab al Zarqawi, other Qutbists and the Western Media

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Osama Bin Laden, Musab al Zarqawi, other Qutbists and the Media


Osama Bin Laden (OBL) and Musab al Zarqawi have mistakenly been branded Wahabbist by western media and Sufist by eastern media.  Wahabbism is a negative term applied to the scholars from the religious movement in the Hanbali fiqh developed by Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahab.  Wahab founded the movement in order to return to the way of the Salaf, rightly guided—Muhammed and his companions.  “Wahabbists” reject the term Wahabbist preferring instead the term Salafist—follower of the perfect examples in Muhammed and his companions.


Senior Salafi scholars in Saudi Arabia have rejected OBL and his movement.  They blame OBL for the current dissent against the government and have labeled OBL as a Kharaji, a seceder or rebel in reference to an early dissenting sect in Islam.


The western media, to include many western authors on Middle East culture, relations and religion, make a distinction between wahabbist and salafist where there is no distinction except negative connotation.  The basis of the misunderstanding may lie in a more appropriate label for OBL and his followers, Qutbist.  For the purpose of this article Qutbism is the adaptation of Qutbiyyah, the ideological principles for the application of sharia (Islamic law) developed by Sayyed Qutb and a modern Islamic movement to revive Khariji principles. Khariji should not to be confused with Ibhadi—the only surviving sect of the original secessionists of the Sunni caliphate.


Muslim Brotherhood and Qutbism

Sayyed Qutb was an Egyptian-born religiously trained literary critic who pursued western education in the US after his Islamic studies.  It is assumed that based on his time in America, he wrote Fi Zilal al Quran.  The modern Islamic jurisprudence he inspired came to be known as Qutbism and is the basis of the militant politico-religious movement, al Queda.  Moderate Sunni scholars do not believe Qutb inspired a separate sect but that several organizations accept parts of his ideology while rejecting others. 


Qutb was originally a salafist and inspired a clandestine militant wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.  The Muslim Brotherhood is an organization founded in the 1920’s by Hassan al Banna to encourage social reform in converting the secular remnants of British influence into Islamic revival reminiscent of the Salafiya, pious forefathers of Islam.  The group was outlawed several times in Egypt and its political activism through militant activities led to the death of its founder, Banna, in 1949 and primary theorist, Qutb, in 1966.


The Muslim Brotherhood currently presents itself as a more moderate entity than its nascent activity suggests.  It continues to resist the secular tendencies of progressive Islamic nations, desires a return to the basic teachings of the Quran and rejects western influence.  It also rejects Sufi influences although the brotherhood assisted the Taliban, a Sufi based movement, in its revolution against the Communist Afghani government in the early 1990s. 


OBL’s involvement with the brotherhood, Afhani mujahadin and family’s migration from Yemen spurred the eastern media to associate him with Sufism of the Deobandi order.  Additionally, the salafi extremists as well as the Saudi-based salafi scholars have used OBL’s association to dissociate their fundamentalist beliefs from his.


The term Qutbism is considered by its adherents as derogatory; however, its use is necessary to differentiate between the militant political Islamic movement and the 200 year old religious revival in Islam.  Mainstream, fundamental and even radical Islamic movements are distinct from the Qutbist movement. 


Qutbism is a religiously based, militant, political activist movement that adherents use through pre-existing networks of familial-tribal ties to propagate their influence throughout the Muslim world and perform acts of terror to achieve an element of power over Islamic and secular governments.  Qutbists can be identified through their activities not necessarily their rhetoric or use of religious language; however, Qutbists declare takfir, proclaiming an individual or group of being non-believers without investigating the intent to proclaim non-belief or act as a non-believer.  The individual is then considered kaffir, a term considered to be synonymous with infidel.  Qutbism considers jihad the sixth pillar of islam and as such a requirement of every Muslim.  Qutbist organizations promote revolution against Muslim governments, if the government refuses to submit to the demands of the organization.  They also promote and train their followers in the use of suicide bombs, effective operations by targeting civilians and consider civilian casualties acceptable if furthers their influence. Qutbists draw on the principles of Islamic thought that support their recruitment efforts and promote their end state.  Qutbism is an Islamic revolution based in the western political ideology, totalitarianism on the level of Marxism or Stalinism. 


The Zarqawi terrorist group, Tawhid wa Jihad, implies the Salafist movement for return to tawhid.  Tawhid is the fundamental Islamic belief in the oneness of God and a focused precept of Salafism; however, jihad links the organization to the Qutbism. 


In confusing the Qutbist movement with Salafism/Wahabbism or Sufism, an environment is created that enables the Qutbist to hide behind perceived religious affiliations and declare western targeting of their networks as religious discrimination or crusades.  In fact, OBL has made derogatory remarks about the Saudi Salafi scholars as well as declared them along with the Saudi government takfir.


This information does not negate the danger facing diplomacy and governance, to include statesmen and law enforcement, when dealing with a revival of this nature in any region of the world; however, it does recapitulate the dangers inherent to blanket labeling threats.  There are several distinct movements that are at odds in Europe and the Middle East and to treat them as one is a gross underestimation of the capability and cooperability of all the salafist elements. 


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