Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1249, (4 - 10 June 2015)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1249, (4 - 10 June 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Great Fitna revisited

The Islamic State is not defending Sunni Islam. It is the latest appearance of the Kharijite creed, that has always aimed to subjugate all Muslims to its rule, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

Al-Ahram Weekly

Why would the Islamic State (IS) group announce with “great pride” its responsibility for the suicide bombing of a mosque in Qadih that claimed dozens of casualties among Shia Muslims during Friday prayers? Why did they carry out an earlier massacre in a mosque in Sanaa, also during Friday prayers, killing 140 Muslims and wounding untold hundreds more?

The immediate aim is obvious. It is to cause a rupture in the relationship between Sunni and Shia Muslims. It is to drench the relationship in blood and generate enough anger and hatred to precipitate a historic clash that IS can exploit to attain its more important strategic aim, which is to claim that it represents the “Sunnis” who make up the majority of the population in the Islamic world.

Al-Qadih and Sanaa have not been the only scenes of this tactic. It was also carried out in Iraq, propelling the country into a sectarian war that destroyed the entire state after its politicians turned rotten and made the source of their inspiration Tehran rather than Iraqi patriotism.

The bitter irony is that this behaviour has made IS, which slaughtered Muslims of all sects and denominations, together with their fellow citizens from other faiths, seem as though it was the saviour of Iraqi Sunnis, or at least some of them.

In short, IS is carrying out a carefully devised strategy to recreate the Great Fitna, the first civil war in Islamic history, so as to generate tidal waves of chaos, bloodshed and lasting rancour. Such a climate, according to this scheme, will compel all to bow down to IS and its global alliance with all groups that share its ideology and creed.

There is no need to repeat the story of the Great Fitna. Its events, consequences and effects on the lives of Muslims up to the present day are familiar to all. We will certainly not delve into the details of the juristic and theological disputes that history bequeathed to followers of the faith.

What concerns us, here, is that the Fitna generated three schools of Arab-Muslim political thought on the source of authority in the state or political entity. The first is the Ahl Al-Bayt, which is to say the descendants of the family of the Prophet Mohamed. The second is the Sunni and those members of the Sunni community equipped to rule and govern, or those to whom Ibn Khaldoun referred to with the term “Asabiya”, signifying empowerment by the sword, money and numbers. The third is the school of the Kharijites who merged from the Great Fitna with the proclamation: “There is no rule except by God.”

Amazingly, contemporary Arab thought and also Western thought has capitulated to the first two schools and the rivalry between them and their adherents. But the conflicts that are playing out in Syria, Iraq and Yemen today are not between “Sunnis” and “Shias”. Rather, they stem from Iran’s attempts to assert its hegemony over the region through proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Alawites in Syria and Houthis in Yemen.

The problem between Iran and the Arabs even predates Islam. In fact, the purpose of adopting the Shia sect in the Safavid state was essentially to create a divide in the Islamic world between Iran and the Ottoman Empire.

But IS is not really all that interested in the nature of the current conflict since its battle is against all Muslims, as it operates on the premise of the third school  namely, that of the Kharijites. The Kharijites have faded from Islamic history for long periods, but they have never entirely vanished.

Their resurgence in the modern era was marked by the birth of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928. In general, they would re-emerge in times of weakness or slackness in the face of violent foreign pressures, as occurred during the time of the Crusades. Today, they are re-emerging against the backdrop of the chaos of the post-Arab Spring era and the collapse of several Arab states.

The inspiration of these groups derives, as it always has, from a core of consummately fascist ideas, the first being the claim to an exclusive monopoly on “the absolute truth”  the “Rule of God” has always been synonymous with rule by a clique tailored to the whims and attitudes of that clique.

The second is the quintessentially bigoted and even racist conviction in their superiority to all others. This belief translates into a condemnation of others as heretics. Not even Ali Ibn Abi Taleb, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, or Muwaiya, the scribe of the revelation, have been spared the accusation, along with countless other Muslims who have pronounced the declaration of the faith.

A third salient characteristic is extreme brutality, violence and total disregard for human life, which begins with the lives of the followers of the Kharijite band, known historically as the “shurah”  meaning those who sold their lives in the world to purchase the delights of paradise in the hereafter.

As for all who disagree with them, their fate, according to the Kharijite creed, is massacre, mutilation of their bodies after death, and torture of the wounded and prisoners. At one point, a major dispute between Kharijite groups, such as the Azraqis and the Najdat, revolved over whether or not it was permissible to murder children in the areas they invaded.

A fourth trait is the complete lack of any concept for the development of the earth, which helps explain their hostility toward civilisation both old and new. Thus, one gang of them destroys the landmarks of Buddhist civilisation in Afghanistan, and another destroys the museums and antiquities in Iraq and Syria, the latest being Palmyra.

Another expression of their antagonism toward civilisation is their contempt for education in general, and for female education in particular, as has been exhibited by Boko Haram in Nigeria.

IS, Al-Qaeda and all the other Kharijite groups are the epitome of fascism, which is ultimately the drive to impose a totalitarian authority that holds the decision of life and death over all that fall under its control. What we see unfolding in different parts of the Arab and Islamic world is the latest resurgence of the Kharijites.

They are bent on exploiting the protracted impact of the first Great Fitna in order to produce a second even more powerful fitna to serve as their smokescreen for reducing the Islamic world to submission under the banner of their self-proclaimed “Caliphate”.

In fact, the Kharijites in history have never succeeded in realising their ends, or their successes were very short lived and geographically confined. However, historical circumstances today offer them a great opportunity.

There are the negative repercussions of the Arab Spring, which have weakened the immunity of the Arab state and the Arab regional order. There is the American softness in dealing with the region and the US retreat from undertaking the responsibilities of a superpower under the leadership of President Barack Obama.

There is the violent behaviour of the Iranian state, which is preparing the climate for a new Great Fitna in the region, through its recourse to proxy war tactics in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere.

Responding to this complex reality and its inherent dangers is now the task of Arab leadership. Perhaps the first step towards setting us on the right path is to carefully avoid the “Great Fitna” trap, and to remedy its constituent parts through wise policies.

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