Wednesday, March 5, 2008


[first published on Saturday, March 31, 2007 at the now-censored* Islamic Danger blog at which admonishes all who dare to attack the ideology erroneously referred to as a "religion" thusly: *"This blog is in violation of Blogger's Terms of Service and is currently visible to authors only." - Leslie White]

This is the first in a series here, examining the strategies and tactics employed by Islamic anti-Free-World forces. We shall examine what are the roots of these warfare methods and what are the best countermeasures.

Look out for future entries under this heading. They are intended to inform free people (our side) what can be expected from the enemies we face.

Jihadist Strategies in the War on Terrorism
by Mary R. Habeck, Ph.D.
Heritage Lecture #855

I am going to be talking about a group of people who are generally known as fundamentalists, extremists, or (as I have grown to call them) "jihadis." The term jihad suggests what they believe their lives are about--holy war that is directed against people they believe are their enemies and the enemies of their way of life.

Yet there is more to what they are doing than simple warfare. In fact, I believe they are involved in a war that has a definite strategy behind it, not simply the sort of random attacks that people talk about all the time. However, if you watch the news it is really hard to see that. You look at the news and you see Muslims being killed, you see churches being attacked, you see Jews being killed. You see all sorts of people being targeted and attacked, and in some cases those attacks seem to be counterproductive. After all, it does not make sense to kill the Muslims that you are trying to win over to your side of the argument. It does not make sense to target churches or other places of worship when all this does is win sympathy for the victims of these attacks.

There are also things like the Madrid attack, which, while it seemed to attain their ends, was accompanied by a second plan for a second attack on April 2--an attack that, if it had been carried out, would have had nothing to do with the elections, or with Spanish participation in Iraq. In fact, it could not have been sold as anything except an apparently random attack--a counterproductive attack on the Spanish. It might have convinced the Spanish themselves to get re-involved in Iraq, or at least (in some way) with the war on terrorism.

However, I am going to argue that, in fact, this is not true. These are not random attacks; they are not entirely counterproductive. They do have strategies that are rational, systematic, and followed rigorously. Unlike other groups--such as the Anarchists of the late 19th and early 20th century (which really did seem to carry out pretty random attacks), or the Communists (whose pragmatism allowed them to pretty much get away with anything as long as they could make some sort of argument that it was helping the cause)--these new terrorists believe that they have an ideology that is so important that it must be followed rigorously. There are many different groups and each one of them is carrying out its own rational systematic strategy.

To understand each attack, therefore, you have to get into the mindset of the group that carried out that attack and not try to make broad generalizations about jihadis, extremists, or fundamentalists. These are very different people and very different groups with very different arguments about how they should be carrying out their warfare. To understand their arguments and attacks you have to understand their ideology, and in some cases understand theological arguments that they are having with the rest of the Islamic world.

Levels of Strategy

I am going to differentiate in this talk between four different levels of strategy or tactics. First, there are grand strategies; then there are military strategies; operations (or operational art, as some people call it); and then there are tactics. I am only going to be talking about the first two levels here--that is, grand strategies and military strategies.

Grand strategy is basically the same for almost every jihadi group. This is, I think, the only place where you can say that there is something unifying these groups and holding them together. The objective is, almost across the board, the same. They want to restore the greatness of their vision of Islam by defeating every rival to its power. The means by which they are going to attempt this are also the same and fit into this grand strategic vision. They are hoping to create an Islamic state. They all argue about what that means and how it is going to be created, but somewhere they want to create an Islamic state. They also want to defeat all of their rivals through military means--that is, through violence of some sort. Additionally, they hope to win over the rest of the Islamic world to their vision of what Islam is about and how to restore Islam to greatness.

Those three things are the same across the board. If you take a look at these extremist groups, they all agree, at least on those basic principles. The result of this grand strategic vision is that they must take on an immense number of enemies. They must take on, in fact, what they call "The West" (or as some of them say, "the Jewish crusaders"); "the agent rulers" (that is, the rulers in almost every single one of the Muslim states); "the apostates and the heretics," (which means any Muslim that doesn't agree with them as well as the Shi'a groups--because most of the groups I'll be talking about are Sunni). They also have to take on what they call "oppressors," but this is a term that they use in a very specific way and has little to do with the socialist or leftist use of this term. For instance, "oppressors" include all the Hindus in the world.

The military strategies, unlike this grand strategic vision, seem more random. However, the extremists do not attack all of these groups simultaneously. They have, in fact, prioritized which one of these groups has to be attacked first, second, and third; which is the most important; which is the most dangerous; how they are going to carry out these attacks. In other words, they have definite strategies, but differing definite strategies, even about how to carry out these military attacks. Behind the seeming randomness then, even of the military strategies, there are a few basic principles which will help you to understand, when you see on the news that this or that group has carried out an attack on X, Y, or Z, why they might have chosen them and why they might be choosing another group next.

Turning to the Past

Generally, these military strategies are based on something extremists call the "Method of Mohammad." This term comes from a lot of interpretation of the Qur'an and Hadith, but it also comes from something called the Sirah, which are not well known in the West, but are very widely known in the Islamic world. The Sirah are essentially sacralized biographies of Mohammad's life. They tell the story of Mohammad in chronological fashion and provide the kind of historical background and continuous narrative that is missing from both the Qur'an and the Hadith.

In the Sirah, Mohammad is portrayed as the perfect man. Because he is the perfect man, he will have the perfect method for applying Islam. In fact, some believe that his early successes were miraculous--so miraculous that they could only have been supported and helped by God. Therefore, the logic goes, if followers want to experience the same successes, they have to follow his footsteps exactly, precisely following the "Method of Mohammad." In other words, the strategies that I am going to look at today were taken from an attempt to recreate, precisely, Mohammad's life and what he did in order to make Islam successful 1,400 years ago.

The First Stage. What is this method? It begins where Mohammad began, which was in the city of Mecca, a place that was hostile to his message and that persecuted the early Muslims. This was the place where he began what was called the Da'wah--the call to Islam, the call to repent, to turn to God, and to follow the commandments of God. There was no violence allowed at this stage. Mohammad created a very small group, a jama'a which met in secret for fear of persecution, but was slowly inculcated into Islam as a way of life. It became, in fact, a small vanguard with an "Amir"--a leader. In this case, that meant Mohammad.

As you can see, this easily translates into the modern world--the creation of a small vanguard that will lead the rest of the world to the light of Islam (or at least some people's vision of Islam). This vanguard will not, at first, practice violence, but will instead be inculcated into the true Islam, and what the true Islam entails for their lives. It consists of "true believers," a small vanguard that always has a leader. There is a Hadith from the traditions of Mohammad that says, "Wherever there are three Muslims, there must be an Amir." There must be a leader and they take this literally. Wherever there are three of these extremists together, they truly believe that one of them must be the Amir. Notice also, that in their vision, this is done in secrecy. Therefore, you are allowed to do this in secrecy, away from the prying eyes of the unbelieving world. That is the first stage.

The Second Stage. The second stage in Mohammad's life and in their method is the Hijrah, the migration away from Mecca (an unbelieving place) to Medina (a place that was more accepting and open to the message of Islam). Once there is a dedicated vanguard, in other words, you have to migrate away from the unbelieving society to someplace where there is already an Islamic society or you must create one yourself, because that is what Mohammad was forced to do (i.e., use a small vanguard to create the perfect Islamic society). Therefore the argument is, "We must do exactly the same thing. The vanguard of true believers must migrate away from the unbelieving society to someplace that is either more open to our ideas, where there is already an Islamic society, or we must create one of our own to become stronger."

The Hijrah is taken so seriously that there are several groups that have named themselves after those people who immigrated--the Muhajiroon. They call themselves this in several different countries. Osama bin Laden talked about this stage and believed that when he was leaving Saudi Arabia to go first to Sudan, and then to Afghanistan, he was taking part in this stage of the "Method of Mohammad." He believed he was migrating away from the unbelieving Saudi Arabia to the perfect Islamic state in Afghanistan. Other groups have been no less certain about this. Some have migrated within an Islamic country (for instance, within Egypt or within Algeria) to set up their own mini-Islamic state in those countries.

The Third Stage. The third stage is Medina, a stage that includes the creation of an Islamic state and the permission to use violence. Almost immediately after Mohammad arrived in Medina, he set up, with the help of his small vanguard of dedicated believers, an Islamic state that would implement the new creed of Islam fully. Today there are various places that might act as that Islamic state. And several extremist groups believe that you must create an Islamic state before you can proceed to the next part of the Medinan state, which is jihad .

In this part of the third stage, the belief goes, Muslims are allowed to take part in violence for the sake of Islam. This is what happened in Mohammad's life. It was at Medina that he was first allowed to use violence against the unbelievers, those who had been oppressing him, those who had been persecuting him, and then gradually those people against whom he was allowed to carry out this warfare included most of the unbelievers in the Arab peninsula.

Many of the groups that we hear about on the news believe that they have created this Islamic state and that they are now allowed to carry out this jihad against people in the West and elsewhere. It is here that you find the biggest split among these groups and the strategies that they are willing to follow because once you have decided to carry out violence, the question becomes who exactly you should be carrying this violence out against.
Who Are the Targets?

There are basically three different strategies that have been adopted by these groups. If you look at all the groups out there and who they have decided to attack, the targets fit into one of these three groups.

The first group has decided that we need to attack the "near enemy" first, followed by the "far enemy." The second group has decided to attack the "greater unbelief" first, followed by the "lesser unbelief." The third group has decided to attack the "apostates" first, followed by the "unbelievers." All of these come from the "Method of Mohammad." All of them can be read into the Qur'an, the Hadith, and the Sirah.

The "Near Enemy." Who is the "near enemy" and who is the "far enemy"? This is where you have people disagreeing. When Mohammad was deciding who he was first going to confront with violence, he was surrounded by people who did not support him, and it was those people he was first forced to engage with violence--those people who lived directly around him. Later, he was allowed to carry out violence elsewhere in order to spread the message of Islam.

Who is today's "near enemy" according to these groups that use this particular strategy? It is anyone in the Islamic lands--those who have occupied Islamic lands, those who have taken away Islamic territory, and even the rulers of some of these countries who call themselves Muslims. It encompasses those enemies that are directly inside these countries. They must be taken on first and defeated, and then afterwards, we can spread the message of Islam--without violence if possible, but with violence if necessary--to the rest of the world.

The "Greater Unbelief." The second strategy attacks the "greater unbelief" first, followed by the "lesser unbelief." The "greater unbelief" becomes that major enemy that has worn many guises over the centuries and which was embodied first by the Romans, then by the Greeks, and finally by the United States. The U.S. is considered that "greater unbelief" that must be taken on and defeated, whether its citizens are in Islamic countries or elsewhere. Once they are defeated, it is believed, all the rest of the "unbelievers" will fall into line. Terrorists then believe they can take on the "lesser unbelief"--all the other enemies of their vision of Islam--after the U.S. is gone.

"Apostates." The third strategy attacks the "apostates" first, followed by other "unbelievers." The "apostates," as I mentioned, include the heretics within the Muslim world (e.g., the Shi'a). There are groups that are dedicated to the idea of a systematic, rational strategy to first defeat all the apostates, whether they are the rulers like Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf or whether they are groups of people who follow a vision of Islam that terrorists do not agree with (such as the Shi'a, the Ahmadi or others). The idea is to defeat them first and then go outside of these Islamic countries and take on the rest of the "unbelievers."

If you look at what is going on in the world today, every single one of these terrorist groups subscribes to one of these strategies and uses it in order to pinpoint who and when they will attack.

After the Jihad

After his triumphal stay in Medina, Mohammad was able to leave and return to Mecca and take the city without a fight. It became a part of the Islamic state without a fight or a battle--the doors were open and he was welcomed in.

These people also believe the same thing. They believe that once they begin this jihad and once they set up this Islamic state and carry this fight to the "unbelievers," that all of the places that have been the centers of unbelief in the Islamic world (especially Saudi Arabia) will open up and become part of their Islamic state. The belief insists that one by one, they will all join with the extremists as they show success in other countries.

These strategies define what is happening in the world today. If you look at the attacks that are going on, this is how you can tell precisely which group you are dealing with and which strategy they are following. Listen to what they are saying. I have been amazed by the things they are willing to say, the things they are willing to put on a Web site (in what are called khutab--the preaching on Friday afternoon). Throughout the Islamic world you have people who are willing to say exactly what they believe, even if they are in the most extremist vein. You do not have to translate, decode, or decrypt these things--they are perfectly willing to share their strategies with the rest of the world.

Recent Attacks Explained

I encourage you to take a look at these English jihadi sites and see for yourself. It now makes sense why Madrid was attacked on March 11. After all, the terrorists had been talking about that attack long before anything had happened in Iraq (and long before Spain had decided to go to Iraq). The jihadis were talking about carrying out some sort of huge attack on Spain.

Why? Because Spain has been occupying "Islamic land" for the past 600-700 years. These terrorists believe that they are actually beginning with the "near enemy" by taking on Spain and occupying Andalusia. They believed that by carrying out these attacks they would win over the Muslims within Spain and North Africa, who would then join up with them to return Andalusia to the Islamic fold. From this standpoint, it also makes sense that they do not care about other Muslims being killed To people with this mindset everyone who does not agree with them is an apostate or a heretic. Otherwise, they would have joined up with them. Therefore, it does not matter if other Muslims are killed because in the long run they believe the grand strategic vision and military strategies will eventually bring success.

Using this logic, it makes sense to attack the United States, because if you can destroy the United States (the "greater unbelief"), then terrorists who follow this particular strategy believe they will not only have eliminated their greatest enemy, but will then be able to return in triumph to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and elsewhere and win over the rest of the Islamic world without a fight.

Mary R. Habeck, Ph.D., is an associate professor of history at Yale University.
©2007 The Heritage Foundation


Dr. Habeck refers to the Sirah as the basis of jihadi stratgies. What the are the Sirah?
Dr. Halbeck calls them "sacralized biographies of Mohammad's life."

Q. What is "sacralized?"
A. To make sacred

Now as to the Sirah. Here is what Wikipedia says about them:

Sirah Rasul Allah (Life of the Apostle of God) or Sirat Nabawiyya (Life of the Prophet) (from Arabic سيرة) is the Arabic term used for the various traditional Muslim biographies of Muhammad, from which most historical information about his life and the early period of Islam is derived. The name is often shorted to "Sira" or "Sirah".

In the Arabic language the word seerah comes from saara yaseeru. Linguistically it means to travel or to be on a journey. When we’re talking about someone’s seerah we’re talking about that person’s journey through life. You are talking about the person’s birth, the events surrounding it, his life and his death, and you are also studying the manners and characteristics of that person. In modern times we still call it seerah, like a resume is called a seerah or seerah dhaatihi in the Arabic language.

In Islamic sciences or the Sharia, seerah means the study of the life of the Muhammad. It is the study of his life and all that is related to him.[1]

Muslims believe that these biographies are for the most part accurate portrayals of Muhammad - although some of their reports may be treated with skepticism - and as such they are used to provide the context for interpretation of the Qur'an. On the other hand, Western historians vary in their evaluation of the sira as reliable sources. Some, such as William Montgomery Watt, see the traditional accounts being on the whole reliable; taking exception only with some passages which they view as being devotional literature, intended to glorify Muhammad rather than relating historical information. Other, more sceptical, critics such as Patricia Crone are far less trusting of the sira.

The sira literature include a variety of materials such as political treaties, military enlistments, assignments of officials, etc. which were recorded by successive generations of Muslims. In principle, the biographies of Muhammad would have been assembled from reports of what Muhammad did, just as what he said was recorded in the form of hadith. However, the sirah literature is technically different from hadith literature as it is in general not as concerned with validation through the chain of transmitters (isnad), although in the earliest sira many of the narratives are accompanied by isnads. This is probably due to a number of reasons. First, the story of Muhammad's life was probably quite well-known and frequently re-told amongst Muslims, as well as to new converts, from the early days of Islam. Second, the sira literature is concerned primarily with the narrative of Muhammad's life, whereas the intent of the hadith literature is to assemble his sayings as an authoritative source for Islamic law. The immediate relevance of many hadith sayings to legal debates made it more important that they be accompanied by isnads.

Together the sira and the hadith constitute the sunnah, or prophetic example which has formed the basis of many practices shared by traditional Muslim communities around the world.

Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah is the earliest surviving traditional biography, and was written less than 150 years after Muhammad's death. It survives in the later editions of Ibn Hisham and al-Tabari. There are a few important differences between these, however. For example, al-Tabari includes the controversial episode of the Satanic Verses, while Ibn Hisham omits it. Another of the earliest siras is al-Waqidi's. Several writers are reported to have written siras before Ibn Ishaq, including: Urwah ibn al-Zubayr ibn al-Awwam (a descendant of Asma), who died in 92 AH and whom Ibn Ishaq, al-Waqidi, and at-Tabari are all said to have used as a source, and Abban ibn Uthman ibn Affan (d. 105 AH) and Wahb ibn Munabbih al-Yamani (d. 110 AH). However, their works do not survive.

Ok, so "Together the sira and the hadith constitute the sunnah. What's the Sunnah?

Sunnah(t) ((سنت(سنة) literally means “trodden path”, and therefore, the sunnah of the prophet means “the way of the prophet”. Terminologically, the word ‘Sunnah’ in Sunni Islam means those religious actions that were instituted by Muhammad during the 23 years of his ministry and which Muslims initially received through consensus of companions of Muhammad (Sahaba), and further through generation-to-generation transmission. According to some opinions, sunnah in fact consists of those religious actions that were initiated by Abraham and were only revived by Muhammad.

The question of hadith (Arabic: حديث pl. أحاديث, "words and deeds of Muhammad") falling within the abode of the sunnah is an interesting one, and is highly dependent on the context. In the context of Islamic Law, Imam Malik and the Hanafi scholars differentiate between the Sunnah and the Hadith. Imam Malik, for instance, is supposed to have rejected hadiths that reached him because, according to him, they were against the 'established practice of the people of Medinah. In Shi'a Islam, the word 'Sunnah' means the deeds, sayings and approvals of Muhammad and the twelve Imams who Shi'a Muslims believe were chosen by God to succeed the prophet and to lead mankind in every aspect of life.

In the context of biographical records of Muhammad, sunnah indeed often stands synonymous to hadith as most of the personality traits of Muhammad are known through descriptions about him, his sayings and his actions.

The sunnah is the secondary source of Islamic law after the Qur'an.

The sunnah's meaning is based on context and this has often gone unappreciated in recent times, leading to misunderstanding and rifts among Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Some things not explained in detail in the Qur'an are clarified in the Sunnah and Hadith of the Prophet. The prophetic example of sunnah, in terms of worship and law, is considered to be obligatory by most Muslims. A few Qur'an Alone Muslims follow only the Qur'an and reject all sunnah and hadith as sources for Divine Guidance or religious law. Many advocates of liberal movements within Islam claim that prophetic sunnah should be followed in matters of ritual and worship, but may be questioned in the case of Islamic law.

The Sunnah is the way or deeds of Muhammad and validated by the consensus of companions of Muhammad (Sahaba) in Sunni Islam, and the way or deeds of Muhammad and the twelve Imams in Shi'a Islam, while Hadith is a collection of the narrations and approvals. The two words are sometimes taken to be interchangeable, referring to the Traditions, but difference lies depending on the context. Hadiths are classified according their status, in relation to their texts (matn) and their chain of transmitters (isnad). Scholars of Hadiths have studied the narrations from their context (matn) as well as from their transmitters (isnad) in order to establish what is true and what is false from these hadiths. These were influential in the development of early Muslim philosophy and modern scientific citation.

Through research on the transmitters of Hadith (isnad), scholars of the science of Hadith came up with the system of knowing the different categories of Hadith, and how to evaluate the text (matn) in order to establish if the text is correct, good, weak, or false. There is a tradition both of historical biography (Ilm ar-Rijal) of Muhammad and of validating hadith — isnad or “backing”.

Sunnah, on the other hand, is established through the practical examples and not via these texts in Islamic law, but mostly through the hadith texts as far as prophetic biography, traits and examples are concerned. For example, prayers, both individual and congregatory, were taught by Muhammad to his followers by practical example and since then have been transmitted generation-to-generation through practical learning. Their documentation in form of Hadith only happened later, but their actual learning and transmission has always been through practical means. On the other hand, many traits about Muhammad, such as his style, his habits and his dealings with others, is known primarily through hadith.

Sunnah and fiqh

Sunnah must be made distinct from both fiqh, which are opinions of the classical jurists, and the Qur’an, which is revelation, not record. It is one of many terms in Islam which are difficult to translate out of Arabic without loss of meaning. History further complicates the translation since different assumptions about sunnah dominated Islam in past eras. See The Second Era of Ijitihad

Early Sunni scholars

Early Sunni scholars often considered the sunnah as being equivalent to the sira, as the hadith were poorly validated, and contemporary commentators on Muhammad’s life were better known. As the hadith came to be better documented, and the scholars who validated them gained in prestige, for some scholars, the sunnah came to be known mostly through the hadith, especially as variant or fictional biographies of Muhammad spread, in part from the Christian world, some of them very slanderous. Classical Islam often equates the sunnah with the hadith.

Modern Sunni scholars

Modern Sunni scholars are beginning to examine both the sira and the hadith, with an eye to justifying modifications to the fiqh, or jurisprudence, which was largely drawn from past interpretations of both. The sunnah in one form or another would retain its central role in providing both a moral example (sira) and ethical guidance via Muhammad’s own social rules (hadith) in Sunni Islam, and via Muhammad and the twelve Imams in Shi'a Islam.

Absolutist rejection of hadith and sunnah

Qur'an Alone Muslims reject the alleged sunnah of the prophet Muhammad in accordance with the Qur'an's teaching that the sole duty of Muhammad was to the deliver the Qur'an, as per:

42:48 "You (Muhammad) have no duty except delivering the message."

13:40 "(Muhammad) Your only duty is delivering, we will call them to account."

5:99 "The messenger (Muhammad) has no function except delivery of the message."

Furthermore, they observe Muhammad's only message as the Qur'an, as per:

21:10 "We have sent down to you a scripture containing your message. Do you not understand?"

69:44-46 "Had he (Muhammad) uttered any other teachings. We would have punished him. We would have stopped the revelations to him."

Traditional View of Prophet Sunnah

Traditional Muslims however, believe that verses such as "A similar (favour have ye already received) in that We have sent among you an Messenger (Muhammad) of your own, delivering to you Our Verses, and purifying you, and teaching you the Book and the Wisdom, and in new knowledge." (2:151) justify the Sunnah. Many of these sunnah had their roots coming from Abraham as it is mentioned in Quran, "and follow the Nation of Abraham, the monotheist, and he was never one of those who set up partners, and God chose Abraham as his friend" (4:125).

Had the Prophet's only role been to deliver the verses, the remaining parts of the verse: "purifying you, and teaching you the Book and the Wisdom..." would not have been there. The traditional view holds that the above verses imply that Muhammad's mission is to deliver the message as well as teaching the explanation of the Book (the Quran) and the Wisdom behind it to the people; it is not just to relate the verses of the Quran and leave.

In addition, the verse:"Ye have indeed in the Messenger of God (Muhammad) the best of examples, for any one whose hope is in God and the Final Day, and who engages much in the Praise and Remembrance of God." (33:21), further emphasizes that Muhammad's example is divinely inspired and to be followed by Muslims.

According to Traditional Muslims, the point being emphasized in the verses quoted by the Quran Alone argument is that Muhammad is not to be worshipped or deified and that his role is to deliver the Quran, complete with explanation and guidelines on how to live the Quran - guidelines which have been preserved in his Sunnah.

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