The Non Illusive
And Motivational Ideology Behind Jihadist Attacks In The 21st
By Brig Barker
Given the increased media exposure to ISIS and its activities
in Western countries, the question of motive continues to plague
society. Why would an individual attack others in such a diabolical
and barbaric way? Society is now well past accepting that ISIS
and those inspired by their ideology will continue to kill others,
but the question remains why. The media displays or denotes
that another individual has been beheaded, crucified, or deliberately
run over by a tank and society rightfully asks the question
as to why. The truth is, the attack itself albeit horrific in
nature, is only the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface lies
the deeply rooted cause that has led to the ostensibly unexplainable
action. Understanding the hidden body of this iceberg provides
the full explanation for all Jihadist attacks in western society
since the 1998 Embassy Bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
What is the cause behind these attacks and why does Western society
re-question the motive after each attack. The cause however is
already known and understood by those in the Middle East. It is
talked about on Arab television on a daily basis. It is regularly
discussed in the streets amongst those that live in the Middle
East. In fact, the majority of those living in the Islamic world
know exactly what the motive is behind the ongoing attacks and
further understand its ideology. This purportedly illusive ideology
by western standards is well known and well understood in many
other regions of the world. At its baseline, this ideology is
deeply rooted in Islamic doctrine and the subjectivity of scholars
and non-scholars. This ideology sits on a shelf as an extra-denominational
belief system that is followed by a small percentage of Muslim
Yet this small percentage has greatly impacted the world of terrorism
in recent history. This small percentage has in fact shut down
economies, terrorized and scarred individuals and families, and
changed the world forever. This deeply rooted ideology has established
itself as a force to be reckoned with all around the world. On
a practical level this ideology as promulgated by ISIS is now
entering the lymph nodes of western society through the stream
of returning foreign fighters.
This new bleak reality is here to stay and must be understood.
The good news is that once western society understands this ideology,
then plans and strategies can be developed and implemented to
engage and disrupt its effects. This article will clearly define
this otherwise illusive ideology and further identify well known
indicators for those with a potential predisposition towards Jihad.
What is this ideology? It's an ideology that lives just outside
the moderate and majority Muslim world. It steps away from the
four standard Sunni schools of jurisprudence (hereinafter referred
to denominations) identified as Hannafi, Shafi'i, Maliki, and
Hanbali. This ideology of concern which also is in fact the root
cause of Islamic terrorism today is known as the Salafi/Takfiri
belief system. Those that follow this ideology believe that the
mainstream denominations were touched and influenced by man and
as such are "innovations" (Bida) not pure in nature.
As depicted in this example once one converts to Islam the majority
(85%) choose to follow the Sunni sect. Within Sunni Islam there
are four mainstream denominations also known as Usul al Fiqh or
Mathahabs (Schools of Jurisprudence). The majority of Sunni Muslims
follow and practice one of these denominations and as such have
no connection nor inclination towards Jihad. The color coding
represents the inherent moderation of these denominations except
for Hanbali that can sometimes be a stepping off point towards
the Salafi/Takfiri realms.
Overall, these denominations are generally aligned geographically
and sometimes are historically country specific. For example,
the Hanafi school is followed by the majority of Sunni Muslims
and is deeply rooted in the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia.
The Shafi'i school is followed by many in the Horn of Africa,
the Middle East, and coastal parts of Asia. The Maliki school
is found most predominantly in North Africa and the Gulf region
of the Middle East.
The Hanbali school is the smallest, most strict school, and is
mainly followed by Saudi Arabia. It was greatly propagated by
Ibn Abd Al Wahab and the Al Saud family in the 18th to the 20th
century. Again, although Hanbali is a forerunner towards the Salafi/Takfiri
ideology, it is separate in and of itself. In regards to Islamic
terrorism today, the majority of attacks take place by those within
the Salafi/Takfiri realm and more specifically of the Takfiri
bent. Can one move between the various denominations? Certainly.
However, the majority of the Islamic world remains in one of the
more moderate schools identified as Hanafi, Shafi'i, or the Maliki
Fiqh. Hanbali in particular remains a denomination but can be
a precursor towards the redline Salafi/Takfiri ideology.
Departure from Moderation
So what is the definition
of Salafiism? Salafiism is the ideology or movement wherein one
the Way of the Salaf. The Way
of the Salaf essentially indicates that one follows the teachings
of the first three generations of Islam. This belief system
is derived from a Hadith wherein the Prophet Mohammad stated, ""The
best of people is my generation, then those who come after them,
then those who come after them (i.e. the first three generations
of Muslims)." Further, followers of the Salaf are known
internally as followers of the "Pious Predecessors".
Salafiism in and of itself is the ideology that has found itself
as the label for all things Jihad. In the Middle East, those that
are radical are considered Salafis by the moderate Muslims. The
Salafi belief system (Manhaj) is an ideology but without an attached
action arm. The action arm is where the teetering point of Jihad
actually lies. If the Salafi never commits to carrying out action
in furtherance of Jihad then it remains a low grade fever of radicalization.
If the Salafi actually takes action based on his belief system
then he becomes a Takfiri.
The Takfiris are those with a Salafi belief system and commit
to action. Al Takfir as a concept is defined as excommunication
wherein Takfiris declare others non-believers or indifels. Examples
of Takfiris are members of ISIS, Al Qa'ida, Boko Haram, and Al
Shabaab. These groups and those that follow the Salafi-Takfiri
mindset believe in a very strict circle of micro-theology. They
further believe that those outside the circle are infidels. The
Takfiris in particular not only believe those outside the circle
are infidels but further believe action must be taken to resolve
Infidels must be targeted for Jihad if they don't convert to
this ideology or pay a tax identified as Jizya. The Takfiris find
their origins in the teachings of those such as Ibn Taymiyya,
Ibn Abd Al Wahab, Maulana Maududi, and Sayed Qutub. Although the
ideology is a deep ocean, much of the thought system is rooted
in an exclusive belief system about Sharia law and the definition
of those that are non-believers. Further, the Salafi-Takfiris
believed they are the "Saved Sect", escape judgment,
and are the true followers. They additionally believe that Islam
is a way of life and that it must be lived under the concept of
Al Wala Wal Bara (loyalty to the true followers and disavowal
of the nonbelievers).
In the end, the radical ideology of Islamic terrorists must be
identified and better understood. The majority of the Muslim world
does not follow this strict belief system but yet in fact can
recognize this departure from mainstream Islam. Further, indicators
are almost always present and recognizable in an individual prior
to an attack. Remaining aware and cognizant of these potential
indicators is critical and assist society as well as law enforcement
authorities in preempting or thwarting Jihadist attacks.
About the Author
Brig Barker is a retired FBI Special Agent who worked counterterrorism
for the majority of his career. He completed numerous tours in
Africa and the Middle East and is considered a subject matter
expert in the area of Islamic radicalization. Prior to the FBI
he spent five years as an Army officer. He now works in the area
of global security, assessment, and training.
This is only a partial version
of the article published in the latest Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland
for the full version of the article and many others like this,
please use our IACSP membership form to join the IACSP.
Get one year of magazines and newsletters for the low price of
$65 Click Here!