Brian Fishman in his book The Master Plan, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, And The Jihadi Strategy For Final Victory argued that two of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s core beliefs were that most Muslims were not following their religion and that not only the leaders, but the rank and file of his organization could determine who was a true believer and who was not. Takfir, or apostate, was used extensively by Zarqawi’s followers and the Islamic State to justify attacks upon other Muslims. Fishman believed this would eventually come to undermine the group because what would stop its members from eventually accusing the Islamic State of being takfir?
A recent article in Foreign Affairs, “The Bloody Split Within ISIS,” found this threat of an internal split over who was a true Muslim within the organization and who was not already started. Some IS members began accusing others of being kafirs, infidels, because they believed the group was not complying with its ideology. Abu Omar al-Kuwaiti for example, an IS judge, accused the leadership of being kafirs because they did not destroy a sufi grave in Raqqa, Syria. Kuwaiti was later executed in 2015 for accusing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of being a kafir. Several other judges were detained at the same time perhaps for having similar beliefs. Some IS members accused non-Arabic speaking members of just listening to the rhythms of nasheeds, which would make them only music, which was banned. Some others were members of the hisbah, religious police, and were mad that their decisions were dismissed by the courts. The Islamic State eventually saw the threat their own ideas were posing and cracked down on these dissenters. Many were arrested, jailed and executed. Now that the group has been defeated on the battlefield and is in full retreat, these ideas may grow. The organization’s problems could be blamed upon takfirs and kafirs who did not follow the “true” beliefs of Islam. More dissent, splits and in fighting could occur as a result. This is another issue that should be closely watched in the future to see what will happen to the Islamic State as it attempts to rebuild.
Fishman, Brian, The Master Plan, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, And The Jihadi Strategy For Final Victory, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2016
Middle East Monitor, “ISIS executes one of its Sharia judges,” 3/10/15
Mironova, Vera, Sergatskova, Ekaterina, and Alhamad, Karam, “The Bloody Split Within ISIS,” Foreign Affairs, 12/8/17