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Al-Qaeda – ISIS’ Debate over Targeting Zaidi Mosques in Yemen

By Dr. Haytham Mouzahem*

“Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula”(AQAP), based in Yemen, has significantly denied its involvement in Sanaa’s suicide bombs in the Shia Zaidi mosques, which are frequented by followers of the Houthi “Ansarullah” group, saying it is against its principles to target mosques. The organization announced in a statement that it “abides by the instructions of Sheikh Ayman Zawahiri, to avoid targeting mosques and markets… to protect the lives of innocent Muslims.”

While ISIS – Yemen Branch has promptly claimed responsibility for the suicide explosions that took place on March 20, 2015 and killed 140 people and wounded 345, including many children.

“The Islamic State in Iraq and Sham”(ISIS) said in a statement: “This operation executed by the soldiers of the Caliphate State is but the tip of the iceberg that is coming against the enemies of Allah, his religion and his Guardians… five knights of martyrdom wearing explosive belts executed a blessed operation, facilitated by Allah’s will. Four of them blew up the dens and headquarters of the polytheist Houthis in Badr and Hashhoush. The fifth one turned to another den in Saada harvesting the heads of infidels…”

The explosions provoked a controversy between al-Qaeda and ISIS where the supporters of al-Qaeda accused the ISIS of being reckless in shedding bloods.

Mawlawi Abdullah, one of “Ansar al-Sharia”, al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen posted on his twitter’s account: “They cannot target ordinary Muslims who frequent mosques, spilling Muslims’ blood is forbidden by Allah. They should make a distinction”. “They cannot target mosques and souks(markets), killing Muslims on the basis of “Tataruss”(shielding), this is baseless, and who wants to know about the issue of “Tataruss”(shielding) must read Ibn Taymiyyah’s opinion regarding this issue”, he added.

Tataruss”(shielding) means that the enemies use Muslim captured as a shield to protect themselves and obstruct the Muslims’ army advances.
Thus, some Muslim scholars permitted targeting the enemies “the infidels”, although they are shieldieng with Muslims that may be killed, under the necessity case.

Abu Maria al-Qahtani – the legislative commander of al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, affirmed that the dispute with ISIS is systematic not political or over administrative issues. Al-Qahtani explained on his tweets that the disapproval of the mosques’ bombings by ‘Ansarul Sharia’ is considred as an advanced step, legal and practical message to all the supporters of ISIS. He added: “This shows that our Mujahideen (fighters) brothers are responsible in terms of shedding bloods… when Mujahideen denounce any issue rejected by the rules of Sharia, they will be able to show, in public, that the criminal actions of ISIS are not related to religion and that ISIS is accusing others of infidelity on political basis and it is blewing up souks”.

ISIS justifies the suicide bombs against the Houthi mosques as they are “Enemies of Allah, his religion and his Guards”, describing the Zaydi Mosques as “Dens of polytheist Houthis”, and their Imams as “Heads of the infidel Imams”.

ISIS accuses the Muslim Shia sects including Zaidis of “polytheism and infidelity.” However, Zaydis are considered by Sunnis as the most moderate Shia school and the closest to them.

ISIS’ Affiliated blogs published an article signed by “Noah” in retaliation to the statement issued by al-Qaeda branch in Yemen. The article showed disturbance of al-Qaeda’s statement on the bombings and its position of disapproval under its leader Ayman Zawaheri’s instructions of “avoiding to target mosques and innocent people”. Noah added that “targeting mosques and innocents is forbidden in Sharia of Allah but Mujahideen are allowed to do that in well known and limited situations according to books of fiqh. However, the real target was not the mosque or innocent people, it was the den where polytheist Houthis gather to practice their infidel rituals and draw their plans against Sunnis.”

Noah believes that al-Qaeda’s disapproval aimed at taking advantage of the event in order to deal blow to ISIS advancements in Yemen. Noah referred to al-Qaeda’s previous bomb attacks against Houthis in Yemen.

The question is what is the truth behind al-Qaeda’s disapproval of the bombings? Is it just because the mosques include Sunni civilians and children?

Mohammed Alllouche, a researcher in Islamic Movements and writer of “ISIS and its Extensions”, told Middle East Eye, that “When al-Qaeda organization was founded, it was not among its priorities to be involved in the issue of sharia position towards Shiite sects. Al-Qaeda was concerned mainly of facing the US-Western aggression on Arab world. Therefore, before Abu Musaab Zarqawi takes over in Iraq, al-Qaeda was not concerned of issuing a judgment agains Shia. Al-Zarqawi was the first Qaeda leader who allowed targeting the “infidel Shia’ in the political process in 2004, and later on he allowed to target the ordinary Shia.”

Consequently, al-Qaeda and ISIS refer to fatwas of Sheikh Taqî ad-Dîn Aḥmad ibn Taymiyyah (1263 – 1328) in considering the Shia infidels and heretics.

Allouche added that “ISIS is a figment of al-Qaeda organization, as it adopted the same ideology of Zarqawi. Even more, it added more extreme ideologies to it, considering all Shia sects – without exception – as infidels. Both al-Qaeda and ISIS considered Shia as infidels, according to their intellectual assets. However, al-Qaeda mentioned in its ideology guide that “al-Rafidah(The Shia) is a converting and polytheist sect.”

The Organization explained its religious stand based on the views of the Saudi Sheikh Ali Al-Khodeir who believed that nowadays Shia are “Rafidah”, including the Twelver Shia, the Ismailis, the Nusairyya(The Allawitte), and the Druze. He claimed that “These four sects consider the Family of the Prophet Muhamed as gods, seeking their help. Therefore, they are non-Muslims, polytheists and infidels.”

As for Zaidis, Al-Khodeir explained that only those who “sacrifice for others or seek help from others without Allah, are considered as polyseits and infidels. While those who were scholars of theology they were viewed as Mu’tazila”.

However, Salafist consider Mu’tazila as infidels.

Al-Qaeda has divided the Shia into three categories:

1- The Exaggerating Shia, they were considered as infidels, such as Ismailis, Allawites and their counterparts;

2- The Zaidis, the majority of them are from Yemen. They are considered closer to Muslim but having differences with them;

3- The Twelver Shia, most of them are in Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East region.

Allouche believed that political issues have been interacted with ideology at the Islamic Sunni movements, pointing out that most of the Fatwas against Shia sects were extracted from Ibn Taymiyya’s view in his Book “al-Fatawa” and others. However, who examines Ibn Taymiyya’s views finds discripancy in his fatwas, feeling confused about Taymiyya’s final opinion with regard of Shia.

Indoubtdly, al-Qaeda and ISIS refer to Wahhabi Salafism founded by Ibn Taymiyya and followed by Sheikh Mohammed ben Abdelwahhab(1703 – 1792),
the founder of Wahabism in in the Arab Peninsula which is called today “Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” and ruled by the house of Al-Saud.

Ibn Taymiyya stated that Shia are Rafidah, describing them as atheists and hypocrites. Moreover, he encouraged fighting and killing the “atheist Shia rather than fighting the Khawarij”.

Consequently, the dispute between al-Qaeda and ISIS regarding Shia is linked to their political priorities and interests and not to their religious doctrine towars the Shia.

Haytham Mouzahem

*Haytham Mouzahem is the executive director of Beirut Center for Middle East Studies. Mouzahem, PhD in Philosophy and Islamic Studies, is a Lebanese scholar, analyst and researcher specializing in Middle Eastern and Islamic affairs. He is a regular contributor to Al-monitor, Al Hayat, Albalad and as well as Arab political and academic journals. He has also written for The Daily Star, Almustaqbal, Albayan, An-Nahar and Jane’s Intelligence Review. He i’s a political commentator and a columnist and appears on many TV channels. Mouzahem has published two books: The Israeli Labor Party, 1968-1999 (Arabic, 2001) and The Conflict Over the Middle East (2013), and contributed to ten others. Two more of his own, The Evolution of the Shi’ite Marja’eya and How the revolutions occur, will be published soon.

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