For and against: Should Muslims from the West do jihad in Syria?

Syria's brutal war has claimed up to 250,000 lives

With increasing reports of European Muslims travelling to do jihad in Syria against Bashar al Assad’s regime, deputy editor of 5Pillars Dilly Hussain goes head to head with 5Pillars editor, Roshan Muhammed Salih, to argue for and against the notion of “foreign jihad” in Syria. 


Whilst I am not an advocate of tyrant dictators being removed by force or an armed insurrection as this is not the Prophetic way to establish an Islamic state, one could empathise with Muslims from the West leaving to fight in Syria, writes Dilly Hussain.

I will briefly go over some of the justifications provided by those who have left the UK, Europe and the US to join the Syrian rebels in their fight against the brutal regime of Bashar al Assad.

  • The initial anti-government protests that began in Dar’aa in 2011 were peaceful until the Syrian army and security services were ordered to shoot on sight. This turned the uprising from peaceful to violent, where Muslims had to defend themselves or be killed by the regime.
  • The Muslim Ummah is one unified Ummah. Prophet Muhammad (saw) clearly forbade nationalism and tribalism, therefore nation state borders are irrelevant when going to the aid of your brethren. Assad’s plain clothes Alawi Shabiha are the most vicious and primitive of the pro-regime forces. They rape, murder and inhumanely torture children, women and the elderly.
  • Many would argue it is a fight against the Alawi Shabiha, not the Shia population. Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and the Russians are helping Assad, including Druze, separatists Kurds and Shia militias from Iraq. Why the double standards when Muslims leave the West to help the rebels who are far more under-resourced in terms of weaponry and manpower compared to regime forces?
  • If we are to go by the premise that it’s the responsibility of “Syrians alone” to deal with Assad, then why wasn’t a fuss made when Muslims from the West left to fight in Afghanistan during the Cold War and Libya? If the issue is only a “Syrian” issue, then why do the same critics bang on about Palestine and other oppressed/occupied Muslim lands?
  • The fight against Assad’s regime began as a defensive jihad for survival, and till now, it still is. A struggle against a brutal dictator who many if not all Sunni Muslims regard as a disbeliever outside the folds of Islam.
  • Many of the Muslims who have left the UK/West did not join the rebels for sectarian reasons. They would argue the war in Syria is between clear camps of good and evil, truth and falsehood, the oppressed and the oppressor, not Sunni and Shia.
  • Those who have joined the Syrian rebels have not joined the western-backed and secular orientated Syrian National Council (SNC) or the Fress Syrian Army (FSA), but the Islamist groups who desire an Islamic government post-Assad. These factions are ardent opponents of Western military intervention, are hostile towards Israel, and want to rule by Shariah.
  • As for those who argue that “foreign jihadis” are indirect or unknowing agents fighting a war which will only advance Western hegemonic interests, their sincerity and intentions are only for Allah (swt) to judge. They may well be aware of the West’s ulterior motives in Syria, but have the understanding that ultimately victory comes from Allah (swt), and not the US, UK, Russia or China.
  • Many of those who have left are educated (many university students and graduates) or working professionals, some initially went as aid workers. This is a testimony that they are not Western backed/funded “radicals” affiliated to Al Qaeda or ISIS, but men who left the comforts of their lives to join the struggle against tyranny and oppression.
  • Regardless of whether you’re Sunni or Shia, it is well known that Allah (swt) and Prophet Muhammad (saw) clearly stated in numerous ayat and hadith that the Muslim Ummah is a unified body – artificial Sykes-Picot borders have no relevance when helping Muslims who are being slaughtered indiscriminately.

The Prophet (saw) said: “The Muslim Ummah is a unique Ummah among the whole of mankind: Their land is one, their war is one, their peace is one, their honour is one and their trust is one.” (Sahih Muslim)


Like many Muslims I used to have a very romantic idea about European Muslims going abroad and fighting jihad in defence of Islam, writes Roshan Muhammed Salih.

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After all, what could be more meritorious than sacrificing the life of this world to become a martyr in defence of your brothers and sisters and your deen?

But over the years I have changed my opinion largely because of my own experiences as a reporter covering wars in the Muslim world, and in particular because of my experiences with foreign jihadis in Iraq and Libya.

And while I still, of course, hold the Islamic concept of jihad in high esteem, I am increasingly sceptical about whether much of what passes off as jihad in modern history – for example in 1980s Afghanistan or today’s Syria – are in fact real jihads.

So in brief this is why I oppose European Muslims going to fight in Syria:

Firstly, my experience of foreign jihadis is that they may well be full of good intentions but they are mainly naive young men who have lost their way in life and are looking for some sort of redemption.

They are getting into a situation they don’t understand and often against the will of the locals. While the locals realise that they will have to live with other communities after the war is over, foreign jihadis will for the most part go home, so aren’t as concerned about the mess they leave behind. Therefore, some of the worst atrocities on the battlefield tend to be committed by foreigners.

Secondly, foreign jihadis are ultimately fighting someone else’s war. They were used as tools by the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI in the 1980s, and they are being used as tools by Western intelligence agencies and their proxies in the fight against Bashar al Assad.

Now I realise the jihadis would say they are independent of the West and its proxies, but the reality is that without Western/Saudi/Qatari/Turkish help, there would be no effective “jihad” in Syria. If  Turkey and Jordan close the borders and Qatar and Saudi stop the financing it’s simply game over.

So the question is; can a legitimate jihad be fought alongside an illegitimate jihad? I don’t think it can. A legitimate jihad is well-organised, fought under a legitimate and Islamic leadership, with discipline and self restraint. A jihad which is capable of building rather than just destroying.

So while Muslims from the West may well start out thinking they are fighting tyranny and injustice, the question is: are they simply fighting to advance Western geopolitical interests wittingly or unwittingly?

Thirdly, surely these Muslims could do much better work advancing the cause of Islam back home by bringing up families and doing da’wah in places they were born, and understand rather than fighting in countries they don’t.

Lastly, I think the lessons of history teach us that we should think twice before embarking on jihad. Just look at Afghanistan now. Is it any better after the CIA-sponsored jihad of the 80s? No, it’s one of the poorest countries in the world and is still at war.

Just look at Syria – is it any nearer to Khilafah after two years of Western and Khaleeji/Turkish sponsored jihad? No, it has been reduced to rubble, is a sectarian nightmare, and risks a regional or even global confrontation.

To conclude, I think Eurpean Muslims in Syria may well have good intentions but ultimately they are fighting a war in which they are pawns in a larger game they don’t understand. They have no ability to affect the outcome of the struggle there and could even make things much worse. And of course, once the West and its proxies are done with them, they will kill them or stick them in Gitmo.

@RmSalih @DillyHussain88

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