Syrian rebels and Lebanon’s Islamists dismiss ISIS Khilafah

ISIS fighters in Syria.

There has been a near consensus of rejection amongst Syrian rebel factions and Lebanon’s Islamists over the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham’s (ISIS) declaration of Khilafah and the appointment of the group’s leader as the “caliph”.  

The surprise announcement came on Sunday, as the Al Qaeda splinter group now called the “Islamic state” announced the resurrection of the Khilafah, which was abolished by Kemal Ataturk in 1924.

Majority of Syria’s rebel factions regarded ISIS’ caliphate as “null and void”.

In Lebanon, prominent Islamist groups have disregarded the group’s Islamic state as “divisive” and “heresy”.

Syrian rebels

A board of Syrian rebels, which included the main Islamist factions, said on Monday that the creation of a caliphate by ISIS was “null and void”.

“We see that the announcement by the rejectionists of a caliphate is null and void, legally and logically,” the groups said in a critical statement referring to ISIS.

The signatories included Syria’s biggest rebel coalition – the Islamic Front, Majlis al-Shura Mujahideen al-Sharqiya which is an alliance in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor near Iraq that includes the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra.

The statement, signed by the religious leadership of each rebel group, went on to say that the ISIS’ announcement “changes nothing in terms of how we perceive them or how we will deal with them”.

The statement also warns Muslims and all jihadist factions from putting their capabilities at the service of ISIS.

Rebel fighters belonging to al-Sham Brigade in the north-eastern city of Deir Ezzor said ISIS’ announcement of a khilafah was divisive and a bid to “abort the blessed revolutions in Syria and Iraq”.

Syrian rebels
Syrian rebels

In 2013, Syria’s rebels initially welcomed ISIS among their ranks in their bid to remove President Bashar al-Assad, but they turned against the group because of its systematic abuses and its hunger for power.

ISIS controls Raqa province in northern Syria, large areas of oil-rich Deir Ezzor on the Iraq border, and parts of Aleppo in the north.

Their gains in Iraq boosted its confidence, mainly because it has captured large amounts of heavy weapons, including US-made armoured vehicles from fleeing Iraqi troops.

Activists in Raqa on Monday reported a major military parade by ISIS fighters in the city, during which they displayed off heavy weapons, including missiles captured in Iraq and then transported into Syria.

Lebanon’s Islamists

Head of the political bureau of al-Jamaa al-Islamiyah in Beirut, Azzam al-Ayoubi said: “We do not support declaring the caliphate this way. We actually consider it part of the project undermining the Islamist movement in the region, directly or indirectly.”

“The caliphate was declared by an organisation that has a lot of questions around it, especially in terms of its performance, as it distorts Islam and reduces it to a state that alienates people from religion.”

He believes it is unlikely that any Islamist organisation or movement in Lebanon would support this call by ISIS, but expects that some individuals will pledge allegiance to it.

Azzam al-Ayoubi of al-Jamaa al-Islamiya.
Azzam al-Ayoubi of al-Jamaa al-Islamiya.

Al Ayoubi added, “What happened is heretical and illogical and the call has no basis or underlying foundations. How can one declare the establishment of the caliphate and the caliph is a person not known to people and can not walk down the street?”

Opposition to ISIS’ declaration of Khilafah was also adopted by the Tawhid Islamic Movement. Its secretary general, Sheikh Bilal Shaaban argued that establishing Khilafah is “something that every Muslim wishes to see, as long as this caliphate values human beings and protects their lives, religions, dignity and honour because the Islamic project is a project of life and justice, not a project of killing and injustice. Is that what is happening today?”

Shaaban said: “Support for the call to establish a caliphate will come from individuals only. I hope that it is not a manifestation of the competition and ongoing conflict between ISIS on one hand and al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra on the other.”

The director of the central media office of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Lebanon, Osman Bakhach said: “Resurrecting the caliphate should not be accomplished through blood, charges of apostasy and explosions.

“We are invested in the question of the Islamic caliphate and are advocates of the idea. We devised for this end a certain approach – the prophetic approach – calling for a state that opens its arms to all people, Muslims and others, including Christians and Jews, not to be a state where Muslims can not stand each other and fight amongst each other. That is something we categorically reject.”

He added: “We do not approve of the methods and practices of some Islamist groups today. Intra-fighting, in our opinion, is not the right way to bring about the caliphate. Threatening those opposed to the establishment of the caliphate in this way is improper. Establishing the Islamic state is not accomplished by considering every dissenter an apostate whose killing is deemed lawful. In this way, ISIS proclaims itself both adversary and arbiter.”

Lebanon’s Salafis

The rejection of ISIS’ announcement of a khilafah was not restricted to movements within political Islam; Lebanon’s Salafis also took the same stance.

Safwan al-Zoubi, director of al-Ukhuwah or Brotherhood Association believes that the declaration of the caliphate “does not fulfil all its preconditions, specifically, establishing power and authority over the land (people), naming Ahl al-Hal wa al- Aqd, i.e., those who have binding authority to elect or depose a caliph on behalf of the Muslim community and citizens pledging their allegiance. These necessary conditions are not available”.

He added: “This was a mistake and a hasty step because it separates and divides Muslims instead of uniting them. It is not right for the caliph to impose himself and wait for the people to pledge allegiance to him. Rather he should wait for a decision by Ahl al-Hal wa al-Aqd.”

Nabil Rahim of the Association of Muslim Scholars
Nabil Rahim of the Association of Muslim Scholars

Prominent Salafi scholar, Nabil Rahim of the Association of Muslim Scholars said with regards to ISIS’ declaration of the caliphate: “The foundations for establishing the Islamic caliphate do not exist yet. In addition, they do not have the right to announce a caliphate except after consulting with Ahl al-Hal wa al-Aqd in their region and this did not happen.

“This step is an exercise in futility that skipped over intermediary stages and did damage to the Islamist movement.”

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