Even though killing Muslims violates Islamic law, no imam has yet called for a Day of Rage over this crime.
The young students at the Yobe State College of Agriculture in northeastern Nigeria are mostly Muslim. But at least fifty of them are dead and some two dozen or more are injured after a murderous attack by Boko Haram jihadis in the wee hours of the morning on 29 September 2013.
Looking at this from the perspective of Islamic doctrine, Boko Haram (meaning “[Western] books are forbidden”) would appear to have transgressed directly against the Qur’an itself, where “killing [a Muslim] without right” is expressly forbidden. As of this writing, though, no Muslim imam has yet called for a Day of Rage over this crime.
The Qur’an says in Surah 5:32 (quoting from the Jewish Talmud Sanhedrin 37a):
On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them our messengers with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land.
In other words, as explained in the Tafsir Ibn Kathir, whoever sheds the blood of an innocent (that is, a Muslim who is not guilty of adultery, apostasy, ‘mischief in the land,’ or murder), it is as though he has slain the whole of mankind.
Reliance of the Traveler: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law relies on the Islamic school of jurisprudence founded in the 9th century by Abu ʿAbdillah Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi‘i (known as Imam Shafi’i) and states that “killing without right” is an enormity—a very great sin in Islam.
For any familiar with the history of Islamic warfare, though, it will be clear that the injunction about Muslims not killing Muslims has been honored at least as often in the breach as not. For instance, it will be recalled that in 2005, U.S. intelligence forces intercepted a letter from al-Qa’eda’s then-number two leadership figure, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to al-Qa’eda’s man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The message from AQ Central to its bloodthirsty Iraqi field commander focused on the expected eventual withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq. Al-Zawahiri was very much concerned that al-Zarqawi’s videotaped beheadings and attacks against Shi’ite Muslims would put Islam in general and al-Qa’eda in particular in a bad light, preventing them from winning the “hearts and minds” in what al-Zawahiri perceptively spoke of as the “battlefield of the media.” He warned al-Zarqawi that "[t]he Muslim populace who love and support you will never find palatable ... the scenes of slaughtering the hostages…”
So, in this case, it wasn’t that al-Qa’eda was worried so much about violating the Islamic injunction against the killing of Muslims by other Muslims, but rather that they might lose the public relations competition.
The case of U.S. Army Major Nidal Hassan, who’d been guided and mentored by another American Muslim jihadi, the al-Qa’eda operative Anwar al-Awlaki, was different. Major Hassan massacred thirteen U.S. troops and injured nearly three dozen more at Ft. Hood, Texas in November 2009.
He made it quite clear during his 2013 court martial that he was motivated to kill by his own sense of obligation to jihad as a Muslim. Indeed, his business card was imprinted with “SOA” for “Soldier Of Allah.”
Critically in this context, Hassan did not want to deploy to Afghanistan, because as a Muslim and a jihadi, he would have been contributing there to the U.S. mission, which involved the killing of Muslims without right (according to Islamic Law).
Hassan also decided to gun down his fellow soldiers that day because they were at the Ft. Hood processing center in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan, where they would have taken part, whether actively or in support positions, in what Islamic doctrine holds is the killing of Muslims without right.
Perhaps in part due to their closer association with al-Qa’eda Central (AQ Central) and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the al-Shabaab jihadis who recently slaughtered more than sixty men, women and children at the Westgate shopping mall in downtown Nairobi, Kenya took exceptional measures to separate out Muslims from non-Muslims or kuffar (a word which, as Bill Warner points out, means so much more than merely one who does not believe in Islam, but connotes additionally a willful evil-doer whose failure to believe merits not just eternal damnation but “torture, hatred, death, ridicule, rape, enslavement, political domination, and deception” in this life as well).
The al-Shabaab terrorists stormed the shopping center mid-day on September 21, when it was full of shoppers, both Muslim and non-Muslim.
According to eyewitness reports, after the initial assault when the attackers charged in with hand grenades and guns blazing, they then worked their way methodically through the mall, quizzing terrified people about the name of Muhammad’s mother and challenging them to recite the shahada (the Muslim expression of faith and the First Pillar of Islam) or verses from the Qur’an. Those who satisfied the assailants that they were indeed Muslim were allowed to go, while the rest were summarily executed.
Such tactics mark a departure for al-Shabaab, which, prior to the Westgate mall attack, had killed Muslims and non-Muslims indiscriminately. Combined pressure from AQ Central and local Islamic jurists appears to have resulted in al-Shabaab’s new approach to jihad.
Letters seized from Osama bin-Laden’s Pakistani compound after his 2011 killing are reported to show the al-Qa’eda leader’s concern about the killing of Muslims by regional AQ field commanders, while a 2011 meeting in Baidoa, Somalia of senior Islamic jurists and scholars focused closely on the question of who are faithful Muslims and whose blood and property are halal, that is, permitted to jihadis.
Al-Shabaab’s careful efforts to separate out kuffar from believers at the Westgate mall would seem to be the result of a senior-level AQ decision, stamped with the juridical approval of Islamic scholars, to play the PR angle while also earning doctrinal points for hewing to theological precepts.
Somehow, Boko Haram in Nigeria did not get the memo yet. The jihadist terror group has been on a murderous rampage across the northern half of Nigeria since it first emerged in 2002. Dedicated to the extermination of all things modern, Western and non-Muslim, Boko Haram leaders “have expressed solidarity with al-Qa’eda, explicitly rejected the Nigerian constitution and democracy, and demanded nation-wide implementation of Islamic law.”
While Boko Haram’s wave of murderous attacks has targeted mostly Christian churches, towns and villages across northern and central Nigeria, as well as the Nigerian military, police and security services, the predominantly Muslim student body of the Yobe State College of Agriculture in some ways represents the very essence of Boko Haram’s name and mission: the eradication of all traces of Western education from Nigeria and their replacement with a pure Islamic state, subordinated to sharia (Islamic law).
The explosive expansion of al-Qa’eda affiliates across the Muslim world in the post-9/11 period is striking for the number of its new franchises and their geographic span, but also for these closely knit connections that are apparent throughout the network.
As I noted in a Clarion Project piece of September 23, 2013, Boko Haram has established ties involving explosives, finances, and terror training with both al-Qa’eda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Somalia’s AQ-connected al-Shabaab in East Africa.
Such coordination among these most dangerous of African terrorist organizations rings alarm bells for counterterrorism experts, including West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, which published a January 2013 study on “Boko Haram’s International Connections.”
The study described the “increasing signs of international collaboration between Boko Haram” and jihadis in the broader West African region as well as the Sahel, Somalia and elsewhere in the Muslim world.
Implications of that collaboration include the exchange of explosives expertise, terror tactics and weapons skills during cross-continental training sessions, in addition to ideological cross-fertilization in ways similar to what happened in Afghanistan during the 1980s war against the Soviet Army.
Still, whether the influence of AQ Central eventually brings Boko Haram into alignment with classical Islamic teaching on “killing of Muslims without right” or not seems quite a bit less urgent than honestly identifying Boko Haram as Islamic terrorists who belong on the U.S. Foreign Terrorists Organizations list as well as the list targeting their AQIM and al-Shabaab training partners.
Clare Lopez is a strategic policy and intelligence expert with a focus on the Middle East, national defense and counterterrorism. Lopez served for 20 years as an operations officer with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).