The phenomenon of violence is considered to be multifaceted and incapable of being reduced to a single cause, being generated by a number of psychological, political, social and economic factors. The various causes intersect with one another to varying degrees in preparing the agent of violence. But the common factor behind all these causes is a system of ‘ideas’, or what we might call an ideology, by which the agent may be managed and controlled to the point of being prepared to kill even at the expense of sacrificing himself.

Islamic fundamentalist violence – the theme of this article – has many interrelated causes but most influential over the individual are the ideas connected with the relationship of the Muslim with the non-Muslim, that is the kāfir, or with the non-Muslim of a different orientation.

I see before me a typical case illustrating how the influence exerted over the believer by some religious concepts and ideas extended to the point of inducing him to kill or expose himself to death without a moment’s hesitation, one where he was entirely untroubled by a video showing him standing alongside his slain victim as he expounded the motives and justifications for his act.

This is what happened a short while ago when the British youth Michael Adebolajo, from an immigrant Christian Nigerian family, appeared with an accomplice on a video with his blood-stained hands after he had killed the British soldier Lee Rigby in the London district of Woolwich. All the while brandishing a cleaver and a knife, he stated that he had killed him out of revenge for ‘Britain’s participation in foreign wars.’

Young men who undertake violent operations are themselves victims of highly toxic religious ideas nourished by those who arrogate to themselves the title of ‘shaykh’. Despite the fact that these shaykhs incite enthusiastic young men to commit acts of violence, they nonetheless abdicate any responsibility for casting them into this trap. Instead they seek to justify themselves as they enjoy the pleasures of life even while they are sending these simple young men to ‘paradise,’ as they claim.

This is what happened when Dr ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahmān issued a fatwa on the assassination of the Egyptian president Sadat on the grounds that he had become an apostate from the faith. Khālid al-Islambouli and his colleagues carried out the assassination operation on the basis of that fatwa. Yet during investigations into Sadat’s killing and the attempt to overthrow the ruling regime, Dr ‘Umar stated before the Supreme State Security Prosecution that his fatwa was merely a ‘personal opinion’ and that he was therefore not responsible for the type of religious faith that motivated Sadat’s killers.

This same thing occurred again with the Nigerian youth who is the subject of this article. A Lebanese national named Omar Bakri Muhammad, a one-time refugee in Britain where he founded the banned al-Muhajiroun and al-Ghuraba movements, stated to the al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper that during his residence in Britain he used to give lectures at which this young man attended:

“Yes, the 19-year old Michael was my student at a time when I used to give lectures in various cities in Britain including at the Woolwich Community Centre, and this is when I first got to know the young man Michael. I taught him the doctrine of tawhīd (1) and al-walā’ wal-barā’ (2) and the concept of true religion.”

He then went on to add:

“I used to teach them that there was no difference between a white or a black man, and that in religion people are as equal as the teeth in a comb, just as our noble Prophet preached. I did not teach him to slaughter or to kill.”

What is most surprising about this man’s statement is his insistence that he did not teach these youths ‘how to slaughter and to kill’, yet at the same time he acknowledges that he used to instruct them in the doctrine of al-walā’ wal-barā’. This is akin to saying that I have merely given somebody a pen – while it is self-evident that the recipient will go on to use this pen to write or draw with, not to sing with. It is similarly self-evident that anyone who learns the doctrine of al-walā’ wal-barā’ – particularly immature youths – will end up at one stage or another slaughtering or killing, just as this young man did.

Al-walā’ – according to this shaykh’s understanding – means love for God, for His Prophet, the Companions and the monotheist Muslims, and means supporting them. Al-barā’ means hatred for those who oppose God, His Prophet, the Companions and the monotheist Muslims, and for the disbelievers, polytheists, hypocrites, heretics and the corrupt, and for the followers of subversive doctrines.

One of the manifestations of al-barā’ towards non-Muslims is the avoidance of taking up residence in their lands, or travelling there for purposes of leisure or recreation, or taking the counsel of any disbelievers or polytheists, or employing their dating methods – particularly those which derive from their rituals or festivals, such as the anno domini dating system.

A serious corollary of this doctrine is the necessity for us to maintain hatred towards non-Muslims, even if we have travelled to their lands and taken up residence there. The type of permitted travel to lands of the disbelievers – in the view of people such as Shaykh Bakri – is solely that undertaken for the sake of study or trade or to seek medical treatment or for the purpose of promulgating Islam.

There is no doubt that such language indisputably incites to violence, given that millions of Muslims travel every year to countries such as Britain, America and China in order to study or to seek medical care or conduct business. Those schooled and brought up in such a doctrine will not content themselves with hating the populations of these countries but will doubtless end up doing what those youths involved in acts of violence killing and bombings are doing.

One of the evidences of showing ‘loyalty’ towards disbelievers – according to this doctrine – is to reside in their country and refuse to transfer to a Muslim state so as to keep safe from the clutches of another religion. This is because migration, in this sense and for this purpose, is incumbent upon every Muslim since a Muslim’s residence in an infidel state indicates affection towards disbelievers. For this reason God has forbidden a Muslim to sojourn amongst disbelievers if he is in a position to emigrate.

What is odd is how a large number of shaykhs who incite to acts of violence and murder – Omar Bakri included – are able to find no safe refuge to turn to from the oppression of ‘Muslim’ leaders in their countries other than the ‘infidel’ states to which they have fled for safe refuge, in which they are able to live in peace, to eat and drink and receive medical treatment, all at the expense of the taxpayers of those countries. Yet even so they foster hatred and hostility to these populations and raise new generations to harbour hatred towards them.

When the fellow was asked about what the Nigerian youth had perpetrated, he claimed that it was ‘an illegitimate act’, but nevertheless added:

“I am not against what he did, and I think that he was unwilling to be constrained by the compact of security (3). This is a [praiseworthy] individual jihad, albeit I am against the manner in which he killed his victim.”

This discussion is full of contradictions and betrays muddled thinking and manipulation. At times he says that the youth embarked upon an illegitimate act, at other times he terms it an ‘individual jihad’. Still again he says that he is not opposed to what he did, and the contradiction lies in the fact that an illegitimate act necessarily demands that it be rejected, opposed and condemned. How can an act be illegitimate and at the same time constitute an ‘individual jihad’?

The dangerous element in Omar Bakri’s words is his talk of a new concept previously unknown to Islam: ‘individual Jihad’ whereby an individual can take the decision to declare a jihad for personal reasons and then embark on carrying out this decision according to his personal capacities. He may decide to declare jihad against Muslims simply because they differ with him in their opinions and whom he nevertheless categorises as disbelievers who are to be killed. This concept is consequently an opening point to major perversion.

But Omar Bakri does not content himself with failing to condemn what the Nigerian youth perpetrated; he tries to find a justification for it, arguing that

“according to some Islamic interpretations the man was not targeting civilians but was launching an attack upon a soldier engaged in a military operation.”

He goes further. He turns the question of killing into a random act to be committed by an individual on the basis of his own, personal, legal interpretation. His comments open up a dangerous entry point to violence and intimidation, since by permitting anyone to engage in killings according to their personal convictions he is turning societies into arenas of chaos, killing and bombing, as one can see here:

“Michael, or the ‘mujahid’, killed and did what he did for doctrinal reasons, from his personal interpretation of its legitimacy, and according to his private convictions. He killed a British soldier who had participated in killing Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The dangers inherent in this thinking are not confined to relations with the non-Muslim other, but penetrates deep within the fold of the Islamic religion itself, embracing intellectual and doctrinal currents that differ from it. We have witnessed this phenomenon in the past in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan and we are seeing it in Syria now.

Babikir Faysal Babikir is a writer and progressive reformer from Sudan. This article has been republished with permission from


(1) Tawhīd – literally, ‘Declaration of Oneness’. The term is a causative noun of the number ‘one’ (wāhid), and therefore refers to the ‘singularization’ or ‘exclusivization’ of something. Primarily it is a monotheist’s declaration of the single, uniqueness of God, as a single and absolute truth and a unique, independent and indivisible being, but it also extends to the implications of this singularity epistemologically, legally and politically – in that all knowledge must issue from God, that there is no law other than God’s law and that there can be no system of rule founded upon an authority other than that of God as the principal legislator, that is, a theocracy. Although the doctrine of tawhīd is fundamental to all Muslims, The Salafists make their strict adherence to the implications of tawhīd – as they contradict with contemporary epistemological, legal and political systems – their badge of legitimacy.

(2) Al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ – ‘Loyalty and renunciation’, a polarizing doctrine which divides humanity into ‘believers’ and ‘infidels,’ and seeks to establish that the only relationship between them can be one of hatred and enmity. It is constructed upon the basis of scripture such as: O you who believe! do not take the unbelievers for friends rather than the believers; do you desire that you should give to Allah a manifest proof against yourselves? [Qur’ān IV, 144]; Let not the believers take for friends or helpers Unbelievers rather than believers: if any do that, in nothing will there be help from Allah except by way of precaution, that ye may Guard yourselves from them. But Allah cautions you (To remember) Himself; for the final goal is to Allah [Qur’ān III, 28]; O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is one of them [Qur’ān V, 51] and more explicitly in the following sound hadith narrated in Ahmad: The most powerful knot of Iman is to love for the sake of Allah and to hate for the sake of Allah. The concept naturally derives from the understanding of Islam as a faith at war and is a doctrine by which Islamist radicals maintain their control over what constitutes the authenticity of a Muslim’s Islamic faith, gauged according to his expression of love for anything or anybody defined as Islam or Muslim, and his hatred for the infidel. The ‘true Muslim’ under this scheme does not assimilate into the enemy’s society or imitate its ways on even the most trivial level – such as imitating unbelievers in their physical appearance (“because imitating them in appearance points to liking them on the inside”), greeting unbelievers, sending them condolences at a time of grief, employing a non-Muslim or agreeing to be employed by a non-Muslim (“because it cedes authority and demeans the believer to the unbeliever”).

(3) The ‘security compact’ (‘iqd al-amān). Under this category Muslims in the anomalous position of voluntarily residing in non-Muslim lands may justifiably accept the ‘covenant of security’ provided by the infidel (in the form of a passport or other official documents). Omar Bakri Muhammad’s organisation al-Muhajiroun assented to the condition but added: ‘however this does not mean that we have to accept everything that they impose on us, like their law and order.’ The covenant is only held to specify issues of security of life and wealth, and does not bind the Muslim to observe any other laws of the land, for the Muslim must obey Sharīʻa over all aspects of infidel law. What triggers the restriction on a Muslim’s ability to act with hostility against the infidel while residing in his country is his declaring on entry that he is a Muslim. Should he enter with a false name and without declaring his Muslim status, he is free to engage in hostile actions ‘on condition that he is sent by the Commander of the Faithful to act as a mujahid for the benefit of the Muslims; in this case there is no sanctity for the life or wealth of the disbelievers at all’. This conditionality is how a group such as al-Muhajiroun exonerated the 9/11 bombers from having breached their security compact (Ed.)

A writer and progressive reformer from Sudan, Babikir Faysal Babikir has specialized in African and Asian studies and issues related to economics and development in the Muslim world. He frequently contributes...