Jaysh al-Ummah is a Salafi jihadi group located in the Gaza Strip. Its full name is 'Jaysh al-Ummah al-Salafi fi Bayt al-Maqdis' ('The Salafi Army of the Ummah in Jerusalem'). I was able to conduct an exclusive interview with the group, covering a variety of topics such as Jaysh al-Ummah's history, its stance on the al-Qa'ida-Islamic State dispute and relations with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. I present the interview in full in this post.
A note on logistics: owing to the security circumstances in Gaza, some time was required to obtain agreement for this interview to be conducted and for the questions to be answered. Normally, suggested interviews in writing are discussed in meetings of the group's leadership. If it is agreed to conduct an interview, then the questions are distributed to various personnel who are deemed most appropriate to answer them.
I highlight in particular the following points from the interview:
- Jaysh al-Ummah avoids declaring Hamas to be a non-Muslim movement (i.e. engaging in takfir against Hamas) but rather considers it to be a Muslim movement in need of guidance where possible, despite the various troubles that Jaysh al-Ummah has faced at the hands of the Hamas government in Gaza.
- Most of those deemed 'Salafi-jihadi' in Gaza are apparently still supporters of the Islamic State. According to Jaysh al-Ummah, the term Salafi-jihadi has been hijacked by 'Khawarij' (i.e. Islamic State and its supporters) and the pro-Islamic State trends (which, we should note, have been apparent for years in Gaza) are an impediment to what could otherwise be Gazan jihadi unity.
- The small number of 'martyrs'. Also, no one from the group migrated to Syria to join the jihad there. Gazan migrations to Syria that have been documented are (to my knowledge) mostly associated with the Islamic State.
Below is the full interview. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Al-Rayah Media: the media arm of Jaysh al-Ummah.
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
The questions of the journalist Aymenn al-Tamimi
1. When was Jaysh al-Ummah formed? And what are its main aims? Can we say that Jaysh al-Ummah is a Salafi-jihadi group?
a) The formation-
By God's grace and bounty, Jaysh al-Ummah was established as an organization in 2005, but many of the mujahideen of the army were working within secret cells for a long time and these cells have martyrs, and perhaps many are surprised when we announce the names of these martyrs and especially as they are leaders and well-known in the Palestinian organizations, among them the martyr brother Jihad al-Amarain, who was assassinated by the occupation in 2002, and the martyr brother Jamal Abu Samhadana, who was assassinated by the occupation in 2006.
But in March 2012, the first meeting was held between us and the organization of the Coalition of Salafi Youth- Palestine, and after mutual agreement on different Shari'i, intellectual and political cases, the two groups were dissolved then one new group was constituted under the name of Jaysh al-Ummah al-Salafi Fi Bayt al-Maqdis. A new name, new emblem, new vision and new organizational framework according to the criteria of work: Shura in Islamic Shari'a and the principles observed in jihadi and political work.
- Establishing the religion, implementing the rule of the Shari'a of the Lord of the Worlds, and restoring sovereignty to the Shari'a and authority to the Ummah.
- Rescuing the blessed al-Aqsa mosque and liberating Palestine, preparing the way to establish the abode of the rightly-guided Caliphate on the Prophetic Methodology.
And that is through:
. Fighting the Jews occupying the land of the Muslims and whoso has waged war on us with them.
. And calling on others with proof and evidence and gentleness and mildness with them.
- The creed of Jaysh al-Ummah is the creed of the Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama'a in its principles and detailing, so we are Sunnis, and our manhaj in reception is the trace, for if something is established through the trace, we believe in it and assert it as doctrine, and the trace includes:
1. The Noble Qur'an: it is the greatest transmission of knowledge. We believe in its decisiveness and its allegory.
2. The Noble Hadith: the second of the revelations in whose acceptance we believe according to its ranks from mutawatir, authentic and sound.
And these two things are the law in purity of origin.
3. And we believe in what the just, intellectually sound 'ulama of the Ummah have agreed upon in authentic transmission of authorities with decisive consensus.
4. And we believe in what has been transmitted from their luminaries in authentic quotation from their ijtihads.
And these two things are the law in guidance.
So this is the Salafi historical approach in reception of knowledge in general and on creed in particular.
And we are of the fronts in disputes and disagreement, as we follow the intellectually sound, just people of the fronts in what the people have disagreed on, on account of the Almighty's words: "And those who have waged jihad for Our sake, We will surely guide them to Our paths. Indeed God is with those who do good." And the imams of the Sunna like Sufyan and Ahmad and Ibn Jarir and Ibn Taymiyya have explained it as follows: "If people disagree on something, consider what the people of the fronts are upon." For they are our Imams in knowledge and work, and we refer back to them to resolve any conflict or disagreement and we do not prefer the opinion of others besides them over their opinion. And we will not abandon their words for our words when the dispute arises in knowledge and work.
So we are: Sunnis, those who follow the trace (Salafis) and of the fronts (jihadis).
"The religion of Muhammad is news, excellent it is as the accompaniment for the youth who searches for traces.
Do not turn away from the hadith and its people, for opinion is night and hadith is day.
And perhaps the youth has not known the trace of guidance, and the Sun appears and has lights."
2. Does Jaysh al-Ummah support the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate? And what is the correct path to establish a Caliphate?
a) Supporting the establishment of a Caliphate:
- Restoring the rightly-guided Islamic Caliphate is the dream of every Muslim working with purity of faith and it is the promise of our Prophet (SAWS) hat has come in the hadith: "Then there will be a Caliphate on the Prophetic Methodology." But the return of the rightly-guided Islamic Caliphate is not easy for what the Ummah has faced more for than a century of ideological and military invasion, no other Ummah has been exposed to it and what this invasion has entailed from putting in place systems of collaboration that take the place of the Western Zionist-Crusader occupation in the land of the Muslims.
- And we have affirmed that in the second part of the first question that our jihad after rescuing the blessed al-Aqsa mosque and liberating Palestine and implementing the rule of the Shari'a of the Lord of the Worlds and restoring sovereignty to the Shari'a and authority to the Ummah is in making way for the establishment of the abode of the rightly-guided Caliphate on the Prophetic Methodology. So our fight is fighting until vanishing, then fighting until the Caliphate.
b) Way of the Caliphate
This matter needs comprehensive review of all the events, ideas, theories and work to put in place a framework bringing together all the forces of the Ummah and those devoted from its sons and coming out with a vision that brings together the Islamic Ummah to confront the other nations, for out conflict with them is a conflict of religion and creed and working is according to the priorities and program mutually agreed upon.
3. What are the lines of evidence from the Noble Qur'an and authentic ahadith that the Jews are the enemies of God and Islam?
God Almighty has said: "You will certainly find that the people most hostile to the believers are the Jews and the polytheists" (al-Ma'ida 82). Indeed, they are the people most hostile to the believers. And this has been their state of affairs with the passing of days, and the change of circumstances, for they plot against the Muslims, whether weak or strong. The force has come to them when the noble Muslim Ummah has been caught off God.
Their black history of enmity, falsehood, lying, treachery, backstabbing and betrayal fills the pages of books. They were the enemies of this religion when the Messenger of God (SAWS) called to it, for the Jews of the Banu Qaynuqa' betrayed the pact between them and the Messenger of God (SAWS), then the Jews of the Banu al-Nadhir followed them in betrayal and plotting, for they plotted to kill the Messenger of God (SAWS). And likewise the Jews of the Banu Qurayza violated the pacts of the Muslims on the Day of the Trench, and the outcome of their affair was perdition, and they were behind the occurrence of the great fitna in the days of our sayyid Ali (may God be pleased with them), and they continue to plot, be hostile and scheme until now.
They were plotting to destroy the Islamic Caliphate, and what they wanted was accomplished for them at the hand of one of the Donmeh Jews, who pretended to adhere to Islam, and they remained on their religion. And they destroyed that institution that was established since the days of the great Caliph, our sayyid Abu Bakr (may God be pleased with him) until around 80 years ago, and indeed by God it is among the greatest catastrophes.
They have not ceased to harm the Muslims in every time and every place.
Mercy has been torn from their hearts so they have become hard like stone, indeed even harder. And our Lord- Exalted is He- described that, for they saw the many signs, among them reviving the dead by striking him with some of the cow that they ordered to be slaughtered. Bu their hearts were not softened, and did not become afraid, and were not influenced by the truth. God- Almighty and Exalted is He- says: "We said: strike the slain man with part of it, and likewise God revives the dead and shows you His signs that you may understand. Then your hearts have hardened after that for they are like stone or even harder. For indeed, they are stones from which rivers burst forth, and others split open and water comes out from them. And some fall down in fear of God. And God is not ignorant of what you do" (al-Baqara 73-4).
Indeed by God, their hearts are harsher than stone. And we have seen that exemplified before our eyes, the most prominent example of which is their enmity towards our people in the heroic steadfast Gaza. We have seen what the one of the gentle, merciful heart cannot bear to behold.
And our Lord- Exalted in His praise is He- related to us what shows that kufr, stubbornness and disobedience are in the depths of their hearts. Indeed they have seen how Moses (peace be upon him) struck a dry way for them in the sea by God's command, so they crossed this path and were saved and their enemy was drowned. The Almighty says: "And We inspired Moses: travel by night with My servants, so strike for them a dry path in the sea and you will not fear being overtaken or be afraid" (Ta-Ha 77).
Indeed their beastliness and barbarity we have seen in these days reminds us of their black history in our land, and in every land they have spread. Indeed the habit of the Jews is to kindle fitnas, shed blood and corrupt ideas and ethics, for they sow corruption in the land and bring about destruction, as our Lord- Blessed and Almighty is He- has mentioned to us in Surat al-Isra'.
Yes, they destroyed the Caliphate, and it is among the greatest catastrophes to have befallen the Muslims. Then there followed that the establishment of the state of the Jews in the land of the Muslims. That is because when the believers saw the signs of an Islamic awakening, they rushed to establish this state in our land, the Holy Land, to realize their interests, and as an arm for enmity against the Muslims, in thought, economy and military, and spreading corruption.
And the Muslims in general and we in Palestine in particular have suffered from these criminals, from their scheming, evil and enmity- the great deal over the past 100 years, and especially after the British foreign minister Balfour promised them the establishment of a national homeland in Palestine on 2 November 1917, for the Jewish terrorist organizations worked actively to kill the innocent Muslims. Then these criminal killers became the rulers of a state established on the basis of a decision from the UN on 29 November 1947, and after the end of the so-called British mandate on 15 May 1948.
And England, America, Russia, Italy and France aided this usurping entity and supplied it with weapons and money, and surrounded it with functional Gharqad systems, and thus became clear the Qur'anic truth that the Jews and Christians are allies of each other. The Almighty has said: "Oh you who have believed, do not take the Jews and Christians as allies: they are allies of each other, and whoso of you aligns with them is one of them. Indeed God does not guide the wrongdoing people" (al-Ma'ida 51).
And there is not enough space to expound all the lines of evidence from the Book, Sunna and history and their holy books for their enmity against God and His religion and humanity entirely.
And we remind toy of the Almighty's words: "And the victory of the believers has been a right upon us" (al-Rum 47).
So the victory is coming: "And God is predominant over His affair but most of the people do not know" (Yusuf 21).
4. Of course there has been a big disagreement between the Qa'idat al-Jihad organization and the Islamic State group. What is Jaysh al-Ummah's position on this disagreement? For example are you under allegiance to Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri?
a) Our position:
Our opinion is the opinion of our mujahideen 'ulama and the leaders of jihad (may God protect them), and the opinion of our Muslim Ummah in east and west of the earth, against whom the Dawla came out, attacking its pious and immoral.
See the series 'The Islamic Spring' by Sheikh Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the series of tweets 'Intellectual and Creedal Deviation Among the Khawarij' by Sheikh Abu Hafs al-Maqdisi, and the book 'Issues in Fiqh of the Caliphate' by the mujahid sheikh Rashid al-Belaidi (may God have mercy on him), and a study entitled 'The relation of the Dawla organization with the nationalist organization and its role in counter-revolution' by Sheikh Dr. Hakim al-Mutairi, and likewise the article 'Statement of the truth of the Dawla organization: characterizing the organization and the truths of its doctrine', and the statement 'Disavowal and Separation' by the two sheikhs Hani al-Siba'i and Tariq Abd al-Haleem, on the al-Maqrizi centre. And likewise the study 'al-Madhhab al-Haruri in a group' and the study entitled 'Establishing consideration of what is on the paths of al-Awadiya from faults and harm' and the article 'Ten grave sins in the evil thought of al-Haruriya' and the article 'Statement to the Islamic Ummah on the creed of the al-Awadiya al-Haruriya organization' by Sheikh Dr. Tariq Abd al-Haleem, on the doctor's electronic site. The article 'Message to the people of jihad and its fans' and the article 'Clothing of the Caliph' and the article 'Caliphate for hire...the evil is their choice' by Sheikh Abu Qatada al-Falastini, and the article of Sheikh al-Maqdisi 'On stating the state of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham and the Obligatory Position towards it' and the article 'This is some of what I have, not all' on the Manbar al-Tawheed wa al-Jihad. And last but not least the article: "The jihad of al-Sham and the courses of fitna- division 6) by Dr. Akram Hijazi.
b) Are you under allegiance?
We have no organizational connection or allegiance pledge, not with the mujahid sheikh Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri (may God protect him) or any others besides him from the leaders of the Ummah and their groups, but rather we have connections of Islamic religion with all the Muslims in the world and at the forefront of them are its mujahideen and leaders, the people of precedence, virtue and sacrifice, so we take delight for their delight and are sad for their sadness. For we have dedicated ourselves to support the oppressed and repel the aggression of the tyrants, all the more so when it comes to the oppressed Muslims and all the more so when it comes to one who has dedicated himself, his wealth and his son in God's path: for we must support and defend those people, for our throats are beneath their throats and our blood is beneath their blood.
5. Are most of the Salafi jihadis in Gaza with the Dawla group [Islamic State] or the al-Qa'ida organization?
First the name 'Salafi jihadi' has been stolen by the Khawarij and the media have helped in that. And regrettable most of those groups in Gaza do not agree with us on the purity of the banner of the Qa'idat al-Jihad organization in the world and the deviation of the banner of the Dawla organization in the world, but rather they think the contrary, to the point that some of them have declared takfir on the Imam Sheikh Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri (may God protect him), and there is no force or power except in God the High, the Almighty.
6. How are your relations with the Hamas government that rules Gaza? Do you consider Hamas to be a Muslim or apostate group? Has Hamas arrested members of Jaysh al-Ummah? Or has it tried to strop launching missiles against the Jewish enemy?
a) Relations with Hamas:
Regrettably there is a disagreement of varies fields and reasons and we on our part are working to resolve the disagreements and break up the clashes and resolve the pending portfolios but on the basis of 'Refer the grievances to their people.'
And the relations with the Hamas movement are not stable and they want you to remain in a state of drowning and conflict and do not wish death for you!! The Hamas movement fears us but it does not reject us absolutely like its government: that is, our relations with the government are fraught, but with the movement less tense and sometimes calm and pleasant according to the circumstances, and God is the One whose help is to be sought.
b) Do you consider Hamas to be a Muslim group?
Hamas is an Islamic movement affirming its affiliation to Islam, and the ruling on something is a derivative of its conception, and the derivatives take the ruling of the principles: even if some of their deeds are not Shari'i, the law is not denied from them.
And we believe that it [Hamas] does not rule by what God has revealed but it is not kafir [disbelieving], because it strives to implement the ruling of God's law and holds that it has been obstructed by the excuse of its presence in an abode of war- and this is what we have heard from its leaders- and in our view it [Hamas] does not hold wilaya over the Muslims, but we consider waging jihad with it and behind it permissible, and we do not consider it to be obligatory to revolt against it, while advising it and encouraging it and helping it in overcoming the obstacles that impede it from implementing the ruling of the Shari'a.
c) Has Hamas arrested members of Jaysh al-Ummah?
Since Hamas seized the Gaza Strip, we have been arrested and our weapons and missiles have been confiscated and tis matter is not hidden to anyone. And the amir of the army has been arrested five times: first on the second day of Ramadan in 2008 for 23 days, and also in following year for 98 days, and also in the following year for 31 days, and also they arrested him in 2012 for 135 days and on other occasions, in addition to dozens of youth and cadres, some of whom have been arrested multiple times.
d) Has it tried to stop launching of missiles?
This is a clear matter in the time of calm and ceasefire but do not forget they have confiscated from us equipment, ammunition and weapons they have not returned until this moment despite our multiple communications with them on this particular.
7. Do you have any relations with any jihadi groups in the Sinai region? What is your position on the so-called Wilayat Sinai affiliated with the Dawla group?
a) Do you have relations? That has been indicated in the second part of the fourth question.
b) Your position: Wilayat Sinai is affiliated with the Dawla group and the derivatives takes the ruling of the principle, and we have clarified the principle in responding to the first part of the fourth question.
8. How many martyrs do you have in the path of God?
Jaysh al-Ummah al-Salafi fi Bayt al-Maqdis has been keen to preserve the life of man generally and the life of its members and fighters in particular and despite our participation in all the jihadi operations and our resisting the Zionist enemy alongside the factions of the Palestinian resistance in the wars to which our beloved strip has been exposed, we have only lost 4 martyrs who have departed to their Lord- we reckon them and God is their reckoner- and they are: Hamza al-Khalidi (al-Barij camp: the Central Province), Abd al-Rahman Musa (Rafah province), Abdullah Awdh Allah (Rafah province), and Hassan Abu Burak (Khan Yunis province), in addition to multiple wounded among light, medium and critical.
9. What is your position on the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine?
Jaysh al-Ummah al-Salafi considers other Islamic movements to be brothers and respects and honours them. For even if it disagrees with them in an aspect or conception, it agrees with them in aspects and conceptions, and considers those movement such that if the sound intentions and pure devotion to God are in evidence, they should come under the realm of ijtihad, so long as their conducts remain within the Islamic enclosure, and every mujtahid has a dividend.
Whoso contravenes some issues of doctrine by ijtihad, completely devoted in that capacity from the aspect of the Messenger: that person is not to be charged with being an innovator, nor is he to be dissociated from for his mistake even if it said: his words are innovation. For falling into innovation does not require that the one who falls into it should be an innovator because charging the individual with being an innovator requires establishment of conditions and lack of obstacles.
Al-Dhahabi said: "And were it the case that whenever an imam makes a forgivable mistake in his ijtihad in one of the issues, we rise up against him and charge him with being an innovator and dissociate from him, Ibn Nasr, Ibn Mandah and the one greater than they would not have been sound with us. And God is the one who guides creation to truth and He is the most merciful of those who have mercy, so we seek refuge in God from arbitrary whims and insolence."
Whoso introduces an innovative pronouncement in the religion by which he separates from the group of the Muslims and establishes loyalty and enmity towards him on the basis of it, he is to be charged with being an innovator and misleading after the proof is established against him from establishment of the conditions and lack of the obstacles.
Jaysh al-Ummah al-Salafi fi Bayt al-Maqdis does not permit attacking or disparaging individuals or groups, for the believer does not attack or curse, while one must distinguish between that and positions and dispositions, so Jaysh al-Ummah al-Salafi fi Bayt al-Maqdis has the right to affirm error and turn away from it, and work on the basis of affirming the truth and adopt it in the suggested case with ibjectivity, for wisdom is the objective of the believer that he should take up whenever he finds it.
"God does not like the public mention of evil except by the one who has been wronged, and God is hearing and knowing. If you show good or conceal it or pardon an offence, God is pardoning and capable" (al-Nisa' 148-9).
As for the jihad movement: we impose as condition on it first and before any official relation (besides military field relations) with it that it should disavow conversion to Shi'ism and its movement in Gaza and the Shi'i religion in general.
We only desire reform: "I desire only reform as far as I can and my success is only in God. On Him I have relied and to Him do I repent."
10. Has any mujahid from your faction migrated to Syria to support the people of al-Sham?
No. But we in Jaysh al-Ummah al-Salafi fi Bayt al-Maqdis have been keen since the beginning of the revolution of al-Sham to support the revolution in the face of the Iranian-Russian occupation in a number of ways, and of this support has been in what has been possible to provide from wealth despite its scarcity, as well as logistical support, manufacturing missiles and explosives, training, and some guidance and necessary directives.
Also we believe that jihad and ribat in the land of Palestine has Shari'i priority for us and is realistic policy for us.
11. Why don't the jihadi factions in Gaza unite?
From the outset we do not oppose jihadi work with any fighting faction and we in Jaysh al-Ummah al-Salafi Fi Bayt al-Maqdis are the product of a wholesale merger of two Salafi groups in Gaza.
And closing ranks and uniting forces and coming together are among our first priorities in da'wa and political work, and we have not worked on a portfolio more than our work on the portfolio of uniting the Salafi jihadis in the Gaza strip, but oh brother, were you to review our answer to question 5, you would realise the cause of our strong regret for the lack of advance of the project of unity of the Salafi mujahideen in Gaza: not even a single step in the direction.
Listen to the audio speech entitled 'Bayan wa 'Idhar'
And see the text transcript:
12. How can Muslims in the Ummah support your efforts?
We have the campaign "Jahhiz Ghaziyan" and it has continued for a long time such that it has become an established account renewing the campaign once or twice a year through social media pages, and it still works till now through established contact addresses: e-mail, Telegram and Bitcoin currency, detailed as follows:
E-mail: [email protected]