The previous posts in this series explored the testimonies of Sami al-Oraidi, Abd al-Rahim Atoun and Abu al-Qassam al-Urduni. This post features the testimony of one Abu al-Harith al-Masri of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham. Abu al-Harith al-Masri has been identified in media as Osama Qasim, a figure involved on the Egyptian jihadi scene since the 1970s. Though it may seem as though this identification of Abu al-Harith al-Masri as Osama Qasim is only very recent, it was in fact reported much earlier in the pro-Syrian government newspaper al-Watan in March 2017.
Qasim came to join the Jihad group that was involved in the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat in 1981. Qasim was imprisoned as one of those accused of participation in the assassination operation. He denounced the revisionist notions of renouncing violence that began to be promulgated by imprisoned leaders of al-Gama'a al-Islamiya in the late 1990s, arguing that these revisions were produced under pressure of the Egyptian security apparatus.
Qasim was released in 2007. Following the 2011 revolution he showed an interest in the political process in Egypt on more peaceful terms, such as the idea of dialogue with 'liberals', though he did threaten that Islamists would resort to arms should they be targeted. As for Copts, he specified that they should pay jizya as traditionally demanded of certain religious minorities deemed acceptable to be living in the lands of Islam. On al-Qaeda, Qasim had asserted that he was supportive of al-Qaeda's actions but felt the group had rushed in carrying out operations without appropriate preparation.
Following the deposition of President Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in a coup in 2013, Qasim is said to have left for Syria. He is now reportedly an important Shari'i official in Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham.
In this testimony as part of the split between Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham and al-Qaeda, Abu al-Harith al-Masri takes a harsh line against al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Although he asserts that he has had a long-standing 'friendship' with Zawahiri, he says that the truth comes above that 'friendship'. It should be noted that Qasim has known Zawahiri since his days in prison, which may lend credence to the identification of Abu al-Hairth al-Masri as Qasim. Further, as Jerome Drevon notes, Qasim opposed Zawahiri's joining of al-Qaeda.
In addition, the language used in this testimony is quite complex, at least when the author is using his own words rather than quoting other texts. Qasim is said to have had a background in Arabic language study, which may also support the identification here with Abu al-Harith al-Masri.
Abu al-Harith al-Masri makes the following key points:
- Zawahiri's audio message (i.e. the latest one released in which he criticized Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham) has errors in it and has caused harmful confusion among the mujahideen.
- The situation in Syria for the jihad is extremely dire, and I am taking the brief opportunity available to write this commentary on Zawahiri's speech.
- The Sunnis have no need for Shi'i doctrines of a hidden imam and the appointment of a representative for that hidden imam to administer affairs.
- For reasons of time constraints and for simplicity of understanding, I am not writing my own investigation into the concept of the imamate and other forms of wilaya (guardianship/being entrusted over any of the affairs of the Muslims), but rather will rely on the stipulations of our 'ulama (scholars) and jurists.
- As noted by the scholars, the greater imamate position cannot be held or continued if, for instance, the person who is supposed to occupy the position is incapacitated or taken prisoner by the enemy and cannot be rid of the enemy. The key point is that the person's imamate is voided as he becomes unable to administer the people's affairs himself. This surely applies to Zawahiri, who, even if he is in good health, is in complete hiding and absence from the scene.
- It is not enough simply to appoint deputies to manage affairs. Anyone entrusted with a wilaya is required to do administrative work himself.
- The lowest kind of allegiance Zawahiri could mean when he demands that allegiance to him be fulfilled is the allegiance owed to an amir of the jihad, which is beneath an emirate over a land or region.
- Zawahiri does not even fulfil any of the extensive obligations required of an amir of the jihad, such as preparing the army for battle, ensuring food provisions, choosing locations for battle, managing relations in the army etc.
- Zawahiri means well when he offers criticisms but the problem is that his isolation and the poor communication channels mean that he frequently receives outdated news devoid of proper context and thus liable to distortion. He may also be influenced by the fact that most if not all the news reaches him from one party.
- Those who seek to use Zawahiri's speeches to score points against the mujahideen should cease this game of one-upmanship.
On a final point, as Drevon also notes, debates over communication channels among jihadists are not new. For instance, since many key jihadists have spent long periods in prison, it is hardly surprising that these controversies should arise.
Below is the text of Abu Harith al-Masri's testimony with translation. Explanatory notes of my own are in square brackets, while brackets with explanatory notes in Abu al-Harith al-Masri's quotation of other texts are his own.
The hidden amir
Praise be to God, the one who grants success for guidance and the guardian against error and perdition, and the finest and nicest prayers and peace be upon our Prophet Muhammad, the prophet of guidance: a continual peace and pure and growing prayers forever, asking God Almighty for the goodness of His aid, seeking His granting of success and guidance, as He is our reliance and He suffices as guardian.
Our dear ones, may God Almighty protect you, wa as-salam alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuhu.
I listened to the audio message of one of our dear brothers confined in a tunnel of the earth behind the seas and wastelands at the farthest end of the world- may God deliver him and the prisoners of the Muslims- in which he obligates mujahideen in Sham of ribat to fulfil allegiance to him and to preserve his guardianship, informing that he has not released any one of them from it [allegiance to hm]. And despite our old friendship and that friendship has observed rights, truth nonetheless comes above friendship. For his audio message included faults and caused confusions as exemplified in the breaking up of a group of mujahideen from their ribat [frontline duty] in facing the enemy and the refraining of some from the obligation of pushing back the aggressors- despite their numbers- against the religion, lives and sanctities. It also heralded widespread corruption from splitting of ranks, a kafir assault, the violation of sanctities and the loss of areas and their ending up in the possession of the wrongdoers by virtue of what it has brought about from confusion of the thinking of the mujahideen, the breaking of the strength and zeal of the murabiteen and the debilitation of the determination of the fighters towards the imminent, coming danger.
In view of our pre-occupation with pushing back the attacks of the atheists [SDF?] and repelling the aggression of the criminals of the cursed Nusayris [Alawites], atheists, Qarmatians [an early Islamic sect with origins in Ismaili Shi'i Islam] and Rafidites [Shi'a] from the havens of the Muslims in al-Sham, and likewise what is happening to the field from the deluge of great events and great misfortunes that thin each other out in intensity, danger and outcomes [i.e. the magnitude of the calamity that follows makes the previous calamity seem light] such that their qawadim have exceeded their khawafi [i.e. the apparent exceeds the hidden in level of disaster], for minds have become frivolous regarding them [the calamities] and hearts have swayed to their impact and eyes have been on the point of wandering in confusion to the shock of them (were it not for the strengthening of God). And lives have been lost to rectify these problems or lighten the tribulation lying in them: [in view of all the aforementioned] we have not had the opportunities to clarify the magnitude of what the field is swelled with from falsifications and mistakes in the vastness of successive misfortunes.
I have seized a moment of space to write a commentary and criticism that have met the objective in being brief and summarizing some of the faults the audio message contained, discharging duty, and in obligation to God Almighty. I am also undertaking some of what is stipulated from the rights of the Muslims on our necks, from advice, giving direction and providing aid, as well as protecting the obligation of keeping together the mujahideen and showing concern for the rights of the field in a difficult time and terrible turning point, so seeking help and guidance in God, I say:
It is not hidden to you that the Rafidites [Shi'a] (upon them be from God what they deserve), despite their belief in their infallible hidden Imam who is hidden in Jabal Radwa, (so they have asserted), and despite the fact that they are among the stupidest of creation in thoughts and most erroneous of them in understanding and weakest of them in realization and stupidest in ideas and most removed from guidance, they have nonetheless not been convinced in the hidden one (despite his infallibility among them) as someone in charge of their affairs and protecting their religion and the politics of their world as he [the hidden Imam] does not undertake matters, inspect circumstances, observe situations, track deeds, or have authority. Nor does he possess the right to annul or contract, such that he has become nothing, for he has not filled any place.
Rather he is limited to some stories reaching him every time in which millions of people surpass him in being able to acquire them and assimilate their multiplication upon multiplication- in that time- without those stories informing them of the reality in sense and sight or their profiting in the circumstances through realization and knowledge that might qualify them to pursue a matter or forbid it, let alone entitlement of a guardianship or amir leadership, neither from the outset nor lasting. So when the Rafidites became convinced of that and did not find any ready foundation capable of managing affairs directly, examining, inspecting and taking them on, they devised a representative for him through what they called 'wilayat al-faqih' to assume the responsibility of managing the land and politics of the people until it is permitted for their hidden imam to be delivered and appear. Thus they have asserted and it is what cannot not be hidden from the people because it is an understanding in minds and instinct even if they have differed in position from the truth.
And nothing is certain in minds if the day needs proof, and it is not reasonable that this understanding should be difficult to anyone belonging to the Ahl al-Sunna.
And in service to what must be served and addressing matters to its people [the Ahl al-Sunna]- and on a hasty basis- we present an easily comprehensible part of the stipulations of our 'ulama and the sayings of our jurists through which the idea comes and the desire is realized in the least amount of space. For I do not have the free time to devise an investigation but rather it is making reference to a meaning and it is an immediate necessity for every guider when his guidance is sought for a ruling of the religion and the rights of politics and the possibility of arising and speed of implementing in what depends on it. All this is according to his guardianship, and let not one think that this meaning is particular to the position of the greater Imamate only but rather it includes the position of the imamate and all the guardianships derived from it.
And for you in summary in this field:
Imam al-Mawradi, the judge of the judges (may God Almighty have mercy on him) said in his report on what is prevented from holding the Imamate and its continuation as well:
'The second part- what is prevented from holding the Imamate and its continuation: it is what prevents working like loss of the two hands or from rising like the loss of the two legs, so the imamate is not compatible with him in holding or continuing because he is barred from what is obligated from the rights of the Ummah in working or arising'- al-Ahkam al-Sultaniya 45
And it is the same fourth condition mentioned in the conditions that must be present in the imam, for he said:
'And the fourth: soundness of body parts removed from a deficiency that prevents the fulfillment of movement and speed of rising'- al-Ahkam al-Sultaniya 19.
So what of the one completely buried and the absent one completely submerged? What benefit are his limbs- even if he is well- and he is secluded, under duress and absent?
This is the source of what Imam al-Haramain Abu al-Ma'ali al-Juwayni stipulated in his book 'The succor of nations in the confusion of oppression.' And it is the same as what Imam Abu Ya'ala al-Hanbali stipulated in his book 'al-Ahkam al-Sultaniya.'
Then Imam al-Mawradi wrote a section on the loss of disposition, for he (may God Almighty have mercy on him) said:
'As for the loss of disposition, there are two conditions: detention and vanquishing. As for vanquishing, it is that he becomes a prisoner in the hand of a conquering enemy of whom he cannot be rid, so that prevents the holding of the Imamate for him as he cannot look into the affairs of the Muslims, regardless of whether the enemy is mushrik [polytheist] or a Muslim wrongdoer, and the Ummah has a choice from one besides him of those who have the capability'- al-Ahkam al-Sultaniya 47.
And as you see, it is stipulation on inability as a reason for removal from the Imamate as a holding and continuation because he has become unable to fill the place in what relates to it. And this is also what al-Ghayathi [the book by al-Juwayni] says.
There may come to one's mind the competency of deputization [/appointment of a representative] in this place for examination, inspection and observation.
The response to this is summarized in the words of the Imams.
This is the expression of Imam al-Mawradi in plain words: 'And what binds him from general matters are ten things:
Ninth: Reliance on trustees and appointment of competent people in what is delegated to them from tasks and entrusted to them from wealth so that tasks may be carried out competently and wealth preserved by trustees.
Tenth: That he undertake by himself supervision of matters and inspection of circumstances to carry out the policies of the Ummah and guard the path and not resort to delegation to keep busy with leisure or worship, for the trusted one may betray and the adviser may deceive. God Almighty has said: 'Oh David, as We have made you caliph in the land, judge among the people with truth and do not follow whims, for they mislead you from the path of God."
And this is so even if it is entitled for him by ruling of the religion and the position of the caliphate, for it is among the rights of politics for every person watched over. The Prophet (SAWS) said: 'And each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock'- 41.
Therefore, undertaking matters, observing circumstances, reviewing situations and overseeing works is a necessary feature as regards all who are entrusted with any guardianship over the Muslims according to it.
This was a short point to document the meaning that we mentioned above regarding those who have guardianships, then after that we say: our friend in his audio message spoke about allegiance and the lowest rank that is possible for him to mean is the allegiance on the basis of the amir position of jihad, and it is beneath the emirate over the land let alone the greater imamate.
So come, let us get to know the obligations of the amir of jihad so that we may see: does it that happen that our friend undertakes one percent of what is obligated on this amir from obligations, responsibilities and burdens or not?
Let it be known that the amir position of jihad represents one clause in the list of clauses of the emirate over a land or region.
Imam al-Mawradi (may God Almighty have mercy on him) said:
'The fourth section in the appointment of the amir position over the jihad:
The amir position over the jihad is concerned with fighting the mushrikeen and it is on two conditions:
- One of them: that it be limited to the policies of the army and managing the war, for in it he is to take into account the particular conditions of the amir position.
- The second condition: that there be entrusted to the amir in it all of its rulings from the division of war spoils and holding of conciliation, for he is to take into consider in it the general conditions of the amir position, and it is the greatest of particular guardianships in rulings and most ample of them in sections and sub-divisions. And the ruling of it, when it is particularized, is within the ruling of it. When it is generalized, we are limited to summarization, and what pertains to it from the rulings when it is generalized are six sub-divisions:
First division: facilitating the movement of the armies, and upon him in the course of action are seven rights (and here I request you to excuse me in summarizing the principals of the issues):
One of them: accompanying them in movement, whereby he must look out for the weakest of them and preserve the strength of the strongest of them.
Second: that he inspect their horses on which they fight and their backs that they mount.
Third: that he oversee who is with him from fighters and they are of two types: mercenaries and recruits.
The mercenaries are companions of the diwan from the people of booty and jihad who must be given booty from the Bayt al-Mal according to wealth and need. As for recruits, they fall outside the Diwan from desert inhabitants, nomads, and inhabitants of villages and cities.
Fourth: that he introduce the two groups [mercenaries and recruits] to the corporals and appoint leaders over them so that he may know from their corporals and leaders their circumstances [circumstances of the soldiers] and they draw near to him when he summons them.
Fifth: that he give each contingent a banner.
Sixth: that he inspect the army and who is in it so as to expel whoever has been causing the mujahideen to hold back from fighting and agitating the Muslims or has been helping the mushrikeen over them.
Seventh: that he should not side with the one who suits him or agrees with his opinion and path against the one who conflicts with him in relations or disagrees with him in opinion and path for there appears from the circumstances of disagreement that which separates the force that brings together because of preoccupation with division and difference.'
The second sub-division: in managing the war
And the mushrikeen in the abode of war are of two types:
One type of them- the call to Islam has reached them but they have refused and defied it, so the amir of army is to choose between two options from which he may do what he knows to be most just for the Muslims and most hurtful for the mushrikeen.
The second type: those whom the call has not reached.'
And here the Imam mentioned- in seven pages- what concerns contest and the refusal to kill the women, youth, slaves and young slave boys and likewise rules of armament.
What is obligated from the amir of the army in their policies and what obligates him in them are ten things:
One of them: protecting them from inadvertency by which the enemy will gain from them.
Second: that he choose for them the place they come to in order to fight their enemy.
Third: preparing the army's needs for food and fodder.
Fourth: that he know the news of his enemy so as to be on top of it and observe the enemy's circumstances so as to know them thoroughly so he will be safe from deception and look for inadvertency in attacking the enemy.
Fifth: organizing the army in the battle-lines of war and assigning each side to those he sees as competent for that side.
Sixth: that he strengthen their spirits in what makes them aware of victory and what makes them realize to causes of victory.
Seventh: that he should promise the people of patience and tribulation from them the rewards of God, and rewards and booty from the war spoils if they are the people of this world [i.e. if they are alive].
Eighth: that he consult with those of informed opinion in what is difficult and refer to the people of strong opinion in what is problematic.
Ninth: that he take his army with what God Almighty has obligated from His rights and commanded him from His hudud.
Tenth: that no one from his army can be preoccupied with trading or agriculture to expend interest in it at the expense of enduring the enemy and the truth of jihad.'
What obliges the mujahideen with him from the rights of jihad, and it is two conditions'- (the Imam specified for this section six pages, so let the one who wishes review it).
The perseverance of the amir in fighting the enemy even if the period is extended, that he does not abandon it while he still has force'- (and Imam al-Mawradi specified for this section four pages).
Progress in clashing with the enemy and fighting them': (in this he set forth what the amir is allowed to do from besieging the enemy and setting up machines of war and catapults, and burning date palms, over the extent of three pages)- al-Ahkam al-Sultaniya 69-93.
Despite the summary form, these stipulations have been what arises from obligations with regards to the amir of the jihad. Do you consider our virtuous brother- with what has befallen him- to be competent for undertaking one clause of what our Imams stipulated here with regards to the amir of the jihad, let alone the amir of a region?
Our dear brothers, we do not doubt that our friend meant well but he has not achieved it, and he meant to be of benefit but he has not attained it, and that is only because- from what is accepted as true- the news does not come to him except in short and deficient form as well as outdated- at that time- and divorced from the facts, stripped of attendant circumstances and mutilated from their context, and the majority of it from one party if not all of it.
So it has been logical when he has offered advice or wanted to be of benefit that the negativities of the news that have reached him should assail him and on the basis and likes of that he proceeds but causes harm when he wanted to be of benefit or he may sow corruption without realizing.
And I whisper in the ear of those who take these audio messages as a path to engage in one-upmanship against the mujahideen to cease from this one-upmanship for one who blames can also be blamed.
And one-upmanship constitutes reprehensible manners and a wicked temperament, and it is a hotbed of corruption that is a bad-ending in this world and in the Hereafter a painful torment, and the one who engages in one-upmanship may fear for himself a bad ending and the other who engages in one-upmanship may end up swimming in the rivers of paradise.
Do you see our friend undertaking, observing, reviewing, inspecting or surveying to the slightest extent of these obligations? And those assignments and endowments? And has he remained on his guardianship so as to demand fulfillment of allegiance to him?
Our dear brothers, sons and competent heroes, the heroes of Islam, the soldiers of faith, lions of truth, guardians of Shari'a, protectors of the path, braves of the Ummah, oh you who exhaust your hearts in the path of God and expend your lives desiring to please God, this is a brief glance and tour through which we have observed Shari'i truths, observed foundations and judicial rulings that lighten the path and prepare the signs so that we should observe the places of our feet in what we have intended to make clear, and thus it obliges us in the steps of our path towards God Almighty, endowed with the light of truth, embracing the balance of justice to obtain the contentment of God Almighty and His mercy.
We ask the Almighty Lord to hasten deliverance for the Muslims and bring rightful guidance for our afflicted Ummah from its affairs, and sufficiency and an exit from its ordeal, and to give victory to Islam and make mighty the Muslims and destroy the enemies of the religion, and to protect our mujahideen, urge them on, defend them and perpetuate them as victory for Islam, might and pride for God's religion and suppress and vanquish our enemies.
Oh God, reconcile us, conciliate our hearts on Truth, guide us on the ways of Islam, bring us out of darkness to light. Oh God, bring down Your punishment, torment, hatred and rage on our enemies. Let us defeat them, make us to inherit their possessions, and make us dominate over them. Guide us and all the Muslims, and conclude for us with the seal of happiness, oh Lord of the Worlds.
And God's blessings and peace be upon our sayyid Muhammad and his noble and fortunate family and companions and whoso has followed their guidance to the Day of Judgement.