It was reported on jihadist websites and by local activists that Turki al-Binali, a senior cleric of the Islamic State (IS) and perhaps the most important public proponent of the caliphate’s formation, had been killed in Syria by an airstrike from the U.S.-led Coalition on 29 May. IS has been silent on this despite releasing their newsletter al-Naba and the tenth edition of their English-language propaganda magazine Rumiyah since then. On Tuesday, the intelligence services of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq confirmed that al-Binali had been killed.
Turki ibn Mubarak al-Binali was born on 3 September 1984 in Muharraq to a wealthy family, well connected to the ruling Khalifa family in Bahrain. Al-Binali began his religious education early, though his exact path is vague.
Al-Binali spent some time in Saudi Arabia in the early 2000s where he studied under Abdullah Ibn Jibreen (d. 2009), a member of the Council of the Committee of Senior Scholars (al-Majlis Hay’at Kibar al-Ulema) and the Standing Committee for Islamic Research and Verdicts or Fatwas. Ibn Jibreen followed the Saudi Kingdom’s state-sanctioned salafist approach to religion, often called Wahhabism, and was given to sectarian incitements of the kind that do so much to undermine the Saudi monarchy’s counterterrorism work. Al-Binali spent time with Ibn Jibreen in al-Suwaidi District of Riyadh, which al-Binali called the “Tora Bora quarter,” and, in 2004, Ibn Jibreen wrote a laudatory letter of recommendation for al-Binali to the Islamic University of Medina.
Al-Binali also at some point studied with Zuhayr al-Shawish (d. 2013), according to a profile of al-Binali by Cole Bunzel, a PhD candidate in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton who has written extensively on IS’s ideology and jihadist ideology in general. Al-Shawish was a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood from an important family in Syria. In the 1950s and 1960s, al-Shawish had amicable relations with the Syria-based Muhammad Nasrudeen al-Albani (d. 1999). Al-Albani was employed by al-Shawish, and al-Albani published a monthly column in al-Tamaddun al-Islami (Islamic Civilization), a magazine al-Shawish edited. When the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood split, al-Shawish and al-Albani sided with the Damascene branch and wrote polemics against the Aleppine branch. But relations soured: al-Albani’s salafi approach meant he disagreed on the fundamentals with the Brotherhood. Al-Albani became a stern critic over time of the methodology of the Brotherhood and other Islamists; their utilitarian approach to advancing their cause did not match his insistence on the purity of practice.
This schism between scholarly salafis (sometimes called “quietists”) like al-Albani and advocates of political Islam like al-Shawish remains important, and it is instructive that al-Binali should have had his worldview formed by both Wahhabist and Islamist currents since this synthesis lies at the root of IS’s ideology. In this vein, though he does not appear to have met him, it is interesting that al-Binali was significantly influenced by Salman al-Awda, a prominent part of the Saudi opposition movement, al-Sahwa al-Islamiya (The Islamic Awakening), “a blend of Wahhabism and concepts inherited from the Muslim Brotherhood,” as Stephane Lacroix phrases it in his book Awakening Islam. Other important clerics whose work IS relies on—Nasir bin Hamad al-Fahad, Ali bin Khidr al-Khudair, and Hamoud bin Uqla al-Shuaibi—were participants in the Awakening trend. Similarly, al-Binali has been associated with Hajjaj al-Ajmi, a fundraiser for extremists in Syria. Al-Ajmi is a haraki (activist or political) salafi, a trend that likewise combines traditional ideas and revolutionary methods.
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