How the Islamic State’s Founder Justified Murdering Shi’a Civilians

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 5 October 2017

Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi)

The Islamic State’s founder, Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), took the anti-Shi’ism within jihadi-salafism, and moved it to ideological centre-stage in his campaign to implement a shari’a regime in Iraq. In a speech on 18 May 2005, “The Return of Ibn al-Alqami’s Grandchildren”, al-Khalayleh cast the Shi’a as the internal enemies of Islam. Al-Alqami, a Shi’a, was the vast vizier of the Abbasid caliphate and allegedly opened the gates to allow the Mongols to sack Baghdad in 1258. In al-Khalayleh’s telling, the Iraqi Shi’a repeated this in 2003 by welcoming the Americans—a piece of sectarian incitement first used by Saddam Husayn. Al-Khalayleh makes reference to Shi’a figures conspiring in the American project for a New Iraq, something unalterably opposed not only by al-Khalayleh but most Iraqi Sunnis and their “resistance” groups, who objected to their loss of primacy in the aftermath of Saddam, flatly rejecting the demographic facts of Iraq that grant them a smaller share of power than they feel is their due. This political grievance is secondary to al-Khalayleh, however. Al-Khalayleh advances a cosmic, theological argument. To al-Khalayleh, the existence of the Shi’a is a standing affront to the “true” faith and a temptation for Sunnis to fall into apostasy, and since the need to defend the faith itself is above the protection of human life, the shedding of the blood of Shi’a civilians licit. This is the intellectual universe in which al-Khalayleh and his successors dwell. Excerpts from the speech are republished below.

Al-Khalayleh’s view of how to treat Shi’i civilians was among the central disputes he had during his troubled relationship with al-Qaeda “central”. Al-Qaeda had somewhat played down its anti-Shi’ism for pragmatic reasons. At a broad strategic level, Usama bin Ladin believed—though he later revised elements of this—that Islamist revolutions in the region were only possible once the U.S. had been driven out of the Middle East, which meant the U.S. was the primary target. There were tactical reasons, too. One simply was that al-Qaeda did not believe it had the Sunni masses on its side in these attacks, and provoking hostility from ordinary Sunnis went against al-Qaeda’s vanguardist project. Even more importantly, a stress on anti-Shi’ism would have created problems for al-Qaeda’s long alliance with the Iranian revolution. IS once publicly mocked al-Qaeda about its approach to Iran, a policy IS has now dramatically repudiated as part of its contest for the mantle of global jihad with al-Qaeda.


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Ever since the beginning of creation, there has been a conflict between truth and falsehood, [and this will continue] until Allah inherits the earth and everyone on it. … Another chapter of this conflict is taking place now in Iraq, represented by the worshippers of the Cross [Christians], and they have openly declared it to be a Crusade. … They violated women’s honor and desecrated that which is holy and transgressed against the inviolable, and they are being helped in this by their Shi’ite brethren, who have always been the spearhead in every war against Islam. This is taking place while the rulers of this umma [Islamic community] have committed apostasy and the ulema of evil [regime clerics] have betrayed their duties … and faithful believers are not fully aware of the significance of this battle and its [true] dimensions. …

[In view of] the frightening discrepancy in numbers and in arms, the mujahideen found it necessary to find a way to overcome this discrepancy. … So the brigades of martyrdom seekers [suicide bombers] rushed forth, competing with one another to reach Paradise, and they crushed the fortresses of heresy and destroyed the great armies of idolatry. …

[Those of our people who collaborate with the Crusaders] turned their tongues and pens to criticize the jihad fighters, accusing them of grave crimes under the pretext that these [martyrdom] operations sometimes involve the killing of those described as civilians or innocents. … Since I know that the jihad fighters … fully observe the obligations of Islamic law in these operations—and how could it be otherwise? … I want here to clarify the position of the shari’a regarding such incidents in which Muslims are killed incidentally. … There is no doubt that Allah has ordered us to target the unbelievers, to kill them and to fight them, by any means that can achieve this goal, even if [those hurt] by these means include [not just] those infidels against whom war is being waged—who are the intended targets—but also those who are not intended as targets, such as women, children, and other such infidels whose intentional killing is not permitted. This is what the Muslim jurists conventionally define as “collateral killing”.

The legitimacy of these [means] has been established even if [their use] results in the killing of a number of Muslims even if it is known that they are likely to be there at the time, for whatever reason. This is justified under the principle of Dharura [emergency necessity], due to the fact that it is impossible to avoid them and to distinguish between them and those infidels against whom war is being waged and who are the intended targets. Admittedly, the killing of a number of Muslims whom it is forbidden to kill is undoubtedly a grave evil; however, it is permissible to commit this evil—indeed, it is even required—in order to ward off a greater evil, namely, the evil of suspending jihad.

To claim that [such means of war] are not permissible here, especially in light of the present form of fighting, means inevitably suspending jihad and stopping it—indeed, burying it alive and completely shutting the gate of jihad. This inevitably means surrendering the land and the believers to the hands of unbelievers, who bitterly hate Islam and its people, allowing them to impose at will humiliation and inferior status on Islam and its people, and to drive the Muslims en masse, once they have turned them into obedient slaves, to slaughter, or to heresy and apostasy, while falsifying Islam and totally transforming it … and reshaping it in a new form such that it becomes a religion that is different from that which was revealed by him who was sent with the sword [i.e., Muhammad]. This is their highest goal, that for which they strive, and they find those who collaborate with them in this among fools who claim to profess Islam and among the corrupt so-called ulema. Which evil then is the greater? …

Islamic law states that the Islamic faith is more important than life, honour, and property. Indeed, it is the most important of the five inalienable rights, and their very basis, and safeguarding it takes precedence over safeguarding them. It should be noted that all of these inalienable rights cannot be safeguarded except through assuring the observance of the Islamic faith. …

Interpreting His words, “Fitna [temptation] is worse than killing” [al-Baqarah (2): 191], [the commentator] Mujahid says: “For a Muslim, apostasy into idolatry is worse than death”. …

Allah stated [in the Qur’an] that heresy and idolatry, according to His law and His faith, are worse than killing. This is the Qur’anic basis for giving the safeguarding of the [Islamic] faith precedence over the other four inalienable rights, the first of which is life. To safeguard those [other] inalienable rights by forfeiting Islam … is the real temptation against which Allah warns. …

The evil of the temptation of heresy and idolatry is greater than the evil resulting from the unintentional, collateral killing of Muslims [in the course of a jihad] intended to destroy the fitna of heresy and idolatry and to cleanse the universe of it.

Sheikh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya said: “Complete piety means that man should be able to recognize the better of two good things and the worse of two evils, and that he should know that the basis of Islamic law is that one should [strive to] achieve beneficial things and perfect them and to stop evil things and diminish them”. …

[Ibn Taymiyya] also said: “Allah made it lawful to kill people as much as necessary for the good of humanity”. As He said: “Fitna [temptation (into heresy)] is worse than killing” [al-Baqarah (2): 227]. [This is so] because, although killing is evil and wrong, there is more evil and wrong in the temptation of heresy.

3 thoughts on “How the Islamic State’s Founder Justified Murdering Shi’a Civilians

  1. Pingback: The Islamic State Planned For Sectarian War in Iraq From the Beginning | The Syrian Intifada

  2. Pingback: The Second Speech of the Islamic State | The Syrian Intifada

  3. Pingback: The Islamic State’s First Leader Explains How to Deal With Enemies | The Syrian Intifada

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