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A Quietist Jihadi: The Ideology and Influence of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi by Joas Wagemakers (review)

From: The Middle East Journal
Volume 67, Number 2, Spring 2013
pp. 332-333 | 10.1353/mej.2013.0044

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Joas Wagemakers's A Quietist Jihadi is based on the doctoral thesis of this emerging scholar of radical Islam. The work is a serious and painstaking plunge into the contentious debates of radical Islamic ideologues through an examination of the career of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, whom the author considers an important but neglected figure among radical Islamist thinkers. Wagemakers notes that Maqdisi is not widely known among Western and Middle Eastern publics and even many scholars. He suggests that there are a number of reasons for this relative obscurity outside of radical circles including his strong focus on the role of teaching, writing, education, and propaganda as opposed to military jihad. Wagemakers, nevertheless, believe that a careful examination of Maqdisi's career reveals the importance of his thought to the jihadist movement.

Maqdisi was born in 1959 in the West Bank and raised among the Palestinian community in Kuwait. He studied Islamic thought in Saudi Arabia for one year after overstaying a hajj visa, but was never formally enrolled as a student at any Islamic center of learning. He also spent a short time in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the 1980s where he taught Arab fighters but did not see combat. Upon returning to Kuwait, he eventually became part of the mass deportation of Palestinians to Jordan in 1991-92. In Jordan, he has spent his time in and out of prison and is currently incarcerated in that country. His first imprisonment there resulted from efforts by his study group to smuggle weapons to West Bank Palestinians, but this operation was something of an aberration from his main focus of propaganda. Wagemakers makes clear that Maqdisi's importance in the world of radical Islam springs from his ideas and writings rather than his actions.

The concept of a "quietist jihadi" is not something that roles naturally off the tongue, and Wagemakers describes his subject as "wavering between quietism and jihadism" (p. 29). While Maqdisi believes in military jihad, he is much more comfortable with efforts to propagate the message of radical Islam through writings, lessons, sermons, and study groups. He has also praised Usama bin Ladin and other jihadi terrorists, but generally lacks enthusiasm for armed jihad in most contemporary instances. This hesitancy is not because Maqdisi is concerned about the deaths of non-Muslims (he is not). Rather, Maqdisi has strong reservations about some of the ways that contemporary jihad has been implemented, fearing that some of his contemporaries are "more inclined to view jihad as a goal in itself, regardless of outcome" (p. 235). In his writings, Maqdisi has expressed strong concern about Muslims that die as a result of collateral damage from bombings. He maintains that such deaths are permissible but very regrettable (p. 89). While he uses derogatory terms for Shi'a, he also states that they should not be targeted during jihad, and is harshly critical of his now deceased former student Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi for doing so in Iraq (p. 90). Maqdisi has also expressed concern that acts of terrorism involving Muslims could damage his efforts at proselytizing and undermined the message of radical Islam with potential supporters. Killing innocent Muslims is hardly likely to make their community warm to radical messages. He is also deeply uneasy about the dangers of an overly broad application of the concept of takfir (declaring Muslims with whom you disagree on key issues to be unbelievers) which creates additionally enemies out of people that might otherwise be wooed to the radical cause. Finally, he worries about hasty or reckless efforts at armed jihad, which caused young Muslims to be wiped out in "legitimate but ultimately useless attacks" (p. 84).

Maqdisi views all current Arab regimes, including Saudi Arabia, as based on unbelief. He suggests that the ways in which this unbelief is most clearly manifested is through "man-made laws" and non-Islamic constitutions which serve as "idols" (p. 68) or alternative focus of worship. This is a deeply serious issue to him and a theme to which he constantly returns. Maqdisi is also passionately critical of the Saudi military cooperation with the United States. He suggests that such collaboration creates bonds that conflict with...


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