Download the full article
At the end of April 2019, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, ISIS’ leader, appeared in a rare video after he has not been seen in public since June 2014. In the video Al Baghdadi wanted to convey the message that ISIS’ leadership operates as usual and directs its subordinate provinces in the “ordinary course of business”. Additionally, he wanted to refute any rumors and speculations regarding ISIS’ decline. That said, one may interpret Al Baghdadi’s appearance as a manifestation of distress and a reflection of the deep crisis ISIS leadership is facing, where high ranking clerics who are former members of that leadership are now trying to delegitimize the same leadership they served on. The reason for that delegitimization is a dispute with Al Baghdadi regarding an indiscriminate killing of Muslims, eliminating opposing voices within ISIS and the sorry state of the organization in terms of desertions, loss of territories etc.
Abu Muhamad Al Hashemi, a senior qadi and a former member ISIS’ “office of research and fatwas” (and apparently a distant cousin of Al Baghdadi) has emerged as one of Al Baghdadi’s fiercest critics. In a book published in March 2019 he described an egocentric and estranged leadership guided by its own self-serving interests, alienated from its members and one that has no qualms sacrificing them to fortify its position and promote those self-serving interests. Therefore, Al Baghdadi needs to be removed from office, replaced by another leader and even executed. This document purports to examine Al Hashemi’s criticism of Al Baghdadi’s leadership and its ramifications.
Since its inception in 2014 ISIS has been exposed to harsh criticism regarding its brutality and extreme interpretation of Islamic scripture. This criticism has been voiced by various institutions around the Islamic world, such as Al Azhar in Egypt, that clarified that ISIS is an illegitimate entity and an organization that does not represent authentic Islam but rather manifest a warped and distorted version of Islam. In September 2014, 126 leading Islamic clerics published a letter (dubbed “The Open Letter”) addressed to Al Baghdadi where they explained why ISIS does not operates according to Islam and why the latter distorts it. The various Jihad organizations led by Al Qaeda and the Afghani Taliban, chimed in and blamed ISIS leadership for distorting the true meaning of Jihad and harming the fight against the crusading enemy.
Criticism on ISIS’ way was heard inside the organization as well. An internal argument between two schools of thought within ISIS regarding the use of Takfir (i.e. declaring a Muslim as an infidel and thereby exposing them to potential violence) was exposed in 2017. The first, named “Al Banalia” after the scholar Abu Hammam Al Turki Al Binali (1984-2017) wanted to limit the use of Takfir and prudently apply it. the other, more extreme in its approach, named “Al-Hazamia” after the Sheikh Ahmad Al-Hazami (imprisoned in KSA since 2005). Even Al Hashemi himself addressed the Takfir issue and cautioned Al-Baghdadi, in a letter from 2017 called “the Hashemite Advice to the Leader of the Islamic State”, to use it sparingly. Al Hashemi stressed that a liberal use of Takfir manifests a wrongful trend that deviates from Islam and will likely harm ISIS, therefore it needs to be curbed. Eventually, Al Hashemi left ISIS in October 2017 over a disagreement with Al-Baghdadi’s policy.
Further, the strong sentiment against Al-Baghdadi surfaced in January 2019. According to the British Guardian his bodyguards thwarted an attempted coup that was carried out by foreign fighters in eastern Syria. According to western intelligence sources, Al Hashemi was the mind behind the failed coup.
“Go Back on Your Pledge of Allegiance to Al-Baghdadi”
In March 2019 Al Hashemi kept attacking Al-Baghdadi, this time in a book titled “Go Back on Your Pledge of Allegiance to Al-Baghdadi” (231 pages). The book is a fierce indictment against Al Baghdadi’s policy and explains, while using Islamic scriptures why Al-Baghdadi lost his legitimacy as a leader and why he needs to be removed. The book’s forward was written by two Islamic scholars: Sheikh Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Mardawi and Sheikh Khabab al-Jazrawi. Al Mardawi commented that in the beginning Al-Baghdadi was loyal to Islam and Jihad but over time lost his way and his behavior was typified by violating Sharia law and by committing multiple crimes such as murder, degradation and incarceration of scholars. Al-Jazrawi commended all the Muslims that chose to join Al-Baghdadi at the inception of ISIS believing he will follow in the footsteps of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, former AQ leader in Iraq, and implement Jihad in accordance with Sharia, but alas, Al-Baghdadi distorted Sharia, spewed nonsense and defamed prominent Jihad leaders such as Osama Bin Laden. Al-Jazrawi said that he consulted many members of ISIS and they all concluded that ISIS’ leadership has lost its way because of Takfir. Both al-Mardawi and al-Jazrawi said that in light of the above al-Baghdadi was no longer worthy of ruling as the Caliph and no one should swear allegiance to him. Al-Jazrawi even went as far as saying “I command my brothers in other provinces to follow the ruling of the Sheikh [i.e. the author] that says that Ibn Awad (i.e. al-Baghdadi) should be removed, all allegiance to him terminated and that a new leader should be elected, one that will follow Quran”.
In the preamble al-Hashemi expressed his appreciation to the soldiers of the Islamic state for their tenacity and willingness to fight for Allah and apply his laws and to their stellar success to conquer many territories in Iraq and Syria within a short time frame. Per his opinion ISIS’ soldiers can claim the following achievements:
That said, al-Hashemi claimed that al-Baghdadi hurt these achievements and bears the responsibility for the downfall of ISIS. He explained that the members swore allegiance to al-Baghdadi because they believed he would follow in the footsteps of “forefathers” (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Abu Umar A=al-Baghdadi and Abu Hassan al-Muhajir the former leader of the al-Qaeda extension in Iraq) who were inspired by Osama Bin Laden. But, once al-Baghdadi was appointed Caliph the organization’s way got distorted and it became corrupt. Moreover, its leadership lied and claimed it had established a Caliphate based on Muhammad’s way when in fact it followed a distorted interpretation of Islam and extremely overused Takfir. For example, the leadership executed dozens of Tunisian foreign fighters just because their thinking didn’t agree with the leadership’s.
Al Hashemi mentions nine major reasons explaining why al-Baghdadi’s rule is illegitimate and therefore he needs to be instantly deposed:
In light of the above, al-Hashemi justified a rebelling against a ruler that acts in a manner that contradicts Sharia, dishonors Muslims and murders many of them. He quoted Umar II (681-720), an Umayyad dynasty Caliph and a devout Muslim that stressed that one should obey a ruler that follows Allah not one who disobeys him. He added that in the first centuries of Islam, fifty scholars ruled that it is was lawful to rebel against a despot and anyone killed in such a rebellion is considered a shahid. By doing so al-Hashemi doubted the Hadith ruling that one should not rebel against a ruler even if said ruler is a despot. He also questioned the veracity of certain Islamic traditions considered as reliable and included in the canonic Hadith literature. For example, al-Hashemi a tradition included Sahih Muslim, one of the canonic Hadith collections in Islam, according to which, Muhammad ordered to obey a despot and forbade drawing a sword against him even if the despot didn’t pray and even if the animosity towards him was strong. Per al-Hashemi the chain of tellers (Sanad) was unreliable as their identities wasn’t known and therefore this was an unreliable Hadith. Al-Hashemi went even further and disputed a series of Hadiths forbidding a withdrawal of a pledge of allegiance and cautioning that a person doing so is punishable by death.
At the end of his book al-Hashemi requested that al-Baghdadi to resign in a manner that will prevent Muslim bloodshed. Similarly, he called ISIS troops to act swiftly and remove al-Baghdadi and his cronies and do that by taking control of the food depots, armories and money. He recommended to appoint another leader and pledge allegiance to him only if there is a consensus regarding his good qualities, courage and knowledge of Allah’s laws, even if said leader is not from the Quraysh tribe (Muhammad’s tribe). Per al- Hashemi this would be a pledge of allegiance to an Emir and not a Caliph and it is imperative that a Shura council will be established next to him. He also said that those who cannot depose of al-Baghdadi should at least revoke their pledge of allegiance and take caution before they take it again.
Further, al-Hashemi sent a message to ISIS troops outside of Syria and Iraq (Yemen, Egypt, Philippines) and urged them carry on with the Jihad but at the same time renounce al-Baghdadi. He called upon social media activists to continue assisting Jihad but not assist those who allow bloodshed and dishonor. Further, al-Hashemi called upon all foreign fighters to continue their Jihad and kill heretics but prudently and only if there is proof. Lastly, he called for unity among ISIS ranks and among ISIS and other Jihadi organizations who are not heretics. Per him, most of ISIS activists are good god-fearing Muslims but the leadership is the bad apple that corrupts the organization and causes civil war and it needs to be deposed.
The False Caliphate
Abu Isa Al-Masri, a former preacher for ISIS is one of the most vocal voices challenging al- Baghdadi. Towards the end of April 2019, he published a booklet named “The False Caliphate” where he said that al-Baghdadi is not a real leader but a fictional character existing only in a virtual world. He blamed al-Baghdadi’s followers that they tried to misrepresent that al-Baghdadi guides the Muslims from behind the scenes and that he avoids having his picture taken in public for security reasons. In his view al-Baghdadi became a symbol and virtual character without anyone knowing if he is alive. He even complained how disputes among ISIS members are being resolved: instead of disputes being argued in a Sharia court they are being settled over WhatsApp messages without reasoning or the possibility of appeal. Moreover, those who refuse to debate religious issues on social media is risking being indicted. Al-Masri clarifies that in light of the above the pledge of allegiance to al-Baghdadi is illegitimate since the leader is fictitious and illegitimate.
The challenge to al-Baghdadi posed by former high-ranking members of ISIS signifies a reduction of his political base. It is therefore, safe to assume that his public appearance at the end of April 2019 was not coincidental. The series of terror attacks carried out against hotels and churches in Sri Lanka on April 21st, 2019 played into al-Baghdadi’s hands and may have hastened the timing of his public appearance. The wide media coverage of the attacks, the large number of casualties and foreigners, the complexity of the attacks and the attackers pledge of allegiance to al-Baghdadi assisted him to prove that he still attracting Jihadists worldwide and that his leadership is legitimate despite the challenging voices. It is also reasonable to assume that strategic attacks are to be expected as al-Baghdadi would want to solidify ISIS as a major player in the Jihadi arena.
 Lizzie Dearden, "Al-Qaeda Leader Denounces Isis 'Madness and Lies' as Who Terrorist Groups Compete for Dominance", Independent, 3 January 2017.
 One of ISIS’ leading scholars. A- Binali (of Bahraini descent) was an avid supporter of al-Baghdadi but later turned away from him due to disagreement on the Takfir. Was in killed in a coalition aerial strike in Syria in 2017.
 For expansion on the Takfir debate see Cole Bunzel, "Caliphate in Disarray: Theological Turmoil in the Islamic State", Jihadica, October 3, 2017. http://www.jihadica.com/caliphate-in-disarray/
 17.2.2018. https://alabasirah.com/node/731
 17.2.2018. https://alabasirah.com/node/731
 The title is similar to the title of Al Banali’s book “Reach Out to Pledge Your Allegiance to Al-Baghdadi”. Al-Hashemi made a point of noting that his book was not a response to Banali’s book but rather his book complements Banali’s.
 Senior scholar and a former ISIS member
 Fought in several theatres, including Iraq and Syria until his injury. Within ISIS, oversaw teaching Sharia to Jihadists.
 Al-Mardawi said that the Khalif should have a spectrum of qualities such as nobility, courage, calm temper, knowledge etc., qualities that Al-Baghdadi lacks. Al Jazrawi blamed the leadership for ignoring members’ advice and instead of examining its veracity focused on defaming and demonizing the critics.
 Ibid, p.81.
 Ibid, p. 105.
 For example, he blamed Abu Hamza al-Kurdi, a senior ISIS military commander, as one of the contributors to the defeat because he harshly treated the Jihadists, shortened their preparation time and sent them unprepared to battle, resulting in hundreds of them death (There, P. 130)
 Indeed, al-Hashemi justifies the use of Islamic currency but criticizes the way it was minted which was not according to Sharia
 1.5.2019. https://www.aman-dostor.org/20888