By Mahfuh Haji Halimi
April 11, 2019
In February 2019, Singapore authorities
arrested 48-year-old Malaysia-based businessman Mohamed Kazali bin Salleh and
28-year-old Hazim Syahmi bin Mahfoot on terrorism-related charges. Kazali had
funded a Malaysian Islamic State fighter for his trip to Syria as well as
provided him with material assistance there. He was also willing to facilitate
the travel of others who wished to fight in Syria.
Kazali’s role as a financial and material
supporter of IS fighters throws a spotlight on how certain Islamic concepts
that outline the conditions under which a Muslim should help another have been
misinterpreted by terrorist groups, including IS. The first is about helping
one another in furthering virtue and taqwa (piety or God-consciousness); the
second concerns martyrdom; and the third is over the question of a martyr’s
intercession for fellow Muslims to enter paradise.
Misreading Islamic Doctrines
Kazali had funded Malaysian Akel Zainal for
his trip to Syria because he believed Akel was doing something good and acting
out of piety. Kazali’s support was likely based on an often misconstrued belief
among supporters of Islamist militant groups that the assistance provided could
earn him a ticket to paradise should Akel be killed and achieve ‘martyrdom’.
Firstly, jihadist supporters like Kazali
tend to wrongly believe that they are doing a service to Islam by providing the
means for others to be involved in the fighting in conflict zones where Muslims
are seen to be “persecuted”. While the Quran calls on Muslims ‘to help one
another in furthering virtue and God-consciousness’, it also warns them not to
‘help one another in furthering evil and enmity’. In this light, Kazali’s
action cannot be considered as promoting righteousness and piety; instead, it
constitutes advancing nefarious activities and conflicts.
This is because Akel had joined IS, a
designated terrorist organisation which had violated numerous Islamic laws
upheld by Muslim scholars and the wider Muslim community. Among others, IS
explicitly went against Islamic laws which forbid the killing of innocents and
non-combatants, the desecration and destruction of places of worship, the
torture of prisoners, the mutilation of corpses and forced conversions. IS also
revived slavery and misinterpreted and distorted Islamic teachings and
doctrines to suit its religio-political ends.
In doing so, IS revolted against the Muslim
community, rulers and scholars who oppose them. IS waged armed and violent
opposition against Muslim states for not ruling according to the Sharia and
rejected advice by prominent Islamic scholars around the world to stop the
fighting. Instead, IS labelled the scholars, rulers and governments as
apostates. Using this as an excuse to declare jihad, IS has legitimised
terrorising and killing of government and community leaders, members of the
armed forces, and public servants, treating them as legitimate targets.
Secondly, Kazali would have defined Akel’s
fight against perceived oppression, persecution and injustice against Islam and
Muslims as a jihad. This is supported by his view that the IS fighters were
“righteous” individuals defending Muslims in Syria. However, it is essential to
underscore that not only Akel but also IS’ claim of jihad does not
automatically qualify it to be legitimate and in accordance with Islam.
IS has waged jihad it in a manner that
flouts all guidelines which the Qur’an and Traditions of the Prophet have
stipulated. IS’ so-called jihad has been based on hatred, revenge, bloodlust
and military adventurism, resulting in the killing of non-combatants, women and
It is clear that IS’ motive for jihad has
departed from the one prescribed by an authentic Prophetic saying which
explains that jihad cannot be waged without having both the right intention and
just cause. This is a fundamental issue because in the end, how jihad is waged
determines God’s acceptance. As such, IS’ war is not jihad, and its dead
fighters are not martyrs. Period.
Related to jihad is the concept of
martyrdom. Linking martyrdom and martyrs predominantly with military actions as
IS has done is fundamentally wrong. Individuals like Kazali should have heeded
the fact that Prophet Muhammad himself had defined martyrdom and martyrs in an
expansive manner. The Prophet included “the believer who suffers a painful
death from a variety of debilitating illnesses, from a difficult labour in the
case of women, or from falling victim to an unfortunate accident, such as being
crushed to death by a falling wall, in addition to falling on the battlefield”.
Thirdly, Kazali could have wrongly
connected Akel’s supposed martyrdom with his own afterlife reward. That is,
should Akel be “martyred in battle”, Akel’s intercession (shafaat) would allow
him (Kazali) to enter paradise. In principle, intercession is only applicable
to those who are killed while fighting a legitimate jihad which IS’ war is
Also, the privilege of intercession demands
complete compliance with the prerequisites of martyrdom as discussed earlier.
In simple terms, a fighter cannot expect to dwell in paradise and intercede for
others when he fights alongside those who engage in atrocities instead of just
acts. Hence, the understanding of intercession by jihadist supporters like
Kazali is theologically and logically flawed.
To fortify the community against supporting
the erroneous beliefs of terrorist groups, it is critical that the religious
authorities and scholars develop a clear understanding of the religious
doctrines and their proper contextual application. Reading the religious texts
and knowing the context should not be devoid of independent reasoning that
empowers them with the wisdom to put things in its rightful place.
In this regard, MUIS and the Religious
Rehabilitation Group (RRG) are moving in the right direction with their efforts
to educate and raise the awareness of the Muslim community, both in the virtual
and physical space. For instance, MUIS’ MuslimSG smartphone app engages
netizens with bite-size contemporary Islamic guidance.
Among its initiatives, RRG recently
completed its second run of the Awareness Programme for Youth (APY) that
focuses on the practice of Islam in a secular, plural society like Singapore.
These outreach strategies are commendable; they could be developed further to
reach out to more Muslim segments on the misinterpretation of Islamic concepts
by terrorist groups. They can also help anticipate extremist narratives in an
ever-changing religious landscape.