A window to stop the cycle of ideology of violence – Analysis – Eurasia Review
The voice of counter-terrorism and counter-narrative advocates must be loud enough to challenge the intellectual capacity of the group by addressing the so-called misguided”prophetic methodology‘, which the group claims to follow. One such concept is that of bai’at, or the oath of allegiance.
In February 2022, the so-called second caliph of ISIS Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi was killed during an operation by US special operations forces in the Syrian province of Idlib. To build unity, online discussions, especially within the Indonesian pro-ISIS community, stress the importance of preserving the bay’at in al-Qurashi and continuing their routine of spreading propaganda or mounting attacks. Earlier this month, IS announced the appointment of Abu Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi as the third caliph. Hundreds of pro-ISIS supporters in West Africa Province (ISWAP), Somalia, Levant, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan (ISKP) and East Asia lent allegiance to the new ruler. It is important to note that the starting point of the support is generally preceded by a bay’at.
Bai’at is an Arabic term that symbolizes an oath of allegiance and loyalty. The importance of bay’at for terrorist groups can be distinguished from bin Laden’s pledge of allegiance to former Taliban leader Mulla Omar in response to the imposition of United Nations sanctions against the group in February 2001. This is similar to the concept and practice of swearing allegiance and loyalty to a state. Contrary to popular belief, bay’at predated Islam and was common among the Arabs of pre-Islamic Arabia. It usually preludes a pact between tribes to establish security in the absence of state power.
extremist practice of Bai’at in modern times
Southeast Asia offers many examples of the practice of bay’at among Islamic extremists. Singapore made multiple arrests in 2001-02 when it uncovered an underground cell linked to Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). Investigations revealed that individuals had executed bay’at to the leaders of the JI or the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
In Malaysia, Gagak Hitam or the Black Crow cell led by Muhammad Wanndy Mohamad Jedi, killed in an April 2017 drone attack in Syria, also said bay’at to the first caliph of ISIS Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The evidence also pointed to instances where IS supporters gave their pledge online via the Telegram chat app.
In July 2014, JI spiritual leader Abu Bakar Bashir, surrounded by militants in the maximum security prison on the island of Nusa Kambangan, Indonesia, declared his allegiance to ISIS. A month later, dozens of individuals appeared in a video bay’at to then-ISIS leader al-Baghdadi during an event held at the Islamic State University (UIN Syarif Hidayatullah) hotel in Jakarta. With regard to the financing of terrorism, the bay’at event at the university successfully raised US$3,500 in donations.
On July 23, 2014, a splinter group from the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) led by Basilan wing operations chief Isnilon Hapilon released a video on YouTube showing ASG members in Bicutan prison in the Philippines pledging allegiance to ISIS. ISIS has also released several videos showing the acceptance of bay’at by various battalions under Hapilon in December 2015 and June 2016. The repercussion of these activities was evident when the Siege of Marawi erupted nearly a year later.
Essentially, bay’at, as people like IS profess, is an existential threat. It is the bond that unites the commitment and loyalty of IS supporters regardless of the status of the group. They were taught that breaking the oath will result in divine retribution. This threat of “revenge” might be the best explanation for the online chatter of the Indonesian pro-ISIS community which emphasizes the importance of preserving the bay’at to al-Qurashi upon hearing the news of his death. The persistence of IS supporters in living their bay’at needs to be examined more closely by proponents of counter-speech.
Some of my research results suggest that members of Islamist terrorist groups may have disagreed with an operation that targeted noncombatants as God-sanctioned. Unfortunately, challenging the chief’s order is tantamount to breaking the bay’at, thus questioning their loyalty. Leaving the band isn’t even an option. This misunderstanding plays a significant role in suppressing the attrition rate among members. In sum, bay’at is an instrument used by management to control subordinates.
Approach to ideological change
Supporters of the CT counter-narrative must offer IS supporters the opportunity to “unlearn and re-learn” the notion of bay’at from an authentic Islamic point of view.
It is first a question of “unlearning” the practice of SI bay’at thinking about the ramifications of that allegiance. It’s no secret that the group blatantly disregards the public interest and welfare and only causes civil unrest. A sworn allegiance to any caliph is an endorsement of IS cruelty. The pro-ISIS community should then “relearn” the correct understanding of the concept by examining its true purpose, as demonstrated by the Prophet Muhammad. We would agree that bay’at, in many accounts during the lifetime of the Prophet, was to ethically promote good and prevent evil. The Quran itself speaks of giving and accepting promises from people not to steal, commit adultery and fornication, kill their children or slander.
Secondly, it is about “unlearning” the understanding established within this community that their bay’at is irrevocable. The process of “relearning” would reveal that Islamic jurisprudence holds that any covenant given to anyone other than a prophet or messenger of God is revocable because it is conditional. The Prophet Muhammad is said to have ordered not to observe obedience to a human being if it involves disobedience to God, such as commission of injustice, oppression, breaking blood ties, among others. An oath of allegiance to ISIS meets the criteria described by the Prophet, therefore invalid and revocable.
No time to waste
Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore recognize that religious intervention is a crucial element of CVE. These countries should once again be at the forefront of effecting ideological change, especially where bay’at is concerned. A partnership between government agencies, local leaders, social media companies, and nonprofits could positively build influence to challenge this misguided belief. This small window of ideological intervention must be optimized before the violent cycle begins again.
*Muhammad Saiful Alam Shah Sudiman is a Research Associate, International Center for Research on Political Violence and Terrorism, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, National Technological University. He was also a religious counselor with the Singapore Religious Rehabilitation Group for over 16 years.