ISIS: Ideas, Funding, and the Muslim Brotherhood

Published: August 01, 2014

timthumb The fall of Mosul to ISIS fighters and subsequent declaration of an Islamic “caliphate” shocked the world, prompting urgent questions about the origins of the group, its intellectual foundations, its ambitions, and its sources of finance. In response, Al-Mesbar Center’s 92nd monthly book places ISIS under the spotlight, posing questions about its past, present and future. Is ISIS the result of the a transformation of Salafi jihadism wrought by its relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, or does it stem from the expansion of “takfiri” ideologies, or is it the product of political circumstances? This volume analyzes the organization with these concerns in mind.

In his paper, “The Intellectual Highlights of the Islamic State – ISIS,” Egyptian researcher Maher Firighly examines the fine points of the ISIS creed which distinguish it from Al-Qaeda and various Salafi jihadist groups. The study covers some of the particularities of the ISIS gloss on Islam, such as the principle of “not excusing ignorance” (‘adam al-‘udhr bi ‘l-jahl).

Moroccan researcher Muntasir Hammada, who specializes in Islamist movement, argues in his paper that the Muslim Brotherhood lacks the intellectual capacity to confront ISIS. This is due to their weakness in matters of dogma, their culture of conspiracy theory, and some of the Brotherhood’s political calculations which mitigate against confronting the group. Hammada also provides an overview of historical overlap between ISIS and the Brotherhood, and observes that the Brotherhood never condemned the terrorism ISIS practiced. Rather, only some Salafi groups that raised objections.

Munzir Baldiyafi, a Tunisian researcher, discusses the North African repercussions of the rise of ISIS, with a special focus on his native land. He argues that the Tunisian Ennahda party is at heart a kindred spirit to ISIS. Citing intelligence sources alleging an agreement between Libyan jihadist from the Ansar Al-Sharia organization and elements from ISIS, he suggests that the two groups are coordinating the deployment of Libyan and Tunisian fighters to ISIS-controlled territories. Thousands of Tunisian fighters, he notes, surfaced in jihadi hot spots in 2012 and 2013. The alleged collaboration between the groups is thought to have been facilitated by Salafi-leaning Ennahda leaders while the latter party governed Tunisia. Baldiyafi notes that some observers expect to see an “Islamic State” eventually declared in the Maghreb.

Concern about the expansion of ISIS is course not limited to North Africa. There are also widespread concerns about Jordan, which the organization has declared its intention to conquer. Jordanian researcher Nadiah Saadaddin contributes a paper about the Jordanian security services’ worries — not only about border encroachment, but also a development from within the country. Saadaddin explains that there are clear indications of a potential domestic emergence of ISIS, thanks to the growth of Salafi jihadist groups and the large number of Jordanians who have joined and fought with ISIS. Some of these, she writes, are liable to bring their fighting skills home and attempt to use them. The Jordanian government is gambling on the deep schisms among local Salafi jihadis which became apparent as they fought amongst each other in Syria as well as Iraq. She observes that numerous Salafi jihadis, as well as members of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, stood against ISIS, despite the many commonalities among their respective ideologies.

Lebanese research Haytham Muzahim’s contribution, “The Seeds of ISIS in Lebanon and Their Regional Role,” explores the development  of ISIS cells in Lebanon. He describes the presence of ISIS in Tripoli and other areas of northern Lebanon, as well as some of the Palestinian refugee camps, especially in the Ayn Al-Hilwa camp near Sidon — and one can see the black ISIS black flag on balconies and some of the streets of Tripoli. Nonetheless, such public demonstrations may indicate sympathy or solidarity but not organizational affiliation.

Munir Adib, an Egyptian specialist in Islamist movements, indulges the question often asked in the region as to whether ISIS is a creation of foreign intelligence powers aiming to fracture Syria, Iraq, and perhaps other countries? The paper lays out some of the most prevalent conspiracy theories to this effect, as well as the evidence the theorists use to make their case. It offers a glimpse into a mindset all too common in the region at the present time.

Mohammad Al-Umar, a Saudi researcher, discusses in his paper some of the mysteries of how ISIS finances itself. He points to the massive financial capabilities of this organization, its administrative system, and its formidable smuggling and investment capabilities.

Maher Frighly also contributes two book reviews to this volume. The first is The Creed of Ibrahim by Isam Al-Barqawi Al-Utaybi (also known as “Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi”). The second, Issues in the Jurisprudence of Jihad, is a discussion of 20 facets of jihad in Islam by the Egyptian jihadists Abu Abdulrahman Al-Ali, known to his followers as “Abu Abdullah Al-Muhajir”.

The Center would like to extend its gratitude to all the contributors who made this book possible, especially Omar Al-Bashir Al-Turabi, who coordinated and oversaw its production.