Written by R. Green
Over recent years, a new phenomenon has emerged among radical Islamist circles: the rise of a global network of groups calling for the total Islamization of Western states and societies via the implementation of shari'a law, the abolishment of democratic states and their replacement by Islamic regimes.
These groups, which have referred to themselves as the global shari'a movement, strive to globalize ideas and tactics hatched within radical Salafi circles in the U.K. These circles are led by Sheikh 'Omar Bakri, who was denied reentry into the country after he left for Lebanon following the 2005 London bombings, and his disciple Anjem Choudary, who founded several groups in the country that have since been banned by the British authorities.
Choudary has significant influence and involvement in most, if not all, of the groups which are part of the so-called global shari'a movement, whether directly or in inspiration, moral support or guidance. His name regularly appears on their websites, YouTube clips, and Facebook pages. For instance, the contact page on the Shariah4usa website provides contact information for Choudary, as well as for Bakri and for Ibrahim Siddiq Conlon, the head of Sharia4australia who recently posted a letter of support for Choudary on his Facebook page.
Such groups have adopted Bakri and Choudary's worldview and modus operandi in openly calling for and demonstrating in favor of the establishment of Islamic rule, while opposing democracy as a political ideal and system, condemning freedom, and protesting the West's alleged crimes against Muslims. However, despite the image they have attempted to create, and despite meriting some media attention in the countries where they operate, the groups lack a substantial presence on the ground, with the exception of the U.K.-based groups, whose relatively high numbers and effective organization enable them to be more active – and, as a result, to enjoy considerably larger publicity in the media. The most tangible presence of these groups, especially those outside the U.K., is on online social networks, namely YouTube and Facebook.
The groups and figures that propagate Bakri and Choudary's ideology include:
It would seem that the only group outside Britain with a sizeable presence on the ground is Shariah4belgium. This group, led by Fouad Belkacem – also known as Abu Imran – has documented several types of activities, including the following.
1) "Street da'wa" – public proselytizing, mainly in Muslim neighborhoods in Belgian cities, by handing out leaflets or speaking in public places, such as shopping centers or main streets.
2) Video lectures – the group has posted to the Internet many videos of lectures, lessons and interviews on various Islamic issues in several languages (including Flemish, French, English, Arabic, and Dutch) mostly by Abu Imran.
3) Demonstrations – Shariah4belgium has held demonstrations in major cities for various causes, such as a demonstration against the Moroccan government. In one of its YouTube clips, the group's members filmed themselves burning an American flag.
Global Shariah Groups Facebook page – "Destroying the Ideology of Democracy"
The worldview espoused by these groups can be summarized as follows:
The world today is governed by non-Islamic governments and legal systems, which means that the world is in a situation similar to that of the pre-Islamic era [the jahiliya]. This situation calls for immediate and organized action on the part of the Muslims to abolish the current systems, whether the democratic system in the West or the various other ruling systems in the Islamic countries, and to establish Islamic states in their stead. In other words, all political, social, and economic systems must be Islamized. Muslims everywhere must act immediately to achieve this goal through organized activity, the preliminary stage of which is preaching and propagating Islam (da'wa) and condemning deviant practices (hisba).
The stated purpose of all of the groups that share this goal is to establish states ruled by Islamic law, or shari'a, which they consider to embody the basis for all aspects of statecraft. This is the guiding principle behind Bakri and Choudary's work, and one which has gained wide publicity in the past decade.
The stated platform of the French group Jama'at Al-Tawhid is representative of this general outlook: "Our message to the French government and to any other [institution that is governed by] man-made law is that Muslims around the world will only submit to Allah (swt) and believe it is a crime and an act of apostasy to obey a law created by man, [such] as the French law.
"The two systems of secularism and Islam are opposed: you cannot say that sovereignty and supremacy belong to man on the one hand, and that sovereignty belongs to Allah on the other. We must have priority, and [the priority] goes to Islam.
"Muslims must believe that Islam will dominate France and will replace the French government constitution by the Shariah."
There are several ways in which the shari'a groups have striven to establish a global movement with unified themes and messages:
1. Shari'a groups use similar logos, which are usually the map of a country with a black Islamist flag superimposed on it, to symbolize Islam taking over that country. Likewise, their websites, Facebook pages, and YouTube clips are replete with images of famous monuments and national icons from the respective Western countries where they are based, with a black Islamist flag flying above them – such as the White House (turned into a mosque), the Australian parliament building, or London's Big Ben tower.
Image from a Sharia4Australia clip: Islamist flag flying over the Australian parliament
2. The people behind these groups interact via Facebook and YouTube, responding to and emulating each other's postings and clips, etc.
3. The shari'a groups often post videos in which representatives of a given group address their colleagues in other countries and offer them their blessing, encouragement, and support.
4. There has been at least one attempt to organize a joint event with the participation of several shari'a groups, namely the planned demonstration against France's ban on full covering of the face (the niqab ban). Anjem Choudary and Shariah4belgium's Abu Imran announced their intentions to join the French shari'a group Jama'at Al-Tawhid in its demonstration in Paris against the niqab ban, and posted inflammatory videos on YouTube denouncing France for the law.
Image from Women4shariah's website: Islamist flag flying over famous Western monuments
5. The shari'a groups intentionally use blatant, aggressive, and provocative slogans and messages, not only in demonstrations against non-Muslim institutions, but also when addressing Muslims of whom they disapprove. Thus, they speak of "destroying democracy," curse their adversaries, and use the strongest possible terms when protesting or opposing a phenomenon they dislike. These groups consider this the proper form of da'wa and the duty of "commanding good and forbidding evil," or hisba. According to their worldview, when making an effort to correct the ways of society as a whole, Muslims must band together into groups and convey their message using strong, uncompromising, and even offensive language, and must be prepared to use force to correct social deviations. An example for this tendency is the first objective Sharia4australia lists among its goals: "To rise and proclaim publicly – hatred, emnity [sic] and dissavowal [sic] to kufr [unbelief], shirk [polytheistic] democracy and taghut [idols, meaning the infidel rulers] by showing the real evils of democracy."
Notwithstanding their common calls for the implementation of shari'a, condemnation of democracy, and so forth, each shari'a group has its own unique concerns. Thus, Shariah4belgium, which comprises numerous Moroccan immigrants, has staged several protests against the Moroccan government, and many of its videos deal with Moroccan politics. As mentioned, the now-defunct French shari'a group Jama'at Al-Tawhid organized a protest against the French law banning garb that fully covers the face. Ibrahim Siddiq Conlon, of Sharia4australia, made a video condemning the participation of Australia's military in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
When asked about terrorism, spokesmen of these movements state that they condemn terrorism and reject the killing of innocent people. Yet they always clarify that in their eyes, the only true terrorism are the actions of the U.S. and its allies. Although these groups are not directly linked to Al-Qaeda or other elements within the global jihad movement, they regularly express support for global jihad.
For instance, Sharia4australia's videos feature the Al-Qaeda flag. Similarly, Abu Imran of Shariah4belgium frequently appears on the backdrop of the Al-Qaeda flag. His group also conducted a memorial prayer service for Osama bin Laden after the latter's assassination, and Abu Imran eulogized him in a video. In an interview posted on YouTube, Abu Imran states: "May Allah give victory to the mujahideen wherever they are, and may Allah humiliate and destroy the kuffar [infidels] wherever they are." In this vein, it should also be mentioned that in the past, Abu Imran maintained contact with prominent Salafi-jihadi cleric Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi, from whom he sought spiritual and practical guidance regarding the best way to advance the Islamic cause in Belgium (see below). Shariah4usa regularly posts materials supporting Al-Qaeda on its Facebook page and YouTube channel, while several members of Shariah4belgium have been arrested on terrorism-related charges.
Image from an Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula clip posted by Shariah4USA on its YouTube channel
Aside from global jihad connections, shari'a groups espouse other extremist ideologies. For example, Ibrahim Siddiq Conlon of Sharia4australia boasted on his Facebook page that he was reading Adolf Hitler's infamous Mein Kampf, and expressed admiration for Hitler, his ideology, and his deeds.
Image from the Facebook page of Ibrahim Siddiq Conlon of Sharia4Australia
Salafi-Jihadis Oppose Shari'a Groups
The notion of Muslims propagating and working for the establishment of Islamic states in non-Muslim Western countries is by no means accepted or supported within the Salafi camp, and is openly opposed by some Salafi-jihadi scholars.
On April 23, 2010, the Salafi-jihadi website Minbar Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad published correspondence between Abu Imran of Shariah4belgium and Sheikh Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi. In a letter to Al-Maqdisi, Abu Imran wrote asking for advice and support for a new organization, whose purpose would be to implement shari'a law, oppose democracy, and call the people to Allah. Abu Imran said Al-Maqdisi's blessing would legitimize the group's cause among Muslims. In his reply, Al-Maqdisi wrote that the best course of action for Abu Imran and his peers would be to support the mujahideen on the front lines in any way they could. He went on to say that since today there was no true Islamic state to which Muslims living in Western countries could emigrate, they must instead improve the religious environment where they lived, investing in shari'a studies and cultivating a shari'a-based lifestyle, in order to guide other Muslims and provide Islamic alternatives to Western societies. He went on to say that Muslims in the West should focus on bringing people closer to Allah while addressing them in terms they could relate to, adding: "Various means are allowed in proselytizing, as long as they are in accordance with shari'a."
In addition, Al-Maqdisi wrote to Abu Imran that he and his fellow Muslims should hate, shun, and even boycott those who opposed them. Al-Maqdisi offered Abu Imran the same advice he had given others before: that it was not yet time for the Muslims in the West to confront the regimes they were living under since, for various reasons, the Muslims were still in a state of weakness. In the meantime, he said, these Muslims "must avoid the ills of Western societies... [and] fortify their communities against the penetration of outsiders... until Allah grants the establishment of an Islamic state that rules by the shari'a and flies the banner of Allah's unity."
Another cleric who expressed reservations about the type of activity promoted by these shari'a groups, though for quite different reasons, was Abu Uzair Al-Jazairi, who resides in Denmark. In an inquiry submitted to Minbar Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad's shari'a committee, Abu Uzair was asked for his opinion regarding the shari'a groups. He replied that the Muslims in these groups failed to distinguish between dar al-islam (the Abode of Islam) and dar al-kufr (the Abode of Unbelief), which he said ran counter to one of the main principles of the Salafi-jihadi notion of al-wala' wa'l-bara' (sole loyalty to Islam and the disavowal of other faiths). He said that such groups should disassociate themselves from the polytheists by leaving Western countries to go to Muslim countries, and insinuated that one must not assist these groups.
Logo of Shariah4Poland
The global shari'a groups have succeeded in attracting the support of some Muslims for their cause and in grabbing some media attention, with members appearing on TV shows and in other media reports. However, it seems that so far, the attempt by radical Salafi circles in the U.K., led by Anjem Choudary, to globalize the campaign for the Islamization of Western countries has failed to gain momentum. This can be attributed to several reasons:
1) Lack of support for this type of activity among respected scholars, even in radical and/or Salafi circles.
2) Firm action on behalf of governments to monitor and stop inflammatory activities, i.e. France's prevention of the demonstration against the niqab ban in April 2011.
3) Questionable leadership, such as in the case of Shariah4usa, whose main activist is an ex-convict. Abu Imran of Shariah4belgium is wanted by the Moroccan government for drug-trafficking, while Sharia4australia is run by the Hitler-admiring Ibrahim Siddiq Conlon.
In spite of their relatively small presence on the ground, these groups should not be totally ignored. Their inflammatory rhetoric and support for global jihad represent vis-Ã -vis Muslim youth a potential stepping stone to active engagement in global jihad.
* R. Green is a research fellow at MEMRI.
** N. Maruani, N. Blum and I. Cohen contributed to the research for this report.