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Calls for Jihad Split Salafist Movement

AMMAN, Jun 3 2012 (IPS) - The Arab Spring brought a host of new actors to the political stage. In Jordan, it pushed the Salafists to the fore, where some of the group’s more radical elements are now calling for holy war in neighbouring Syria. The Jordanian regime is growing increasingly concerned about the possible spillover effects of violence in Syria, especially since Jordanian Jihadist-Salafist Sheikh Abou Mohamad Tahawi recently released a fatwa calling for jihad in Syria.

“I called for any man able to go for jihad in Syria; it is the responsibility of any good Muslim to stop the bloodshed perpetrated by the Nusayri regime,” the Sheikh told IPS, referring to the ruling regime in Syria, which is Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

“The Alawite and Shiite coalition is currently the biggest threat to Sunnis, even more than the Israelis,” Tahawi stressed. Jordanian Jihadist-Salafists seem to have responded to Sheikh Tahawi’s call. According to journalist Tamer Smadi, a specialist on radical movements in the Hashemite Kingdom, a group of over 30 Jihadists tried to enter Syria a few weeks ago. All but seven, including Abu Anas Sahabi, an explosives specialist, were caught by Jordanian intelligence services.

Jihadists’ increasing radicalism has widened the gulf between extreme and moderate Salafists. The reformist wing has even met with the U.S. embassy, an unusual move for Salafists who do not recognise national politics.

“The Arab Spring resulted in the division of the Salafi community here in Jordan,” said Smadi.

Salafism – a movement that calls for a purer and more radical interpretation of Islam, following the precepts of the ‘Salaf al-Saleh’, or ‘the righteous predecessors’ – has been present in Jordan since the 1960s, when it was brought into the country by returning university students from Egypt and Syria.

Sheikh Mohamad Nasreldine Albani, an Albanian-Syrian religious leader, also played an influential role in the movement in the 1980s by heading a Salafi faction called Tabligh wal Daawa (Muslim Calling) in the city of Zarqa.

Salafism is based on three pillars: belief in one god, the ‘daawa’ or the missionary task, and ‘jihad’.

According to Sheikh Omar Bakri, a radical cleric who was expelled from Britain in 2005 for his alleged links with al-Qaeda, “Most Salafists, however, only apply the first two principles of true Islam without fulfilling the third, the jihad.”

The hawkish wing of the movement came into the public sphere in 2005, when Jihadist-Salafists under the leadership of Abu Mussaab al-Zarqawi organised a series of suicide bombings in several hotels around the capital, Amman, killing 60 and wounding dozens. Al-Zarqawi was later linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The resulting crackdown on the Salafist community forced the Jihadists among them to move largely underground until, when the pan-Arab pro-democracy movements kicked off in late 2010, they started participating in and organising protests in Jordan.

Jihadist-Salafists, a loosely structured faction who only number around 1,500 in Jordan, have recently begun to stage several demonstrations, the largest of which was held on Apr. 15 this year in the city of Zarqa and drew around 350 protesters.

The protest resulted in a violent clash with the police, leaving dozens of wounded policemen and numerous civilian causalities. In response, the Jordanian regime unleashed a harsh crackdown on the community, raiding several Jihadists’ homes in Zarqa and nearby towns and charging 146 with terrorist activities.

In Jordan, the vast majority of Salafists are traditionalists who focus on Islamic ‘fiqh’, or religious knowledge. But for over a year now, new players have emerged, namely reformists who subscribe to a more moderate approach to Salafism. In early April 2011, the ruling regime and several Salafist leaders held a meeting to negotiate demands.

Such reform is unprecedented within a religious faction that, unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, does not believe in political organisation. Traditional Salafists also generally reject the notion of nationalism and refuse to partake in political life, as they believe in the rule of a global Islamic Ummah.

“Reformers are coming to understand that the community has a greater role to play, whether politically, economically or socially,” said Ibrahim Hamad, himself a Salafist reformist. The Salafist reformists have also begun coordinating aid to Syrian refugees who have fled the ongoing violence in their country to Jordan.

“They (reformists) are growing in areas where Syrian refugees are present. Up until now they have distributed about five million dollars in aid, 60 percent of which is provided through countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Kuwait,” Smadi explained.


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