Nine Syrian rebel and jihadist groups fighting against President Bashar al-Assad have issued a collective statement against the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), with some leaders affiliated with al-Qaeda calling the declaration of an Islamic Caliphate in the region a “clear breach of Islam.”
ISIS, which rebranded this week as simply the Islamic State after declaring a caliphate under its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has insisted that its gains in Iraq and takeover of major Syrian cities such as Raqqah have put it in a position to establish a sovereign Islamic State. Groups of anti-Assad rebels, which include both political dissidents and jihadist groups like the al-Qaeda affiliate the Al Nusra Front, collectively issued a statement in which they reject the sovereignty and existence of the Islamic Caliphate.
Al Jazeera reports that nine groups, including both jihadists and Islamic scholars, wrote a letter in which they challenge the legality of establishing a caliphate under Sharia law. “The terms of the caliphate have not been realised at present, especially in terms of state organisations,” the statement reads, adding that such an announcement is “null and void… both legally and logically.”
Many of the signatories elaborated on their positions elsewhere. As the Long War Journal chronicles, leaders of terrorist jihadist groups like the Al Nusra Front rejected the caliphate under the argument that Sharia law does not permit the group to have authority to establish such power. Abu Sulayman al Muhajir of the Al Nusra Front explained on Twitter that such a declaration was a “clear breach of Islam” and that ISIS was merely using the declaration to establish a “stronger ‘Islamic’ justification for them [the Islamic State] to kill Muslims.”
Sami al Uraydi, another senior cleric affiliated with the Al Nusra Front, echoed those sentiments: the caliphate, he said, “is really a declaration of war against Muslims, rather than [the establishment of] an Islamic Caliphate.”
The staunch opposition to ISIS from groups like the Al Nusra Front stems from ISIS’s initial separation from Al Qaeda, a group with which it was once affiliated, but drifted apart from as it grew increasingly extreme. ISIS leaders’ rejection of the authority of many Al Qaeda senior leaders led to its becoming a rival organization, one that experts say may have the ability to dethrone Al Qaeda as the biggest jihadist terror cell in the world.
In part because of this rift, ISIS has long struggled to acquire the support of figures of authority in Sunni Islam. While far more successful in recruiting jihadists internationally – and particularly from the West – clerics comfortable with supporting jihadist terror groups like Al Qaeda have generally looked askance at ISIS. This lack of authority in the group makes the caliphate, in the eyes of many jihadists, a violation of Sharia law.
Read the full statement in Arabic here.