After we finished our weapons training, we would perform the sunset salat [prayer]and then assemble in the cantina. We always ate together.
There were two Afghanis who cooked for us; they lived next to the cantina, near the entrance to the camp. Right behind their hut, in the base of the mountain, there was a small cave where they baked bread. One of the cooks was both deaf and dumb, but since we were all under strict instructions not to speak to the Afghanis, this hardly was a problem.
The problem was that the food was terrible, and the same every day. We were always hungry; every one of us lost a lot of weight while we were at Khaldan [in Afghanistan]. For lunch and dinner we almost always ate a kind of stew made of beans. We rarely ate meat, even though there were chickens running around the cooks’ house and they would cook one from time to time. We knew from the smell.
Early on, I noticed that everyone put huge amounts of salt on their food. At first I thought this was to mask the taste. Later, I realised it was because our bodies desperately needed the minerals. Without meat, we weren’t getting the nutrients that we needed to support what our bodies were going through. The trainers reminded us, of course, that we wouldn’t be eating meat on the battlefield either.
There was always religious instruction after dinner. The emir and the trainers reminded us constantly that this was the most important part of becoming a mujahid [fighter]. Before we began fighting for God, we needed to understand what he had called us to do.
Some nights we practised tajwid [proper reading]and other nights we would study the Kur’an and the hadith, the traditions established by the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammed. Sometimes, we were taught by the trainers. Other times, we were taught by other recruits, mostly Arabs, because they were by and large the most educated.
We learned a great deal during these lessons each evening, but most of all we learned about the laws of jihad. There are more than 150 verses in the Kur’an about jihad, and hundreds of references in the hadith. I had read a lot of justifications in Al Ansar [the newsletter of the Algerian Islamist group the GIA]for some of the most grotesque practices of war. But it wasn’t until I got to Khaldan that I started learning for myself what the Kur’an actually had to say about jihad.
There are many different kinds of jihad, of course. There is the inner jihad, which is something every true Muslim practises constantly. There is the jihad of knowledge and scholarship. There is the jihad of the tongue, which takes all kinds of forms. It can mean proselytising, as I had seen at Tabligh [a grassroots Islamic movement]. Or it can mean speaking out politically, through sermons or through protest, or even through propaganda such as Al Ansar. There is the jihad waged through actions, such as making the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, or even giving money to support the ultimate jihad, the kutila fi sabilillah. The holy war.
We talked almost entirely about this last form of jihad, of course. We learned all the rules of engagement. Force is to be avoided unless it is absolutely necessary, and even then it is to be used only in proportion to the strength of the enemy. But once force becomes necessary, no one can shirk his duty. If one woman halfway around the world is raped or taken from her family, all Muslims must come together to fight until the injustice is righted. It is required by God.
Before he fights, a brother must prepare himself. First and foremost, he must prepare himself spiritually. With faith, an army can vanquish an opponent 10 times the size. ‘How many a little company has overcome a mighty host by God’s leave! God is with the steadfast.’
Other kinds of preparation are vital as well. A mujahid must be morally prepared; he must avoid all sins and make himself pure before God. He must also prepare his body and make it as strong as possible. And every brother must learn everything he can about science and technology, so that his superiority over the enemy is total.
Once in battle, a mujahid must obey very strict laws. There must be no slaughter of innocents. No indiscriminate killing, no killing of women and children, no mutilating the corpses of the enemies. No destroying of schools or churches or water supplies or even fields and livestock. No killing of anyone during prayer, regardless of whether those prayers are Muslim or Christian or Jewish or anything else.
I learned how important it is to fight for the right reasons. A mujahid must fight only for God, not for material gain, not for politics. He fights with righteousness on his side, and he fights to serve God’s creation. The deeper his faith in God becomes, the greater his ability will be to honour God’s work.
True believers are those whose lives God has bought in exchange for the promise of paradise. They must not flee from battle, even if they are facing certain death. A man who turns his back on the unbelievers and runs, it says in the Kur’an, ‘has indeed incurred God’s severe punishment, and his final refuge is the Fire; how evil a homecoming and a destination to arrive in.’
I was surprised to learn how specific the laws of jihad actually are far more so than any of the human rights conventions dreamed up in the West. In fact, our teachers told us again and again that these principles are what differentiate Muslims from non-Muslims. The infidels are the ones who murder indiscriminately, lawlessly. They lay waste to whole cities, even entire populations. They bomb churches and mosques and schools.
We learned about the British and the French, who conquered peoples all over the world and stole their land for their colonies. We learned about Hitler and his concentration camps. We learned about how the Americans had slaughtered the Koreans and the Vietnamese. We learned about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the carpet bombings at the end of World War II. And of course we learned about the horrors the Israelis had perpetrated in Palestine, but all of us already knew about that. The infidels massacred and bombed and destroyed everything in their path. They were animals.
Of course, learning all this made me think again about what I knew about the war in Algeria. The GIA [militant Islamist group in Algeria]had done so many of the things forbidden in Islamic law. They had murdered civilians, even shot up whole schools. But over time I learned something about the laws of jihad: there is room. There is room within the boundaries of the law for all sorts of interpretation.
There is room particularly when it comes to defining who the enemies are, and who the innocents. It seems simple, of course the enemies are the ones with the guns. According to the laws of jihad, however, the definition of ‘enemy’ can be expanded to include the entire supply chain: anyone who supports the enemy with money or weapons, or even food or water; even to those who provide moral support journalists, for instance, who, write in defence of the enemy’s cause.
But how far, I wondered, does the supply chain extend? To anyone who votes for an enemy regime? What about those who don’t take sides at all? How far does it go?
Women are generally thought to be innocent; yet they, too, can be the enemy. If a woman prays to God to protect her husband, then she is not an enemy. But if she prays for him to kill a Muslim, then
she is. It is similar for children. A young boy can be forgiven for his prayers; he is too young to be responsible for that. But if he carries food or even a message to an enemy fighter, then he becomes an enemy.
I came to understand how, in the mind of an extremist, almost anyone could become the enemy.
This is an edited extract from Omar Nasiri’s Inside the Global Jihad (Scribe) RRP: $32.95
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