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The Spiritual Teacher and His Truants: The Influence and Relevance of Abu Mohammad al-Maqdisi


Studies in Conflict & TerrorismJournal abstract
Abu Mohammad al-Maqdisi is one of the most important spiritual fathers of the ideology and movement that has come to be known as Salafi-jihadism. Based on primary source materials produced by al-Maqdisi and other important relevant actors at different times and places, this article shows how he developed the ideas that have influenced his disciples and protégés, most prominently Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, the founder of Al Qaeda in Iraq and “godfather” of the Islamic State, and Turki al-Binali, the Islamic State's current Grand Mufti. It also explains how and why, in later years, his disciples turned against him and, despite his repeated efforts, refused to allow him to play the role of the “critical friend,” much less regain control of the movement. The article seeks to expose the intra-jihadist frictions and debates involving al-Maqdisi during different times and contexts, especially the more recent ones between him and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Indeed, it becomes obvious how al-Maqdisi has been trying to regain his lost influence and relevance among the most radical strands within his chosen movement for years. What this shows is that, amidst the fast-changing environment in which Salafi-jihadism has evolved, praxis trumps theory, and a reputation of steadfastness, zealousness, and unwavering convictions matter more to prospective radicals than a reputation of religious knowledge and scholarship.

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