The Reversal of a Jihadist

by Suzie Raven
Special to iVoryTowerz

Sayid Imam Al-Sharif, also known as Dr. Fadl, changed the Muslim world once. He’s doing it again through a new book outlining his Murajaat, or drastic revisions to his ideology.

Thirty years ago Sharif founded Egypt’s Islamic Jihad group – still one of the two largest terrorist organizations. After his followers assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981, Sharif claimed that he had nothing to do with the murder. He fled to Yemen anyway. For twenty years, he continued to plot violence. His influential 1988 book Foundations of Preparation for Holy War provides Koranic justification for violence and is known as the “Bible of Jihad.” His students include Ayman Muhammad Rabaie Al Zawahiri, a top member of Al-Qaeda and current leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Like Zawahiri, some of Sharif's followers joined Osama Bin Laden against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

The Egyptians finally captured Sharif after September 11th. Yes, it took them more than twenty years after Sadat’s death. They brought Sharif back to Egypt, where he began serving a life sentence in 2004. In November 2007, Sharif published Advice Regarding the Conduct of Jihadist Action in Egypt and the World from prison. In this Murajaat, Sharif used many of the same verses to advocate for peaceful resolution of conflict that he previously used to justify violence. As Egyptian newspapers fight to publish the 100-page book, reactions to the Murajaat vary. Many think they have insight into Sharif's intentions and the ramifications of the publication.

Al Zawahiri immediately ridiculed the Murajaat, saying Sharif must have been coerced, pointing out that initial news of the book last summer came from a fax machine in the prison.

“Do they now have fax machines in Egyptian jail cells?" al Zawahiri asked. "I wonder if they're connected to the same line as the electric-shock machines."

It is, of course, entirely plausible that Sharif presented the Murajaat of his own volition, but did so in order to be released from prison. The Egyptians have also considered this option. The Egyptian government approaches dialogue with the Islamic Jihad group cautiously because they are unsure if Sharif's motives are tactical or sincere.

Even so, Kahlil Al-Anani, a political analyst in Cairo, speculates that a change in ideology from top members of Al-Qaeda will not have much impact. New leaders will emerge who cling to the violent ideals Sharif preached for twenty-five odd years.

However, I don’t buy his argument. If the new book truly means nothing to the jihadist movements, Al-Zawahiri would not have reacted so strongly. Sharif, a surgeon before his jihadist days, is obviously a man of intelligence. He knows that the Murajaat will illicit strong reactions from within and outside of the Muslim community, and that he can never lead another extremist organization after such a publication.

No matter what his motives are – release from prison, bending to the coercion of his jailers or a genuine change of heart – Muslim extremist groups in the Middle East cannot ignore the Murajaat. It should receive similar attention in the United States. Sharif’s new publication will have an enormous impact on Islamic politics, but most Americans have not heard of it. The Bush administration desperately needs a victory in the War on Terror, (look no further than the new move to prosecute the Sept. 11 plotters) and they cannot take credit for this change. So they don’t draw attention to it.

(Photo of political protests in London from StrangePolitics, a website that offers copyright-free material. To see a report from Al Jazeera English on the Murajaat, please check the video below.)

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Frederick said...

"Exterminate those who slander Islam."

Is that like one of those trick statements...something along the lines of reacting violently to those who say Islam is a violent religion?

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