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Do Excellent Surgeons Make Miserable Exegetes?

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Negotiating the Sunni Tradition in the ǧihādī Camps

This article is an attempt to explore how ǧihādī authors make use of the Sunni tradition to bolster their case. Islamicists have rarely embarked on such a discussion, given the tendency to a priori chastise extremist authors for their untenable misrepresentation of Islam. Similarly, ǧihādī arguments are frequently tossed aside as an already familiar rehashing of an insignificant, isolated stream of thought that stretches directly from Ibn Taimīya via Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Wahhāb to Saiyid Quṭb. In revisiting this claim, I employ a close reading of the crucial ǧihādī manual al-ʿUmda fī iʿdād al-ʿudda li-l-ǧihād fī sabīl Allāh (The Essential Guide of Preparation for ǧihād on the Path of God), written in the mid-1980s in the context of Afghanistan by an influential ideologue who is widely known as Dr. Faḍl. After presenting and evaluating a selection of the religious sources and authorities on which the author draws, the article enters into a discussion of his political thought. I argue that Dr. Faḍl makes a convincing case for a political project in the camps that is deeply embedded within the Sunni tradition. Reading Ibn Taimīya faithfully, Dr. Fadl does not turn him in into a proponent of violence against the ruler. Rather, the author sticks to the profound quietism the Damascene scholar is known for, thereby questioning supposedly established, clear-cut paths of reception.

Affiliations: 1: Princeton


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