Sayyed Imam al-Sherif, mentor to al Qaeda second in command Ayman al Zawahiri, wrote the book on jihad. According to Laura Mansfield, "Foundations (Mainstays) of Preparation for Holy War" is considered the theological cornerstone of modern-day jihadist operations. However, this past summer al-Sherif came out with a new book, "Revisions (Revisions) to Jihad in Egypt and the World," which is a repudiation of "Mainstays."
A shockwave began rippling through the jihadist community back in the summer when word began to spread of a new book titled "Revisions to Jihad in Egypt and the World" by Ayman al Zawahiri's mentor Sayyed Imam al-Sherif.
It's easy to see why. The book, which has been serialized over the past couple of weeks, is a complete about-face by the author of "Foundations (Mainstays) of Preparation for Holy War", the treatise that is considered the theological cornerstone of modern-day jihadist operations.
He takes many of the same verses from the Qu'ran that he used in the earlier book to justify violent jihad and repudiates the earlier interpretations, in many cases renouncing violent jihad.
The book begins with a bombshell announcement:
There were several different ways in which modern-day Muslims seeking Islamic law in modern days chose to respond to those countries in power. Some Islamic groups have resorted to clashing with the ruling authorities in the country or countries in the name of jihad in the way of Allah Almighty in order to spread Islam. These clashes have spread to different countries from the far east to the far west.
But these clashes have included many violations of Islamic law such as murder, murder because of the color of a person's skin or hair, the murder of Muslims and non-Muslims, using people as shields, wasting of money, damage to property, and others.
These violations of Shari'a bring nothing but the resentment and indignation of God.
When a Muslim sets a goal for himself that is greater than his ability or that does not suit his situation then it is never permission in Islam to use an illegal (under Shari'a) method to accomplish the goal even if the goal is justified (under Shari'a)
"Allah doth know those of you who slip away under shelter of some excuse: then let those beware who withstand the Messenger's order, lest some trial befall them, or a grievous chastisement be inflicted on them." (Qu'ran - Nur: 63)
The new book was announced this summer in a faxed message to an Arabic-language newspaper from al-Sherif, being held in Egypt's Torah prison.
The reaction from Al Qaeda was swift. In a taped message, Ayman al Zawahiri asked:
"Do they now have fax machines in Egyptian jail cells? I wonder if they're connected to the same line as the electric-shock machines."
Although it was written in an Egyptian prison, possibly with some influence from the Egyptian intelligence services, Ms. Mansfield cautions against underestimating its impact on jihadist theology.
Sayyed Imam was the founder of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group and served as its leader, and al Zawahiri's de facto boss, for a number of years. His supporters carried out the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981. Many of his followers joined Bin Laden's forces opposing the Soviets in Afghanistan, and later helped form the core of Al Qaeda.
Sayyed Imam's influence on Zawahiri as well as on Al Qaeda is thought to be profound.
While the new book may have a dramatic impact on the spread of jihadist theology, Ms. Mansfield tempers her optimism with a reminder of the nature of jihad.
However, it must also be considered that any suspension of jihadist activities is only a "hudna", or a temporary ceasefire, which Islamic shari'a allows, which continues until a time more favorable for jihadist activities.
Regardless, "Revisions" provides a powerful message undermining the legitimacy of the jihadist movements.
"Revisions" may also help to undermine the Democratic talking point that the war in Iraq has been a distraction from the War on Terror. Things don't happen in a vacuum and al Qaeda has not fared well in Iraq, lately. In fact, Al Qaeda is losing badly. It is hated there, and the enmity it has created for itself there could spread through the Arab world just as easily as jihadist theology.