- Before we come to speak about the specific topic of
the treatise Al- Faridah al-Gha'ibah, translated
as The Neglected Duty, I would like to ask you for
some clarifications about your use and understanding of
the concept of fundamentalism, about which there is currently
no unanimity among scholars working in the field of Islamic
Studies. You don’t hesitate to use it yourself, even in
the title of your book, The Dual Nature of Islamic Fundamentalism.
Could you please explain your reasons for using it in the
context of Islam, instead of expressions such as “Islamism”?
Jansen - I follow more or less the Fundamentalism
Project in Chicago. It accepted the term to indicate those
wings of Islamic movements that are ready to use force to
reach their aims. Not all terrorists are fundamentalists,
not all fundamentalists are terrorists. As a rule, fundamentalists
have selected a small number of points from their much broader
- A number of authors
dealing with fundamentalism claim that we should only see
it as political ambitions masquerading in the guise of religion.
But you emphasize that “fundamentalism is undeniably religious
too” (Dual Nature, p. 2). You remark that one
cannot understand fundamentalism without taking into account
its theological dimension (p. 5). You also observe
that there is a major difference with political mass movements,
because fundamentalism is a religious dream, and the Hereafter
is taken very seriously (p. 5-6). Could you please
JJ - I admit this is a debatable point. Nevertheless,
fundamentalist movements are very often misunderstood. I think
the root cause of the misunderstanding is that they are not
only religious movements, they are not only political movements:
they are a fusion of both. There may have been earlier examples
of this kind of fusion, but the interesting thing here is
that the Muslim fundamentalist movement has all the characteristics
of a religious movement and at the same time it also has all
the characteristics of a modern political movement. It is
suppressed by the government and it wants to replace the government.
I think it is justified to see them as both religious and
you use “fundamentalism” in the Muslim context only for
describing movements with both political and religious goals,
or also for other, less politicized movements, such as the
Jamaat-e-Tabligh? This is what the authors associated with
the Fundamentalism Project did.
- If I had a better word, I would no doubt use it. The Muslim
world, for very sad reasons, is much more violent than the
Christian or Israeli societies. If you are a fundamentalist
in an Arabic country, force seems to be the only logical choice,
as there are so very few means to spread your views peacefully.
You cannot be elected and you have no right to elect. If these
two rights are denied and you have fundamentalist leanings,
the possibility of a violent reaction is much more to be expected
than in an American, European or Israeli context.
a large extent, the present leaders in the Muslim world, the
present political elite of the Middle East, are responsible
for the violent character of Muslim fundamentalism. Fundamentalists
almost mirror the violent character of their own societies.
am, moreover, not sure that a debate about the terminology
is very useful. A geologist talks of sand dunes and rocks
and doesn’t use definitions. Definitions are necessary when
a misunderstanding arises as to whom we mean. Today, we observe
a very visible movement that we can refer to and identify
by using the term fundamentalism.
- Several passages
in your book, The Dual Nature, seem to point
to deficiencies in the approach of Western scholars toward
the contemporary realities of Islam. Could you please explain
the most common inadequacies in the way they approach Islam
- When you really want to know what someone thinks or believes,
there is no better source of information than the person involved
himself. In a Middle Eastern context, this means that it is
simply not enough to listen to what the official government
spokesmen have to say about the world. It is absolutely necessary
to read, analyze and study what the religious leaders are
telling their own faithful.
think that this is very often neglected, albeit not without
reason. Diplomats, whose work is to observe and report, are
in place to have a good relationship with the local governments,
not to tell the representatives of these governments that
they are mass murderers. On the other hand, when an outside
observer wants to see what the populations of those countries
are thinking, believing, aspiring and hoping, it is absolutely
necessary to read their own tracts, listen to their speeches,
immerse yourself into their society. That is not everybody’s
cup of tea, but it has to be done, otherwise you might miss
very important developments such as the Iranian revolution,
for instance. The advance of the Khomeini movement was simply
not noticed by many diplomats and journalists stationed in
Iran, because they felt obliged to humour their friends from
the Iranian elite who were equally blind to what took place
around them, and who equally preferred to listen to the official
version of the story.
now come to your work on the Faridah, that is The
Neglected Duty. Before we look at the text itself, it
seems important to understand the background of Egyptian
Islamic militant movements. First, the historical presence
of the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement which has played such
an important role, well beyond the borders of Egypt. A difficult
question relates to the links between the Muslim Brotherhood
and the more radical groups. Is it correct to say that the
Muslim Brotherhood has been the source of all fundamentalist
groups in contemporary Egypt, but that some groups later
left the Brotherhood because they were disappointed with
it and engaged in more radical approaches?
- The Brotherhood is of course a recruiting ground for all
those small groups. In addition they also established a “secret
apparatus” which the Brotherhood judged it needed to protect
itself against the police and the British. That was the beginning
of a small terrorist machinery. It cannot be denied that the
Brotherhood, certainly until the 1950s, 60s, committed acts
of terror. In the ‘80s, 90s, until today, it has been a fertile
environment for recruiters for fundamentalist movements. On
the other hand, large sections of the Brotherhood have changed:
they are now into party politics. These sections have lost
the dangerous charm the Brotherhood had. To be a member of
the Brotherhood, some say, does not imply any activity, it
is a state of mind. That state of mind may make people vulnerable
to fundamentalist propaganda.
than Hassan al-Banna (the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood),
I assume that Sayyid Qutb is a main reference for such movements.
Even Bin Laden's associate, al-Zawahri, apparently pointed
to his key role in his last text, recently published by
a daily newspaper in London. (An interview
with Prof. Ibrahim Abu-Rabi about Qutb and his influence
has also been published on this website.)
- As far as I know, Sayyid Qutb was the first author to argue
convincingly in the eyes of many people that the world in
reality was a jahili place. The designation as jahili
doesn’t sound very serious to Western ears, but to Muslim
ears it does, because it implies apostasy from Islam and that
is, traditionally, punishable by death. So if you can argue
really convincingly to a Muslim public that the government
is jahili, you have more or less sentenced the government
to death. The theories of Qutb are repeated again and again
in all sorts of pamphlets.
- As you emphasized
in your study of The Neglected Duty, its importance
first lies in the fact that it provides useful indications
about tendencies at work in Egyptian Islam around that time,
and that actually it was the only text which expressed openly
some ideas which circulated in Egypt in the 1970s and 1980s.
But you suggest that those ideas may well have been articulated
as early as the 1950s (Neglected Duty, p. 152). Of
course, ideas don’t come out of nowhere, but are the result
of a fermentation, of an elaboration. Could you please summarize
what happened in Egypt between the 1950s and the early 1980s,
leading to the Neglected Duty and to Sadat’s assassination?
- I wasn’t around in the 50s. I can only read what was written
in those days. The book by Abdul Kader Awda, Our Legal
Position, is more or less a prelude to the theory that
society is pagan because it does not apply Islamic law.
governments in most Muslim countries are extremely unpopular
and people need a language in which to express themselves
about this unpopularity. And the only language which is available
is the language of Sayyid Qutb. It is practically the only
jargon, the only dialect they have to express their dissatisfaction
with the government. From a Western point of view as well,
those governments are not doing things properly. They neglect
to take care of a great number of things, people are unhappy
about this and the only internally consistent criticism is
the discourse of Sayyid Qutb. People are attracted to it like
a moth to a candle. It is almost unavoidable.
Egyptian government, especially in Sadat’s period, was aware
of this undercurrent of religious sentiment. They hoped to
counter this by presenting President Sadat as Al-Ra'is
al-Mu’min, “The Believing President”. It was a terrible
mistake from the angle of advertising technique. The government
slogan confronted people on every corner of the street, where
they saw these posters of “The Believing President”, with
the fact that they did not dream of a "believing president"
– they took it for granted that the President was a believer
– but that they wanted a Muslim ruler, a Hakim Muslim.
propaganda against the fundamentalist way of thought, the
propaganda that tried to diminish the importance of Qutb’s
ideas in the mind of the average inhabitant of the Middle
East, made it very much stronger. Also the ban on religious
parties stimulated non-religious parties to use religious
slogans in order to attract the floating voters. But this
impressed on the mind of the public that religion is much
more important in politics than they ever would have thought.
So the way in which violent fundamentalism was fought by the
authorities has helped this movement incredibly.
now come to The Neglected Duty itself. “The creed
of Sadat’s Assassins”: such is the way in which that text
is described in your book. Interestingly, however, at the
time of Sadat’s assassination, the text was practically
unknown. For the benefit of those who have not had the opportunity
to read your book, could you explain in which circumstances
the text was published and began to circulate after its
author had been executed?
- I don’t know when it was written: probably in the spring
preceding the murder of Sadat. Five hundred copies were printed.
The group started to distribute and sell the book, but then
realized that the Egyptian secret police would be able to
locate the group by tracing these copies. So they burned 450
copies. Fifty copies survived, and photocopies of these are
bound in libraries all over the world. After the murder of
Sadat, the prosecutor added the document to the case file,
so the lawyer of the accused also got a copy. He gave it away
to an Egyptian newspaper, Al Ahrar, which printed it.
The article appeared in December 1981. I saw it by accident
on the street. Of course, I bought it immediately, like everybody
who saw it. It was sold out within hours and was never reprinted
in that form.
people are sentenced to death, the Egyptian State Mufti has
to condone the sentence. The Mufti gave a long fatwa
explaining why the murderers of Sadat were wrong. But as a
footnote to this fatwa, he added the full text of the
document The Neglected Duty. That appeared in a series
of thousands of pages, but the fascicule in which that document
was reprinted sold out quicker than the rest of the volume.
there was a third edition which was made probably in Jordan
or Israel: it made use of the newspaper text, but left out
a number of things that may have seen sensitive in the context
of an Islamic kingdom, as Jordan is.
basically there are three editions and only the Amman or Jerusalem
edition is available: you can actually buy it anywhere in
London in Arabic bookshops. But this version is almost impossible
to understand as there are so many printer's mistakes. However,
it is possible to reconstruct the original and find out quite
precisely what it is saying. I based my translations on my
own reconstruction of the text.
- What do we know about
the biography of the author of the Faridah, about
intellectual and other influences upon him?
- Not very much. Faraj (1954-1982) was young when he was executed,
so his biography is short. He worked at Cairo University as
an electrician. He also preached at a mosque in a neighborhood
of Cairo: it was there that he planned the assassination of
Sadat, which took place on October 6, 1981. He realized that
if they hesitated too long or if the plan was in the pipeline
for long weeks, the risk of failure and betrayal was real.
So he got a group together in a period of ten days and then
Some time before,
they broke all contact with Sheikh Omar Abdurrahman, who had
been their mufti and who had said that a ruler who does not
rule according to the Islamic sharia has actually apostasized
from Islam. He was also arrested in the aftermath of the assassination
of Sadat. He was interrogated, but was set free as he had
the almost fantastic excuse that a ruler who does not rule
according to the Islamic sharia must incur the death penalty,
but should be informed by a properly constituted council of
ulama, of experts in Islamic law. He said, “I don’t
really know if such a council has really informed President
Sadat that he was guilty of apostasy, etc., etc. So I cannot
give my blessing for the assassination of Sadat, but I can
give my blessing generally to the assassination of a ruler
who knowingly does not follow the precepts of Islamic law."
This saved his neck for better things to come. As you know,
he is now in jail in New Jersey.
- Do we know if the
author was an enthusiastic reader of Qutb? Was he a member
of some group?
- He was an enthusiastic reader of classical works such as
Al-Ghazali, Ibn Taymiyah – and Qutb of course. He quotes these
authors, but always in the most generally available edition
in Cairo at that time. So it was not very difficult to identify
the quotations. He was not someone’s pupil as far as I know.
He was self-taught.
more or less illustrates Gellner's theory, which explains
Islamic fundamentalism as a contamination of the classical
Islamic high culture by the Islamic popular culture. The classical
high culture of Islam has all kinds of very stiff theories
about all kinds of things; but in reality, the world is arranged
differently, and all the Muslim scholars who work on those
issues know. But when you take those classical works of Islamic
theology, of Islamic dogmatics and law, out of the study,
out of academies, out into the street, then you get a real
problem. Faraj is a schoolbook example of somebody who took
texts from the classical heritage into the street. We know
- As you remark in your
book, Faraj's text helps helps us so much to understand
what is or what was at the time in the minds of militants.
What strikes me when reading your book is the emphasis upon
jihad. Was jihad similarly emphasized in books
by Islamic scholars in Egypt at the time? What does make
The Neglected Duty unique in its approach to jihad?
- I think everybody agrees that jihad is a part of
Islam, there is no doubt about that. When Nasser died (or
somebody else, I cannot remember now where I saw this), there
was a large article in the newspapers devoted to al-mujahid
al-akbar, the great jihad fighter. When Sadat was
killed, this article was repeated word for word, but they
left out this reference to the jihad fighter, because
jihad obviously had a bad name at that point in time.
the difference of opinion is not whether jihad is a
part of Islam, but what jihad should really be. People who
interpret jihad in a violent way have a good point. The first
generations of Muslims never understood anything else but
‘waging war’ when they heard the word jihad. And so
they conquered the Middle East from Portugal to Pakistan.
The traditions that jihad is also the struggle against
one’s own bad inclinations, let’s say the Sufi interpretation
of jihad, is not the interpretation that was taken
by these pious soldiers. They understood jihad as “going
- Do you consider the
description of some militant groups as "jihadist"
as correct and adequate?
- Of course, it’s unfortunate, but it may be very adequate.
It is not a secret that there is a large number of small groups
in the Muslim world that are jihadist, that want to fight
for Islam, and want to fight against the West.
- You wrote that Sadat’s
assassins had made no preparations, no provisions for the
establishment of the Islamic State after the assassination,
and that the Faridah supports an approach on the
line that God would take care of what would follow. The
action they would take would lead to the establishment of
the Islamic state. From the perspective of somebody who
is somewhat familiar with millenial movements in various
traditions, this sounds like an indication of a millennial
state of mind – the new world is to come soon, and a radical
action will contribute to hasten the passage to the new
order. Do you consider the people behind the Faridah
as millenarians, at least to some extent?
- Certainly. But at the time I worked on this book, The
Neglected Duty, I was not familiar with research on millennialism,
and that is regrettable, because I missed a few points. Also,
in The Neglected Duty, it is explained that, if Islamic
laws are applied, harvests will be better, which is typically
a millenarian dream, that also material needs will be solved
when God’s law is applied, when the kingdom of God is spreading.
- And to what extent
do you see millenarian features in some of the Muslim militant
movements? If one visits websites supportive of Bin Laden,
for instance, there are sometimes texts referring to the
endtimes. Could it be legitimate to describe these groups
as millenarian ones?
- I am not so sure. Do we need that explanation? It’s worrying
enough as it is. I have been reading and re-reading the statements
of Bin Laden himself: I see very little millenarism in those
statements. It could exist among his followers. Of course,
a group of people excluded from power may become millenarian.
- Jihad is described
in Faraj's book not only as a collective duty, but also
as an individual duty. We find the same emphasis in Azzam’s
book, Join the Caravan, and in other pieces
of contemporary jihadist literature. The distinction between
collective and individual obligation is a general rule in
Islam. Please, explain what it means in general, but also
what it implies specifically in the context of the Faridah
and the group of people behind it?
- In classical Islamic law, for practical reasons, a collective
duty has to be carried out by the community as such. For example,
Friday prayers are a collective duty. The establishment of
the Caliphate is a collective duty, not an individual duty.
To participate in the execution of a collective duty, you
need to have the support of your parents and family: especially
when you are young, your parents permission is essential.
But for carrying out an individual duty, you do not need the
permission of your parents. In the Faridah, a lot of
attention is paid to this aspect. They obviously wanted to
convince young men that they did not need their parents' permission
in order to join jihad.
to classical books of Muslim law, jihad becomes an
individual duty if Muslims are threatened in their own domain,
in their own world. In the way somebody like Qutb looks at
the world, Muslims are threatened by non-Muslims from within,
i.e. they are threatened by their own governments. This means
that jihad becomes an individual duty. And whenever
you come across an attempt to fight a jihad against
the Satanic powers, then you are more or less obliged to join
that movement, you do need to wait until your parents give
their approval. By the way, the New Testament contains similar
rules: you should not wait for your parents' approval in order
to join the movement which brings the world salvation.
- As a number of other Muslim activists, the author of the
Faridah often refers to Ibn Taymiyah (1263-1328)
– for instance in order to justify the killing of fellow
Muslims during jihad. It would be useful to have
a short description of the way in which Ibn Taymiyah was
rediscovered (apparently through the medium of Rashid Rida,
1865-1935). Why did he become such an important reference
for contemporary radical groups in Islam?
-The answer is that he is a very good writer. He was the theologian
of war in the 14th century. Anger drops from the
pages of his books, formulated so beautifully, in such general
terms, that when a modern Muslim reads it, or even when I
read it myself, it is impossible not to think of present day
Muslim society. The effect of his work is electrifying. His
books are banned in several countries around the Islamic world,
although they can always be found under the table. From their
own point of view, Muslim governments which forbid this 14th
century propaganda are right. Because it is inflammatory material.
- Discussions in the Faridah on ethics of warfare
lead to the justification of terrorist activities, for instance
the killing of innocent bystanders, insofar it cannot be
avoided. Can we consider the text of the Faridah
as the first written, articulated justification of terrorism
by Muslim radicals in our times? Or did other people already
attempt to justify it earlier? Did the Faridah in
some way set a precedent?
- Ibn Taymiyah, when he was writing about the conflicts between
the Mamluk and the Mongol armies, had a terrible problem.
The armies that fought against each other equally consisted
of Muslims and non-Muslims. And the same goes for the famous
medieval battle of Kosovo: there were Christian soldiers in
the Turkish armies, and the Serbs had Muslim mercenaries too.
Ibn Taymiyah had to make invalid the argument that you couldn’t
kill a Muslim even when he fought in the army of your enemy.
is what has been taken over by the Faridah. It quoted
these paragraphs from Ibn Taymiyah to justify the killing
of innocent bystanders. As such, you might if you want call
it the first systematic Muslim defence of killing innocent
I am sure Ibn Taymiyah didn’t think of collateral damage in
the modern meaning of the word. He was confronted with a military
situation in which both armies comprised Muslim military professionals.
He had to develop a theory that justified fighting against
other Muslims. Nevertheless, in the hands of the author of
the Faridah, this looks very much like the defence
of killing innocent bystanders, also killing Muslims. The
fact that Muslims were killed on September 11 in the World
Trade Centre attack is completely justified if one adopts
the arguments of the document known as The Neglected Duty.
- After 1984, were there many editions of the Faridah? Was
it translated into many others languages? Beside your translation,
I have seen on a Muslim radical website an English translation
of The Neglected Duty, probably under the title The
Forgotten Obligation. You mentioned the fact that the
current Arabic text is not very understandable due to the
many misprints. How far did it circulate? Do we have Indonesian
Muslims reading the Faridah?
- The arguments which you find in the Faridah can be
heard even in Indonesia in conversations. There has been an
American translation by a Coptic sociologist, who had great
problems in understanding the text and reading the text. There
has been a translation by a press agency, but there was the
same problem. The translator of the agency was at a loss in
the more complicated passages. I made a translation in which
there are also mistakes that should be corrected if I get
the opportunity. I have seen the book in the Arabic Amman
(or Jerusalem) version in bookshops both in London and in
America, but I do not think it is very widespread as a text.
But the ideas contained in it are.
- How far was somebody like Abdullah Azzam (Bin Laden's
mentor) influenced by the text? I have read an English translation
of his book Join
the Caravan, which has been quite influential upon
jihadist groups in recent years. Interestingly, the subtitle
reads The Forgotten Obligation, if the English translation
is correct. When reading some passages of Join the Caravan,
I was wondering how far there might be some semi-direct
references to the Faridah?
- The same bothered me when I read a book by Ali Benhaj, the
Algerian Islamist leader, Fasl al-Kalam fi Zulm al-Hukkam
(A Decisive Word on the Injustice of the Rulers). That
too quoted many passages from Ibn Taymiyah that had been also
used by the author of the Faridah: the line of argument,
even the formulation of the sentences he used, the terminology,
it all reminded me much of the Faridah. I have been
able to make a reasonable hypothesis for reconstructing passages
in the Faridah by reading Benhaj.
There may, however,
also be another source behind those two, which by accident
we have not seen: for instance, there could be a booklet consisting
exclusively of quotations from Ibn Taymiyah – such a book
wouldn't be mentioned in official bibliographies, it would
only be sold on the street. There could be a fascinating collection
of passages from Ibn Taymiyah that lies at the base of all
this, but I don't know. At this point, it does not seem that
one text derives from the other.