This article presents a case study based on Italian judicial sources and based on a pre-trial detention order. The case in question has long been in the public domain, but in this article only the initials of the man facing trial will be used. The suspect, H.E.M., is believed to be a jihad recruiter. He was born in Italy in 1995 to Tunisian parents. In 2015, H.E.M. was under investigation after he posted materials online praising the Islamic State (ISIS). This article broaches topics related to the Salafi-jihadi milieu while observing a small group of young foreigners during a ten-month period.
‘Attack Them as They Attacked You’
The recruiter quotes Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the former ISIS spokesperson: “attack them as they attacked you”. This is a quotation of a part of the Sura al-Baqarah (The Cow 2:194) which says:
[Fighting in] the sacred month is for [aggression committed in] the sacred month, and for [all] violations is legal retribution. So, whoever has assaulted you, then assault him in the same way that he has assaulted you. And fear Allah and know that Allah is with those who fear Him.
H.E.M. also cited the example of when Prophet Muhammad was being attacked by polytheists. By using this example, H.E.M. was trying to justify the killing of women, children and the elderly and even other Muslims. To further support his argument, H.E.M. justifies fighting “them” (infidels) based on the principle of qisas, meaning “retaliation” derived from Islamic law.
Social Order Should Be Based on God’s Commands
H.E.M also points out that states — whether democratic, Communist, or fascist — are ruled by men and not God. Therefore — according to his interpretation — they are “infidel states”. H.E.M. believes that in a true Islamic state, it is God that legislates and maintains social order — not man — and to adhere to God’s commands, people must follow the Qur’an and sunna (example of the Prophet).
H.E.M. goes on to misquote and decontextualize Sura al-Anfal (The Spoils of War). Here he uses the sura to suggest that social order should be based on God’s commands. However, the sura — revealed after the Battle of Badr — specifically addresses how to correctly divide the spoils of war and does not address general issues of social order.
Avenging Muslim Suffering
H.E.M. goes on to quote Abu Izzadeen, who has highlighted the many injustices faced by Muslims and points to cases where Muslims have been attacked or persecuted by “non-believers”. He points to the time of the sahaba (companions of the Prophet Muhammad), where it was unacceptable for any Muslim woman to be touched, and contrasts it to today’s age where Muslims are being imprisoned, tortured and killed in many places in the world.
H.E.M. also recounts when Caliph al-Mu’tasim-Bi’llah ordered 9,000 soldiers to help free a female descendant of Prophet Muhammad who had been held captive and slapped by the Romans. While in captivity she would cry out: “Oh Caliph! Where are you?” The soldiers surrounded the Crusader city of Amorium for an entire month before entering and killing every Roman soldier and freeing the woman. The soldier who had slapped the woman was beheaded in front of her as a message that no Muslim woman should be touched. The Caliph then said to the woman: “Sister did I respond to your request for help?”
By recalling this story H.E.M. is encouraging Muslims to avenge any torture that Muslim women endure. He uses the analogy to justify violent acts while also decontextualizing a narrative taken from the hadith: if the Caliph deployed a whole army to save one woman then we should all stand up against the infidels who are killing Muslim men and women all over the world.
Jihad: A Fundamental Tenet of Islam
In some Muslim countries, such as a Morocco, certain verses from the Qur’an are being censored and are not being taught in Islamic schools because they could potentially incite jihadi terrorism. Jihadi-Salafists are not happy about this as many consider jihad to be the sixth pillar of Islam. H.E.M. quotes Abu Baara, who said: “Islam is a balance between peace and love but also is — at some point — war.” He then refers to Sura al-Baqarah verses 6 and 7 and Sura an-Nur (The Light) verses 24 and 25 which say that as much as one loves Allah and his Messenger, one should hate the unbelievers and non-Muslims because they do not believe in Allah.
H.E.M. also quotes – decontextualizing it – Sura al-Mai’dah (The Table Food Spread 5:33) which says if Muslims do not combat the infidels through jihad, God will punish him and he will not be granted salvation in the Hereafter.
Justifying attacks on civilians
H.E.M. also recalls some events during Prophet Muhammad’s time in order to justify attacks on civilians. According to the sunna, during some battles, women, children and the elderly were accidentally killed. ISIS used this example to justify the attack on a restaurant in Bangladesh on 1 July 2016, where 22 civilians — including nine Italians — were killed. Following this logic, because Bangladesh was part of a coalition fighting ISIS, it should be considered an enemy state and no distinction made between the government and its citizens.
Another verse of Sura al-Baqarah (The Cow 2:178) also expresses the principle of qisas. Here H.E.M. uses this verse to justify the Bangladesh attack. He says: “the people killed in the restaurant in Bangladesh are part of nations participating in the coalition which bombards civilians … in the hospitals, children, women, elderly … So, the sunna does not make this distinction between civilian and military”.
Countering Western Aggression with Defensive Jihad
H.E.M. also uses the concept of defensive jihad to justify the November 2015 terrorist attack in Paris which he believed to be a “defense from Western aggression towards Islam”. He also slammed Muslims who condemned the attack saying that they were “confused” by Western media. He said: “The majority of Muslims are completely confused by the Western media. Two or three people from Charlie Hebdo were killed including one who insulted Prophet Muhammad by comparing him to a dog. The Sunna says — without a shadow of a doubt — to kill those who insult Muhammad and there is a great deal of evidence to support this this. Yet, many Imams performed salat (prayers) for Charlie Hebdo.” The recruiter faults the Muslim community for failing to condemn Charlie Hebdo for insulting the Prophet and also attending funerals for the victims.
No Difference Between Combatants and Civilians
The recruiter also explains that to understand concepts such as “war” people should not view them through the lens of Western media but, instead, through the lens of the Qur’an and sunna. He goes on to say that in the Western point of view there are clear distinctions between soldiers and civilians, but he claims that, according to shari’a (Islamic law), there is no distinction between civilians and soldiers an because the Prophet made no distinctions between them. He says there is no category in either the Qur’an or sunna that distinguishes between muqatilah (combatant) and ghayr muqatilah (non-combatant).
In another lesson, the recruiter refers to Hukm al-Rad’i, (Theory of Complicity) taken from the Arab jurist and theologian Shams al-Din Abu ʿAbd Allah Muḥammad ibn Abi Bakr who was better known by his alias Ibn al-Qayyim. Ibn al-Qayyim cited some stories of the Jewish tribes of Banu Quraysh, Banu Nadir, Banu Qurayza, and Banu Qaynuqa to emphasize the concept that the Prophet made no distinction between civilians and soldiers as all are to be indiscriminately punished if they offend or attack Islam, or even a single Muslim. That theory is used to blame civilians because they vote for their own government, the Hukm al-Mubashir principle – which says that when a nation starts a war against Muslims and the nation’s citizens accept the policy of its government by remaining silent about it, then they are just as responsible as their government. He cites the example of when Prophet Muhammad entered Mecca and ordered his army to wipe out the entire Quraysh tribe — not only those who fought against the Muslims.
Quoting Sura An-Nisa (The Women 4:64 and 106) and At-Tawbah (The Repentance 9:5) H.E.M. speaks about the concept of mercy in Islam. He also talks about the story of Fartana who was Abdullah ibn Khatal’s slave. She was killed because she sang songs mocking the Prophet, however, another slave who also mocked the Prophet was spared because she converted to Islam. The recruiter cites this example that even women can be killed if they attack Islam — because they are considered to be combatants just like men. Here the recruiter explains that embracing Islam is the only way to be spared.
H.E.M. tells another story about a prisoner who asked the Prophet what would happen to his son. The Prophet said that his head would be cut off while those present laughed. The recruiter says: “Muhammad turned to the body with the severed head and thanked Allah for having the chance to see the wickedness in that man and also having the honour to see him die”.
Jihad Through Combat Reaps Rewards in Hereafter
H.E.M. disagrees with Islamic experts who interpret jihad as an inner struggle. He believes jihad should be interpreted literally as combat. In his belief, jihad an-Nafs (inner struggle) is an invention of “new Islam” and “false preachers” who obscure true jihad. He says that according to many hadith, jihad through combat reaps higher rewards than jihad an-Nafs. If someone fights for the sake of God, then his reward will be jannah (paradise). Citing Sura At-Tawbah (The Repentance, 9:20-22), he stressed that on the Day of Judgment those of the faithful who fought will be rewarded — especially the martyrs — but those who have not made the effort will not be rewarded.
Muslims Should Hate the Kuffar
The recruiter cites 10 actions which lead people towards apostasy, as originally preached by Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (the father of Wahhabism). They are:
- Believing in another entity other than Allah.
- Creating an intermediary between the person and Allah.
- Not recognizing how disbelievers have rejected Allah and his Prophet.
- Believing that Prophet Muhammad is less or equally important as other prophets
- Hate the Prophet and do not apply his sunna
- Teasing the Prophet.
- Follow magic and believing in magicians.
- Training with kuffar (non-believers) against Muslims.
- Converting to another religion.
- No applying the foundations of Islam.
The recruiter goes on to explain that every Muslim should enforce the concept of al-Walaa Wa-l-Baraa (fealty and dissociation), which means that every Muslim should love other Muslims and hate non-believers. He says: “Hatred is a part of Islam. Faith is based on the love of Allah’s law (shari’a) and the hatred of disbelievers. The kuffar hate the sharia. The kuffar describe Muslims as barbarians, violent, fanatic, terrorist and primitive male chauvinists”.
According to H.E.M., there are two groups of non-believers: al-kafir al-aslee and murtadd. The first group are those born and raised as non-believers, like Christians or Jews. The second group are Muslims who left Islam or defy Islamic tenets.
The al-kafir al-aslee are:
- The “People of the Book”, or Christians and Jews.
- Mushrikun: those who practice shirk. (associating partners with God)
- Atheists and agnostics who do not believe in God.
The murtadd are:
- Jahid: those who deny a part of the religion, who do johdh (to deny one’s faith), for example denying the salat or Ramadan, or denying something written in the Qur’an.
- Mustahil: those who make wrongdoing lawful (from haram to halal).
- Naqigh: those who deny their faith in a way that takes them outside the bounds of Islam, for example refusing to say that Christians and Jews are disbelievers, or even expressing doubts about their disbelief. Any suggestion that another faith is equal to—let alone superior to—Islam would also be in this category.
Then, the recruiter cites Sura Al-Mumtahanah [60:4-13], which orders people to follow the example of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) through ta’assi, meaning to imitate him:
You have a good example in Ibrahim and his companions, when they said to their people, “We disown you and what you worship besides God! We renounce you! Until you believe in God alone, the enmity and hatred that has arisen between us will endure!” … Truly, they are a good example for you [believers] to follow, a good example for those who fear God and the Last Day. …
God forbids you to take as allies those who have fought against you for your faith, driven you out of your homes, and helped others to drive you out: any of you who take them as allies will truly be wrongdoers. … You who believe, do not take as allies those with whom God is angry: they despair of the life to come as the disbelievers despair of those buried in their graves.
These elements—copying Ibrahim’s example and methodology, and channelling his motivation—feed into the Salafi-jihadi milieu, where manhaj (method) and aqeeda (principles) are important parts of the creed, used to apply religious beliefs to contemporary issues and contextual problems. It is also forbidden to engage in bid’a (innovation) to interpret any kind of contemporary contextual event. One must only refer to the sunna and prophetic method, and use literal interpretation and implementation of shari’a.
In conclusion, the H.E.M. case shows the method of the jihadi indoctrination process. The method is comprised of three pillars which are typical of the Salafi-jihadi milieu:
- The analogy between the Qur’an or Sacred Scripture with contemporary events
- Decontextualization of the Qur’an and Sacred Scripture
- Interpretation of contemporary events using ancient stories and sunna
This case shows just how ignorant H.E.M. is about Sacred Scripture and even about Islam. This is a typical characteristic of many radicalized people around the world — especially Western youths. To an inexperienced eye — like that of the recruits — the Qur’anic quotations may seem true and right, but actually they are decontextualized and misinterpreted. It is clear that the recruiter himself does not have a strong knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures. In fact, before each ad hoc lesson, he builds a narrative to explain the various topics using ISIS manuals, videos, discourses and sermons of so-called hate preachers. H.E.M.’s religious knowledge is superficial, and he never engages in any type of critical thinking.
 Pre-trial detention Order n. 20007/15 issued by the Court of Turin on 21 March 2018
 Police intercept in Pre-trial detention Order n. 20007/15 issued by the Court of Turin on 21 March 2018, p. 64
 The Battle of Badr was the Prophet’s first full battle with the Quraysh on March 17 624 CE. According to Spencer, “The Quraish came out to meet Muhammad’s three hundred men at the village of Badr with a force of nearly a thousand.”. Despite their superior numbers, the Quraish were routed, in fact, Spencer adds, “The victory at Badr was the turning point for the Muslims and became a cornerstone of the new religious community’s foundational story.”. See Spencer R., The History of Jihad. From Muhammad to ISIS, Post Hill Press, New York, Nashville, 2018, p. 18 and 20. The battle has been passed down in Islamic history as a decisive victory attributable to divine intervention and It is one of the few battles specifically mentioned in the Quran.
 A short biography of Trevor Brooks (Abu Izzadeen) can be found here: https://www.counterextremism.com/extremists/abu-izzadeen
 Police intercept in Pre-trial detention Order n. 20007/15 issued by the Court of Turin on 21 March 2018, p. 30
 Police intercept in Pre-trial detention Order n. 20007/15 issued by the Court of Turin on 21 March 2018, p 53
 Police intercept in Pre-trial detention Order n. 20007/15 issued by the Court of Turin on 21 March 2018, p 85
 Police intercept in Pre-trial detention Order n. 20007/15 issued by the Court of Turin on 21 March 2018, p. 89
 Wiktorowicz, Q., Anatomy of the Salafi Movement, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 2006; and, Avino, M. Origini sociali e sviluppi del cosiddetto “terrorismo homegrown”, CeMISS, 2010.
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