Al Qaeda is now under an unprecedented and serious threat. With its hypocrisy and bigotry exposed, the apparently invincible, monolithic and elusive Al Qaeda today stands teetering vulnerable at the threshold of a vertical split in the wake of some scathing attacks launched against the organisation and its movement by none other but one of its founder members — Sayyid Imam Al Sharif.
The organisation, however, has retaliated with a vengeance and has, in fact, deployed all its might in countering the vilification. Sharif's exposé has unmasked Qaeda's theological grounds, stripped open its obscurantism and pretensions than anyone else. Al Qaeda has been vehemently discredited for its excessive use of violence.
In fact, Sharif's exposé has revealed how the organisation, suffering from chilling theological epiphany, has jeopardised jihad across the world and denigrated a movement into sheer terrorism. Sharif has gone public with his reservations against the outfit arguing that its version of jihad was not at all in sync with Islamic law and, therefore, indefensible.
The virulence of the attack and the depth of Sharif's logic as said in the Rationalizing Jihad in Egypt and the World, have indeed put Al Qaeda on a back foot and forcing even Al Zawahiri respond to Sharif by publishing an entire book on the Internet, titled Exoneration, in which he has stated that Sharif is blatantly lying and manipulating facts to suit the agenda of his captors.
Other Al Qaeda leaders, supporters, and surrogates have released their own attacks on Sharif by publishing books, on Internet and issuing statements to the media, especially television. The Al Qaeda has now publicly denounced Sharif labelling him as one of the worst turncoats that the outfit ever negotiated.
Sayyid Imam Al Sharif, alias Dr. Fadl, may hardly be a household name to the Western security and intelligence agencies, but is a familiar name for any serious student of international jihad and Al Qaeda. This 59-year-old Egyptian think tank, one of Al Qaeda's founders and one-time mentor to even Ayman Al Zawahiri, has tuned into a major threat to the organisation that he once cofounded along with Ayman Al Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden.
In an extraordinary series of prison writings renouncing excessive use of violence and attacking Al Qaeda on Islamic theological grounds Sharif has torn asunder the veil of deceit that has apparently given the outfit a halo. Sharif's emergence as a think tank of global jihad can be traced in the crucible of modern jihadism which was brewing in Egypt in 1970s.
Along with Zawahiri, he studied medicine at Cairo University's Faculty of Medicine to be a doctor where the two became close friends. Sharif soon joined Zawahiri's group, Al Jihad and after the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981 and subsequent crackdown on all jihadi cells, both became wanted men.
Though Sharif managed to slip out of Egypt, temporarily resettling in Saudi Arabia, Zawahiri was arrested and spent several hard years in Egyptian prison. The pair later regrouped in the peak of jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
And it was in Afghanistan where Sharif came to the forefront of the international jihad and developed a reputation among the mujahideens as a serious jihadi scholar with his encyclopedic knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence. Zawahiri, however, suffered perceptible discredit for having revealed his terrorist accomplices to Egyptian authorities during his incarceration and demoralised by prison, ceded the reins of Al Jihad to Sharif in 1987.
Two important texts, written by Sharif during his association with Afghan mujahideens, redefined jihad and accorded the movement an international fervour as we see it at present. The Essential Guide for Preparation and The Compendium of the Pursuit of Divine Knowledge, published in 1988, virtually inserted a steel rod into the backbone of jihad.
His ultra-extreme definition of jihad, based exclusively on martyrdom, Islamic theology and a concept of eternal warfare, made even the godfather of global jihad, Abdullah Azzam, grimace. Despite some lingering initial reservations from certain jihadi corners, The Essential Guide for Preparation quickly became a new cornerstone and set new benchmark for the global movement.
Sharif's break with Al Qaeda came in 1993 when he turned the command of Al Jihad, the initial and nascent organisational format of Al Qaeda, back to Zawahiri and officially resigned from the leadership. He was believed to have grown extremely tired and vexed with Al Jihad's continued and repeated operational failures and faux pass. The final break with the organisation came over his most rabid work, The Compendium.
The Compendium, marked the zenith of Sharif's career as a jihadi think tank, was reportedly tampered by Zawahiri. Annoyed with Zawahiri's blind persistence with continuing attacks and violence and irritated with Al Qaeda's lack of religious rigor, focus, and strategy, Sharif, in 1994, went back to practicing medicine anonymously in Yemen where he was arrested in 2001.
Al Qaeda's rise to fame and ferocity in the post 9/11 period came under some serious attack in Sharif's Rationalizing Jihad in Egypt and the World. Though he never advocated eschewing violence, Sharif's doctrine was based exclusively on the concept of martyrdom, which laid the foundation of fidayeen attacks or suicide attacks.
Misusing his concept of martyrdom in jihad and turning an Islamic theological movement into terrorism by Al Qaeda explicitly irritated Sharif and described Qaeda's version of jihad a sacrilege — a mindless act of terrorism, which has unnecessarily denigrated Islam, jihad and spilled bloods of even innocent Muslims.
Sharif's logic has re-energised a section of jihadis, especially in Egypt who now stand against the unnecessary and unwarranted use of violence. And coming from within, despite deployment of a virulent slandering move against its former think tank, Al Qaeda is perceptibly losing its appeal and charm among the new generation across the world.
The author is the Opinion Editor of Times of Oman.