Noman Benotman, a former top tier member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and a mujahadeen who fought along with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, has helped broker “reconciliation” between members of his former group and the Libyan government.
Benotman’s strategy has been to intellectually challenge the Islamic narrative bin Laden and his fellow travelers push. And there is some evidence Benotman and others who concur with his approach have been effective.
Recently, I visited Libya as a guest of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation and met Benotman, and a number of the Islamic clerics who were working to bring about not only reconciliation between Gaddafi’s government and jailed Islamists but who were trying to export to other countries in the region an alternative reading of key Islamic principles that they feel bin Laden, al Zawahiri and others are manipulating.
I found this interview that Noman Benotman did with Rania Karam of Al Shorfa to be a good illustration of the tensions inside Islamic doctrine — and something those of us outside this debate should try harder to understand.
Here is a clip:
Al-Shorfa: Would that be the response of those who divide the world into two “camps”, according to the bin Laden’s classification?
Benotman: Even when we talk about the “Abode of Islam” and the “Abode of Disbelief” – as per the traditional Islamic concept – there is still ambiguity about these concepts.
The “Abode of Islam”, according to the traditional meaning, is the abode where the legitimate Islamic Caliphate exists, governed by an Islamic political authority. This abode does not exist today. For the Abode of War to exist, it needs an Islamic Abode [in the political sense]. There is another Islamic definition [for Islamic abode] but that refers to a group of people who share a common faith, and they need not be organised into a political entity.
Let them designate where the Abode of Islam is, and I hope they don’t say it’s the caves of Afghanistan. Where is the Abode of Islam in terms of political authority, so that we can say that there is a corresponding Abode of War? There are 55 Islamic countries, so are there 55 Caliphates and 55 Caliphs? Is this conceivable?
Al-Shorfa: So, was bin Laden wrong?
Benotman: I would like to have a discussion with him on the subject of the camp that I am concerned with, which is the camp of Islam. I want him to delineate it for me, as Ibn al-Qayyim did. He must delineate it with precision. Is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia part of that camp? Is Algeria part of it? Are Libya, Morocco and Egypt also within that camp? Let him draw the borders of the camp of Islam.
Al-Shorfa: Perhaps he meant that the camp includes the regions under the control of people he considers as “Mujahideens” in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and other countries.
Benotman: Let him designate where it is. Is the camp of Islam Qandahar? Or Helmand in Afghanistan? Or Diyala Province in Iraq? Is this categorisation a valid one so we can say that this or that region is part of the Islamic camp?
I would like the one who came up with the issue of camps to specify where they are, because their answer would show the weakness of their theory. The slogan they promote about the existence of two camps is nothing but a political slogan meant to mobilise people and is not based on real concepts and knowledge.
— Steve Clemons