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The Crisis Within Jihadism: The Islamic State’s Puritanism vs. al-Qa`ida’s Populism


The civil war raging between global jihadis is intensifying. Despite the shared ideological commitments and mutual state adversaries of al-Qa`ida and the Islamic State, these dueling factions have failed to overcome the challenge of fragmentation under the stress of conflict and territorial retreat. Rather than close ranks, these salafi-jihadis have accelerated their fratricidal wars in West Africa, Yemen, and Afghanistan. They turned their attention away from near and far enemies and instead prioritized fighting the nearest enemy of all—each other. A recent Islamic State documentary, Absolved Before Your Lord, released by its Yemeni branch offers the clearest articulation of the differences that divide these two factions. The Islamic State represents an exclusive, uncompromising, and puritanical vision of jihadism, while al-Qa`ida has rebranded jihadism as an inclusive, pragmatic, and populist pan-Islamist movement. Five fundamental disagreements emerged from the documentary over establishing an ‘Islamic’ state, applying ‘Islamic’ law, rejecting populism, embracing sectarianism, and defending puritanism.

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Full Citation:

Hafez, Mohammed. 2020. "The Crisis Within Jihadism: The Islamic State’s Puritanism vs. al-Qa`ida’s Populism." CTC Sentinel (September). https://ctc.usma.edu/the-crisis-within-jihadism-the-islamic-states-puritanism-vs-al-qaidas-populism/

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