On 28 January, as a part of its long-term strategy of integrating with, and ultimately co-opting, the Syrian rebellion, al-Qaeda shifted ground again and merged into a wider spectrum of insurgent groups, many of them jihadi in character, but many not, united under the banner of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). One of the non-jihadi groups to join HTS was Harakat Nooradeen al-Zengi, which became infamous in July 2016 after it beheaded one of the Bashar al-Assad regime’s child soldiers on video. This has aroused some controversy in jihadi circles, and today a statement by a jihadi ideologue, Abu Mahmud al-Filistini, who lives in London, was circulating explaining why HTS was right to take in al-Zengi. The statement was entitled, “Clearing the Doubts Regarding Nooradeen al-Zengi Uniting with Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham,” and is reproduced below.
Nooradeen al-Zengi, considered to be a part of the Free Syrian Army, was a group that emerged at the beginning of the revolution with the objective of bringing down the oppression of the regime. It was fighting against oppression and was made up of men from Syria and defected soldiers from the Syrian Army. Even though it was a people’s revolution at first, it still had a shar’i objective which was to repel aggression and defend the Muslims. People in Syria have been living under the [Assad] regime for fifty years so we should expect to see some ignorance [of Islam] and we should deal and judge these people with what they know and on what we know.
No one pronounced takfir (excommunication) on the Free Syrian Army individually (i.e. each fighter) and Shaykh Sami al-Uraydi and Shaykh Abu Qatada [al-Filistini] have done research on this and the matter is clear. Even though some of their branches became apostates, they don’t fall into the category of nullifiers simply because they are FSA, but because of their actions like fighting the shari’a and fighting to establish a secular state. Takfir has been made on some groups but not because they are part of the Free Syrian Army or part of MOC but because there objective is a secular state.
Al-Zengi did go through some stages and it became more sophisticated as time went on. While in the beginning it was a movement that represented the general masses, the leader Tawfiq Shahabuddin then started mixing with different shayks and people of knowledge. This had an impact on him and many of the people of knowledge have praised him and spoke well of him. Brothers from JFS on the front lines also starting mixing with al-Zengi’s soldiers and saw much good from them, including steadfastness on the battlefield. Anyone who studies the development of this group, specifically by reading the tweets and posts of its main jurist, Hussam al-Atrash, will see its clear transition to a manhaj (methodology) which pleases Allah. They went from a Free Syrian Army group to an Islamic group, and this is what the brothers state.
In regards to [Turkey’s Operation] EUPHRATES SHIELD, the wing of al-Zengi that was fighting there [in northern Aleppo] completely defected and the two groups are now completely distinct. The wing of al-Zengi that joined Tahrir al-Sham has no connection to those fighting in the EUPHRATES SHIELD Operation. On that note, Shaykh Abu Qatada and Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi did not make takfir on all those who are fighting in Euphrates.
So now if we say, as the Khawarij [Islamic State] say that this group is a group of ridda (apostasy), for the sake of argument, then the question remains can we make takfir on its members individually? This is not the case, as no one from the people of knowledge made takfir on these groups individually. Rather, the takfir was takfir bin-naw (excommunication of actions). For that reason, now that this group has dissolved and its members are part of the new entity, the takfir bin-naw has ceased, and we call on you to assess every single member and prove that he has committed apostasy so that we can require tawba (repentance) from him. So now it is upon you, since the hukm (ruling) upon this jama’a (group) ceased with its dissolution, to prove the kufr (disbelief) of each and every member.
Secondly: If we were to say this group was a group of ridda and now it requires them to make tawba, then what are the conditions of tawba? Is it giving bay’a (a pledge of allegiance) to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or becoming Najdis or Salafi-jihadis? If we, for the sake of argument, say that this group has fallen into ridda and now wants to join another group—one which is known for fighting in the cause of God and raising His word—isn’t this enough? Isn’t righteous deeds a condition for tawba? Uniting, as God has commanded, with a group with a correct aqeeda (creed or ideology) is enough evidence of tawba.
So, if the verdict against al-Zengi was kufr, then what would be the situation for its soldiers, after it dissolved, who individually joined Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, given that the ridda was upon the group and not on individual members? Even scholars did not make takfir on the individual when he was fighting for this group before it dissolved and ceased to exist. So, if takfir was only made on the dignitaries of the group then the soldiers remain in Islam
Regarding the statement of al-Zengi’s leaders that Tahrir al-Sham is a Syrian and national movement, is this statement a statement of kufr? Who, with a grain of knowledge, would make takfir because of this statement? The leader meant that this is a movement is limited [in its aims] to within the borders of Syria, to topple the regime and establish shari’a. If a group came out now and said we are Muslims and we want shari’a—but at this moment our only goal is to bring down the oppressive regime and the repel the aggression—isn’t this a shar’i objective? Would any student of knowledge make takfir on it? We all know of the leaders of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham as people of truth—Shaykh Abu Jabbar being the leader and [Jabhat] Fatah al-Sham being the largest group therein, and their objectives are clear: establish shari’a, disassociate from EUPHRATES SHIELD, cutting ties with tyrants, etc.
So, what more tawba do we want from a faction when they are joining a group that is not going to receive outside support, does not participate in EUPHRATES SHIELD, and does not have connections to tyrants? This is more truthful than he who sits at home and claims Salafiyya, because they [al-Zengi] didn’t just make tawba, they made tawba and sought to unite the banners and to fulfil the objectives of jihad.
In regards to what al-Zengi’s leader said previously, when he was in Turkey, are we going to judge him based on what he said in the past and before the unification? It is well known among people of knowledge that we judge people based on present and not the past and now that there is a new entity we must judge on what’s obvious now. We expect nothing but good from them because the people behind this entity are people of goodness who carried the jihad for the past six years.
When seeking a jihad for the umma (Muslim community), we must take and join with all those that are within the umma, so even if there are some statements with error then we excuse them because we want a jihad of the umma, in which every member of society joins us—the sinner, the rebel, even the innovator. And whoever acts arrogantly towards people, then they do not want a jihad for the whole umma and they will end up destroying the jihad; it is best they sit at home. This is the reality. We have to accept everyone that is in this umma. Ibn Taymiyya, when he fought against the Tartars, he fought with the Sufis while the Salafis were the minority.
So, whoever wants a jihad for the umma has to know he will be dealing with all types of people and will face many obstacles and problems. This is where the intelligent leaders appear, as they are able to steer the battle with all types of different people. This is how Saladin [al-Ayyubi] did it: he fought a jihad of the umma that included the sinful, the rebellious, Salafis, Sufis, Asharis, and everyone else from the umma.
It is enough; leave the mindset of the Khawarij. We do not have to acknowledge everything the Khawarij say. There is no benefit in them. There is no need to acknowledge anything that the Khawarij say about us. No requirements at all! By God’s grace, all the people of knowledge blessed this unification (HTS) and no knowledgeable person would stand against unity.
Everything good comes out of shura (consultation), even if only to an extent and the final decision is something evil. Look at the brothers of Yusuf: they first agreed to kill him but after shura decided to just throw him in the well.
If a group, whatever they may be—criminals, apostates, etc.—is coming to join you and says, “Please teach us the religion,” do you push them away or accept them and teach them the religion?? Do you want to push them away under the pretext of them being murtadeen (apostates) and make them think that you will kill them, so they should just stay away from you like al-Dawla (the [Islamic] State) says? As they say, “You are murtad, but I am your brother.” This is an extremist mindset and ghuluw (excessiveness), which must be fought, just like irja (abstaining from declaring takfir) is fought. We must not allow the ghulat (excessives) to destroy this jihad.
If someone comes to you and wants to learn, take them in, instead of making them your enemy. The Prophet Muhammad went out with an army that contained munafiqeen (hypocrites) and fought alongside them. Accept the people and fight for the umma, with the umma.
The umma is being slaughtered. Enough with different banners and faction—people are tired of this. Let us see the flag of Islam and a jihad of the umma.
 Sami al-Uraydi was the chief shar’i of Jabhat al-Nusra and overall deputy to its leader, Ahmad al-Shara (Abu Muhammad al-Jolani), after Maysar al-Jiburi (Abu Mariya al-Qahtani) was fired in the summer of 2014. Al-Jiburi had led al-Nusra’s most powerful branch in Deir Ezzor, but the branch was destroyed by the Islamic State using the weapons and resources confiscated from Mosul in June 2014. Abu Qatada’s real name is Umar Othman, one of the most important jihad-Salafist clerics, who was for a long time based in London and who is now back in his native Jordan.
 Al-Maqdisi, also based in Jordan, is probably the most prominent jihadi-Salafist scholar—a significant influence over the Islamic State, though he has disowned the group—and his real name is Issam al-Barqawi.
 Abu Jabbar’s real name is Hashem al-Shaykh, the leader of Ahrar al-Sham between September 2014 and September 2015.