Who does (not) belong to the jihadis’ umma? A comparison of IS’s and al Qaida’s use of takfīr to exclude people from the Muslim community.


  • Christina Hartmann PhD Student, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg


Jihadism, al Qaida, Islamic State, takfīr


Since the declaration of the caliphate in mid-2014, the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) has been preoccupying the media as well as experts and scientists. Thereby, the organisation is often described as succeeding al Qaida as the most important and most dangerous salafi jihadi terror group. Despite the two groups being commonly referred to as salafi jihadi and fighting for supremacy in the jihadi landscape, they differ in terms of ideology and creed (ʿaḳīda), as well as their way of fighting a jihad (manhadj). The purpose of my paper is to highlight the differing ideologies of the two organisations regarding their excommunication of (Sunni) Muslims (takfīr) by analysing jihadi sources. The Islamic State uses the concept of excommunication (takfīr) to legitimise violence against four categories of Sunnis: (1) Muslim rulers, who do not rule according to the sharia; (2) Islamist parties that take part in democratic elections; (3) Muslim rebels questioning the authority of a ruler; and (4) other jihadis who come to the defence of Sunnis who are declared apostates by IS. Whereas al Qaida agrees in the excommunication of the first two categories, it heavily criticises IS for excluding the third and fourth categories of people from the Islamic society (umma), accuses IS of leaning towards extremism (ghulū) and provoking a division of the society (fitna). Analysing IS’s extensive use of excommunication of Sunni opponents and al Qaida’s criticism of it, I derive the conclusion that the two organisations differ in their definition of who belongs to the Muslim society (umma) and thus is to be protected. This means that IS does not succeed al Qaida but takes an even more extremist orientation.

Author Biography

Christina Hartmann, PhD Student, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg

Email: Christina.Hartmann@fau.de University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Institute for Political Science, Middle East Politics and Society; Kochstr. 4, 91054 Erlangen, Germany


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