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Seeking An Islamic State Ruled By Shariah Law

Seeking an Islamic State Ruled by Shariah Law

by Anne Speckhard & Ardian Shajkovci

Seeking an Islamic State Ruled by Shariah is the 121rst counter narrative video in the ICSVE Breaking the ISIS Brand series. This video features 25-year-old Tunisian, Abu Tahir, who was interviewed by Anne Speckhard and Ardian Shajkovci in October of 2018. This video clip was video edited and produced by Zack Baddorf and our ICSVE team.

In this video, Abu Tahir describes how in 2016, a friend from his neighborhood resurfaced on Facebook, after disappearing from Tunis, and began telling him about ISIS. Abu Tahir explains that his friend knew that he was not radicalized. “He knew that I used to pray like the other guys, without the ideology or background that they had, ” he states.

“I found his picture on Facebook,” Abu Tahir recalls. Abu Tahir asked him, “Where you have been? How are you?” and his friend answered, “‘I’m in Syria, in the territory of the Islamic State.” In justifying his departure from Tunisia, Abu Tahir recalls his friend explaining, “If I had stayed in Tunisia, I would have been caught by the police because I pray.” Abu Tahir’s friend was referring to the legacy of government-led religious oppression that was done in the name of fighting radicalization and extremism in the country, namely attacks on conservative Muslims who pray faithfully and dress in conservative Salafi style clothing in Tunisia.  Abu Tahir had also been subjected to police harassment for the same issues.

“I remembered how [the Tunisian police] had caught me and started asking me questions and investigating me, asking ‘Where did you pray? Where do you go? What do you do?’” Abu Tahir recalls. “Honestly, at that time in Tunisia, a person who commits to prayer and goes to the mosque is under surveillance by the local police during every prayer,” Abu Tahir explains. “Then they start interrogating him. After the terrorist attacks occurred in Tunis, they were afraid of the conservative guys going to the mosque. So [the police] keep following them, worrying that they may have a [radical] background, ” he further adds.

When detained by the police, Abu Tahir recalls, “I wanted to know why they took me and investigated me. I asked them, ‘Am I accused of something? Am I a suspect?’ They just asked me about certain people. They asked, ‘Who’s this person?’ ‘How do you know about this guy?’ ‘What kind of relationship do you have with him?’ There was no torture or beating. The Tunisian police didn’t swear at me or insult me.” Yet, Abu Tahir credits the police harassment he experienced with his reason for wanting to leave Tunis and follow his friend into the Islamic State Caliphate. “They were the cause of my departure [to Syria]. The pressure that they put on me led me to go,” he asserts.

“[My friend] sent me some [ISIS] videos under the pretext of inviting me to join them,” Abu Tahir recalls of his recruitment into ISIS, which occurred, as he claims, solely over the Internet, albeit via his trusted friend. “He showed me that [ISIS] has power, that there’s no oppression and that people live equally there,” Abu Tahir explains. “It moved me to see that there was no problem praying there,” he further states.

Abu Tahir continues, “ISIS was releasing audio instructions, telling us what to do and what’s going on there.” Similar to what other ISIS cadres from both the West and Arab countries have told ICSVE researchers, ISIS warned them not to trust mainstream media sources reporting on the Islamic State—calling these legitimate news outlets “fake news.” “They were telling us about propaganda and fake news [against ISIS],” Abu Tahir describes. “So, people complied with their instructions. They believed them and trusted the Islamic State,” he shares. As it occurred, he and others had begun to trust ISIS more than other news sources and narrowed their focus to only receiving their “truth” from the Islamic State Caliphate. “We have more trust in ISIS than the enemy of ISIS. [ISIS] was saying that news published by the media is fake and that we shouldn’t believe it,” Abu Tahir states.

When Abu Tahir decided to join ISIS in Syria, he left behind everything — his schooling, job and family. He didn’t tell his family about his plans, knowing they would try to stop him, and he didn’t expect to return. “My goal was to go somewhere ruled by Islamic shariah,” he recalls, adding, “to live in a state free of injustice, where there’s no one who would hinder your religion or judge your thoughts.”

Abu Tahir was not poor. His family ran a successful business, where he worked alongside his father. He described having a good life—except that he felt oppressed and harassed by the Tunisian police when it came to following his faith. Abu Tahir also romanticized the Islamic State, likening it to historic Islam, this despite numerous reports in 2016 of ISIS’ extreme brutality and failure to deliver a life rooted in Islamic ideals. “I went there to see the [Islamic] state that we used to read about when we were kids in the books of the life and traditions of the Prophet,” Abu Tahir states.

“A Muslim should strive for this life,” Abu Tahir affirms. “We want a state ruling with shariah law.” Yet, when he lived under, ISIS he found the opposite. “I discovered what [ISIS] truly is.

They’re against the Islamic shariah. For example, when they blow up people by car or anything else, do they guarantee that this attack will not kill innocent people, like women and kids?   How can they guarantee it will not kill women and kids? It’s against shariah law,” he states.

“They say that we came to be merciful with Muslims, but they are the exact opposite,” Abu Tahir states, further adding, “Once, I saw a man, tied to a cross alive for one day. A signboard announcing his sentence said he was punished for not waiting for the end of the iddah [under shariah law, a period of four-month absenteeism that a Muslim woman must wait after the death of her spouse before remarrying].

“In Tunisia, they judged you based on your thoughts,” Abu Tahir complains. “It turns out that ISIS is doing the same. So, I went from one bad place to another. No one should be judged for his thoughts,” he adds.

Abu Tahir recalls the depth of injustices committed under ISIS rule: “They killed a few people, claiming they were spies. Then, later they admitted, ‘We were wrong. We killed the wrong people.’” Once in, it’s difficult to leave, Abu Tahir also learned, “If you are caught by ISIS while trying to leave them, you’ll be killed, ”he explains.

In one of his concluding remarks, Abu Tahir advises his fellow countrymen, “To the youth of Tunisia, I want to say to you: Don’t be fooled by people’s talk. Firstly, you have to make sure about the facts. They fooled a lot of people — not only me.”

“I hurt myself [by joining ISIS]. I had a good life with my family. I used to have a good salary. I had no problems. I had no problem with my country. Before I started to pray, I didn’t have any problems with anyone. I had a clean history. Then, I suddenly found myself in the wrong place with the wrong people and the worst treatment,” he states. Naïve and frustrated Muslims like Abu Tahir, who find or feel themselves harassed by their country authorities or fellow countrymen and are in pursuit of more ideal conditions and environment to practice their faith are highly vulnerable to ISIS recruitment. Though often from good family backgrounds and with no criminal history, they are duped into believing ISIS’ lies. They are also particularly dangerous, as few would suspect them of joining when they do decide to travel or see reason to try to hinder their free movement. This “clean skin” history makes them particularly valuable to groups like ISIS, especially in using them for suicide or other types of attacks once convinced to join.

Abu Tahir recalls ISIS treating its fighters as disposable. He describes how they didn’t care for them when they were down, namely, “Even when I was sick, nobody was taking care of me. Suddenly, I found myself alone,” he states.

Abu Tahir believes in redemption through confession, prayer and making restitution: “Everyone who commits a sin must ask Allah to forgive him.” He explains that the consequence of his actions affected not only him, but also his entire family, as caught in his statement, “I dragged my family into this nightmare. They were harmed because of me. I made problems to the others, and not just me. My mother was sick, and my father is getting old. He expected me to help him in his work so he can rest.” Now Abu Tahir wishes he could return home to make things right for them.

At the time Abu Tahir was interviewed, he explained, “I’ve been in prison for 11 months now, and I can’t contact [my family]. My biggest worry is that they don’t know where I am or whether I’m alive or dead.” At Abu Tahir’s request, ICSVE researchers gained permission from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) prison authorities to let his family know that he is alive and that he wants to beg their forgiveness for hurting them. His sister was overcome by the news and is trying to help her brother be repatriated to Tunisia, though as expressed by her, the efforts to repatriate him have not come to fruition yet.

“Tunisia is my home,” Abu Tahir says, despite current Tunisian government’s reluctance to repatriate most Tunisian former ISIS fighters, like himself, held by the SDF and giving long prison sentences to those who do manage to return home. Abu Tahir wistfully concludes, “Everybody loves to be home. I just want to get back home to be with my family. I just wish to see them.”

Discussion Questions:

How did you feel watching this video?

Do you believe Abu Tahir’s story?

What do you think about Abu Tahir’s frustration with the Tunisian police harassing him for practicing his faith as a conservative Muslim?

In evaluating and enacting Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) policies and initiatives, how important is it to understand both a community’s perception towards law enforcement (e.g. the perception by a community that it is being target by law enforcement for practicing more conservative forms of religion) and law enforcement perception towards a community (e.g. law enforcement labeling some as “suspect community” for practicing more conservative forms of religion)?

Do you believe this was a good reason for him to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State Caliphate?

Did he find what he was looking for?

What did he lose by joining?

Do you feel any sympathy for Abu Tahir or believe he deserves a long prison sentence?

How do you believe we can protect youth from being seduced over the Internet into groups like ISIS?

How do you think Abu Tahir’s family and parents felt when they learned he had joined ISIS?

Do you think Abu Tahir will be able to go home? Do you believe he’s dangerous now? Do you believe he can be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society once he serves his prison time?

What are some of the lessons that youth can take away from Abu Tahir’s experience?

Islamic Scriptures Related to this Video

A Muslim has to be sure of the incoming news. The Quran says: “Believers, if an evildoer brings you a piece of news, inquire first, in case you should unwittingly wrong others and then repent of what you have done.” Surah al-Hujurat (the private apartments), Ayah No. 6. The atrocities of terrorist groups like ISIS are so obvious, but their media seduces naive people to join them and then they find out the reality only after it is too late to retreat. Islam urges us not to throw ourselves and families into bad situations, as the Quran says: “and do not cast into destruction with your own hands. Be good doers; Allah loves the good doers.” Surah al-Baqarah (the cow), Ayah No. 195. The Prophet (PBUH) also instructed, “All of you are guardians and are responsible for your subjects. The ruler is a guardian of his subjects, the man is a guardian of his family, the woman is a guardian and is responsible for her husband’s house and his offspring; and so all of you are guardians and are responsible for your subjects.” Sahih Bukhari and Muslim, Book 1, Hadith 283. Hurting your family, which is totally dependent on your support is a great sin in Islam, as the Prophet (PBUH) said: “It is sufficient sin for a man that he neglects him whom he maintains.” Sunan Abi Dawud. Hadith No. 1692. Joining groups like ISIS while harming one’s family is a grievous error in Islam.

Transcript of Seeking an Islamic State Ruled by Shariah Law

In 2016, a guy in my neighborhood

started telling me about [ISIS].

He knew that I used to pray like the other guys,

without the ideology or background that they had.

[Later,] I found his picture on Facebook and asked him, ‘Where you have been? How are you?’

He answered,

‘I’m in Syria in the territory of the Islamic State.’

He said, ‘If I had stayed in Tunisia,

 I would have been caught by the police because I pray.’

I remembered how [the Tunisian police] had caught me and started asking me questions and investigating me,

asking ‘Where did you pray? Where do you go?

What do you do?’

Honestly, at that time in Tunisia,

a person who commits to prayer and goes to the mosque  

is under surveillance by the local police during every prayer. Then they start interrogating him.

After the terrorist attacks occurred in Tunis, they were

afraid of the conservative guys going to the mosque.

So [the police] keep following them,

worrying that they may have a [radical] background.

I wanted to know why they took me and investigated me.

I asked them, ‘Am I accused of something? Am I a suspect?’

They just asked me about certain people.

They asked, ‘Who’s this person?’

  ‘How do you know about this guy?

‘What kind of relationship do you have with him?’

There was no torture or beating.

The Tunisian police didn’t

swear at me or insult me.

But, they were the cause of my departure [to Syria].

The pressure that they put on me led me to go.

[My friend] sent me some [ISIS] videos

under the pretext of inviting me to join them.

He showed me that [ISIS] has power, that there’s

no oppression and that people live equally there.

It moved me to see that

there was no problem praying there.

ABU TAHIR

25-year-old Tunisian

ISIS Foreign Fighter

ISIS was releasing audio instructions, telling us

what to do and what’s going on there.

They were telling us about

propaganda and fake news [against ISIS].

So people complied with their instructions.

They believed them and trusted the Islamic State.

We have more trust in ISIS

 than the enemy of ISIS.

[ISIS] was saying that news published by the media is fake

and that we shouldn’t believe it.

TEXT: Abu Tahir decided to join ISIS in Syria.

He left behind everything —

his schooling, job and family.

He didn’t expect to return to Tunisia.

My goal was to go somewhere

ruled by Islamic shariah.

to live in a state free of injustice, where there’s no one who would hinder your religion or judge your thoughts.

I went there to see the [Islamic] state that

we used to read about when we were kids

in the books of the life

and traditions of the Prophet.

A Muslim should strive for this life.

We want a state ruling with shariah law.

  I discovered what [ISIS] truly is.

They’re against the Islamic shariah.

For example, when they blow up people

by car or anything else, 

do they guarantee that this attack

will not kill innocent people, like women and kids?    

How can they guarantee it will not kill women and kids?

It’s against shariah law.

They say that we came to be merciful with Muslims,

but they are the exact opposite.

Once, I saw a man,

tied to a cross alive for one day.

A signboard announcing his sentence said he was punished for not waiting for the end of the iddah after getting married.

TEXT: Iddah is the period of four months that a woman must wait after the death of her spouse before remarrying.

In Tunisia, they judged you based on your thoughts.

It turns out that ISIS is doing the same.

So I went from one bad place to another.

No one should be judged for his thoughts.

For example, they killed a few people,

claiming they were spies.

Then, later they admitted,

 ‘We were wrong. We killed the wrong people.’

If you are caught by ISIS while trying to leave them,

 you’ll be killed.

To the youth of Tunisia, I want to say to you:

Don’t be fooled by people’s talk.

Firstly, you have to make sure

 about the facts. 

They fooled a lot of people —

not only me.

Everyone who commits a sin

must ask Allah to forgive him.

I hurt myself [by joining ISIS]. I had a good life with my family.

I used to have a good salary. I had no problems.

 I had no problem with my country. 

  Before I started to pray,

I didn’t have any problems with anyone.

 I had a clean history.

Then, I suddenly found myself in the wrong place

with the wrong people and the worst treatment.

Even when I was sick, nobody was taking care of me.

Suddenly, I found myself alone.

I dragged my family into this nightmare.

They were harmed because of me.

I made problems to the others not just me.

My mother was sick and my father is getting old.

He expected me to help him in his work so he can rest.

They didn’t know whether I was alive or dead.

I’ve been in prison for 11 months now,

and I can’t contact them.

My biggest worry is that they don’t know

where I am or whether I’m alive or dead.

Tunisia is my home.

Everybody loves to be home. I just want to get back

home to be with my family. I just wish to see them.

The Truth Behind the Islamic State

Sponsored by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism

            www.ICSVE.org

See more at www.TheRealJihad.org

About the authors:

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She has interviewed over 600 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In the past two years, she and ICSVE staff have been collecting interviews (n=169) with ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners, studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism, their experiences inside ISIS, as well as developing the materials from these interviews. She has also been training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals on the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE both locally and internationally as well as studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS and consulting on how to rehabilitate them. In 2007, she was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 + detainees and 800 juveniles. She is a sought after counterterrorism expert and has consulted to NATO, OSCE, foreign governments and to the U.S. Senate & House, Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, CIA and FBI and CNN, BBC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CTV, and in Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, London Times and many other publications. She regularly speaks and publishes on the topics of the psychology of radicalization and terrorism and is the author of several books, including Talking to Terrorists, Bride of ISIS, Undercover Jihadi and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Her publications are found here: https://georgetown.academia.edu/AnneSpeckhard and on the ICSVE website http://www.icsve.org Follow @AnneSpeckhard

Ardian Shajkovci, Ph.D., is the Director of Research and a Senior Research Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). He has been collecting interviews with ISIS defectors and studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism as well as training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals on the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE both locally and internationally. He has also been studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS and how to rehabilitate them. He has conducted fieldwork in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, mostly recently in Jordan and Iraq. He has presented at professional conferences and published on the topic of radicalization and terrorism. He holds a doctorate in Public Policy and Administration, with a focus on Homeland Security Policy, from Walden University. He obtained his M.A. degree in Public Policy and Administration from Northwestern University and a B.A. degree in International Relations and Diplomacy from Dominican University. He is also an adjunct professor teaching counterterrorism and CVE courses at Nichols College. 

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