Muhammad abd-al-Salam Faraj
Muhammad abd-al-Salam Faraj (1954-1982) was an Egyptian revolutionary and theorist. He led the Cairo branch of the Islamist group al-Jihad and made a significant contribution in elevating the role of jihad in radical Islam with his pamphlet The neglected obligation. He was executed in 1982 for his role in coordinating the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat the previous year.
Born in the Dolongat neighborhood of Beheira, Egypt, Faraj graduated in electrical engineering and worked as an administrator in Cairo University. Faraj began to develop the revolutionary group that would become al-Jihad in 1979. Faraj, an engaging speaker, recruited individuals who heard him preach jihad in mosques. Over the next two years these individuals recruited others and in this way Faraj came to be the overall leader of a loose group of around five revolutionary cells. These cells, one of which was led by Ayman al-Zawahiri retained a degree of independence but met regularly and had a joint strategy.
In late September 1981 Faraj held a meeting with other al-Jihad leaders to discuss a plot to assassinate Anwar Sadat. The idea had been proposed to him by Khalid Islambouli, a lieutenant in the Egyptian Army whom Faraj had invited to join al-Jihad when he was posted to Cairo six months before. Islambouli had learned that he was to be involved in a celebratory parade involving the President and saw an opportunity. Despite disagreements among the leaders, the plan went ahead. Sadat was killed on 6 October. Faraj was quickly arrested and was executed on 15 April 1982, along with Islambouli and three accomplices.
Mainstream Salafism argues that Muslims should aim to emulate the practices of the Prophet and his companions and believe that the failure to do so is responsible for the problems facing the Islamic World. Faraj argued that modern Muslims had specifically neglected jihad, which he placed after the five pillars as the most important aspect of Islam.
Faraj also had very specific views on what form this jihad should take. He followed Sayyid Qutb in arguing that jihad was a fard al-ayn (an individual duty incumbent upon every Muslim). He dismissed the notion that inner spiritual struggle was the greater jihad as a fabricated tradition, and emphasised the role of armed combat.
The primary targets for jihad should be local regimes, Faraj taught. He coined the term "near enemy" to describe such targets, in contrast to "far enemies" such as Israel. He built on Qutb's idea that modern Islamic societies represented jahiliyyah (the state of ignorance that pervaded in the pre-Islamic Arab world) and used the ideas of ibn Taymiyyah to blame this on modern "apostate" Islamic rulers.
He believed that peaceful means could never bring about a truly Islamic society and so jihad was the only option. He also believed that an Islamic state should be established in Egypt before attempting to reliberate lost Muslim lands. He felt jihad under the banner of an existing Arab nation would simply strengthen that country's impious rulers who were, in any case, responsible for the colonial presence in Muslim lands.
Faraj failed in the near term. Al-Jihad could not capitalise on the assassination of Sadat. It did not have a sufficiently robust network and was quickly rounded up. Nevertheless, Faraj's pamphlet The neglected obligation was a highly influential text. Faraj probably wrote his ideas down in 1979, although it was initially only distributed among his followers. The ideas contained in it guided Egyptian Islamist extremist groups throughout the 1980s and 90s. Ayman al-Zawahiri was Faraj's friend and followed his mantra of targeting the near enemy for many years.
Some writers have criticised Faraj. Jad al-Haq of the al-Azhar University dismissed his declaration of Sadat as an apostate and had misinterpreted parts of the Qu'ran, including the sword verse. Others have questioned Faraj's religious credentials, pointing out that he trained as an electrician rather than as an Islamic jurist.
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