Jama'at al-Muslimin

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Jama'at al-Muslimin (Society of Muslims), popularly known as Takfir wal-Hijra (Arabic تكفير والهجرة, English "Excommunication and Exodus", alternately "excommunication and emigration" or "anathema and exile"), was a radical Sunni Islamist group led by Shukri Mustafa, which emerged in Egypt in the 1960s as an offshoot of Muslim Brotherhood, inspired by Sayyid Qutb.[1] The group was crushed by the Egyptian government after it kidnapped and murdered Muhammad al-Dhahabi, a former government minister and Muslim scholar. Despite this, some believe its ideology of separation from Muslim society, "Takfir wal-Hijra", lives on in other groups.[2]


Early years[edit]

Jama'at al-Muslimin has its origins in the late 1960s in the Abu Za'bal concentration camp, where many Islamists had been imprisoned after a plot to assassinate secularist president Nasser. Shukri Mustafa, its future leader, was an agronomy student and was arrested in 1965 for distributing Muslim Brotherhood leaflets. In 1967 he was transferred to Abu Za'bal.[3] Prisoners in Abu Za'bal were divided into two factions, each based on a different interpretation of the ideas of the recently executed Islamist author Sayyid Qutb. Qutb believed that Egyptians were no longer truly Muslims, as the contemporary Muslim community in Egypt and elsewhere had become Jahiliyyah, or reverted to pre-Islamic ignorance.[4] One faction, led by Sheikh 'Ali 'Abduh Ismail and calling itself Jama'at al-Muslimin, believed that Qutb had called for total, not just spiritual, separation from jahiliyyah society.[5]

Following Muslim Brotherhood General Leader Hassan al-Hudaybi's refutation of Qutb's ideas in 1969, Sheikh Ali renounced the ideology of Takfir and the sect soon fell apart, leaving Shukri Mustafa as its only member.[6] He was released from prison in 1971 as part of the new president Anwar Sadat's rapprochement with the Muslim Brotherhood.[6]

Building the group[edit]

On his release, Shukri returned to Asyut where he finished his studies and began recruiting followers in the surrounding villages. In 1973, following the arrest of some of his followers, he took the group to live in caves in the nearby mountains, fully implementing his belief in withdrawal.[7] He felt that his group was currently too weak to take action and so adopted a policy of separation. He hoped that this would protect the community from outside influences and allow it to grow in strength.[4] By 1976 Shukri's followers numbered two thousand, mostly living in poor neighbourhoods of Cairo. The group was organized in cells headed by emirs ("princes" or commanders), with Shukri being the "emir of emirs".[8] They were known to the authorities but not considered a serious threat.[9]

The greatest controversy was caused by forcing members to cut off contact with their families, bringing about several lawsuits from family members of women who joined. They felt Shukri was in essence seducing their daughters, or in some cases wives, from them and thus negating Egyptian views of family.[10]

Confronting the state[edit]

In 1976 a few members left for other groups. Shukri declared them apostate and, in November, led two raids to kill them. The police intervened, detaining fourteen of his followers and issuing a warrant for Shukri's own arrest.[11][12] Surprised by the official response, Shukri demanded their release but he was ignored by the government and ridiculed by the press. It was at this point that his group was given the label "Takfir w'al-Hijra" (Excommunication and Exile). Shukri hated the term, but it was far more descriptive than the group's chosen name and became fixed in the popular consciousness.[11]

Shukri was frustrated by his inability to use his new media profile to promote his views and his leadership within the group was under question. His response was to kidnap a former Egyptian government minister and mainstream Muslim cleric, Muhammad al-Dhahabi, on July 3, 1977. While minister of Waqfs, Al-Dhahabi had written a preface to an official pamphlet against the group, in which he linked them to Kharijism. Shukri demanded the release of his followers, apologies from the press, the printing of his literature, and 200,000 Egyptian pounds in unmarked bills.[13] When these demands were ignored, the hostage was killed[14][15] — strangled and then shot in the eye.[16] When his corpse was found the government cracked down with several militants and security agents being killed.[14] Within a few days most of the group (hundreds of people) were under arrest. After a swiftly arranged military tribunal, Shukri and four other leaders were executed on March 19, 1978.[17][14]



Like Sayyid Qutb, Shukri Mustafa's believed that Muslim society was no more, having fallen into Jahilliyya or pre-Islamic ignorance. Egypt was part of Dar al-Harb or Domain of war, rather than the Domain of Islam.[18] Thus "society of Muslims" referred not his group being a society of Muslims, but the Society of Muslims, i.e. the rebirth of Muslim society. His attitude toward the main Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood (aka Muslim Brethren) has been described as one of "unmitigated hostility". In statements before a military tribunal Shukri Mustafa said

The Society of Muslims is the first Islamic movement (haraka islamiyya) to be founded in centuries. As for the Muslim Bretheren, God did not grant them power, and that is irrefutable proof that they were not a true and legitimate Islamic movement, and that their apostolate was fradulent.[19]

Furthermore, his denunciation of other Islamists as kuffar was not limited to the Brethren but extended to other dissident Islamist groups similar to his own who opposed the accommodationist position of the Muslim Brotherhood. Groups his members had left to join (and so were in competition with him) Jama'at al-Muslimin attacked physically.[19]

Unlike later radical Islamists, Shukri did not engage in jihad but called for separation from society as part of his belief that true Muslims were in a "phase of weakness" (istid'af) armed jihad would have to wait until they had achieved strength vis-a-vis the authorities (although the group did reportedly participate in the 1977 food riots.[20]) During this period of separation Shukri forbade his true Muslims to attend Friday prayers or mosques in general, or even to fight against such hated external enemies as the Israeli army, saying

`If the Jews or anyone else came, our movement ought not to fight in the ranks of the Egyptian army, but on the contrary ought to flee to a secure position. In general, our line is to flee before the external and internal enemy alike, and not to resist him.`"[21]

However, even in weakness, he believed those who left his group, and thus became apostates, had to be killed and so could not avoid confrontation with the authorities. According to scholar Gilles Kepel this provided an object lesson that "invalidated" the `phase of weakness` strategy for the Islamists who came after Shukri.[22]


In the realm of knowledge Shukri held that there is no science except in God. . . .

The Muslim is obligated to seek his path and knowledge before God alone, and so-called knowledge, which is actually no knowledge at all because it is not founded in the Lord, is forbidden.

Since the Quran teaches that "God knows and you know not"[Quran 2:216], this meant (according to Shukri) that all learning came after the Quran and Sunna was not legitimate knowledge. This included even the traditional Sunni four schools (Madh'hab) of fiqh. Since the Quran was delivered in Arabic, it was clear to all Arabs who would only need a good dictionary to explain the meaning of some of its terms (according to Shukri).[23] "Shukri also rejected the Egyptian public school system, telling his interrogators that

The teaching of writing for its own sake is Haraam (sinful) ... The Prophet did not open kuttab and institutions to teach Muslims writing and arithmetic, but permitted them to be taught according to needs and necessities.[21]

Post-Jama'at al-Muslimin[edit]

According to journalist Robin Wright the group reorganized and within a year of Mustafa's death membership was estimated "to be as high as 4000."[24]

Many succeeding militant Islamists and Islamist groups have been designated Takfir wal-Hijra by authorities. Both Osbat al-Ansar in Lebanon and the GIA in Algeria were initially described as Takfir wal-Hijra cells.[25] Kassem Daher,[26] the killers of mosque worshippers in Sudan in 2000,[27] the killer of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh[28] and a 2011 group of Egyptian gunmen,[29] have been called Takfir wal-Hijra or connected with Takfir wal-Hijra in some way.

Despite these references, according to Jane's World Insurgency and Terrorism there is little or no evidence of any connection between the original Jama'at al-Muslimin and groups who've been called al-Takfir wal-Hijra, and little or no evidence of any group using the name "Takfir" to describe themselves. This is because in the Muslim world Takfir is "generally used as a derogatory description for extremists that kill Muslims without sufficient religious justification".[30]

Name and direct descendants notwithstanding, researchers Matteo Sisto and Samir Gurung argue that Jama’at al-Muslimin "is widely considered the forerunner" of the radical jihadist "groups that preach Takfir", such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. "Its concept of Hijra would become the cornerstone of al-Qaeda’s thirst for a safe haven from where they could train and educate future mujahideen to wage the Jihad."[31]


  1. ^ "USA v. Karim Kobrouti et al." (PDF). 2002-08-28. p. 4. Members of Takfiri cells may live together, not pray or attend Mosque, partake in alcohol and narcotics, and dress to assimilate and integrate into the communities they live in an attempt to avoid suspicion and/or detection.  Media related to USA v. Karim Kobrouti et al. at Wikimedia Commons
  2. ^ Bruce Livesey, "Takfir wal-Hijra," pbs.org (January 25, 2005).
  3. ^ Gilles Kepel, The Prophet and Pharaoh: Muslim extremism in Egypt, p.72.
  4. ^ a b Marc Sageman, Understanding terror networks, p.14.
  5. ^ Gilles Kepel, The Prophet and Pharaoh: Muslim extremism in Egypt, p.75.
  6. ^ a b Kepel, The Prophet and Pharaoh: Muslim extremism in Egypt, p76
  7. ^ Kepel, The Prophet and Pharaoh: Muslim extremism in Egypt, pp.76-77.
  8. ^ Wright, Robin Sacred Rage, 1985, p.180
  9. ^ Kepel, The Prophet and Pharaoh: Muslim extremism in Egypt, p.77.
  10. ^ Marc Sageman, Understanding terror networks, p.15.
  11. ^ a b Marc Sageman, Understanding terror networks, p.28.
  12. ^ The Prophet and the Pharaoh, pp.94-95.
  13. ^ The Prophet and the Pharaoh, pp.96.
  14. ^ a b c Marc Sageman, Understanding terror networks, p.29.
  15. ^ The Prophet and the Pharaoh, pp96-99
  16. ^ Wright, Robin, Sacred Rage, 1985, p.180.
  17. ^ The Prophet and the Pharaoh, pp.78 & 97
  18. ^ The Prophet and Pharaoh: Muslim extremism in Egypt, By Gilles Kepel, p.147
  19. ^ a b The Prophet and Pharaoh: Muslim extremism in Egypt, By Gilles Kepel, p.92
  20. ^ Wright, Robin Sazcred Rage, 1985, p.1980
  21. ^ a b The Prophet and Pharaoh: Muslim extremism in Egypt, By Gilles Kepel p.84
  22. ^ The Prophet and Pharaoh: Muslim extremism in Egypt, By Gilles Kepel, p.102
  23. ^ The Prophet and Pharaoh: Muslim extremism in Egypt, By Gilles Kepel, p.79
  24. ^ Wright, Robin Sacred Rage, 1985, p.181
  25. ^ implementing Article 2(3) of Regulation (EC) No 2580/2001 on specific restrictive measures directed against certain persons and entities with a view to combating terrorism and repealing Decision 2005/848/EC (.pdf), Official Journal of the European Union, December 23, 2005
  26. ^ Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Summary of the Security Intelligence Report concerning Mahmoud Jaballah[permanent dead link], February 22, 2008
  27. ^ The Salafist Movement, Frontline (PBS)
  28. ^ Murder for the sake of Allah- Blasphemy vs.Jihad in Holland, Militant Islam Monitor
  29. ^ Amid Egypt Turmoil, More Clashes in Sinai, New York Times 08-02-2011
  30. ^ Jane's World Insurgency and Terrorism
  31. ^ Sisto, Matteo; Gurung, Samir (February 25, 2015). "The Evolution of Extremist Jihadi Ideology". Integrity UK, International Centre for Integration and Cohesion. Archived from the original on 22 December 2015. Retrieved 18 December 2015. 

(Sources: NRC; Planet News; Politics.be)