CSP, by Kyle Shideler, April, 6, 2015:
The Taliban has published a new biography of Mullah Omar (link is to Taliban-controlled shahamat-english.com) which paints a hagiographic picture of the Taliban leader’s history and upbringing (H/T LongWarJournal).
The biography covers Mullah Mohammad Umar ‘Mujahid’ childhood, his Islamic studies up to the age of eighteen, before pointing out that his studies were “interrupted” by the invasion of Afghanistan, and going into detail on his history of jihad against the Russians.
While not expressly doing so, the biography establishes a number of key distinctions between Omar and his rival Amir al mu’minin (Leader of the Faithful) “Caliph” AbuBakr Al-Baghdadi, with whom it is currently in a struggle with over legitimacy regarding leadership of the Global Jihad Movement. While Mullah Omar has never formally been put forward as a candidate, both Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders have used the Leader of the Faithful title to refer to Mullah Omar, a title typically applied to a sitting caliph. Omar has been given the title since 1996, during a Taliban demonstration where he was filmed holding aloft the supposed relic of the Prophet Mohammed’s cloak.
These distinctions between Mullah Omar and Baghdadi are notable, and likely intentional, as Al Qaeda and the Taliban compete with Islamic State for jihadist legitimacy and preeminence.
Beginning from childhood the comparisons are immediately clear. While Islamic State’s Baghdadi claims a, certainly apocryphal, lineage going back to the Quraysh tribe of the Prophet, Omar’s biography highlights a tribal connection to Mīrwais Khān Hotak (who led Afghanistan’s rebellion against the Safavid Persian dynasty), an elite but by no means as storied a parentage.
While Al-Baghdadi has a doctorate in Islamic Studies from a prominent Baghdad University, Mullah Omar’s formal Islamic studies were halted by the Soviet invasion. The biography goes into great detail regarding alleged “heroics” of Mullah Omar in fighting the Soviets from as early 1978. While it goes unstated, the Taliban is indicating that its leader was fighting jihad while the Islamic State’s “Caliph” was still a toddler. While much about Baghdadi’s history is not clear, It does not appear that he was a jihadist commander of any significant stature prior to his detention in Camp Bucca, Iraq.
The biography also defends Mullah Omar’s Islamic orthodox as a member of the Hanafi school of jurisprudence:
Ideologically, Mullah Mohammad Umar ‘Mujahid’ belongs to the main ‘Ahl-i-Sunna wal Jamma’a’ (the believers in Quran, traditions of the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him, and the consensus of Muslim Umma). He is the imitator of Hanafi school of thought. He is severely opposed to all heresy or heterodox opinions. He never likes sectional, ideological and factional differences among the Muslims.
Reference to factionalism may be an intended backhand to Islamic State, which is known for attacking other jihadist groups with whom they have disagreements. As a whole, that the Taliban feels the need to defend Omar’s Islamic orthodox is a reflection on the success of Islamic State propagandists who have described Mullah Omar as Deobandi ( a sect popularized in India and Pakistan, which includes both Wahhabist and, reportedly Sufi elements) which the Islamic State considers heterodox.
Much of the rest of the biography focuses on personal traits ascribed to Mullah Omar, with the intent of depicting him as a particularly pious and overly humble individual, describing him as being reduced to tears at being named Leader of the Faithful, and naturally contrasts with the cult of personality Islamic State propaganda generates around the person of Al-Baghdadi as sitting Caliph. The biography also details the system of governance, and the commissions and deputies through which Mullah Omar purports to govern, intended to dismiss criticism by Islamic State supporters that Mullah Omar has not be seen in public.
The biography highlights both the age and experience gap between Al Qaeda and Islamic State supporters. Generally, Islamic State supporters are younger, and more familiar with the history of jihad against the United States beginning with Osama Bin Laden, through Zarqawi and now Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. Islamic State attempts to highlight their control of territory as unprecedented and their establishment of Shariah over parts of Iraq and Syria as equally unprecedented. The Taliban on the other hand, represent the “wise old men” of jihad with a substantive history of establishing and running an Islamic emirate in spite of fierce opposition from the West.
That said, while it’s possible that this report may shore up support among Taliban and Al Qaeda loyalists, it’s unlikely to put a dent in the enthusiasm generated by the Islamic State’s Caliphate declaration.
- 14 ways to fawn over a shadowy Taliban leader (washingtonpost.com)