The Unwitting Schmittians: Sovereignty and Violence in Jihadi Salafism’s Political Theology

Publikation: Bidrag til bog/antologi/rapportBidrag til bog/antologiForskningpeer review


The question of sovereignty and its nature and manifestation stand at the core of the intersection between the political and the theological, i.e., Political theology. Islam is no exception. For Carl Schmitt political Theology - as it develops in the West - is “about the nature, and thus the prerogatives of sovereign political authority.” Surprisingly, the question of sovereignty – (Arabic: rubūbiyya/ulhiiyya) in Radical Islam, Jihadi Salafism in particular, is very intimate with the question of violence; and as such it shows a great affinity with Schmitt´s. In modern radical Islamism’s – Jihadi and neo-Jihadi Salafism’s – discourse it is the theological that dictates and organises the affaires of the community of the faithful. Not that sovereignty is God´s alone, but in the city of God religion is both the political (sovereignty) and politics (law).

Unlike the juridico-political conceptualisation of the term Jihad in Classical Islam (Jurisprudence and political theory) Jihadi Salafism has displaced the doctrine of Jihad from the realm of fiqh (legal theory) into the realm of practical theology (ʿaqīdah/dogma), and as such it is considered both intrinsic to the nature of God´s sovereignty and its most sublime expression. Intrinsic in the sense that worshiping other than God includes rejecting God as sovereign political authority, whence political idolatry. As a sublime expression of God´s sovereignty Jihad cannot and should not be exercised but through “mythical violence”. In opposition to “divine violence”, which, according to Walter Benjamin, means accepting sacrifice, “mythical violence” demands it. In this perspective Jihad has become the “absent obligation” (al-faridah al-ghaibah), which Jihadi Salafism seeks to reinstate where it should be, namely the foundations of Islam.

In revisiting classical Islamic historiography, Jihadi Salafism, has rehabilitated the juridico-political concept of “khurūj `lā al-hākim al-jā’ir ” ( rebellion against the despot ruler) by making it a theological act confirming God´s sovereignty, a legal decision by which friends and foes are identified. So, the management of violence, is a process through which a Schmittsian conception of politics is unwittingly at work in contemporary Jihadi Salafism´s political theology: “Politics is...where one has friends and enemies...It is the possibility of battling totality.”

In this book chapter, I shall demonstrate that the Jihadi Salafism´s discourse on sovereignty and practice of Jihad - as “mythical violence” subscribing the “new-Muslim” or rather the “super-Muslim according to Fethi Benslama - into a violent messianic quest for an Islamic state – are better explained through the lens of modern political theology. Unlike the accepted perception of “the Islamic state”, Jihadi Salafism’s latest brand shows that the state of exception is a State of chaos, i.e., suspension of all laws by law, including the suspension of Sharia.

For this reason, I shall focus on the Jihadi Salafi groups’s discourse on the issue of sovereignty and their practice of mythical violence in two regions: the Maghreb and the Sahel, and in relation to two traditional forms and practices of authority: Malikism and Sufi Marabutism.
TitelTransnational Jihadism : Theological Perspectives
RedaktørerMona Sheik, Saer El-Jaichi
Antal sider26
ForlagCambridge University Press
StatusAfsendt - 2022

Citer dette