Just over a year ago, in mid-September 2017, the Islamic State issued a statement retracting its highly controversial memo on the issue of takfir (excommunication) and announcing its “return to the truth.” The seven-page memo, from May 2017, had been the subject of numerous refutations by the self-styled scholars (ulama) of the Islamic State, foremost among them being Turki al-Bin‘ali, the head of the Office of Research and Studies (Maktab al-Buhuth wa’l-Dirasat), who was killed in an airstrike in May 2017 while being detained by senior leaders of the caliphate.
The statement bearing the retraction, signed by the Islamic State’s Delegated Committee (al-Lajna al-Mufawwada), foretold of an audio series that would treat the theological issues under dispute. Titled “Silsila ‘ilmiyya fi bayan masa’il manhajiyya” (“Knowledge Series Clarifying Matters of Methodology”), it appeared in six installments in the second half of September 2017.
The purpose of the “Silsila ‘ilmiyya,” as the first episode explained, was “to unify the [Islamic] State and unite the hearts of its soldiers around the truth.” Thus far, however, it has done nothing of the sort. Far from bringing harmony, it has rather stoked further discord in the ranks of the Islamic State and its online support network. Meanwhile, al-Bin‘ali’s successor as head of the Office of Research and Studies, described by his supporters as the Islamic State’s “mufti,” is currently being detained. The charges against him may well lead to his execution, doing further damage to the group’s ideological coherence. While the Islamic State remains stronger today than is commonly thought, the internal schism over ideology is doing lasting damage in a way that has yet to be appreciated.