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MARGINALIA: Bay’ah: the missing link in the military’s denial of ISIS

by: October 8, 2016 10:33 pm Category: Mindaviews A+ / A-

(A modified transcript of 15-minute presentation of the paper “The Sociological Significance of Bay‘ah in Islam: The Missing Link in the Philippine Military’s Denial of ISIS’ Presence in the Philippines” at the panel on ‘Davao Beyond the Headlines: An Interdisciplinary Investigation’ during the 2016 Philippine Sociological Society’s National Conference, Ateneo de Davao University, October 7, 2016.)

Salamun ‘alaykum and good afternoon to all of you!

The earlier three presenters have made mention of three stimulant phrases – namely, ‘Davao Death Squad,’ ‘Bud Dajo and Bud Bagsak Massacres’ and ‘poetics of violence,’ respectively – which I think, will be enough to keep us awake in this ‘holy hour’. Be that as it may, at the outset, I still deem it proper to give you a guarantee – and that guarantee is that although my paper presentation may be intriguing and stimulant, it will be in no way terrifying or horrible.

To begin with, it is a fact that from the inception of ISIS in Syria among the rebel groups fighting against the Asad regime, to its spread in Iraq and the rise of a certain Abu Bakr Baghdadi as its Leader, to the almost daily atrocities claimed by it in various countries, a specter of an unprecedented violent religious extremism has caught renewed international attention.

It is also a fact that the reported presence of ISIS in the Philippines since August 2014 manifests in many ways, namely: (1) video recorded pledging of allegiance (bay‘ah) to the ISIS global leadership; (2) videos of military training drills and camps with ISIS flags and other emblems; (3) video messages of militant campaigns against the Philippine government and other perceived enemies; and (4) statements of allegiance and admission of violent acts.

Amidst the existence of these various manifestations of the growing influence of ISIS on local Muslim individuals and groups in the Philippines, in general, and in Mindanao, in particular, since 2014 up to the present there has been a persistent Philippine military authorities’ public denial of ISIS’ presence in the country.

* November 19, 2015 – Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, 6th ID commander: “[There is] no monitor of any presence of ISIS members or sympathizers in the region.” (http://cnnphilippines.com/regional/2015/11/19/No-presence-of-ISIS-in-Central-Mindanao-AFP-PNP.html, etc.)

* November 26, 2015 – Maj. Filemon Tan, Westmincom spokesperson: “This group has not been officially recognized as ISIS even though they have an ISIS flag.” (http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/742814/8-gunmen-carrying-isis-flags-killed-in-clash-with-govt-troops-in-sultan-kudarat#, etc.)

* November 27, 2015 – AFP Spokesperson BGen. Restituto Padilla: “The bandit group which clashed with government forces in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat… is not linked to ISIS.” (http://news.abs-cbn.com/nation/regions/v1/11/28/15/slain-sultan-kudarat-bandits-not-tied-with-isis-afp, etc.)

* April 14, 2016 – AFP Spokesperson BGen. Restituto Padilla: “There is so far no clear, direct link between local terror groups and ISIS.” (http://cnnphilippines.com/news/2016/04/14/isis-basilan-attack.html, etc.)

* August 12, 2016 – Col. Edgard Arevalo, AFP Public Affairs Office Chief: “Ang paniniwala namin [What we believe] is still there is no ISIS in the Philippines.” (http://cnnphilippines.com/news/2016/08/11/ISIS-planning-to-bomb-Ms.-Universe-2016-pageant.html, etc.)

* September 6, 2016 – Maj. Filemon Tan, Westmincom spokesperson: “There is no ISIS-linked group behind Davao blast.” (http://news.abs-cbn.com/news/09/05/16/westmincom-no-isis-linked-group-behind-davao-blast, etc.) It is to be noted that this statement was made just four days after the bloody incident and at the time when there was no result yet of the PNP-CIDG investigation.

Statement of the problem

Against this backdrop, my paper explores the sociological significance of bay‘ah (pledge of allegiance to a leader) in Islamic political thought as the missing link in the Philippine military’s public denial of ISIS’ presence in the country.

In particular, it attempts to address the following questions: (1) What is the meaning and value of bay‘ah in Islamic political thought? (2) Are there local groups and individuals pledging allegiance to ISIS global leadership? (3) What is the implication of these reports of pledging of allegiance toward the Philippine military’s persistent public denial of ISIS’ presence?

Meaning and value of bay‘ah

Let us deal with the first question. To understand the meaning and value of bay‘ah, it is essential to know the two schools in Islamic political thought, which we shall call in this paper as the Theory of Appointment and the Theory of Non-appointment. The Theory of Appointment argues that there is an explicit designation of successorship to Prophet Muhammad while the Theory of Non-appointment maintains that there is no such explicit designation and it is the duty of the Muslim community as a whole to designate their leader.

Under the Theory of Appointment, which is likewise known in ‘ilm al-kalam (scholastic theology) as imamah (Imamate), the Leader’s legitimacy (mashru‘iyyah) emanates from God through the Prophet’s explicit designation while his acceptability (maqbuliyyah), which is a prerequisite of establishment of any government, stems from the people.

In the Theory of Non-appointment, which is also known in ‘ilm al-kalam as khilafah (Caliphate), the Successor’s legitimacy as well as acceptability originate from the people’s pledge of allegiance (bay‘ah).

As we can see in Muslim history, the first Caliph, Abubakr ibn Abi Quhafah, obtained the office of caliphate through the bay‘ah of selected Companions (sahabah) in Saqifah and subsequent bay‘ah of the majority. The second Caliph, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, became caliph through the nomination of the first Caliph and subsequent bay‘ah of the majority. The third Caliph, ‘Uthman ibn al-‘Affan, assumed the caliphate through a rigid six-man council and subsequent bay‘ah of the majority. The fourth Caliph, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, became the caliph through community bay‘ah after the death of the third Caliph.

After less than a year’s assumption of Hasan ibn ‘Ali to the caliphate, the known caliphates in Muslim history are the following: Umayyad Caliphate (661-750 C.E.), Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258), Mamluk Sultanate of Cairo (1261-1517), and the Ottoman Caliphate (1299-1922).

Since 1924, the official abolition of the Caliphate with the birth of modern-day Turkey under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal ‘Ataturk’, revival of the Caliphate has been a central narrative of Muslim movements – violent or non-violent – throughout the Muslim world. ISIS is just one the latest of these movements.

Local Muslim groups’ bay‘ah to ISIS

Let us now proceed to the second question. So far there have been reports of pledging of allegiance (bayàh) to ISIS of the following groups: (1) Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), (2) Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), (3) Ansar al-Khilafah Philippines, (4) Khilafah Islamiyah Movement/Black Flag Movement (Maute Group), and (5) Rajah Solaiman Movement, (6) Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement.

1. Abu Sayyaf (Island Provinces): January 4, 2016 – “A new video from Mindanao which began circulating on the dark web jihadi forum Shumukh al-Islam on January 4, 2016 shows Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon marching with other extremist leaders from Sulu and Basilan, including Abu Sharifah, the leader of Ansar al-Khilafah Philippines, among the most aggressive and targeted Filipino groups linked to ISIS.” (http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/isis­in­philippines­a­threat­to­region, etc.)

2. BIFF (Maguindanao, North Cotabato & Sultan Kudarat): August 16, 2014 – “BIFF, Abus pledge allegiance to ISIS” (http://globalnation.inquirer.net/109452/biff-abus-pledge-allegiance-to-isis, etc.)

3. Ansar al-Khilafah Philippines (Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat & South Cotabato): August 2014 – “Apart from the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), another violent extremist group linked to ISIS is Ansar al-Khilafah Philippines, the group that reportedly released a video, threatening to deploy suicide bombers in the Philippines and make the country a ‘graveyard’ for American soldiers, after pledging allegiance to ISIS.” (http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/isis­in­philippines­a­threat­to­region, etc.)

4. Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (Lanao del Sur): February 2016 – “Yet another group linked to ISIS is the Khilafah Islamiyah Mindanao (KIM), also known as the Khilafah Islamiyah Mindanao-Black Flag Movement, which caught public attention in late February 2016 when it occupied the municipal hall of Butig town in Lanao del Sur that escalated to 10 days of military offensive operations, in what is believed to be an attempt to “inflame the war in Southern Philippines” amid the non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by the Philippine Congress.” (http://www.manilatimes.net/attempt-at-inflaming-war-amid-waning-truce-fails/248709, etc.)

5. Rajah Solaiman Movement (Luzon): July 7, 2014 – “Prisoners in Philippines show allegiance to ISIS.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNSaG_mwVCA and March 2015 – http://www.getrealphilippines.com/blog/2015/03/isis-covert-operations-in-southern-mindanao-downplayed-by-pnoy, etc.)

6. BIFM, a new breakaway faction from BIFF (Maguindanao): October 1, 2016 – “BIFF renegades launch more radical ISIS-style group.” (http://www.philstar.com/nation/2016/10/01/1629294/biff-renegades-launch-more-radical-isis-style-group#, etc.)

Local Muslim individuals’ bay‘ah to ISIS

In addition to groups, there are also individuals who have reportedly pledged their allegiance to ISIS leadership. Among them are a certain mufti (rector) and a congregation in Marawi City, around 100 youth in Basilan, and also a hundred inmates of Bicutan Prison.

1. Marawi mufti congregation: September 19, 2014 – “A Facebook user named Abu uploaded photos showing around people – some of them holding ISIS black flags – pledging support to the ISIS inside the Islamic Center mosque in Marawi City.” (http://www.manilatimes.net/military-investigates-oath-taking-marawi-city/128633, etc.)

2. 100 youth in Basilan: September 24, 2014 – “As reported by ABS-CBN News, Mayor Joel Maturan of Ungkaya Pukan town, around 100 youth have joined the ISIS in Basilan.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhejnwnMfrE, etc.)

3. 100 inmates of Bicutan Prison (where many suspected Abu Sayyaf Group and Rajah Solaimain Movement members are incarcerated): July 7, 2014 – “Prisoners in Philippines show allegiance to ISIS.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNSaG_mwVCA, etc.)
Bay‘ah’s implication to military’s public denial

As can be seen from the military’s public denial of ISIS’ presence in the Philippines, we can say that there is indeed a little appreciation or understanding of the sociological significance of bay‘ah or pledging of allegiance to a leader. This sociological significance can be summarized in these two ways: (1) It creates a mutual set of rights and duties between the global leadership and local followers, and (2) it significantly boosts the legitimacy of both parties – the main group and the local groups. It practically cements the main group’s claim to be the existing Caliphate, while at the same time, it can effectively be utilized by local groups to refute the usual accusation of their being rōnin (warriors without a master) – in the Japanese parlance – and their being “rebels without a cause.”


To conclude, there are only two possibilities here: either the Philippine military believes in their public denial of ISIS’ presence in the country, or it does not believe in their own public denial.

Assuming the military believes in its denial that “There are no ISIS in the Philippines” or “They are only ‘ISIS-inspired’ or ‘ISIS sympathizers’,” then it is like saying, “There are no terrorists in the Philippines” or “They are only ‘terrorism-inspired’ or ‘terrorism sympathizers’”!

In case, it does not actually believe in it, the problem is that the Commander-in-Chief is implicitly or explicitly claiming otherwise in his speeches in recent sorties.

I leave the final judgment and conclusion to all of you, distinguished scholars, experts and sociologists. Thank you!

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mansoor L. Limba, PhD in International Relations, is a writer, educator, blogger, chess trainer, and translator (from Persian into English and Filipino) with tens of written and translation works to his credit on such subjects as international politics, history, political philosophy, intra-faith and interfaith relations, cultural heritage, Islamic finance, jurisprudence (fiqh), theology (‘ilm al-kalam), Qur’anic sciences and exegesis (tafsir), hadith, ethics, and mysticism. He can be reached at [email protected], or http://www.mlimba.com and http://www.muslimandmoney.com.]

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