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February 2018 Online Exclusive Article

Why They Hate Us

An Examination of al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ in Salafi-Jihadist Ideology

Chaplain (Maj.) Joshua Gilliam, U.S. Army

Article published on: 15 February 2018

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An Examination of <i>al-wala’ wa-l-bara’</i> in Salafi-Jihadist Ideology

On 12 June 2016, Omar Mateen massacred forty-nine civilians at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Immediately, the Western media marshaled its worst insults to condemn the atrocity, decrying the incident as both a hate crime and an act of terrorism. Intriguingly, in the next issue of Dabiq, the so-called Islamic State (IS) responded to these accusations with an article titled “Why We Hate You.” It reads, “A hate crime? Yes. Muslims undoubtedly hate liberalist sodomites, as does anyone else with any shred of their fitrah (inborn human nature) still intact. An act of terrorism? Most definitely. Muslims have been commanded to terrorize the disbelieving enemies of Allah.”1

Strikingly, the very ideas most abhorrent to Westerners are enthusiastically embraced by IS and others who subscribe to a similar ideology. It seems our titles of derision are received as proof of legitimacy. Why is this? How can IS and its sympathizers officially endorse a policy of hatred? This article provides answers to these questions by exploring a particular interpretation of the Islamic theological concept of al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ and concludes with recommendations for how to undermine the concept’s ability to further root and spread.

Although little understood by Western thinkers, the idea of al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ animates jihadist ideology. Al-wala’ is translated as “alliance, friendship, or loyalty” and means “to help, to love, to honour, to respect something”; while wa-l-bara’ is Arabic for disassociate, despise, revile, or struggle against.2 However, this phrase is more commonly rendered “to love and hate for the sake of Allah.”3 As Shaykh ‘Abdul-‘Azeez ibn Baaz, the longtime Saudi grand mufti, once said:

Loving for Allah is when you love (someone) for Allah’s sake … Because of these things you love such a person for the sake of Allah. You also hate for the sake of Allah when you see a disobedient disbeliever. You hate such a person for the sake of Allah. This is how a believer is–He allows his heart to react to both types of people, loving some of them for the sake of Allah. He loves the people of eemaan [faith] and taqwaa [God consciousness] for the sake of Allah, while he hates the people of disbelief, evil, and disobedience for Allah’s sake, allowing his heart to interact with both kinds.4

According to this line of thinking, the only relationship between Muslims and disbelievers is that of active enmity or passive hatred.5 The idea is that it is logically impossible to love Allah without hating what stands against it—the disbelievers. There is no concept of natural unbelief in Islamic theology. All humanity is born with a revelation of God and some choose to reject it—to disbelieve. In the mind of modern jihadists, loving Allah and hating these disbelievers (al-wala’ wa-l-bara’) is critical–“No Imaan (faith) is complete without it.”6 It is part of the basis of Islam as they understand it.7 Muslim must hate and disassociate with disbelievers or become apostate themselves.8

Left unchecked, this call to hate (wa-l-bara’) may unwittingly work its way into mainstream Muslim consciousness. To illustrate, the Global Muslim Women Facebook page—with 285,497 likes and 284,298 followers—has a post endorsing al-wala’ wa-l-bara’. The site curator has allowed the message to remain since April 2013, and it is now highly ranked within the Google search algorithm. Below is a small sampling of this 1,180-word post on the practice of al-wala’ wa-l-bara’:

If any Muslim makes Muwalaat [support, help, etc.] to the kuffar [disbeliever], it is sin, however if they ally with them, they will become Murtad [apostate], but to ally with them to fight against Muslims, he becomes Murtad Harbie (an apostate at war with the Muslims). We must stay clear of the kuffar, their beliefs and way of life; we must have hatred for their disobedience and carry hatred for their actions. We must not show any affection towards them nor to befriend them or to ally with them.9

Development of the Idea

In pre-Islamic Arabia, the verbs wala and bara were used by tribes to describe the act of acceptance in or expulsion from the community.10 Within the Islamic community, al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ was first used by the Kharijites to show loyalty toward a fellow Khawarij while disavowing outsiders. Kharijites were a group who rejected the peace negotiations between Ali (fourth Caliph) and Mu’awiya (founder of Umayyad dynasty) in the battle of Siffin in 657 AD. When Ali made this treaty, a group of twelve thousand left his ranks protesting, “Judgment belongs to God alone.”11 They believed Mu’awiya needed to be fought until he accepted Ali’s rule or was killed.12 The Kharijites soon murdered Ali and waged war against and Mu’waiyites.13 Kharijites are considered a deviant sect by all schools of Islamic jurisprudence.14

One cannot correctly confess love for Allah without first confessing hatred for his enemies.

After the Kharijites were defeated at the end of the eighth century, the concept of al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ fell out of favor for a millennium. It was revived in the late eighteenth century and made a fundamental Islamic doctrine by none other than the grandson of the Wahhabi movement—Sulayman ibn ‘Abdallah al-Shaykh.15 Although Ibn Taymiyya applied a similar idea to the faithful, Sulayman made it a litmus test of true belief:

Can religion be performed, knowledge of jihad or al-amr bil-ma’ruf walnahi ‘an al-munkar (commanding right and forbidding wrong) be applied (practiced) without love of God and hatred of God, loyalty to God and enmity to God? Had the people agreed on one path and a devotion [adoration/love] void of enmity and abomination, there would have been no division between right and wrong, believers and infidels, and devotees of the merciful and devotees of the devil.16

In connecting love and hate with commanding right and forbidding wrong, Sulayman joined al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ to the very DNA of Wahhabism.17 Wahhabi scholars were quick to frame love and hate as the guiding principle for Muslim relations with infidels.18

A generation later another Hanbali scholar ‘Ali Ibn ‘Atiq’ succeeded in linking al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ to Islam’s quintessential doctrine—the unity of God (Tawheed).19 Belief in Tawheed is so essential that the most egregious sin for Muslims is polytheism—associating anything with Allah. Disbelievers make themselves polytheists—and should be hated—because they do not believe in God alone. Sura 60:4 explains this:

There has already been for you an excellent pattern in Abraham and those with him, when they said to their people, “Indeed, we are disassociated from you and from whatever you worship other than Allah. We have denied you, and there has appeared between us and you animosity and hatred forever until you believe in Allah alone [emphasis added].”20

In the twentieth century, the Saudi religious establishment carried this torch onward. Rather than declaring hatred and war against the outside world, the focus turned inward, and the ruling Saud family came under increased scrutiny. In 1979, this animosity reached a tipping point. In November, Juhayman al-’Utaybi and a group of rebels violently seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca in the name of al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ and became the first to apply the concept of love and hate to politics.21

Like others before him, al-’Utaybi argued that loyalty to God and disavowal of polytheists (mushrikun) is the religion of Abraham (millat Ibrahim) and separated true believers from false ones.22 However, unlike previous ideologues, al-’Utaybi was a man of action and stressed the need to outwardly demonstrate hatred rather than hiding it in one’s heart.23 In doing so, he moved the idea of al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ from the conceptual to the concrete and gave Muslims an example to follow.

The implications of love and hate reached new significance in the twentieth century through the scholarship of Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi. The Palestinian-Jordanian ideologue—who spent five years in prison mentoring Abu Musab al-Zarqawi—built upon al-’Utaybi’s thinking on al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ by insisting it was the very basis and foundation of Islam.24 In a subsequent book, Maqdisi associated love and hate with the first and most important pillar of Islam–the profession of faith (shahada).25 In al-Maqdisi’s view, to deny al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ was to deny the shahadaand denying the shahada is to deny Islam itself. One cannot correctly confess love for Allah without first confessing hatred for his enemies. There is no such thing as a Muslim who does not correctly espouse the confession that “There is no god but Allah.” Al-Maqdisi wrote, “the true tawhid of God … exists through disbelieving the idols, and disavowal of their people.”26 He went on to assert,

It is compulsory for you–if you want Paradise–to disbelieve in him (the modern-day taghut [disbelieving tyrant]), disavow him and his servants and his friends and to hate them and to make them detestable for your children and your family, to work to wage jihad all of your life for his destruction and his annulment and that you do not give up, [that you will not] be satisfied or happy unless [there is] the rule of God the Most High and his legislation alone. Otherwise, there is hell. Hell!27

The Arabic term taghut that al-Maqdisi used means false deity or any entity that requires worship. In contemporary usage, taghut (or taghout) has come to mean tyrant or enemy of Islam and has served as a catalyst for radical discourse. The United States and other Western authorities are often designated as taghut in the jihadi lexicon; it is this very identification that—in part—energizes a generation.28

Manifestation of the Idea Today

In the 1990s, a group of radical scholars centered around Humud b. ‘Uqala’ al-Shu‘aybi propagated Al-Maqdisi’s politicization of al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ through Wahhabism. Al-Shu‘aybi’s book The Preferred View on the Ruling of Asking the Infidels for Help was seminal in convincing a generation they should stand against—and hate—the encroachments of the West.29 Soon the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq provided a context for applying the specified animosity.

Two months after the attacks of 11 September 2001, the prominent Salafi activist Ayman al-Zawahiri in his essay titled “Loyalty and Enmity” argued that all true Muslims must be in a constant state of bara, hating everyone that is not part of the dar al-Islam (house of Islam).

One Saudi businessman, who just returned from fighting Russians, was listening. In a 1994 open letter to the Saudi grand mufti, Osama bin Laden warned of the dangers of not heeding al-Shu‘aybi’s teaching on enmity and hate.30 In his essay “Modern Islam Is a Prostration to the West,” bin Laden wrote,

As to the relationship between Muslims and infidels, this is summarized by the Most High’s Word: “You have a good example in Abraham and those with him. They said to their people: ‘We disown you and what you worship besides Allah. We renounce you. Enmity and hate shall forever reign between us—till you believe in Allah alone’” . So there is an enmity, evidenced by fierce hostility, and an internal hate from the heart.31

Two months after the attacks of 11 September 2001, the prominent Salafi activist Ayman al-Zawahiri in his essay titled “Loyalty and Enmity” argued that all true Muslims must be in a constant state of bara, hating everyone that is not part of the dar al-Islam (house of Islam).32 Al-Zawahiri used al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ to frame the threat to Islam from the West and condemn all governments collaborating with the “Great Satan.”

In more recent years, love and hate have become a hallmark of jihadist dialog and a defining belief of Salafi-jihadism. Championed by populist preachers such as Ahmad Musa Jibril, many Salafis now consider al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ to be “the identity of a Muslim and selfhood of a Muslim.”33 Identity is a powerful thing. With 17,418 YouTube subscribers and nearly a quarter million Facebook likes, Jibril is shaping the identity of potential jihadists worldwide. The Palestinian-American cleric’s YouTube talk “What is Al-Wala’ wa’l-Bara’” has 22,018 views (as of this writing), and a Newsweek source credits it as the inspiration for the 3 June 2017 London attack.34 Moreover, a landmark 2014 study of 190 Western foreigner fighters revealed that 55.6 percent followed Jibril on Facebook and 52.4 percent on Twitter.35 The researchers identified him as chief among the “New Spiritual Authorities” for foreigner fighters associated with IS.36

Abdullah al-Faisal, the Jamaican Muslim cleric, is representative of a host of modern voices insisting that faithful Muslims must extend hate to anyone who supports a religious, political, or economic system outside of sharia.37 In a YouTube video titled “al wala wal bara,” al-Faisal spends ninety-four minutes exhorting his listeners to hate the Jews and Christians who have established global systems that demand the worship of all:

The importance of hating the tawagheet (false deities), the importance of hating those who dismantle the sharia, the importance of condemning the system, the importance of killing the tawagheet—all of this is called al-wala’ wa-l-bara’. And if you are living in this country and someone approaches you and asks, ‘What do you think about this system?’ And you say … it is not a bad system … Just to give this answer, you become a kafir [disbeliever].38

However, we cannot defeat the idea of al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ through direct action. In the electronic age, the “annihilation tactics” Defense Secretary James Mattis announced will not kill this idea animating jihadists.


The doctrine of love and hate is critical for understanding the Salafi-jihadist worldview and its perception of disbelievers. They hate us because their theology says they must. While the Muslim majority does not share this belief, al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ is supported well enough in the Qur’an and hadith to continue circulating among the fringe. Likewise, its association with Tawheed and shahada demands the attention of all pious, yet less informed, Muslims. It should demand our attention as well.

However, we cannot defeat the idea of al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ through direct action. In the electronic age, the “annihilation tactics” Defense Secretary James Mattis announced will not kill this idea animating jihadists.39 Like the dreaded hydra of Greek mythology, using the sword to sever the head will cause two more to grow back. Political and economic solutions are also self-defeating since they fuel this narrative. Nor will counter-messaging work. Those whose religious identity includes love and hate will not be open to any messages that come from disbelievers—whether Christians, seculars, or “apostate” Muslims.

Our hope, however, may be cautiously placed in using cyberwarfare to contain this caustic ideology. The U.S. Cyber Command—our youngest unified combatant command—should use its newfound autonomy to redirect energy from intelligence collection (which the intelligence community will continue with) to covert information operations. Although we cannot defeat al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ by direct messaging its core adherents (changing someone’s beliefs is hard), we may still contain this idea by broadly messaging an apologetic against Salafi-jihadist theology.40 We must partner with quietist Salafis who reject the violence of jihadists and support their attempts to counter the ideological intolerance of their deviant cousins.

Specifically, I recommend we take the following actions:

Use technology to expand the audience of influential foreign Muslim leaders who disagree with Salafi use of al-wala’ wa-l-bara’. Since even nominal Muslims will be suspicious of anti-Salafi apologetic coming from Western governments, we should covertly partner with leaders of rival theologies. If history is any teacher, these influencers will likely welcome an opportunity to leverage U.S. power to expand their audience. Helping key influencers disseminate their ideas through social media (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumbler,, Periscope, podcasts, blogs, etc.) is a relatively cheap way to propagate a message. If Russia can do this to affect our elections, certainly we can leverage these same platforms to seed our apologetic.41 One way to identify relevant influencers is to cross reference the one hundred and twenty-six men who signed the “Open Letter to [Abu Bakr] Al-Baghdadi” with those who have over ten thousand followers on Facebook, YouTube, or other relevant social platforms.42 Other relevant leads may be obtained from the intelligence community. Once identified, these influencers should be assisted in the form of social media training (unique content development, targeted ads, target audience analysis, and more.

Focus message targeting on new converts to Sunni Islam. Those who have recently converted to Sunni Islam are most likely to radicalize.43 However, radicalization rarely happens in isolation. Humans radicalize in groups. Therefore, we ought to give new converts a positive social network to participate in and learn from. Social media platforms such as Facebook provide an easy way to determine when someone’s religious status has changed and provide ample resources for marketing to them (care must be taken not to violate the Posse Comitatus Act).

Message the same geographical areas as IS. IS has proven itself proficient in using social media to market and recruit.44 Although IS is in geographic retreat, its information operations arm remains functional. Therefore, U.S. Cyber Command and relevant combatant commands ought to emulate IS strategy. If IS is targeting the Horn of Africa, their analysis must have determined this region will provide a good return on investment. We ought to covertly counter message these same regions through our select influencers.

Closely follow all messages coming for the Saudi Arabia Council of Senior Scholars. This group of twenty-one men contains the highest pedigree, scholarship, and authority within Sunni Islam. Amplifying their messages through key influencers provides the greatest chances of achieving validity. The U.S. Cyber Command can be organized to promote a consistent message across combatant commands and prevent messaging fratricide.

Inoculating ambivalent Muslims is our best hope of preventing its spread.45 There will always be some Muslims who detest those who do not share their beliefs. The concept of al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ ensures this. However, through the application of the correct instrument of national power (information)—and judicious use of the others—we may yet contain this hate.


  1. “Why We Hate You,” Dabiq 15 Shawwal 1437 (July 2016), 30, accessed 2 February 2018,
  2. Muhammad Saeed al-Qahtani, Al-Wala’ Wa’l-Bara’ According to the ‘Aqeedah of the Salaf, Part 2 (London: Al-Firdous, 1999), 11–14 and 73–74, accessed 2 February 2018, Al-Qahtani originally stated this definition in his master thesis written while studies at Umm al-Qura University in Mecca.
  3. Ibid., 14.
  4. Moosaa Richardson, “Shaykh Ibn Baz on Love and Hatred for the Sake of Allaah,” from the radio program on Noor,, 19 November 2012, accessed 2 February 2018,
  5. A hadith by Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (4/286) expresses this most clearly: “The most powerful knot of Iman (faith) is to love for the sake of Allah and to hate for the sake of Allah.” The idea finds support in the Quran at several places, such as 9:144, “O you who believe, do not take the unbelievers as friends rather than the believers.”
  6. Stephen Ulph, “Countering the Mental Universe of AQ and IS: The Role of Progressive Muslim Reformers,” in The Islamic State and Information Warfare: Defeating ISIS and the Broader Global Jihadist Movement (paper presented at the Information Warfare in the New Threat Environment meeting, held by the Threat Knowledge Group at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, Fort Bragg, NC, January 2015), 46,
  7. Joas Wagemakers, “Transformation of a Radical Concept: al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ in the Ideology of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi,” in Global Salafism: Islam’s New Religious Movement, ed. Roel Meijer (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 82. Many of the primary sources for this paper do not exist in English, and the author of this article is not fluent in Arabic. Wagemakers has translated some of these works for his articles. Therefore, the author has relied on his translations in several places as an authoritative secondary source.
  8. Al-Qahtani, Al-Wala’ Wa’l-Bara’ According to the ‘Aqeedah of the Salaf, 73–74. Al-Qahtani lists twenty forms of contact with disbelievers that can make one apostate.
  9. Global Muslim Women, “Al-Walaa Wal-Baraa, Loving and Hating for the sake of Allah explained, Part 1: The Character of the Believer,” Facebook, 13 April 2014, accessed 2 February 2018,
  10. Wagemakers, “Transformation of a Radical Concept,” 83. For a more detailed description of the meanings of bara, see Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. I, new edition (1960), s.v. “bar’a,” 1026–27; Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam (1961), s.v. “kasam,” 224–25.
  11. Patricia Crone, God’s Rule—Government and Islam: Six Centuries of Medieval Islamic Political Thought (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 54.
  12. Quran 49.9.
  13. Elie Abib Salem, Political Theory, and Institutions of the Khawarij (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1956), 17.
  14. Sajid Farid Shapoo, “Salafi Jihadism–An Ideological Misnomer,” Small Wars Journal (website), 19 July 2017, accessed 2 February 2018,
  15. Robert G. Rabil, Salafism in Lebanon: From Apoliticism to Transnational Jihadism (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2014), 45.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Seth George, “Commanding the Right: Islamic Morality and Why it Matters,” Military Review 96, no. 6 (September-October 2016): 60–67, accessed 2 February 2018,
  18. Joas Wagemakers, “The Enduring Legacy of the Second Saudi State: Quietist and Radical Wahhabi Contestations of al-wala’ wa-l-bara’,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 44 (2012): 94.
  19. Ibid., 88.
  20. According to a discussion with an interagency agent working counterterrorism, “The Nobel Quran” is a favorite of English speaking Salafi. It can be found at
  21. Wagemakers, “Transformation of a Radical Concept,” 90.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Rabil, Salafism in Lebanon, 46.
  24. Joby Warrick, Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS (New York: Anchor Books, 2016), 44; Abu Muhammad ‘Asim Al-Maqdisi, Millat Ibrahim (The Religion of Ibrahim) and the Calling of the Prophets and Messengers, trans. At-Tibyan Publications, 2nd ed. (At-Tibyan Publications), accessed 2 February 2018,
  25. Wagemakers, “Transformation of a Radical Concept,” 91–94. Another key ideologue who helped connect al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ to the shahada is Mohammed Mana Ahmed al-Qahtani (currently in Guantanamo). His book, Al-Wala Wal-Bara: According to the Aqeedah of the Salaf (Parts 1/2/3) is available at
  26. Wagemakers, “Transformation of a Radical Concept,” 94.
  27. Ibid., 95.
  28. Email from an Arabic-speaking interagency counterterrorism expert (requested to remain anonymous), 13 September 2017.
  29. Wagemakers, “The Enduring Legacy of the South Saudi State,” 101.
  30. Osama bin Laden, “Open Letter to Shaykh Bin Baz on the Invalidity of his Fatwa on Peace with the Jews,” trans. West Point Center for Combating Terrorism, available at Wikisource, last modified 29 Marth 2015, accessed 2 February 2018,
  31. Osama bin Laden, “Moderate Islam Is a Prostration to the West,” in The Al Qaeda Reader, trans. Raymond Ibrahim (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 43.
  32. Ayman al-Zawahiri, “Loyalty and Enmity,” in Ibrahim, The Al Qaeda Reader, 63–115.
  33. “What is Al-Wala’ wa’l-Bara’?,” YouTube video, 5:30–5:50, posted by “trytoknowIslam,” 29 September 2013, accessed 2 February 2018,
  34. Jack Moore, “London Attacker Followed ISIS Recruiter and Radical U.S. Preaching Ahmad Musa Jibril,” Newsweek (website), 5 June 2017, accessed 2 February 2018,
  35. Joseph A. Carter, Shiraz Maher, and Peter R. Neumann, “#Greenbirds: Measuring Importance and Influence in Syrian Foreign Fighter Networks” (report, London: The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, Kings College, 2014), 20, accessed
  36. Ibid., 19.
  37. Al-Faisal was arrested in Jamaica on 25 August 2017 and extradited to the United States on five counts of terrorism-related charges. See “Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal Arrested in Kingston,” RJR News (website), 25 August 2017, accessed 2 February 2018,
  38. “al wala wal bara by sheik faisal5,” 5:00–5:47, YouTube video, posted by “TheSheikhfaisal,” 22 November 2009, accessed 2 February 2018,
  39. CBS News, “Transcript: Defense Secretary James Mattis on ‘Face the Nation,’ May 28, 2017,” CBS News, last updated 28 May 2017, accessed 2 February 2018,
  40. To illustrate to the difficulty of countermessaging, consider what it would take for you to switch religions. An argument from someone you believe is in error will not likely be convincing.
  41. Scott Shane, “These Are the Ads Russia Bought on Facebook in 2016,” New York Times (website), 1 November 2017, accessed 2 February 2018,
  42. “Open Letter to Al-Bagdhadi,”, accessed 2 February 2018,
  43. Scott Kleinman and Scott Flower, “From Convert to Extremist: New Muslims and Terrorism,” The Conversation (website), 24 May 2013, accessed 2 February 2018,
  44. Elizabeth Bodine-Baron, “Fighting the Islamic State on Social Media,” The Rand Blog, 11 October 2016, accessed 2 February 2018,
  45. There are plenty of quietist Salafis who do not accept the form al-wala’ wa-l-bara’ has taken. Even the leader of the Hanbali School, from which Salafism grew, rejected the principal as religious innovation (bid’a). Content for messaging—and messengers—certainly exists.

Chaplain (Maj.) Joshua Gilliam, U.S. Army, serves at the Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, as the World Religions instructor. He holds an MA in Muslim studies from Columbia International University and an MDiv from Beacon University. A 2000 graduate of West Point, Gilliam served multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan as both an infantryman and a chaplain.