A statement by a U.S. intelligence officer discussing the differences between Boko Haram and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and stressing that the two groups’ “caliphates are completely separate” and that they would find it difficult to cooperate due to Arab racism, received plenty of traction in reporting last week.
“The Arab world is incredibly racist,” explained a U.S. intelligence official. “They don’t see black Africans as equivalent to them.”
ISIS may show “affinity” with Boko Haram, said the official, “but they stop short of allegiance.” Moreover, said the official, while Boko Haram has in the past year released videos to show “affiliation” with groups like the ISIS, there’s no evidence of either group sending members to fight with the other. And while Boko Haram has praised the ISIS and shown the ISIS flag in videos, ISIS has not reciprocated.
Now, however, comes a new report by the private intelligence firm SITE, which notes that according to jihadist media sources, Boko Haram, whose actual name is Jama’at Ahl al-Sunnah Lil Dawa Wal Jihad (Group for the Propagation of the Sunnah and Jihad), will have its shura, or council, discuss swearing allegiance to the ISIS “caliph” Abu-Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
It’s just another example of the ironic timing of an analysis which seems to misunderstand the nature of the Islamic State and the Global Jihadist Movement generally. The Islamic State, in its position as a declared Caliphate, does not need to offer allegiance to Boko Haram. Rather it is incumbent upon Boko Haram, as a group waging jihad, to swear its allegiance to the caliph. As ISIS wrote in its original declaration of the caliphate, “This is The Promise of Allah”:
“We clarify to the Muslims that with this declaration of khilāfah, it is incumbent upon all Muslims to pledge allegiance to the khalīfah Ibrāhīm and support him (may Allah preserve him). The legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations, becomes null by the expansion of the khilāfah’s authority and arrival of its troops to their areas. Imam Ahmad (may Allah have mercy upon him) said, as reported by ‘Abdūs Ibn Mālik al-‘Attār, “It is not permissible for anyone who believes in Allah to sleep without considering as his leader whoever conquers them by the sword until he becomes khalīfah and is called Amīrul-Mu’minīn (the leader of the believers), whether this leader is righteous or sinful.”
There was never a question of the Islamic State accepting Boko Haram. Islamic State already claims authority over Boko Haram, since its leader, AbuBakr AlBaghdadi, was declared literally “leader of all the believers,” meaning the entire Ummah, and thus all Muslims everywhere, regardless of the color of their skin.
While the Islamic State may include many individuals who are racist in their behavior, by giving non-Arab jihadists the worst positions for instance, the question of allegiance is entirely dependent on whether Boko Haram acknowledges the caliphate claim, and chooses to accept Islamic State’s authority.
That Boko Haram has expressed some attraction to Islamic State and its messaging (using their flag, anthems and so on) suggested that there was a desire to do so, but ultimately the question is a legal one. Does Boko Haram’s shura council recognize the legal claim of AbuBakr Al-Baghdadi or not? It is this question that the shura council will convene to answer, and which will decide whether or not the Islamic State adds another province to its roster.
Kyle Shideler is director of the Threat Information Office (TIO) at the Center for Security Policy.)