Is Mindanao an IS ‘wilayah’ now?
Of all justifications made in the declaration of martial law in Mindanao, the strongest given by government was that Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon was about to declare Marawi the seat of a “wilayah” (governorate) under the Islamic State caliphate.
It must be noted that there is resistance to the term “Islamic State” by many Islamic scholars as well as by ordinary mortals
if it refers to the movement of jihadist ideologues cooperating with Islamic terror organizations.
Others would rather refer to the movement as “Daesh,” an acronym for the Arabic phrase “al-Dawla al-Islamiyah al-Iraq al-Sham” (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). It still means Isis but jihadists have threatened to cut the tongues of those who use the term. Why? Because it is an alliteration of the Arabic words “Daes” (one who crushes something underfoot) and “Dahes” (one who sows discord).
In January 2015, then Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that he would start referring to Isis as Daesh: “Daesh hates being referred to by this term, and what they don’t like has an instinctive appeal to me.” Other world leaders followed suit.
Wilayah and caliphate are Arabic notions of governance that need to be understood by most of the Filipino public. Wilayah comes from the Arabic term “w-l-y” or to govern; a “wali” (governor) governs a wilayah. It is the first-level administrative division under the concept of an “Islamic state” denoting a state or province.
Caliphate, on the other hand, is a territory under the leadership of an Islamic steward called a “khalifa.” Again, put in the context of the jihadist movement, the Daesh is of the belief that the whole world is its territory and hence it is imperative to establish wilayahs worldwide. For example, the extremist group in Nigeria, the Boko Haram, refers to itself as “al-Wilayah al-Islamiyyah Gharb Afriqqiyah” (Islamic State’s West Africa Province).
Daesh, wilayah, caliphate, martial law — what is the connection? Defending the declaration of martial law before the Supreme Court, the Solicitor General intoned: “The siege of Marawi City on 23 May 2017 is a pivotal event in a grander scheme to dismember Mindanao from the rest of the Philippine territory and pledge its allegiance to the Isis.”
The Solicitor General also told the high court that four rebel groups have solidified and that “the success of establishing a wilayah in Mindanao demands a consolidation of their efforts; hence, the need to appoint one ‘head’ mujahid in the person of Hapilon as emir.”
Days after the declaration, the Armed Forces of the Philippines claimed that “foreign fighters” were seen in the company of the Maute group. Other press releases were more particular, that “Syrians and Chechens” have joined the Marawi siege. In a briefing to lawmakers, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana repeated the claim that foreign Daesh fighters were now in Mindanao.
Global think tank organizations hot on the trail of transnational terrorism, however, are in doubt if indeed “foreign fighters” are in Marawi. Voices on the ground, the M’ranao who were privy to pivotal events prior to the eruption of the siege, are of similar doubt. On the week of May 23, there was a religious festival of “tablighs” (nonpolitical itinerant missionaries propagating the Islamic faith) at Marawi’s Masjid Abubakar. Arabic, Indonesian and Malaysian tablighs were seen participating in the festival. Local residents did not see this as extraordinary — the festival was an annual event in the masjid and each year, foreign tablighs participated.
Among the dead bodies from the bloodbath that ensued from the aerial bombings were at least two with markedly Arab features. But an eyewitness asks: “Could they have been nonpolitical tablighs who were simply festival participants but caught in the deadly crossfire as the scamper to safety began?”
That is a serious question to ask. It implies that no foreign Daesh fighters are in Marawi, that the Daesh threat is simply propaganda used to justify the declaration of martial law.
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