Al Qaeda and Islamic rules on espionage

“Since Islam is superior to all human conditions and earthly religions, it permits spying for itself but not for others”.

Source: Al Qaeda Manual Eleventh Lesson: ‘Espionage.’ UK BM/75.

Islam has a long history of espionage as it is an integral element of Jihad-Holy War. Islamic espionage is not an extraneous activity – it is intrinsic to the Islamic world view of the ‘enemy’ and dates back to the origins of Islam in the fourth century. The Prophet and the Koran are cited as religious, operational and inspirational models. There are no analogous texts or models in Christianity or Buddhism.

The operational purpose of recent statements by Islamic spokesmen is to ensure that Muslims do not ‘assist’ Western intelligence organizations and create smoke and mirrors to protect ongoing penetration operations.

Five espionage cases which surfaced in September – October 2003 involving a Muslim ‘chaplain’, and 2 translators, a member of the US Navy, a US soldier and a Marine Corps contractor at Guantanomo Bay, Cuba where 660 Taliban and Al Qaeda detainees from over 40 countries are held, demonstrate Al Qaeda and Islamic rules on espionage.

Document 1: AL QAIDA MANUAL; Eleventh Lesson Uk/Bm-75 Translation; Espionage

According to Al Qaeda the prophet Muhammad is a role model for espionage.

“Espionage in the era of the prophet -Allah bless and keep him- and his honored companions: The prophet -Allah bless and keep him -used informants in most of his attacks. As Abou Soufian’s caravan, that was coming from Damascus, was approaching, the prophet -Allah bless and keep him -wanted to know the caravan’s destination. While the prophet was in Madina, he sent Talha Ibn Obaidallah and Said Ibn Zeid to the Damascus route to gather information about the caravan. On their way back to Madina, and at the conclusion of the Badr battle, they met the prophet -Allah bless and keep him -in Terban, as he was descending from Badr to take Madina.[Though ]they did not participate in the battle, they nevertheless got their share of the [spoils ].

In his attacks, the prophet -Allah bless and keep him -would find out the enemy’s intention. In the Hodaibiya [battle ]days, though he did not want war, he exercised caution by sending a special 40-man reconnaissance group, headed by A’kkasha Ibn Mohsen Al-Azda. One of that group forerunners found a man who led them to the enemy’s livestock. They captured 200 camels from that livestock and brought them to Madina.

The prophet -Allah bless and keep him -had local informants in Mecca who told him everything, big and small, that might harm the Muslims’ welfare. Among those [enemies ]were his uncle Al- Abbas Ibn Abd Al-Mutlib, and Bashir Ibn Soufian Al-Atki. Al- Khulafa Arrashidun [Mohammed’s successors ]advised their commanders about the importance of using scouts and informants to learn the enemy’s secrets. Abou Bakr Al-Siddik -may Allah be pleased with him -said to his commander Amro Ibn AI-A’ss -may Allah be pleased with him -,”Send your informants to bring you Abou Obeida’s news. If he is victorious over his enemy, then you fight those that are in Palestine. If he needs soldiers, then dispatch one battalion after another for him.”

Omar Ibn Al-Khattab -may Allah be pleased with him -advised his commander Saad Ibn Abou Wakkas -may Allah be pleased with him -saying, “If you step foot on your enemies’ land, get spies for them. Choose those whom you count on for their truthfulness and advice, whether Arabs or inhabitants of that land. Liars’ accounts would not benefit you, even if some of them were true; the deceiver is a spy against you and not for you. “Khaled Ibn Al-Walid -may Allah be pleased with him -used to take informants and spies with him in each of his wars against the Christian Orthodox. He chose them carefully and treated them well.

Principle of Moslems Spying on their Enemies: Spying on the enemy is permitted and it may even be a duty in the case of war between Moslems and others. Winning the battle is dependent on knowing the enemy’s secrets, movements, and plans. The prophet -Allah bless and keep him – used that method. He would send spies and informants. Perhaps, he – Allah bless and keep him – even went himself as in the major Badr attack. AI-Khulafa Arrashidun [Mohammed’s successors ]also ordered it [spying ] . Since Islam is superior to all human conditions and earthly religions, it permits spying for itself but not for others. Majestic Allah says, “Not equal are the companions of the fire and the companions of the garden, “and the prophet says, “Islam is supreme and there is nothing above it. “Islam, therefore, fights so the word of Allah can become supreme. Others fight for worldly gains and lowly and inferior goals.

An Important Question: How can a Muslim spy live among enemies if he maintains his Islamic characteristics? How can he perform his duties to Allah and not want to appear Muslim?

Concerning the issue of clothing and appearance (appearance of true religion), Ibn Taimia – may Allah have mercy on him – said, “If a Muslim is in a combat or godless area, he is not obligated to have a different appearance from [those around him ].The [Muslim] man may prefer or even be obligated to look like them, provided his action brings a religious benefit of preaching to them, learning their secrets and informing Muslims, preventing their harm, or some other beneficial goal.”

Document 2

A disturbing Islamic document reproduced in part below, emphasizes Muslims who ‘spy against the believers in support of the disbelievers and engage in other forms of espionage’ will be killed.





أبو معاذ المكي

Abu M’uadh Al-Makki

WASHINGTON — Arabic speakers, including hundreds of Arab-Americans, have flooded the FBI with applications for jobs as translators since Sept. 11, according to officials who say that some of those hired already are playing key roles in terrorism probes. (USA TODAY, 04/24/2002)

The FBI and the Justice Department are investigating a whistleblower’s accusations of security lapses in the translator program that has played an important role in interpreting interviews and intercepts of Osama bin Laden’s network since September 11, officials said. (Washington Times, 06/09/02)

Brotherhood in Islam

All Praise is to Allah عز وجل and His Salat on Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم and his companions. Before we get to the Islamic verdict on those who spy against the Muslims, we would like to mention some important principles that may serve as a guideline for understanding the serious nature of this issue. We must understand that Muslims are brothers unto each other. This principle is reflected in various verses of the Qur’an and authentic Hadith of Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. Allah عز وجل says:

إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ إِخْوَةٌ فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَ أَخَوَيْكُمْ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَ

The believers are naught else than brothers. Therefore make peace between your brethren and observe your duty to Allah that haply you may obtain mercy. (The Quran 49:10)

 مُّحَمَّدٌ رَّسُولُ اللَّهِ وَالَّذِينَ مَعَهُ أَشِدَّاء عَلَى الْكُفَّارِ رُحَمَاء بَيْنَهُمْ

Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. And those with him are hard against the disbelievers and merciful among themselves. (The Quran 48:29)

 وَالَّذِينَ جَاؤُوا مِن بَعْدِهِمْ يَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَا اغْفِرْ لَنَا وَلِإِخْوَانِنَا الَّذِينَ سَبَقُونَا بِالْإِيمَانِ وَلَا تَجْعَلْ فِي قُلُوبِنَا غِلًّا لِّلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا رَبَّنَا إِنَّكَ رَؤُوفٌ رَّحِيمٌ

And those who came (into the faith) after them say: Our Lord Forgive us and our brothers who were before us in the faith, and place not in our hearts any rancor toward those who believe. Our Lord! Thou art Full of Pity, Merciful. (The Quran 59:10)

The Jasūs (Spy)

Allah عز وجل says:

“And spy not, neither backbite one another (The Quran 49:12)”

Al-Nawawi (May Allah have mercy on him) said:

Some of the scholars said that tahassus with letter HA, ‘snooping’ means listening to other people’s conversations, and tajassus with letter JEEM, ‘spying’ means seeking out other people’s faults. it was also suggested that tajassus means looking for secrets. The word is mostly used in the sense of evil. The Jasūs ‘spy’ is the one who seeks out secrets for evil purposes and the nāmūs is the one who seeks out secrets for good purposes. And it was suggested that tajassus refers to looking for information for someone else, and tahassus means looking for information for oneself. This was the view of Tha’lab. And it was said that they mean one and the same, which is seeking out information about people’s state of affairs.

Kinds of Spying

Despised spying may be divided into two categories:

1.       Spying that makes one sinful

2.       Spying that expels one from the fold of Islam

Spying that Makes One Sinful

Spying can be a sin if a person seeks the faults of his Muslim brother for the sake of exposing him in front of other people. It may even be unveiling the secrets of a Muslim brother in front of others. Spying leads to backbiting and backbiting is Haram. Therefore, Allah has closed every door that leads to the evil of backbiting and has made spying Haram. This form of spying is condemned in various Hadith of Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم.

Abu Huraira (May Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said, “Beware of suspicion, for suspicion is the worst of false tales; and do not look for the others’ faults and do not spy, and do not be jealous of one another, and do not desert (cut your relation with) one another, and do not hate one another; and O Allah’s worshipers! Be brothers (as Allah has ordered you!”). (Bukhari)

Ibn Abbas narrated that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said, “Whoever claims to have seen a dream which he did not see, will be ordered to make a knot between two barley grains which he will not be able to do; and if somebody listens to the talk of some people who do not like him (to listen) or they run away from him, then molten lead will be poured into his ears on the Day of Resurrection …(Bukhari)

Abu Barza Al-Aslami (May Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said: O community of people, who believed by their tongue, and belief did not enter their hearts, do not back-bite Muslims, and do not search for their faults, for if anyone searches for their faults, Allah will search for his fault, and if Allah searches for the fault of anyone, He disgraces him in his house. (Ahmad and Abu Dawood).

Spying that Expels One From the Fold of Islam

Spying can be Kufr (disbelief), if it is done for the sake of helping the disbelievers against the believers. Such an action takes the person out of the fold of Islam and makes him an apostate because it entails supporting the disbelievers against the believers. The disbelief of those who help disbelievers against the believers has already been discussed earlier. One additional proof is as follows:

In the two Sahihs of Bukhari and Muslim, an incident is narrated on the authority of Ali (May Allah be pleased with him). This incident took place during conquest of Makkah. Ali (May Allah be pleased with him)  said:

Allah’s Apostle صلى الله عليه وسلم sent me, Az-Zubair (May Allah be pleased with him) and Al-Miqdad (May Allah be pleased with him) saying, “Proceed till you reach Rawdat Khakh where there is a lady carrying a letter, and take that (letter) from her.” So we proceeded on our way with our horses galloping till we reached the Rawda, and there we found the lady and said to her, “Take out the letter.” She said, “I have no letter.” We said, “Take out the letter, or else we will take off your clothes.” So she took it out of her braid, and we brought the letter to Allah’s Apostle. The letter was addressed from Hatib, bin Abi Balta’a to some pagans of Mecca, telling them about what Allah’s Apostle intended to do. Allah’s Apostle said, “O Hatib! What is this?” Hatib replied, “O Allah’s Apostle صلى الله عليه وسلم! Do not make a hasty decision about me. I was a person not belonging to Quraish but I was an ally to them from outside and had no blood relation with them, and all the emigrants who were with you, have got their kinsmen (in Mecca) who can protect their families and properties. So I liked to do them a favor so that they might protect my relatives as I have no blood relation with them. I did not do this (with the intention) of Kufr or apostasy nor did I do it to choose disbelief after Islam.” Allah’s Apostle said to his companions, -As regards him; he (i.e. Hatib) has told you the truth.” ‘Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) said, “O Allah’s Apostle صلى الله عليه وسلم! Allow me to chop off the head of this hypocrite!” The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said, “He (i.e. Hatib) has witnessed the Badr battle (i.e. fought in it) and what could tell you, perhaps Allah looked at those who witnessed Badr and said, “O the people of Badr (i.e. Badr Muslim warriors), do what you like, for I have forgiven you.

This incident shows that supporting the disbelievers and giving them victory (over the Muslims) is apostasy and it takes one out of the religion of Islam. Such is evident for three reasons.

The Punishment for those Who Spy Against the Believers in Support of Disbelievers and Engage in other forms of Espionage

Scholars have differed concerning the punishment reserved for the one who engages in spying and espionage spy depending on his status. [5] The correct opinion however is that he is to be killed and his repentance is not accepted as is stated by numerous scholars. Imām Sahnūn (May Allah have mercy on him) said:

“If a Muslim corresponds with ahl al-Harb (People that the Muslims are at war with), he is to be killed and is not asked to repent…”

Ibn al-Qāsim (May Allah have mercy on him) said:

“He (spy) is to be killed and it is not known that he is to be asked for repentance. He is like a Zandiq.”

Ibn Taymiyyah (May Allah have mercy on him) said:

“Mālik and a group of Ahmad’s companions (Hanbali scholars) hold the opinion that the spy is to be killed.”

  والله أعلم وصلى الله وسلم على نبينا محمد وعلى آله وصحبه أجمعين

 Document 3

The Fatwa issued below, dated 6 June 2001, was issued before the 9 11 terrorist attacks in the US.




by Sheikh Bakri Muhammad, Judge of the Sharia’h Court of the UK.

Fatwa dated 6th June 2001.



Using intelligence services against muslims who are working an co-operating with such bodies is Prohibited (haram) according to the Shari’ah. …Islam forbids a Muslim to spy on another Muslim….Islam has therefore specified that spying on people and working for people who spy on others are both haram [forbidden].

The messenger Muhammad (saw) said:…” If someone looks into your home without your permission and you throw a stone and blind him there is no sin on your neck or blood money towards him”. …a Man was looking from a hole into The prophets room and the Prophet had a small arrow which he (saw) was scratching his head. He (saw) said to him that :” If I had known that you were spying on me I would take stabbed you in the eye through the hole…”

Finally a Muslim is forbidden to spy whether as an individual curiosity or a job for Muslims or non-Muslims and it is prohibited for Muslims to work in intelligence services such as the ISI, CIA, FBI MI5 or MI6 or in the intelligence services of the world.

Islamic espionage as Asymmetrical warfare

Ethnic recruiting is a counter-intelligence nightmare especially in relation to Islam.

Islamic law recognizes only Sharia law; the Koran and Hadith [sayings of the Prophet] are cited as authoritative and binding sources:

  • It is a religious duty not to assist Western intelligence and military organizations; 
  • Muslim’s are forbidden to spy on ‘brothers’ [fellow Muslims] and ‘believers’.
  • Fatwa’s have been issued claiming to bind all Muslims to these commitments.
  • Muslims who spy on Muslims are defined as apostates and suffer the same fate: death.

On 29 September 2003 an unidentified Al Qaeda spokesman released a statement in London England instructing group members to identify and kill suspected infiltrators:

…There is a need to kill spies and make them an example for punishment after their presence and activities have been demonstrated’.

Unlike Western counter –intelligence which is generally defensive and reactive, Islamic espionage enjoys religious sanction and is a form of asymmetrical warfare as written in the Al Qaeda Manual:

Since Islam is superior to all human conditions and earthly religions, it permits spying for “itself but not for others”.


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