Madkhalism is a strain of Islamist thought within the larger Salafist movement based on the writings of Saudi Sheikh Rabee al-Madkhali, who became well-known during the Liberation of Kuwait in 1991 for his fatwas, which allowed for the ‘use of infidels’ to face Iraqi aggression. His opinion diverged from those of the Muslim Brotherhood and jihadist movements, which forbade the use of non-Islamic troops.

Madkhalism is a strain of Islamist thought within the larger Salafist movement based on the writings of Saudi Sheikh Rabee al-Madkhali, who became well-known during the Liberation of Kuwait in 1991 for his fatwas, which allowed for the ‘use of infidels’ to face Iraqi aggression. His opinion diverged from those of the Muslim Brotherhood and jihadist movements, which forbade the use of non-Islamic troops.

A Muslim brother for 13 years, al-Madkhali deserted the group and became a representative of what he called ‘Net Salafism’ whose jurisprudential literature reached beyond Saudi Arabia, particularly in Egypt and North Africa. Net Salafism however is suspected to have been created by Saudi intelligence services to counter jihadist Salafism, which had been previously adopted by Saudi and US intelligence to fight the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Net Salafism eventually bounced back as a jihadist movement called al-Qaeda against the Saudi regime because al-Qaeda considered it a traitor regime that supported Christians and Jews.

Madkhalism opponents of Islamic and civil movements argue that its purposes is to serve the interests of the regime since it calls for non-opposition of a Muslim ruler or of the institutions of his regime, even if he is an evildoer.

Madkhalism considers itself to be the true representative of Salafism, while other Islamist groups are supposed heresy. It also deems secularists, liberals and democracy advocates as godless, where committers of acts of infidelity, according to its interpretation, shall be deemed infidels without the need for any proof. Madkhalism acknowledges that the superiority of Jews and Christians over Muslims is an act of Allah that Muslims can do nothing about. Therefore, Muslim may only fight them when authorized by the ruler.

This is why totalitarian regimes, as in Libya under Gaddafi, considered Madkhalism to be a precious doctrinal treasure since it conferred religious legitimacy on the regime and could be used to fight both moderate and extremist Islamic groups. Its followers remarkably mushroomed in Libya because the regime allowed it to carry out its activities in the public sphere through charities, mosques, Koran memorization schools, and TV and radio programs.

The regime however kept covertly monitoring the movement through some of its sheikhs who were agents. Even Gaddafi’s son, Al-Saadi, became its most prominent follower under a Gaddafi plan to distribute the roles of his authoritarian game among his sons. In 2009, Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi’s eldest son and heir, sealed a deal with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (al-Qaeda) under which both groups, in return for the release of their prisoners, pledged to stop opposing the regime, abandon politics and submit a public written apology to Gaddafi, considering him a legitimate ruler whom they committed a mistake against when they opposed him.

Known for his recklessness and impudence, Al-Saadi once appeared with a beard, shaved mustache and short garment, claiming that he became a Salafist student of Madkhalism. He held several meetings in Tripoli with Madkhalism sheiks who claimed to be jurisprudents. He also appointed followers who started to call him Sheikh.

Al-Saadi established strong links with Saudi sheikhs from whom, following the February 17 revolution, he received a fatwa forbidding the opposition of his father and considered the revolution to be sedition –those who stayed home were deemed better than those who took to the streets. Libyana and Madar mobile phone companies – run by Muhammad, Gaddafi’s son – sent SMS urging people to obey the ruler, Gaddafi, and stay home.

Following the revolution, Wahhabi Salafists, exploiting the absence of a ruler, started destroying shrines, archaeological statues and monuments, and art sculptures using bulldozers and explosives. I myself was a witness to what they did to the Mermaid and Gazelle sculpture in downtown Tripoli. Built in the 1930s, the sculpture was a nude woman sitting on the floor, holding a jar with one hand and petting the neck of a female gazelle drinking from a fountain with the other.

Salafists came to the statue at night, covered it with blue plastic garbage bags and tied it with a rope. In the morning, however, some passers-by tore the plastic bags. A few nights later, the sculpture was hit by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG). Nonetheless, the RPG only created a gap in the woman’s belly but did not destroy it fully – it went out from the waist and without affecting the gazelle. A few nights later, Salafists uprooted the sculpture and took it away.

A while later, this activity suddenly stopped as if they had been ordered by their Saudi sheikhs to stop their jihad against stones, especially when they formed armed battalions, with wages from the state, and were affected by the political division. The Salafists of western Libya joined the Dawn of Libya militias which are currently in control of Tripoli, while the Salafists of Cyrenaica participated in Operation Dignity against the militias of the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda and ISIS, in a stark contrast to Madkhalism’s principles of not engaging in politics and refusing partisanship and elections.