All posts by mzubairqamar

– The Afghan Taliban and Drugs – an (Un)Islamic Partnership.



(© Zubair Qamar 2013)

Ahmed Rashid, the well known journalist and author of the book, “Taliban,” among other books, was told the “justification” by the Afghan Taliban of growing opium when they were in charge and running affairs in Afghanistan.

The then head of Taliban’s anti-drugs control force in Kandahar, Abdul Rashid, said he imposed strict bans on hashish

“because it is consumed by Afghans and Muslims”


“Opium is permissable because it is consumed by kafirs [unbelievers] in the West and not by Muslims or Afghans” (sic). (Taliban, p.118).

Then Governor Mohammed Hassan of the Taliban said that while “drugs are evil,” they would only think about substituting it with another crop if they received “international recognition.” (Taliban, p.118). The elusive, one-eyed Mullah Omar took that position for “[o]ver the next two years.”

Seems like international recognition was more important to them than following Islam properly. Neither of the reasons were a proper Islamic justification from any of the Sunni schools of jurisprudence. In this matter, the Taliban were less crooked when they first took over Kandahar. They wanted to eradicate drugs, which was in line with Islam.

However, after a few months passed, Shaytan got into their heads and they decided to do a one-hundred-and-eighty and support opium growth instead. Why? Because they realized they needed drugs for easy money and they did not want to upset the farmers who grew it.

But, again, these justifications are not Islamic at all. The Taliban depended on haraam income to establish themselves, and they were rather organized about it. They imposed a so-called  “Islamic tax” on “all dealers moving opium.” They could have at least been honest and called it a “haraam tax.”

On top of that, “individual commanders and provincial governors imposed their own taxes to keep their coffers full and their soldiers fed.” Some among the Taliban decided to become drug dealers and even involved their relatives to do haraam deeds.

“Some of them became substantial dealers in opium or used their relatives to act as middlemen” (Taliban, p.118).

Spreading sin cannot be “Islamic” from an Islamic perspective.

But eradicate the hashish they did, which was probably an attempt to take away a guilty conscience for promoting opium. All along, they pretended opium business was halaal, even though it was not. This sinful indulgence was a violation of the Qur’an and Sunnah. How could the Taliban have expected Allah to be happy with them for breathing, eating, and sleeping with opium? Were they unafraid that living and imposing Islam through sinful means would render their “good” deeds null and void and bring Allah’s Wrath on them?

This matter was undoubtedly tugging at them for a while. Seemingly it was too tempting for them to stop opium business so soon. After all, it ran their so-called “Islamic” Emirate.

If the Taliban were sincere Muslims, they would have done things differently. They chose material convenience over the religion they deceptively claimed to follow.

First, they had a double standard that it is okay to let non-Muslims become addicts, while it is prohibited for Muslims to become drug addicts. Sunni Muslim Yahya Birt has excellently noted that this is

“hypocritical and cynical. There is not one standard of upright conduct for Muslims and another for non-Muslims: our religion requires us to behave impeccably with both.”[1]

Second, the Taliban’s assumption that Muslims do not consume opium-derived drugs like heroin is to misunderstand the facts. This was a poor and sinful jurisprudential attempt by the Taliban to justify the promotion of something unlawful using an “Islamic” argument.  Birt gives them a reality check:

“And far from Muslims being unaffected by Afghani heroin, Pakistan now has the highest heroin addiction rate in the world. In 1979, Pakistan had no addicts, in 1986, it had 650,000 addicts, three million in 1992, while in 1999, government figures estimate a staggering figure of five million.”[2]

A joint report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) and the Government of Pakistan states that in Pakistan there was a

“100 percent increase in injecting drug use between 2000 and 2006.”[3]

The National Institute of Drug Abuse states,

“Heroin abuse is associated with serious health conditions, including fatal overdose, spontaneous abortion, and—particularly in users who inject the drug—infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Chronic users may develop collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, and liver or kidney disease. Pulmonary complications, including various types of pneumonia, may result from the poor health of the abuser as well as from heroin’s depressing effects on respiration. In addition to the effects of the drug itself, street heroin often contains toxic contaminants or additives that can clog blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain, causing permanent damage to vital organs.”[4]

Third, the use of intoxicants is categorically forbidden in Islam. Prophet Muhammad said,

“Every intoxicant is prohibited” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no. 4088).

Opium is an intoxicant. Therefore, it is forbidden. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Islam’s Prophet also said,

“If a large amount of anything causes intoxication, a small amount of it is prohibited” (Sunan Abu-Dawud, Drinks (Kitab Al-Ashribah), Book 26, Number 3673).

Seems the Taliban’s knowledge department lacks knowledge of the above hadeeth.

Fourth, the Taliban will be responsible for all sins associated with drug use by their promotion of opium. While the Taliban are currently ousted from power, the drugs they promoted under their leadership – while foolishly believing they were not affecting Muslims – are surely still spreading catastrophe, including among Muslims, in terms of health and other effects.

Fifth, even when the Taliban were later doing something right – hashish demolition – they mixed it with torture. Abdul Rashid of the Taliban said,

“When we catch hashish smugglers or addicts we interrogate and beat them mercilessly to find out the truth.”

He then said,

“Then we put them in cold water for many hours, two or three times a day. It’s a very good cure” (Taliban, pg.119).

“Good cure” from the Taliban perspective, but an utter disregard of the Qur’an and Sunnah that emphasize mercy. Prophet Muhammad said,

“The merciful ones will be shown mercy by the All-Merciful [Allah]. Be merciful to those on Earth, Allah will be merciful to you.”

Why sanction torture when Prophet Muhammad said to be merciful?

Continuous accumulation of sin for even dead Taliban will not stop if they were in any way responsible for promoting drugs when they were alive. The Messenger of Allah said:

“Whoever sets a good precedent in Islam will have the reward for that and the reward of those who do it after him, without that detracting from their reward in the slightest. And whoever sets a bad precedent in Islam will bear the burden of sin for that, and the burden of those who do it after him, without that detracting from their burden in the slightest.”[5]

The Taliban is therefore responsible for Muslims and non-Muslims who became addicts when they permitted and promoted the opium business in all of its manifestations. While the Taliban were propping up their “Islamic” Emirate with a foundation of drugs, addicts were on the increase locally, regionally, and globally.

From an Islamic standpoint, the Taliban will be held accountable for the burden of sins associated with the spread of opium, for violating the Qur’an and Sunnah, and for deceitfully promoting something haraam in Islam’s name through pseudo-Islamic jurisprudence.


[2] Ibid.

[3] “Illicit Drug Trends in Pakistan”. April 2008. Pg.7. “The Paris Pact Illicit Drug Trends Report for Pakistan was prepared by the Paris Pact Coordination and Analysis Unit (CAU) of the UNODC Country Office for Pakistan and benefited from the work and expertise of officials from the UNODC Regional Office for Central Asia” (pg. 3).


[5] Narrated Muslim.

– What do Muslims Today Really Think?

(© Zubair Qamar 2013)

Assumptions of violent interpretations of Islam are different from what Muslims today actually believe and think. While blaming Islam’s scriptures for terrorism, Patrick Sookhdeo and Katharine Gorka — two Islamophobes — cast doubt and suspicion on the intentions of the Muslim majority.

In the their book, Fighting the Ideological War, and commenting on The 9/11 Commission Report’s statement, “Most Muslims prefer a peaceful and inclusive vision of their faith, not the violent extremism of Bin Laden,” Sookhdeo and K. Gorka say,

“Is that based on researched and documented fact, or on wishful thinking?” (p.5).

If most Muslims follow “the violent extremism of Bin Laden,” as the authors insinuate, then why is the overwhelming majority of the 1.6-billion Muslims today behaving non-violently? This question will be answered by well-known polls below that Sookhdeo, Katharine Gorka, and the other authors appear to be unaware of, as the results did not inform their analysis.

Published in 2007, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, is a study

“based on six years of research and more than 50,000 interviews representing 1.3 billion Muslims who reside in more than 35 nations that are predominantly Muslim or have sizable Muslim populations. Representing more than 90% of the world’s Muslim community, it makes this poll the largest, most comprehensive study of its kind.”[[i]]

The following are key findings of the poll that answer Sookhdeo’s and Katharine Gorka’s question:

a)     Do most Muslims support the 9/11 attacks?

Most Muslims condemn the 9/11 attacks.

b)    What is least liked by Muslims in their own societies?

Most Muslims least like extremism and terrorism. Esposito and Mugahid say,

“Far from being glorified by Muslims, the ‘terrorist fringe’ is rejected by citizens of Muslim majority countries.”

This majority is separated from the “7% who are ‘politically radicalized.’’ In other words, most Muslims worldwide are not politically radicalized. While 7% of politically radicalized Muslims is a large number, the authors note the comparison:

“In America, 6% of the public think that attacks in which civilians are targets are ‘completely justified.’”[[ii]]

c)     Are the 7% of “politically radicalized” Muslims motivated by religion? 

Authors of the study say,

“radicals use politics, not piety, to justify 9/11, while moderates argue against 9/11 using religious justifications.”

In other words, religion is used by the majority of Muslims to condemnnot support – the 9/11 attacks. Religion is not unique to the politically radicalized. “While most radicals – 90% – cite Islam as an important part of their daily lives (90%), most moderates – 94% – do as well.”[[iii]]

(In another poll of Arab countries from 2004 to 2010 by Shibley Telhami, the question was asked, “What aspect of Al Qaeda do you admire the most, if any?”

Explaining the results, Tehlami says,

“Those who embraced Al Qaeda because of its aims to establish a Taliban-like Islamic state or because they liked the group’s methods of operation were a small minority.”

He continues, “

…only 7 percent in 2004 and 3 percent in 2010 identified its methods; and 7 percent in both years identified its objective of an Islamic state. About one-quarter in both years said they did not admire any aspect of the group.”[[iv]]

Therefore, only a minority of Muslims today support the radicalism of militants. The vast majority of Muslims reject them.)

d)    What do moderate Muslims resent about the West?

The authors of the study say,

“Muslims resent what they perceive as a War on Islam in the West that equates their religion with terrorism and extremism.”[[v]]

This means that the recommendations of Sookhdeo and other Islamophobes who blame Islam for terrorism will make matters worse between the US and the Muslim world. This cannot be good for US national security or for America’s relations with the Muslim world.

e)     Do most Muslims support Shari’ah and theocracy?

The study’s authors say,

“The majority of Muslims admire the West’s political freedoms and value self-determination. However, Muslims do not appear to want secularism or to imitate Western democracies; instead, many Muslims, both male and female, state they want Sharia as at least one source of legislation”

and that

“many Muslims see no contradiction between democratic and Islamic principles.”

They say, Muslims

“wanting Sharia involved in politics does not translate into Muslims wanting theocracy. Majorities in many countries remarked that they do not want religious leaders to hold direct legislative or political power.”


“[M]any Muslims desire neither a democracy or theocracy, but instead a unique model incorporating both democratic and religious principles.”[[vi]]

f)     Do Muslims dream of doing combative jihad? 

The authors of the study say,

“When asked to describe their dreams for the future, Muslims don’t mention fighting in a jihad, but rather getting a better job.”[[vii]]

The Report: “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics, and Society”

This Report[[viii]] is based on public surveys by the Pew Research Center between 2008 and 2012 in 39 countries and territories in Africa, Asia, and Europe. The surveys

“involved more than 38,000 face-to-face interviews in 80-plus languages and dialects, covering every country that has more than 10 million Muslims except for a handful (including China, India, Saudi Arabia and Syria) where political sensitivities or security concerns prevented opinion research among Muslims.”[[ix]]

The following are key findings of the poll:

a)     Shariah and its application

The authors of the study say,

“Although many Muslims around the world say sharia should be the law of the land in their country, the survey reveals divergent opinions about the precise application of Islamic law. Generally, supporters of sharia are most comfortable with its application in cases of family or property disputes. In most regions, fewer favor other specific aspects of sharia, such as cutting off the hands of thieves and executing people who convert from Islam to another faith.”[[x]]

b)    Do most Muslims think Shari’ah should apply to non-Muslims?

The authors of the study say,

“Among Muslims who support making sharia the law of the land, most do not believe that it should be applied to non-Muslims. Only in five of 21 countries where this follow-up question was asked do at least half say all citizens should be subject to Islamic law.”[[xi]]

c)     Do most Muslims support the death penalty for those who leave Islam?

The authors of the study say,

“Compared with attitudes toward applying sharia in the domestic or criminal spheres, Muslims in the countries surveyed are significantly less supportive of the death penalty for converts.”[[xii]]

d)    Do most Muslims oppose democracy and do they stop non-Muslims from freely  practicing their religion?

The authors of the study say,

“Muslims around the world express broad support for democracy and for people of other faiths being able to practice their religion freely.”

Regarding non-Muslims practicing their religion freely, “…among those who view non-Muslims as very free to practice their faith, the prevailing opinion is that this is a good thing.” Specifically, “[i]n 33 of the 38 countries where the question was asked at least half say people of other faiths are very free to practice their religion.” That is, “… three-quarters or more in each country say this is a good thing.”[[xiii]]

e)     Do most Muslims support Islamic militant groups?

The authors of the study say,

“Many Muslims express concern about religious extremist groups operating in their country. On balance, more Muslims are concerned about Islamic than Christian extremist groups.”[[xiv]]

f)     Do most Muslims support suicide bombings?

The authors of the study say,

“[T]he vast majority of Muslims in most countries say suicide bombing is rarely or never justified […].”[[xv]]


“In most of the 21 countries where the question was asked few Muslims endorse suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets as a means of defending Islam against its enemies.”[[xvi]]

g)     Do most Muslims think religious leaders should have a large influence in politics?

The authors of the study say,

“With the notable exception of Afghanistan, fewer than half of Muslims in any country surveyed say religious leaders should have a large influence in politics.”[[xvii]]

h)    Do most Muslims support honor killings and are they driven by religion?

The authors of the study say,

“Across the countries surveyed, attitudes toward honor killings of women and men are not consistently linked to religious observance. In most countries, Muslims who pray several times a day are just as likely as those who pray less often to say that honor killings are never justified. There also are no consistent differences by age or gender.”[[xviii]]

i)      Do most Muslims oppose interfaith relations?

The authors of the study say,

“Few Muslims see conflict between religious groups as a very big national problem. In fact, most consider unemployment, crime and corruption as bigger national problems than religious conflict. Asked specifically about Christian-Muslim hostilities, few Muslims say hostilities are widespread.”[[xix]]

What do American Muslims Think?

In the Pew study above, the authors say,

“In their attitudes toward modern society and their relations with people of other faiths, U.S. Muslims sometimes more closely resemble other Americans than they do Muslims around the world.”[[xx]]

The same study found that

“[a] majority of U.S. Muslims (56%) believe that many religions can lead to eternal life.” “Most Americans (65%), including nearly two-thirds of American Christians (64%), share this view.”

In addition,

“Most U.S. Muslims (63%) say there is no inherent tension between being devout and living in a modern society. A nearly identical proportion of American Christians (64%) agree.”

In other findings,

“More than eight-in-ten American Muslims say suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilian targets are never justified (81%) or rarely justified (5%) to defend Islam from its enemies.”

In another study by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding that was undertaken between 2006 and 2010,

“212 imams, social workers, therapists, lawyers, and divorced men and women were interviewed about their experiences of marriage and divorce” and “information was also collected on how they understood the influence of shari’a on their beliefs and lifestyle choices, the relationship between shari’a and the formal legal system, their recourse to the legal system in the event of marital conflict and divorce, and their use of  private conflict resolution drawing on shari’a principles.”

In addition, “Further data was acquired during larger group conversations held in mosques and islamic community centers.” The findings state that

“[m]isconceptions over the real meaning and effect of shari’a on the everyday lives of American Muslims are compounded by the often-repeated claim that Muslims want to impose and enforce ‘shari’a law’ in America via the courts. None of this study’s 212 participants agreed with this claim. Respondents consistently distinguished between God’s law (a matter of personal conscience rather than public adjudication) and the law of the land or “human law.” While many described the importance of being able to appeal to the formal legal system when necessary (particularly to enforce private agreements), respondents wanted continued access to their Islamic traditions in an informal family setting.”


“All understood their private family law-related choices as separate from the formal legal system. Even among imams, who sometimes complain that their advice can be easily disregarded since it cannot be enforced in courts, there is almost no support for a parallel Islamic tribunal system. The community appears content with a private informal system that offers spiritual, emotional, and social comfort for some of its members. Respondents also rejected the assumption that any Muslim support for shari’a-compliant behaviors represents an aggressive antagonism toward local laws and norms. Rather, they spoke about their strong attachment to their right to access formal legal institutions and their belief that identifying as Muslim does not diminish their identification as American citizens. In addition, almost all of them had obtained a civil marriage license when they signed their nikah, as well as a civil decree at or around the time of their quest for a religious divorce. These findings challenge the assertion that such practices somehow make them ‘disloyal’ citizens.”[[xxi]]

In January 2010, a study of Muslim communities in the United States by researchers at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill concluded,

“Muslim-American communities strongly reject radical jihadi ideology, are eager to contribute to the national counterterrorism effort, and are fiercely committed to integration within the mainstream of American social and economic life.”[[xxii]]

Contrary to the view of alarmists, American Muslims are not imposing Shari’a law on America and Americans, and there is no active Islamic extremist takeover over of the country or the world.

Knowing from the polls above that most Muslims worldwide desire peace and are against the minority fanatical fringe, a “thoroughgoing reform of Islam,” as Patrick Sookhdeo and other Islamophobes recommend, is irrelevant to reducing extremism, including terrorism.

Scholar Olivier Roy echoes this agreement in his views of the Arab Spring:

“But the outside world wrongly assumed that Islam would first have to experience a religious reformation before its followers could embark on political democratization – replicating the Christian experience when the Reformation gave birth to the Enlightenment and then to modern democracy.”[[xxiii]]

As discussed in the results of the polls above, most Muslims residing today who follow classical Sunni Islam are peaceful and do not support terrorism. The Islamophobe’s proposition  that Muslims need “reform” aims to resolve a “problem” that does not exist in the larger Sunni community.

[[i]] John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed, “Who Speaks For Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think,” March 8, 2008, accessed May 24, 2013,

[[ii]] John L. Esposito, and Dalia Mogahed. Who speaks for Islam What a Billion Muslims Really Think. New York, NY: Gallup Press, 2007. pg.7.

[[iii]] Ibid., pg.6.

[[iv]] Shibley Telhami. The World Through Arab Eyes Arab Public Opinion and the Reshaping of the Middle East. New York: Basic Books, 2013. p.117.

[[v]] J. Esposito and D. Mogahed, op. cit., pg.6.

[[vi]] Ibid., pg.5.

[[vii]] John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed, “Who Speaks For Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think,” March 8, 2008, accessed May 24, 2013,

[[viii]] “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society (Full Report),” The Pew Forum on Religion and Social Life, April 30, 2013, accessed May 25, 2013,

[[ix]] Ibid.

[[x]] “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society (Chapter-1: Beliefs About Sharia),” The Pew Forum on Religion and Social Life, April 30, 2013, accessed May 25, 2013,

[[xi]] Ibid.

[[xii]] Ibid.

[[xiii]] “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society (Chapter-2: Religion and Politics),” The Pew Forum on Religion and Social Life, April 30, 2013, accessed May 25, 2013,

[[xiv]] Ibid.

[[xv]] Ibid.

[[xvi]] Ibid.

[[xvii]] Ibid.

[[xviii]] “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society (Chapter-3: Morality),” The Pew Forum on Religion and Social Life, April 30, 2013, accessed May 25, 2013,

[[xix]] “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society (Chapter-6: Interfaith Relations),” The Pew Forum on Religion and Social Life, April 30, 2013, accessed May 25, 2013,

[[xx]] “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society (Appendix A: U.S. Muslims – Views on Religion and Society in a Global Context),” The Pew Forum on Religion and Social Life, April 30, 2013, accessed May 25, 2013,

[[xxi]] Julie, Macfarlane, “Shari’a Law: Coming To a Courthouse Near You? What Shari’a Really Means to American Muslims,” Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, January 2012, accessed May 23, 2013,

[[xxii]] David, Schanzer et al., “Terror Lessons of Muslim-Americans,” January 6, 2010, accessed May 12, 2013,

[[xxiii]] Robin Wright. (Ed.) The Islamists Are coming: Who They Really Are. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2012. p.13.

– Overhyping the Threat of “Islamic” Terrorism in the US.


(© Zubair Qamar 2013)

Islamophobes are obsessed with exaggerating the “Islamic” threat.

In an April 2013 article in MotherJones, David Gilson says,

“While America has been fixated on the threat of Islamic terrorism for more than a decade, all but a few domestic terror plots have failed. Between September 11, 2001, and the end of 2012, there were no successful bomb plots by jihadist terrorists in the United States. Jihadists killed 17 people in the United States in four separate incidents during this time, according to data collected by journalist Peter Bergen and the New America Foundation. All four of these incidents involved guns, including Nidal Hassan’s shooting rampage at Fort Hood, which killed 13 people. In contrast, right-wing extremists killed 29 people during those 11 years.”[[i]]

Of the Boston Marathon attackers, Gilson says they are

“not evidence of the power of Islamist terrorism in post-9/11 America so much as a painful exception to its ineffectiveness.”[[ii]]

Islamophobes overhype the threat of terrorism by “Muslims” and represent the “painful exception” as the norm.

In another report published in 2010, Brian Michael Jenkins of the RAND Institute, said,

“There are more than 3 million Muslims in the United States, and few more than 100 have joined jihad – about one out of every 30,000 – suggesting an American Muslim population that remains hostile to jihadist ideology and its exhortations to violence. A mistrust of American Muslims by other Americans seems misplaced.”[[iii]]

Explaining the conclusions of a January 2010 study by researchers at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, CNN states,
“The terrorist threat posed by radicalized Muslim- Americans has been exaggerated…”
A TIME article illustrated highlights of the 2010 study:

• Of the 139 individuals linked to terrorist acts, only 40 successfully executed their plots, and most of those were overseas. In 70% of instances, law enforcement agencies were able to foil the plots before they even matured to a dangerous stage.

• Last year accounted for a high 41 cases, but the researchers note that it’s too early to say if the spike represents a trend.

• Seventy-eight of the American Muslims arrested were members of small groups that either traveled abroad for training or planned attacks in the U.S. This confirms the view of some terrorism experts that the radicalization process relies on a group dynamic.

• Sixty-three of the 139 were U.S.-born, 22 were naturalized citizens and 25 legal residents.

•There is no single hotbed of radicalization: 43 “offenders” were from the South, 38 from the Northeast, 30 from the Midwest, 23 from the West and three from the Southwest.

• Although the 139 were predominantly young men, with 90 being under the age of 30, they hailed from diverse ethnicities: 32 were Arabs, 24 African-Americans, 24 South Asians, 20 Somalis and 20 whites. The authors say there is no “single profile or a common warning sign that signifies a homegrown terrorist.”

Exaggerating claims of “Muslim” home-grown terrorism has negative implications at the policy level and in counter-terrorism efforts. In a June 2012 article in Cato Unbound, Risa Brooks explains some of these negative implications:

…overstating this threat could lead to the misallocation of increasingly scarce federal, state, and local law enforcement resources. As the United States enters an era of fiscal austerity, officials must evaluate the opportunity costs of investing in domestic counterterrorism versus other priorities.

…overstating the threat of Muslim homegrown terrorism could lead to the adoption of counterproductive counterterrorism methods. Methods commonly employed by law enforcement in Muslim communities, such as extensive surveillance and cultivation of informants, are inherently challenging for any segment of society to endure, even when agents treat them with care. And a careful approach is rarely encouraged by an atmosphere of suspicion.

Brooks then says,

“Controversies of this kind undermine the relationships of trust that form the basis for cooperation between Muslim communities and public officials. Yet these communities have demonstrated a willingness and a capacity to report signs of terrorist activity in their midst, and their help is both the most efficient and least invasive method of exposing aspiring militants. Alienating those who would provide such information will carry a heavy cost.”

She ends by saying,

“Finally, exaggerating the threat posed by homegrown Muslim terrorists leads to a distorted image of the nature of domestic terrorism in the United States that is harmful to the social fabric of the country. While small in number, acts of domestic terrorism in the United States involve individuals of diverse ideological extremes. Domestic terrorism may encompass violent splinters from the Occupy Movement, anti-government militants like the “Sovereign Citizens,” or Islamist jihadis—among others. Exaggerating threats from Islamist militancy at the expense of a more comprehensive discussion of domestic terrorism not only contributes to mistrust between Muslim Americans and other Americans, it is counter to the country’s long heritage of respecting people of diverse religions and backgrounds.”

Since 9/11, and especially since Obama became President, homegrown US right-wing terrorism has exceeded “Islamic” terrorism incidents. Yet, many national security experts are blind to the growing threat, and see the “Islamic threat” through tunnel lens vision as the only threat. It is best that they become realistic about terrorism trends, acknowledge that members among non-Muslims can also commit terrorism, and face this growing threat with the seriousness and importance it deserves.

[[i]] David, Gilson, “Charts: How Much Danger Do We Face From Homegrown Jihadist Terrorists?” MotherJones, April 24, 2013, accessed May 12, 2013,

[[ii]] David, Gilson, “Charts: How Much Danger Do We Face From Homegrown Jihadist Terrorists?” MotherJones, April 24, 2013, accessed May 12, 2013,

[[iii]] Brian, Jenkins, “Would-Be Warriors: Incidents of Jihadist Terrorist Radicalization in the United States Since September 11, 2001,” 2010, accessed June 1, 2013,

– Syed Qutb: Separating Fact from Fiction.


(© Zubair Qamar 2013)

In the book, Fighting the Ideological War (published by Westminster Institute), Robert Reilly says Syed Qutb is the

“chief Egyptian ideologue of the radical Islamist movement the Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks our destruction….The entire Islamist world revolves around the thinking of this man […]” (p.153).

He also says,

“You can be sure to find his writings at the foundation of any radical Muslim group today, including al Qaeda” (p.154).

Sebastian Gorka, another author in the book, and Islamophobe par excellence, says that Qutb’s “only way” of cleansing society from alleged jahiliyya “is through jihad, through holy war” (p.198), and then quotes Qutb as saying, “Islam is not a religion, it is a revolutionary party” (p.198).

However, Gorka seems unaware of the fact that there is debate on whether Qutb was calling for revolutionary violence or not. Extending linkages from Syed Qutb to the “entire Islamist world” is an exaggeration that has been addressed by scholars John Calvert, Fawaz Gerges, and William Shephard.

Reilly, it seems, follows the same strange logic in his explanation of Islamic history when he somehow links his understanding of the classical Sunni Ash’ari school of creed with the rise of Osama bin Laden.

John Calvert, author of “Sayyid Qutb and the Origins of Radical Islam,” says that present-day Islamists read Qutb differently: moderates (such as mainstream Muslim Brothers) downplay his revolutionary religio-political message, and radicals (such as al Qaeda members) exaggerate it:

“Yet, if the Al Qaeda threat has made Qutb a household name, it has also monopolized and distorted our understanding of his real contribution to contemporary Islamism. In the search for Al Qaeda’s origins, even well intentioned observers tend to focus on points of similarity between Qutb’s thought and that of Al Qaeda at the expense of significant anomalies between the two. Some have even suggested that the global jihad has remote origins in the Qutb’s uncomfortable experience at a church social in the conservative town of Greeley, Colorado in the late 1940s. Read backwards from the event of 9/11, these accounts enfold Qutb in the Al Qaeda mantle in an attempt to make the variegated history of the Islamic movement into a cohesive narrative.”

He continues,

“If some students of the jihad are careful to situate Qutb correctly in relation to Al Qaeda, still they often consign him to the position of opening act. Rarely do observers of the scene address Qutb’s singularity.”[[i]]

Calvert continues – and this is important:

“Yet in resorting to short cuts, we pass over a history that is as nuanced as any other. We run the danger of succumbing to a ‘neo-Orientalist’ trop that subordinates particulars to an essential and enduring identity, and ignores complexity in favor of simplicity. Just as it makes no sense to confuse the outlook of Hamas, an organization focused on redeeming land lost to Israel, with the pan-Islamism of Al Qaeda, so too is it unwise to assume a direct link between Sayyid Qutb and Usama bin Laden. Researchers need to study each on its own terms with reference to its distinctive environment and concerns”[[ii]]

Fawaz Gerges, best-selling author and al-Qa’eda scholar, says,

“After September 11, Western commentators and analysts suddenly discovered Qutb, and portrayed him as the ‘philosopher of terror,’ the spiritual and operational godfather to bin Laden and Zawahiri; they have drawn a direct, unbroken line between Qutb and al-Qaeda.”[[iii]]

Gerges continues,

“This connection fits perfectly with al-Qaeda’s own designs. The organization has engaged in a systematic effort to claim the Qutbian legacy.”

He says,

“Despite their claim of kinship, bin Laden and Zawahiri twisted Qutb’s idea to suit their purposes. According to Qutb’s contemporary followers, some of whom spent years with him in prison and underground, Qutb never called for a confrontation with the West and instead exhorted them to strike at Arab rulers who conspired with Islam’s external enemies and allowed them to infiltrate Muslim lands.”

Gerges continues,

“Contemporary followers maintain that he showed no interest in either the internationalization of jihad or the targeting of Western powers. Nonetheless Qutb essentially called on Muslims to defend dar al-Islam (the abode of Islam) against crusading intrusion and cultural invasion. Yet both bin Laden and his detractors have claimed that Qutb supplied the fuel that powered al-Qaeda’s transnational jihad.”[[iv]]

Gerges then says, “This could not be further from the truth,” and “None of the surviving chiefs of the Secret Apparatus” – Qutb’s organization – “whom I interviewed ever mentioned that Qutb had instructed them to attack the United States and its Western allies or had theorized the need to confront the enemy without.”

Quoting a close confidant of Qutb inside and outside prison, Sayyid Eid, who calls Qutb al-shahid, said,

“I do not ever recall al-shahid saying that we should wage war against America or Britain; rather he wanted us to be vigilant against the West’s cultural penetration of our societies.”[[v]]

“While Qutb’s diatribe against America has widely resonated among Islamists, al-Qaeda’s actions cannot be traced to his rhetoric. Indeed, transnational jihad took Qutb’s strategic priorities and turned them on their head” (italics added by reviewer).[[vi]]

Author and scholar William Shepard says,

“the ‘terrorism’ and the ‘martyrdom operations,’ which are seen as the particular trademarks of al-Qaeda and, to some extent, Hamas, have the least grounding in Qutb’s writings. We can say, however, that his dichotomous ‘Manichaeism’ and his theological absolutism do provide fertile ground for the seeds of ‘terrorism’ and ‘martyrdom operations,” even if they are initially alien to him. Any ideologue who feels certain about ultimate truth and perceives a clear and absolute distinction between right and wrong, good and evil, is capable of justifying even the most horrendous of actions. History illustrates this all too well. This far, but no further in my view, can we call Qutb an ideological father of Islamist violence[[vii]] ” (italics added by reviewer).

Reilly’s and Sebastian Gorka’s understanding of Qutb and links to al-Qa’eda lack the sophistication and scholarship needed for a more informed and realistic understanding.

[[i]] John Calvert. Sayyid Qutb and the Origins of Radical Islamism. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.  p.7.

[[ii]] Ibid., p.8.

[[iii]] F. Gerges, op. cit.,pp.31-32.

[[iv]] Ibid., pp.31-32.

[[v]] Ibid., p.32.

[[vi]] Ibid., p.33.

[[vii]] Zaid Shakir, “Sayyid Qutb and Modern Islamist Violence,” Seasons Journal 4:1 (Autumn 2007): 36.

– Understanding Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb.

(© Zubair Qamar 2013)

The Islamophobe, Patrick Sookhdeo, says,

“A basic precept of classical Islamic teaching divides the world into two kinds of territory, Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb. Dar al-Islam or “the house of Islam” consists of those areas under Muslim control. The rest of the world, which is under infidel (non-Muslim) control, is significantly known as Dar al-Harb, “the house of war.” This name is given to infidel-controlled areas because Muslims are obliged to subdue Dar al-Harb and turn it into Dar al-Islam.”[[i]]

Did classical Sunni Muslims understand the division of the world in this simplistic manner? The matter is more complex. It is therefore important to steer away from a bipolar, Muslim-versus-non-Muslim understanding of Islam.

Contemporary Sunni scholar, Zaid Shakir, explains this simplistic understanding.

“[T]he often-cited division of the world into Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb fits well with attempts to explain the inevitability of a clash between Islam and the West.”

“However,” he says,

“it does not really give us an idea of the nuances and complexities of those terms, nor the diverse ways in which Muslim thinkers, over an extended period of time, defined and actually applied them.”

Shakir then provides examples of the various views of classical Sunni scholars. For example, Abu Yusuf and Muhammad b. al-Hasan ash-Shaybani, the two companions of Imam Abu Hanifah,

“viewed a land governed by the laws of the nonbelievers as constituting a land of disbelief, even if populated by Muslims.”


“Imam ash-Shafi’i viewed a land populated by nonbelievers who are not at war with the Muslims as not constituting Dar al-Harb.”

Shakir then says,

“Therefore, according to these definitions, most of today’s Muslim countries, which are governed by secular law codes, are not Dar al-Islam.”

Regarding most non-Muslim countries today that have peaceful relations with the Muslim world, they are not considered Dar al-Harb. Sookhdeo omits this from his understanding. Shakir says,

“To reinforce this point, let us ask…‘[w]ould Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, two conservative nations that waged war against the Muslim nation of Iraq be considered Dar al-Islam or Dar al-Harb?’ Such questions reveal nuances that clearly weigh against the simplistic arguments being advanced by a growing wave of anti-Islamic polemicists and pundits and their Muslim ideological equivalents.”[[ii]]

Moreover, Imam Shawkani believed that land not ruled by Muslims can still be called Dar al-Islam provided that Muslims can practice their faith safely.[[iii]] Author Al-Dawoody also says,

“Present-day non-Muslim countries would…be classified as dar al-Islam according to Abu Hanifah’s definition […].”[[iv]]

Abu Hanifah’s ijtihad, or understanding of the Islamic sources, is followed by most Muslims today.

There are also many other divisions that the authors neglect to mention. For example, Dar al-Sulh, Dar al-`Ahd, Dar al-Muwada’ah (house of peace, house of covenant, house of reconciliation)[[v]] Of `Abd al-Rahman al-Haj, Al-Dawoody explains his view that

“classical jurists coined thirty-four conceptual divisions related the word dar, including dar al-muhajirin, dar al-hijrah, dar al-baghy, dar al-da’wah, dar al-dhimmah, dar al-riddah, dar al-shirk, and dar al-`Arab.”[[vi]]

He then concludes,

“It is…unfortunate that all these juridical political concepts are ignored, so that the Islamic worldview is oversimplified as one of perpetual war between Muslims and so-called infidels.”[[vii]]

Sookhdeo and others who hold this simplistic understanding are guilty of omitting the details of Sunni jurisprudence and misleading readers.

In addition, most Muslims today do not divide the world into two polar opposites. Scholar and author, Khaled Abou El Fadl, says,

“Many…books written by non-Muslim scholars in the West perpetuate the myth that Islamic law invariably dictates that the world should be divided into two abodes forever locked into conflict. Often the same books falsely assume that most Muslims today adhere to the same bipolar view of the world. This, of course, is not an accurate description of Islamic legal doctrine; moreover, it does not accurately describe the beliefs of the overwhelming majority of Muslims today.”[[viii]]

Islamophobes and “Islamic” militants would like to simplify a more complex matter.  Sunni Islam, however, has already discussed the complexities in its 1,000+ years long tradition.

[[i]] “Islam and Christianity: Why Muslims Dominate and Christians Suffer,” Patrick Sookhdeo, October 3, 2012, accessed June 2, 2013,

[[ii]] Zaid Shakir, “Jihad is not Perpetual Warfare,” New Islamic Directions, 2008, accessed May 27, 2013,

The original article can be read in  Shakir, Zaid. Scattered Pictures: Reflections of an American Muslim: An Anthology of Essays. Hayward, Calif.: Zaytuna Institute, 2005. pp.121-141.

[[iii]]Ahmed Al-Dawoody. The Islamic Law of War: Justifications and Regulations. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. p.93.

[[iv]] Ibid., p.95.

[[v]] Ibid., p.93.

[[vi]] Ibid., p.96.

[[vii]] Ibid., p.96.

[[viii]] Khaled Abou El Fadl. The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam From the Extremists. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2005. pp. 230-231.

– Islam as a “Vehicle”: Islam Beyond Religion and Ideology.


(© Zubair Qamar 2013)

Islam was and is being used as a vehicle – or means – by Arabs in an attempt to achieve their long-awaited rights and other aspirations. The classical Sunni makeup of Shari’ah was not a priority to Islamists. They did not want classical Sunni Shari’ah to return, but claimed to want Shari’a under a modern arrangement.

But how serious were Islamists about wanting Shari’ah? It is difficult for the author to believe they are serious because they have continued to marginalize the religious scholars whose job it is and always was to guide Muslims.

When Islamist demands for justice, freedom, and human rights are examined, their use of religion as a vehicle seems to be a sensible alternative to Arab nationalism, which they earlier lost hope in.

This is not an unrealistic assessment and is not the first time religion or ideology have been used as “vehicles” to express other frustrations, or serve as a rallying cry to unite the masses towards specific goals.

The history of the United States is filled with examples. “Closer to home in the West,” says author and scholar Graham Fuller,

“the entire Black Muslim movement in the US, beginning in the 1930s, reveals the deliberate use of religion to intensify existing social distinctions against the white oppressor.”[[i]]

In the United States,

“in times of war, most mainstream churches and clergy – Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish – are impressed into service to lend religious legitimacy to the national struggle.”[[ii]]

James Byrd, author of Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution, says,

“…the most productive year for preaching in colonial America was 1776. Sermons led the way in applying the Bible to the American Revolution.”[[iii]]

Even “martyrdom,” often attributed literally as part of “Islamic” ideology by militants and their detractors, was celebrated.

“During the American Revolution, references to martyrdom were everywhere.”[[iv]]

This, however, does not mean that the American Revolution was a “religious” or “Christian ideological” effort. Religion was a vehicle for American patriotism and independence from British colonialism and domination.

Likewise, the Arabs used and are using religion as a vehicle to protest subjugation in their countries. And the vehicle is usually not as important as the goal the vehicle is intended to reach.

Indeed, the Palestinians used several vehicles, including religion, to express resistance:

“[A]n Arab nationalist phase, a Marxist-Leninist phase, and, finally, an Islamist phase.”[[v]]

The vehicle of Islam was also used by Saddam Hussein when he modified the Iraqi flag to include, apparently in his own writing, the Islamic “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is Great) in 1991 in an attempt to garner support by religious clerics and Muslims against the US and its allies. His “Islamic” rhetoric and symbols did not make him more of a Muslim, or any less of a secular, socialist Baathist.

Islamists likewise use Islam for modern, political aims, and, in the words of Mohamed Bechri, former President of the Tunisian Section of Amnesty International,

“Islamism is nothing but politics draped in religious garb.”[[vi]]

Yet, Islamophobes appear to blame religion directly without a more sophisticated understanding of the role of religion as a vehicle in the socio-political landscape of the Arab region.

[[i]] Graham E. Fuller. A World Without Islam. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2010.  pp. 256-257.

[[ii]] Ibid., p.269.

[[iii]] James P. Byrd. Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. p.4.

[[iv]] Ibid., p.12.

[[v]] Ibid., p.266.

[[vi]] Mohammed Bechri, “Islamism Without Sharia: The Tunisian Example,” Fikra Forum, May 21, 2012, accessed May 26, 2013,

– Islamism and Classical Sunni Islam: Are They the Same?


(© Zubair Qamar 2013)

This section explains how specific aspects of classical Islam have been altered by Islamist movements. Islamism is primarily a product of modernity, and not of classical Islam, which partially explains the similarities between Islamist movements and twentieth century European ideologies. While authors are quick to point to similarities between them, they seem less convinced of the modernity-Islamism connection. They somehow lend more credibility to the classical Sunni Islam-and-Islamism connection, which is incorrect.

Without modernity there would be no Islamism. Author and scholar, Bruce Lawrence, says,

“Without modernity there are no fundamentalists, just as there are no modernists. The identity of fundamentalism, both as a psychological mindset and a as a historical movement, is shaped by the modern world.”[[i]]

Ghazi ibn Muhammad says,

“The rise of secularism has paradoxically contributed, by way of militant and ignorant reaction, to the rise of fundamentalism.”[[ii]]

How did modern Islamists arise? Key factors led to the rise of Islamists include the altering of the religious scholar-and-caliph arrangement that had existed for over 1,000 years in classical Sunni tradition; the weakening of the Ottoman Empire and desires for independence and autonomy by the Arabs; European colonial and imperial subjugation of the masses and its associated effects; imposition of rulers on the ‘independent’ Arab peoples by colonialists; domestic factors (tyrants, corruption, etc.); and US foreign policy.

Sovereign states originated in early modern Europe and were later adopted by Muslim countries following decolonization. Like other postcolonial societies, “Muslim” state elites also attempted to instill nationalism among their populations, which was often a mix of ethnic and religious identities.[[iii]]

In the modern milieu, Islamists opposed colonial subjugation while imitating their methods. While demonstrating their opposition, Islamists accepted the new political unit of the nation-state. They did not denounce democracy but eventually advocated it. They participated in elections, while certain Islamist groups were forbidden to participate until recently.

In spite of their seeming rigidity, Islamists’ statements resemble the words of liberation and human rights groups, including inter alia their claimed support for women rights. Moreover, their attire is usually Western and they are willing to cooperate and collaborate with non-Muslim governments to promote themselves. Aid from the US and other countries, for example, supports this view, as well as their position on maintaining peace agreements with Israel.

Islamists do not adhere to Islamic tradition, but rather reformulate their understanding of the Qur’an and Sunnah to justify their current efforts and forms of government rooted in modernity. Islamists, unlike the Muslim majority in the age of classical and contemporary Islam, have not propagated any of the four Sunni schools of law (Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki, Hanbali).

Rather, Islamists have prioritized politics over religion. Making religion subservient to politics is a priority that contradicts the views of the Muslim majority, and contradicts classical Sunni tradition. The sections below explain the matter in more detail.

For more than 1,000 years, classical Sunni Islam demonstrated a general separation of religion and state. Religious scholars guided the masses and served to keep the caliph in check, while the caliph was responsible for political and administrative functions, and ensuring the security of the territory. In other words, religion took precedence over politics. Islamists reversed classical Sunni priorities. To them, politics takes precedence over religion.

The upsetting of the religious scholar-and-ruler arrangement due to various internal and external factors occurred in the second half of the 1800s, which had profound and unprecedented effects on the political and religious landscapes. In particular, the Ottoman reform to codify the Shari’ah

“sought to transform Shariah from a body of doctrines and principles to be discovered by the human efforts of the scholars into a set of rules that could be looked up in a book.”[[iv]]

The codified law replaced the religious scholars and, according to Harvard scholar, Noah Feldman,

“took from the scholars their all-important claim to have the final say over the content of the law” and “transferred that power to the state.”[[v]]

While in the classical arrangement religious scholars generally had full religious authority, codification of the law took their long-held authority away, and restricted them to “family-law matters.”

The creation of a legislature in 1876 by the Ottoman Constitution – the “first democratic institution in the Muslim world” – that could have replaced the scholars as the “institutional balance to the executive,” was soon suspended (as was the Constitution later) by Sultan Abdulhamid II. With no scholars or legislature to keep the executive in check, “the sultan found himself in the position of near-absolute ruler,” which “set the pattern for government in the Muslim world after the Ottoman empire fell.” This paved the way for “dictatorship and other forms of executive dominance – the state of affairs confronted by the Islamists who seek to restore Shariah”[[vi]] (italics added).

However, seeking to restore the Shari’ah did not mean bringing the religious scholars back. Had Islamists wished to restore the classical Sunni arrangement, they would have done so, but did not. Religious scholars were marginalized or became coopted by governments, thus becoming “government scholars,” and, to a high degree, mouthpieces of the governments they worked in.

The long-held role of religious scholars throughout classical Sunni tradition changed profoundly. They were no longer as powerful as they had been, and no longer in charge of Shari’ah. The call for Shari’ah without religious scholars by Islamists took effect – an arrangement completely alien to classical Sunni tradition. The classical Sunni fabric of Shari’ah was altered.

The geo-political situation of the time brought major changes to traditional Sunni society. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed and World War-I ended, the Muslim world was under European imperial control, which brought further changes to the traditional makeup of Arab-Islamic society. In the words of Graham Fuller,

“Imperial rule quickly distorted the natural development of the Muslim world, dismantling traditional structures of leadership and governance, destroying traditional institutions, and upsetting cultural patterns, while failing to encourage organic development of native alternatives. Imperialism represented the wholesale export of foreign cultural instruments and structures to be imposed upon the East.”[[vii]]

Under the yoke of European colonialism and their puppet regimes, Arab populations continued to be controlled. Ethnic nationalism was at its peak in the Arab world under Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser in the 1950s and 1960s as a reaction and resistance to European neo-imperialism.

When Arab nationalism was seen as a failing effort, especially after the Arab defeat in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, “Islamic identity” replaced Arab nationalism from the 1970s onward. Ethnicity and religion, the two most common characteristics of the Arabs, were therefore used by Arabs as means to attain freedom and human rights.

In the view of the author, the shift from nationalistic to “Islamic” slogans did not represent a shift to a more religious, ideological society. Rather, religion was used as a means to achieve the same aims. That is why Islamist movements are better described as political rather than religious. Had religion been the primary interest of Islamists, as stated, they would have prioritized and re-established the power of the religious jurists. This did not happen. No Ayatollahs or Azharites are being called to run a government, and any role they may have is limited. Rather, independent theologians have continued to be marginalized, which is a trajectory away from Sunni Islam’s classical tradition, not towards it.

[[i]] Bruce B. Lawrence. Defenders of God: The Fundamentalist Revolt Against the Modern Age. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989. p.6.

[[ii]] Ghazi bin Muhammad. The Sacred Origin and Nature of Sports and Culture. Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 1998. p.36

[[iii]] M. Ayoob, op. cit.,pg. 15.

[[iv]] Noah Feldman, “Why Shariah?,” The New York Times, March 16, 2008, accessed May 22, 2013,

[[v]] Ibid.

[[vi]] Ibid.

[[vii]] Graham E. Fuller. A World Without Islam. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2010. p. 249.

– Osama bin Laden: Not an Islamic Role Model.

(© Zubair Qamar 2013)

Osama bin Laden (OBL) is now dead. But his image as a warrior of Islam held by an extremist minority needs to be examined more closely. Contrary to claims of his admirers, OBL did not display proper Islamic behavior in his daily personal life. Because OBL was seen as an icon by extremists, many did not delve deeply into the details of OBL’s life to verify whether the icon status they embraced truly illustrated Islamic behavior or not.

After a detailed reading of the book, “Growing Up bin Laden: Osama’s Wife and Son Take Us Inside Their Secret World,” by Omar bin Laden, Najwa bin Laden, and Jean Sasson, one has a chance to learn how exactly Bin Laden was. Two of the authors — Omar and Najwa — are close relatives: Omar is OBL’s son while Najwa is one of OBL’s wives. It is important to read what they wrote to grasp the reality of the man admired by so many terrorists, before his death and after.

Below are examples of OBL’s behavior that contradict the Qur’an, Sunnah, and sayings of Prophet Muhammad. This is the ultimate irony and contradiction as OBL, in his own words, said he did not like it when people disrespected Islam. Najwa said that OBL “…would occasionally comment on his disappointment in the politics of the world, and in particular on the fact that Islam was not held in greater respect” (p.25). The examples below illustrate that OBL did not respect Islam himself while he expected others to respect Islam. This should make those on the sidelines aware that OBL was never a proper Islamic role model.

OBL against females’ opinions

Najwa bin Laden said that her

“…husband was not one to welcome a female with opposing opinions” (p.20).

When Najwa was concerned about the possible physical danger OBL was in when she found out he went to Afghanistan, she said,

“Yet I did not dare complain, for my husband had made it abundantly clear that it was not my place to comment on anything outside our home” (p.32).

Omar did not agree with OBL’s actions

Omar said,

“Although I cannot simply order my heart to stop loving my father, I do not agree with his behavior. There are times that I feel my heart swell with anger at his actions, which have harmed many people, people he did not known, as well as members of his own family. As the son of Osamam bin Laden, I am truly sorry for all the terrible things that have happened, the innocent lives that have been destroyed, the grief that still lingers in many hearts” (p.41).

At least Omar apologized. Why was OBL not so apologetic about his actions?

OBL didn’t allow his children to go out much

Because of the dangerous situation OBL got them into,

“…he had been told that political opponents might kidnap one of his children or even murder members of his family.”

OBL’s solution to this was to keep his children like prisoners in the house. Omar said,

“We were not to be allowed to play outside, even in our own garden. After a few hours of halfhearted play in the hallways, my brothers and I would spend many long hours staring out the apartment windows, longing to join the many children we saw playing on the sidewalks, riding their bikes or skipping rope” (p.43).

OBL did not allow his family to use the air-conditioner or refrigerator 

Omar said,

“Although we lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which is one of the hottest and most humid cities in a country that is known for its hot climate, my father would not allow my mother to turn on the air-conditioning that the contractor had built into the apartment building.”

He continues,

“Neither would he allow her to use the refrigerator that was standing in the kitchen. My father announced, ‘Islamic beliefs are corrupted by modernization.’ Therefore, our food spoiled if we did not eat it on the day it was purchased. If my mother requested milk for her toddlers, my father had it delivered straight from cows kept on his family farm for just such a purpose” (p.43).

This is similar to a “self-proclaimed Saudi cleric,” states an article, who said that “women turn on air-conditioners at home in their husband’s absence could lead to moral depravities.”

But this is hypocritical of OBL because it was okay for him to own and enjoy the “latest Mercedes.” Omar said,

“Luckily he had purchased a new automobile, the latest Mercedes, because on that day he tested all its working parts. I’ve been told it was golden in color, something so beautiful that I imagine the vehicle as a golden carriage tearing through the wide palm-tree-lined boulevards of Jeddah” (pg.38).

Najwa said the same:

“In the beginning of our married life Osama was quite generous, but as time went on, he grew austere, believing that to be a good Muslim one must embrace simplicity. With this new way of thinking firmly in place, Osama decreed that our home furnishings should be plain, our clothing modest in number, and our food simple. The only area where Osama splurged was on his automobiles, which were always the latest models. Therefore, Osama’s wives and children never acquired the masses of household goods or personal items loved by many people of the modern world” (italics mine, pg.54).

OBL did not allow his family to use electrical stoves or heating systems

Omar said,

“Although we were allowed to use the electric lights in our villa, all were forbidden to use the refrigerators, electrical stoves, or the cooling or heating systems. Once again, our mother and aunties were forced to cook meals for their large families on portable gas burners. And, with Sudan’s hot climate, all suffered without air-conditioning” (p.115).

This extremist argument against “modernization” is rooted in Wahhabism, and is why early Wahhabis considered the use of watches and other technology forbidden.

This, however, irked some of his so-called Salafi mujahideen. Omar said,

“I overheard some of his faithful Mujahideen quietly complaining because they were not allowed to use the modern conveniences either. Those men had lived a harsh warrior’s life for too many years, and saw no reason for needless suffering when surrounded by modern conveniences” (p.115).

OBL did not give his children money for food at school

Osama did not even allow his children to have money, even for snacks at school! Omar said,

“Our father was of the opinion that his children should never be given money, not even for school snacks. We needed pocket money for basics, but he said, ‘No. You need to suffer. Hunger pangs will not hurt you.’

Omar then reflected on how different his father was from other fathers:

“Improbably, our father was different from so many fathers who wanted nothing but the best for their children. Our father appeared to relish seeing us suffer, reminding us that it was good for us to know what it felt like to be hungry or thirsty, to do without while others had plenty. Why?” (p.116).

Of course Osama’s children could not protest. Omar said,

“His was an opinion that found no agreement with his sons, but of course, we were not allowed to oppose our father. If we protested, there was no possibility for a calm discussion between a father and son; instead, he would quietly order us to stand to be beaten” (p.116).

Osama finally succumbed after the many complaints. Well, succumbed in a certain way. Omar said,

“After hearing numerous complaints, my father finally purchased a supply of small hand fans made from woven grass, which the Sudanese sold in the open market. I had to stifle my laughter watching those high-ranking visitors frantically fanning the warm air around their heads and bodies” (p.g115).

But I am curious about one thing: Is not the “latest Mercedes” that Osama thought was okay for himself a product of “modernization”? OBL considered himself immune to “corruption” from modernity. If it is okay for him to use modern and technological products, why is it not okay for his wives and children to use them? This is genuine hypocrisy.

OBL had forbidden his children from playing with toys

Omar said,

“…toys were forbidden, no matter how much we might beg” (43).

Even when Omar’s Uncle bought many toys for them on the Happy day of Eid, OBL showed no understanding. Omar said,

“Then one day one of my father’s half-brothers arrived unexpedtedly at our farm, his vehicle stuffed with toys! Never had we been so excited. For us, it was Eid (a Muslim holiday similar to Christian Christmas celebrations) a hundred times over! My father hid his anger from his brother, but not from us, remaining annoyed until all those toys were destroyed” (p.44).

Children liked it when OBL was not around

When OBL was injured in a game he was playing with his children, he was unable to return to Pakistan at that time. Omar said,

“My brothers were annoyed with me, for they had grown to dislike my father’s presence in Jeddah. They wanted him to return to Pakistan, for they said he was too strict when he was around us” (pg.45).

Omar also said,

“When I was a child, I wanted nothing more than my father’s companionship and approval. But those years had long passed. Although I still revered my father and desired his approval, I was no longer in need of his companionship. After giving the matter much thought, a sad reality struck me. My older brothers had spoken a truth I could not deny: Life was more agreeable when my father was far, far away” (p.73).

OBL showed little to no affection towards his children

Omar said,

“You might have guessed by now that my father was not an affectionate man. He never cuddled with me or my brothers. I tried to force him to show affection, and was told that I made a pest of myself. Whne he was home, I remained near, pulling attention-gaining pranks as frequently as I dared” (p.45).

OBL used to cane his children

Omar said,

“Nothing sparked his fatherly warmth. In fact, my annoying behavior encouraged him to start carrying his signature cane. As time passed, he began caning me and my brothers for the slightest infraction” (p.45).

Omar later said,

“He reserved all the harsh treatment for his sons” (pg.46).

One time when Omar tried to get OBL’s attention, OBL commanded all of his sons to gather together and to see him. Instead of playing a game with them or making them happy, Omar said,

“Shame, anguish, and terror surged throughout my body as he raised his cane and began to walk the human line, beating each of his sons in turn. A small lump ballooned in my throat” (p.46).

Omar then said,

“My father never raised his soft voice as he reprimanded my brothers, striking them with the cane as his words kept cadence[…].”  When it was Omar’s turn to be beaten, Omar said, “I was in the greatest anguish when he paused before me. I was very small at the time and to my childish eyes, he appeared taller than the trees. Despite the fact I had witnessed him beating my brothers, I could not believe that my father was going to strike me with that heavy cane….But he did” (p.47).

At another time, Omar said,

“His wooden can was his favorite weapon, but there were times he became so excited when hitting his sons that his heavy can broke into two pieces. When the can snapped, he rushed to grab one of our sandals by the door, using that to bash us” (p.116).

He continues,

“It was not unusual for the sons of Osama bin Laden to be covered with raised welts on our backs and legs” (p.116).

OBL should have known that Prophet Muhammad said,

“He is not of us (the one) who does not have mercy on our young children, nor honor our elderly.” (Narrated by Tirmidhi)

It is well-known that Prophet Muhammad never beat his children, spouses, or animals. OBL did not emulate Islam’s Prophet but was loyal to his Wahhabism-Salafism instead.

hadith, or saying of Prophet Muhammad, reported by Bukhari and Muslim describes a bedouin who saw the Prophet kiss his (the Prophet’s) grandson. This surprised the bedouin who responded,

“I have ten children, and I have never kissed any of them.”

Prophet Muhammad responded,

“He who does not spread mercy will not find mercy.”

OBL could have learned a lesson from the example of the Prophet had he cared about the Prophet’s example.

OBL’s children felt unimportant by their father 

Omar said,

“Now that I am an adult, I believe that perhaps my father had too many children at too young an age. Or perhaps he was so entangled with his war work that our importance failed to register against such a massive cause as fighting the Russians” (p.47).

OBL had forbidden his children from taking medicine, including asthma medication

Omar said,

“As we all discovered, my father had a lot of unusual ideas about what he called the ‘evils of modern life.’

He then said,

“For example, my brothers and I all suffered from asthma and had endured many serious bouts during our youth, particularly while playing sports in the hot desert climate. On a number of occasions, I had been rushed to the hospital and connected to oxygen. Concerned that my brothers and I were repeat asthma patients, the doctors advised our father to keep a supply of Ventolin on hand and to have his children use an inhaler, but my father was adamant that we not take modern prescription drugs, no matter how serious our affliction” (pg.60).

Omar continued,

“Regarding all things except modern transportation, our father decreed that we must live just as the Prophet had lived whenever possible. Since modern medicines were unknown in those ancient days, my father refused all modern medical treatment” (p.60).

Omar then explained what OBL thought was the best treatment for asthma:

“His recommended treatment for asthma was for us to break off a piece of honeycomb and breathe through the comb. This did little good, but still our father would not relent, first making his claim about the life of the Prophet, then warning us that Ventolin would destroy our lungs” (p.60).

Omar described the extreme discomfort he went through as a result of OBL’s extreme and exaggerated perspective against things modern – except his valuable car collection, of course. Omar said,

“Often I felt as though I was struggling to breathe through a straw, but unless death came knocking, my suffering was ignored. When Abdullah grew older, he heard about Ventolin and sneaked and purchased a supply. He gave me permission to use his inhaler” (p.60).

Abdullah was one of Omar’s brothers who pitied him. Omar continued,

“I did so at the onset of the next attack. After two puffs, my life was transformed. Mother eventually discovered that we were disobeying our father’s orders by using inhalers, but thankfully she never reported our defiance to our father. Mother only cared that we were no longer suffering” (p.60).

OBL gave very little water to his children 

Omar said,

“From the time we were toddlers, he demanded that we be given very little water. As we grew older, he reinforced the importance of drinking water only when absolutely necessary” (p.61).

Omar also said,

“His harshest ruling was that we could not drink any water until we returned from our hike. We were told that we should not even ‘think’ about water. Of course, anyone knows that walking in the desert dangerously depletes the body of liquids. In fact, the government tells visitors to the deserts of Saudi Arabia to consume as much water as they can” (p.61).

OBL didn’t allow his kids to tell jokes or laugh 

Omar said,

“We were not allowed to tell jokes. We were ordered not to express joy over anything. He did say that he would allow us to smile so long as we did not laught. If were to lose control of our emotions and bark a laugh, we must be careful not to expose our eyeteeth. I have been in situations where my father actually counted the exposed teeth, reprimanding his sons on the number their merriment had reveled” (p.62).

Negative effects of OBL’s fanaticism on children 

Omar said,

“The older sons of Osamam bin Laden were all adversely affected by our father’s fanaticism. As a child, Abdullah, the firstborn son, never sought friendships with other boys, preferring a solitary life” (pp.62-63).

Omar then talks about another brother:

“My next brother, Abdul Rahman, born in 1978, was  a solitary personality, often sitting on his own and staring without purpose. I remember when he was a young boy, he would go on a wild frenzy of activity, destroying household items or perhaps seeking tamer pursuits, such as playing with pieces of paper for hours on end” (p.63).

OBL exposed his children to danger 

Jean Sasson, in “A Note Regarding Osama bin Laden’s Political Activities”, said,

“Osama introduced his firstborn son, Abdullah, to the conflict in Afghanistan, bringing him to the fighting camp in Jaji, where the young boy was exposed to great danger. Osama received unexpected criticism from his family and other Jihadi leaders, including Abdullah Azzam, for doing so, yet it was only the first of many instances Osama would push his unenthusiastic sons to the forefront of his personal passion for Jihad” (p.77).

OBL’s unreasonable behavior against Saudi Government when OBL’s offer to defend the kingdom against a possible Iraqi invasion was rejected 

Omar said,

“Of course, I know now that my father initiated a quarrel with the royal family. Although they calmly and wisely attempted to defuse the squabble, my stubborn father rebuffed their appeals for rational dialogue, magnifying his complaints until a small sore finally festered into an ulcerated boil. His attacks became so unreasonable that the royal family finally threw up their hands in exasperation. Prince Naif, the minister of the interior, informed my father that he was forbidden to leave the kingdom. In Saudi Arabia, such a government action is generally the first step to losing one’s freedom. Was prison in my father’s future” (p.85).

OBL’s stubbornness to react strongly against the Saudi Government due to their refusal of his offer to defend the Kingdom with ex-mujahideen and instead opting for the Americans to offer this defense led to difficulties and endangerment to his own family. OBL’s impatience and stubbornness, permeated with anger – all counter to Islam — and his resulting opposition to the Saudi royal family put his entire future at peril. Omar said,

“My father’s elder brothers struggled to bring him to a place of peace, reminding him of the loyalty our family owed the royal family, but my father was immovable, refusing to modify his activities” (p.85).

Osama negatively affected his family, and

“[w]hen he became disgruntled, his displeasure trickled down through the family circle to every wife and every child” (p.85).

Leaving no stone unturned, with his mind far from rational thinking, Osama told Omar’s mother, her two daughters, and Abdul Rehman for a

“…long holiday with her parents and siblings in Syria” (p.85).

In other words, Osama broke up his family. To make matters worse, Omar said,

“Then one day my father simply disappeared without telling us anything” (p.85).

Omar later says,

“We waited for my father’s return, but we waited in vain. When my mother returned from Syria, the family was further informed that our father was never coming back and we were leaving as well” (p.85).

Osama made a mountain out of a molehill, left without saying anything to anyone, and then surprised the family with the news that they were moving too. Osama’s opposition to Saudi royalty had no bounds. He exaggerated, left the country, and dragged his family wherever his rash behavior took him. Didn’t Osama know he would be accountable for his exaggerated actions? Osama didn’t even think about the hurt feelings his children would have from leaving Saudi. It was basically an overnight order to get out with little preparation to move to Sudan.

The Saudi Government still tried to calm the situation even after Osama and his family had moved to Sudan. Omar said the Saudi Government

“…continued to make attempts to convince him to return to the kingdom” (p.126).

The Saudi Government went as far as offering Osama government jobs. Clearly the Saudis had a willingness to make peace and return matters to normal. Omer said,

“My father even confided that the royal family had offered him several high government positions. The only requirements were for him to cease his criticisms of the royal family, give up his militant activities, and return to live peacefully in the country of his birth.”

Omar then said,

“My father was an uncommonly stubborn man, scorning the generous offer” (p.126).

Just when Osama had a chance to bring things back to normal, if not for his own sake, then for the sake of his family, Osama ego refused. And still… the Saudi Government tried to persuade him even after that. Omar said,

“Later, various high-ranking princes had visited, urging him to return to the peace he could find in Saudi Arabia. Even bin Laden family members were sent to persuade my father that he was on a dangerous path. My father loved his family and did not become angry with them, saying that they had no choice but to along with the royal family, but his answer was a disappointing and unfailing no” (p.126-127).

One can see that the Saudis were really keen on mending ties, surely for mainly political reasons, though Osama and his family could have benefited immensely from it. They could have lived a life of peace and security – a life of devotion and worship to Allah Almighty without fear of someone assassinating them. It was a losing effort. The Saudis tried one last ditch effort to get Osama to forgive and forget. Omar said,

“As a last resort, King Fahd sent word for my father to expect a personal telephone call from the king himself. My father refused to take his call, which is a great insult in our part of the world. No one refuses an order from the king!” (p.127).

And that was it. Omar said,

“After that, the former friendly relationship between my father and the Saudi royal family was completely destroyed” (p.127).

What Omar said after that clearly explains the conundrum Osama’s children and his wives were in:

“I thought to myself that my father was busily covering himself in thorns so thick that no one would be able to cut through to help him, or to help his innocent family, who had no voice in any of his decisions” (p.127).

OBL’s bizarre ways of attempting to have his family have strong and resilient characters 

The family is now in Sudan and Osama’s strange behavior doesn’t cease. He somehow thinks making his family go through hell will strengthen their characters. Najwa said,

“One day Osama informed us that the state of the world had brought him to the conclusion that his wives and daughters must also be trained to become patient and courageous” (p.99).

It’s a pity Osama had such a low perspective of his own family and such a high opinion of himself – someone capable of giving them what he supposedly had. But his lack of character was what led him, and his family, to Sudan. So what “character” lessons was he teaching the family anyway? But the strangeness of his lessons is explained well by Najwa who had to endure his troublesome lessons. Najwa said,

“He came up with plans to help all the members of his family achieve strong, resilient characters. How he thought of those unique ideas remains a mystery to me.”

The idea?

“While the wives and daughters watched,”

Najwa said,

“Osama directed the biggest and strongest boys to use the digging tools to excavate hollows large enough for a human to stretch out lengthwise when sleeping.”

Osama later said,

“Each one of you will sleep alone in a dirt hole.”

This is insanity and ignoring the dangers involved as well as Najwa’s fear of snakes. How about foxes? And the possibly harmful insects? How about the cold night temperature? And everyone obeyed Osama’s ridiculous idea obediently? Not all. Najwa said,

“I heard a soft voice complain about the night chill.”

Then she said,

“Osama advised the complainer to ‘cover yourself with dirt or grass.’ He paused, then called out from his hole, ‘You will become warm under what nature provides.’”

But that was it. The alternative, especially for the wives to question him, would have been a bad idea. Unquestioning obedience was in order, no matter how outlandish the orders from Osama were.

OBL had many wives and big family but didn’t prioritize them

OBL had many wives and children and didn’t uphold his attention and responsibilities towards them. He let his anger and impractical lifestyle victimize his wives and children. Their general obedience to Osama’s orders made them bear the pain and suffering throughout, exposing them to high risk of injury or death, and led them in a direction that opposes the Qur’an and Sunnah. Osama stole the joy of his children, at the end separating himself completely from almost the entire family, and, while being killed, had his son killed in the process. He left his wives widowed, left his living sons without a father, and made his family and bigger bin Laden family name scorned by the world. Even when he was alive for almost a decade after he escaped Tora Bora in Afghanistan, he left most of his family stranded to fend for themselves while he upheld the priority of hiding. In other words, he had a big family that he eventually abandoned or influenced them with his twisted understanding of Islam.

– Exaggerating “Ideology” in Islamist Movements.

(© Zubair Qamar 2013)

Exaggerating “Ideology”

The “ideological” dimension has been exaggerated by many so-called counter-terrorism experts. For example, Patrick Sookhdeo in Fighting the Ideological War says,

“Western discourse must discredit arguments that Islam is under attack from the West while delegitimizing Islamism by presenting it as a totalitarian political ideology detrimental to Muslims” (p.41).

Sookhdeo also says,

“As Arab countries throw off the yoke of authoritarian and dictatorial governments, so political Islam has begun to shape their societies with a new totalitarianism” (p.43).

Indeed, “experts” like Sookhdeo exaggerate the role of ideology in Islamist movements, just as a group of scholars exaggerate the role of ideology in the Cold War.

While ideology is undoubtedly important in the battle against Islamism, classifying the enemy as loyally and inflexibly ideological is not always realistic.

Stefan Durand says,

“Islamist movements make an instrument of religion and try to use it as an ideology, but they do not intend to create ‘a new man,’ as was the case in fascist Europe.”

He further says,

“They propound archaic religious and social precepts rather than an overall coherent ideology. The popular success of these movements is often due to factors unconnected with ideology”.[[1]]

Recent events have shown that the majority of Islamists today – those who wish to attain power through peaceful elections – are more flexible and pragmatic than Islamists of only a few decades ago. Time has demonstrated that inflexible adherence to ideology may be in retreat.

Olivier Roy, commenting on the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood when it came to power before being toppled, says,

“While the Muslim Brotherhood may finally have come to power, it is at the expense of its own ideology,”

and says,

“The ‘failure of political Islam’ is not the political failure of the Islamists; it is the collapse of Islamism as a political ideology.” [[2]]

Being overly focused on ideology may lead to neglecting other important characteristics of Islamist movements.

Of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Brynjar Lia says,

“While not denying the importance of ideology, it seems appropriate to look for characteristics and qualities other than just ideological particularities when searching for…reasons behind the Society’s remarkable expansion in the 1930s” (p.14)[[3]]

Furthermore, Mark Fallon, head of the International Association of Police Chiefs, and former counterintelligence official, who “oversaw the prosecution of dozens of high-level terror suspects” and conducted a study of “hundreds of ex-terrorists,” says the most common matter in the study’s findings

“is that the trigger that turns someone to violence is a very personal one and is usually based on local conditions. The global environment is used to recruit these people, but it’s generally some local condition or individual event in that person’s life that turns them.”

He then says,

It wasn’t about ideology; it wasn’t about theology; it was about identity” (italics added).[[4]]

Post-Islamism Dilutes Ideology

Some scholars describe Islamists today, especially after the Arab Spring, as going through a post-Islamist phase. Post-Islamism,[[5]] originally coined and described by Asef Bayat in reference to reforms in Iran, and later applied to Islamists by European and other scholars,

“…represents an endeavour to fuse religiosity and rights, faith and freedom, Islam and liberty. It is an attempt to turn the underlying principles of Islamism on its head by emphasizing rights instead of duties, plurality in place of a singular authoritative voice, historicity rather than fixed scriptures, and the future instead of the past. It wants to marry Islam with individual choice and freedom, with democracy and modernity (something post-Islamists stress), to achieve what some have termed an ‘alternative modernity.’”

Bayat further says,

“Post-Islamism is expressed in terms of secular exigencies, in freedom from rigidity,”


“in breaking down the monopoly of religious truth.”

If Islamists are going through a post-Islamist transformation, then Islamists are being influenced and molded by exigencies of the secular world, and not vice-versa, as the authors seem to suggest. This ‘softens’ the “totalitarian” element in their character as they tailor their views to the wants of a rights-demanding society.

Ghaffar Hussain says,

“Post-Islamists are Islamists mugged by reality”

and the

“emergence of post-Islamism should be welcomed because it signals the failure of classical Islamism and teaches us that most people in the region are not motivated by ideology, instead preferring practical politics.”

He continues,

“In the long-term post-Islamism will also weaken the more extreme elements who are still dreaming of creating a totalitarian theocracy.”[[6]]

Responding to the Arab Spring, author Arshin Adib-Moghaddam says,

“What is slowly being engineered is an Islam that is geared to cultural emancipation, rather than ideological indoctrination.”[[7]]

Commenting on the lack of progress of the Islamist regimes since the Arab Spring began, former visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institute, Khalil al-Anani, says,

“…the most visible result of Islamists’ failure is the “desacralization” of their ideology,”

which means

“Islamism, as a religious and political ideology, is increasingly losing its credibility and symbolic power.”

Commenting on the Islamist experiment of governance, he says,

“After two years in power, such a state has proven to be nothing but a mere “mirage”


“…while Islamist parties are ascending, their ideology, ‘Islamism,’ is surprisingly descending.”

He concludes by saying,

“If the Arab Spring would tell us something after two years of torturous transition, it is that Islamism is yet another ‘illusive’ ideology that can’t preserve its credibility and salvation power without fulfilling peoples’ aspirations which may put Islamists’ future at stake.”[[8]]

Of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions of the Arab Spring, Islam scholar Olivier Roy says the demonstrators,

“…are operating in a secular political space, and they do not see in Islam an ideology capable of creating a better world.”[[9]]

Marc Sageman, former CIA psychologist and terrorism scholar who conducted studies on terrorists, concluded,

“[T]errorists in Western Europe and North America were not intellectuals or ideologues, much less religious scholars. It is not about how they think, but how they feel.”[[10]]

As stated, the protestors are largely non-ideological as well. Author and expert Fawaz Gerges says,

“On the whole, the revolts are peaceful, non-ideological, post-Islamist, and led by the embattled middle class, including a coalition of men and women of all ages and political colors: liberal-leaning centrists, democrats, leftists, nationalists, and Islamists.”

In addition,

“Clerics and mullahs are not key drivers; there is no Ayatollah Khomeini waiting in the wings to hijack the revolution and to seize power.”[[11]]

He also says that

“the revolutions have reinforced what many of us have already known: al-Qaeda’s core ideology is incompatible with the universal aspirations of the Arabs.”[[12]]

Recently in May 2013, Emad Abdel Ghafour, a Salafi adviser to former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, said he “had no problem” with Egypt’s peace with Israel.[[13]]

Even Salafis are being molded by the new social-political realities of the day.

Al-Qa’eda Beyond Ideology

Author and former FBI agent, Ali Soufan, who investigated the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in East Africa and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, said,

“…al-Qaeda’s rhetoric is not an ideology; it’s anti-American narrative” (italics added).[[14]]

In other examples, ideology does not always appear to be the motivator of actions of certain well-known militants.

Fawaz Gerges who had interviewed some of Zawahiri’s former cohorts in Egypt, Yemen, and other places in the late 1990s, says,

“The consensus was that pressing financial and operational circumstances forced his” – Zawahiri’s – “hand and caused him to join bin Laden’s front, a tactical move to rescue his sinking ship.”[[15]]

Some cohorts said,

“Zawahiri had no genuine interest in transnational jihad” and used the World Islamic Front to fight the “near enemy.’”[[16]]


“at the end of the Afghan war in 1989, none of the leading figures – neither Azzam, Fadl, Zawahiri, nor bin Laden – called for targeting the United States,”


“at this stage, none of the important voices advocated an armed confrontation with the West.”[[17]]

Gerges further notes,

“Although there is no single explanation for bin Laden’s antipathy to America, the Gulf War and its aftermath, particularly the stationing of troops in Saudi Arabia, were primary.”[[18]]

Had ideology been the primary cause of their animosity towards the United States and its allies, why did they not express their ideological opposition towards the “infidels” earlier?

Terrorism expert, Jessica Stern, says,

“Terrorist movements often arise in reaction to a perceived injustice, as a means to right some terrible wrong, real or imagined. Yet ideology is not the only, or even the most important, factor in an individual’s decision to join a terrorist group.”

Stern continues,

“In interviewing terrorists, I have found that operatives are often more interested in the expression of a collective identity than they are in the group’s stated goals.”

She concludes,

This understanding – that ideology is not the only, or even the principal, reason that individuals are drawn to terrorist groups – needs to be incorporated into our counter-terrorism efforts, especially when we consider counter-radicalization” (italics added). [[19]]

The exaggeration of the role of ideology in Islamist movements has resulted in a myopic view of the terrorist threat by Islamophobes who appear to see most issues through a religion-ideology lens. This distorted view has caused them to create an unrealistic narrative that amalgamates everything “Islamic,” historically and contemporarily, as a single, fixed, and unchanging entity.

It is time to focus on other factors of extremist movements other than ideology to truly understand and win the war against extremists of all stripes.

[[1]] Stefan Durand, “The lie that is ‘islamofascism,’” Le Monde Diplomatique, November 2006, accessed May 20, 2013,

[[2]] Olivier Roy, “Debate: There Will Be No Islamist Revolution,” Journal of Democracy 24:1 (Jan.2013): 14-19, accessed May 23, 2013,

[[3]] Brynjar Lia. The Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt: The Rise of an Islamic Mass Movement, 1928-1942. Reading, England: Ithaca Press, 1998. p.2.

[[4]] Doug Saunders. The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West?. New York: Vintage Books, 2012. p.104. Saunders cited from Interview from Council on Foreign Relations: Masters, Jonathan. Interview with Mark Fallon. Radicalization and U.S. Muslims, March 11, 2011, accessed June 2, 2013,

[[5]] Asef Bayat says, “The categories “Islamism” and “post-Islamism” serve primarily as theoretical constructs to signify change, difference, and the root of change. In practice, however, Muslims may adhere simultaneously to aspects of both discourses. The advent of post-Islamism does not necessarily mean the historical end of Islamism. What it means is the birth, out of the Islamist experience, of a qualitatively different discourse and politics. In reality we may witness for some time the simultaneous processes of both Islamization and post-Islamization.” (Asef Bayat, “What is Post-Islamism?” ISIM Review 16 (Autumn 2005): 518–542, accessed May 22, 2013, doi: 10.1080/09546550802257226,

[[6]] Ghaffar, Hussain, “Post-Islamists in the Arab World (or, Islamists Mugged by Reality),” The Guardian, November 12, 2011, accessed May 24, 2013,

[[7]] Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, “Do Tunisian Elections Mark Shift to ‘Post-Modernised Islam?’” CNN Opinion, October 28, 2011, accessed May 25, 2013,

[[8]] Khalil, al-Anani, “Desacrilization of Islamism,” Foreign Policy, February 11, 2013, accessed May 23, 2013,

[[9]] Olivier, Roy, “This is Not an Islamic Revolution,” New Statesman, February 15, 2011, accessed May 26, 2013,

[[10]] Marc Sageman. Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-first Century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. pp. 156-57

[[11]] Fawaz A. Gerges. The Rise and Fall of Al-Qaeda. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. pp.17-18.

[[12]] Ibid., p.5.

[[13]] Elhanan, Miller, “Morsi’s Salafist Adviser: ‘We Have No Problem With the Peace with Israel,’” The Times of Israel, May 26, 2013, accessed June 5, 2013,

[[14]] Interview from Council on Foreign Relations: Masters, Jonathan. Interview with Ali Soufan. Islamist Extremism After the Arab Spring, September 14, 2012, accessed June 1, 2013,

[[15]] F. Gerges, op. cit.,p.36.

[[16]] Ibid., p.37.

[[17]] Ibid., p.46.

[[18]] Ibid., p.49.

[[19]] Jessica, Stern, “What Motivates Terrorists?” January 21, 2011, accessed May 21, 2013,

– The Myth of a “Global Caliphate”.

(© Zubair Qamar 2013)

A July 2012 study that examined the most frequently cited or quoted verses in the Qur’an from over 2,000 extremist texts from 1998 to 2011 in the Center for Strategic Communication’s database concluded that

“…verses extremists cite from the Qur’an do not suggest an aggressive offensive foe seeking domination and conquest of unbelievers, as is commonly assumed. Instead they deal with themes of victimization, dishonor, and retribution. This shows close integration with the rhetorical vision of Islamist extremists.”[[1]]

The study further says,

“Based on this analysis we recommend that the West abandon claims that Islamist extremists seek world domination, focus on counteracting or addressing claims of victimage, emphasize alternative means of deliverance, and work to undermine the “champion” image sought by extremists”[[2]] (italics added by reviewer).

While a 2007 poll in four countries (Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia) showed majority support “to unify all Islamic countries into a single Islamic state or caliphate,” this does not mean a Taliban-like state. The same poll showed that the majority favored “a democratic political system” to govern their country, as well as “freedom to practice any religion.”[[3]]

Another poll of Arab countries from 2004 to 2010 by Telhami, an Israeli-Arab scholar, concluded that only 7 percent of Arabs polled in both years “embraced Al Qaeda because of its aims to establish a Taliban-like Islamic state.”[[4]]

Another poll – the world’s biggest Gallup Poll of Muslims worldwide – concluded that Muslims

“wanting Sharia involved in politics does not translate into Muslims wanting theocracy. Majorities in many countries remarked that they do not want religious leaders to hold direct legislative or political power.”


“[M]any Muslims desire neither a democracy or theocracy, but instead a unique model incorporating both democratic and religious principles.”[[5]]

The type of “caliphate,” therefore, would be a moderate one that does not represent the kind of caliphate a minority of extremists would like, nor what classical Sunni Islam represents, but more similar to what the United States is like. Mohammed Habib, a former deputy general guide of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood,

“underscores that the real goal of the Muslim Brotherhood is to bring about either a structure that resembles that of the US government or one that is looser but nevertheless a confederation, with a constitution and a leader.”[[6]]

Islamophobes’ warnings of a threat of an extremist global caliphate that reigns supreme and subjugates non-Muslims are therefore more imaginary and doom-laden than realistic. Kamal El Helbawy, a former steering committee member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood who left the Brotherhood in 2012,

“insists that it is wrong to say that the absolute goal of the Muslim Brotherhood is to bring about any sort of caliphate.”[[7]]

Even if they did establish a caliphate, contrary to extremists, it would not be one that unites the Muslims, because the Muslim Brotherhood is not united at the regional or global levels, and most Muslims do not subscribe to the Salafi understanding of Islam. Juan Cole says,

“The Brotherhood is a decentralized organization even in Egypt. It is not organized internationally. The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan…is essentially a different organization from its Egyptian counterpart. Hamas has its distant origins in Brotherhood proselytizing in the 1930s, but it takes no orders from Cairo. Other political groups with a Muslim Brotherhood genealogy include the Iraqi Islamic Party, which cooperated with George W. Bush’s invasion of and administration of Iraq.”[[8]]

Where is the “Totalitarian” Program? Matching Rhetoric with Action

In spite of their rhetoric, Islamists have generally been oblivious to how society ought to be governed according to Islamic Law. While a range of Islamists are now experimenting with governance after the Arab Spring, no planned program of governance has materialized that incorporates the full spectrum of Islamic Law, including its controversial aspects. Rather, Islamists are learning that Islamic Law can only expand within the confines of the current social-political milieu. Ideology in this sense, as scholar Olivier Roy describes, is

“more an emotional and vague narrative than a blueprint for ruling.”

To Roy, it is yet another reason why the continued “failure of political Islam” persists.

Likewise, Asef Bayat, author of Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East, says,

“Al-Qa’eda intrinsically lacks any sort of social and political program and thus is unlikely to succeed in mobilizing a concerted national dissent against a concrete national state” (p.238).

The seriousness with which Islamists claim to want an “Islamic State” seems to be lacking, in spite their rhetoric, slogans, and symbols.

When author and scholar, Fawaz Gerges, asked Kamal al-Said Habib, a top former leader of the al-Jihad terrorist organization in Egypt, if al-Jihad was “truly prepared to establish a viable Islamic government,” Habib replied,

“Thank God, we did not win, because we would have constructed a state along the same authoritarian lines as the ones existing in the Muslim world. We had no vision or an intellectual framework of what a state is or how it functions and how it should be administered, except that it should express and approximate the Islamic ideal. While I cannot predict that our state would have been totalitarian, we had little awareness of the challenges that needed to be overcome.”

Indeed the Islamists’ rhetoric of creating an “Islamic state” has always been louder than action. They would need to adapt to the needs of society in a more sophisticated and informed manner for any possibility of surviving.

Harvard scholar, Noah Feldman, attributes the ignorance of a blueprint for society by Islamists partly because Islamists are usually not religious scholars:

“The Islamists would…like to acknowledge what they refer to as God’s ‘sovereignty.’ But without the scholars to fulfill the role of authorized interpreters of God’s law, the Islamists find themselves in difficulties when they try to explain how and why Islamic law should govern.”

Feldman continues,

“For most of the last century, Islamist literature has basically avoided dealing with the issue. It presents Islamic law as a promising source for social salvation, with no serious attempt made to explain, constitutionally or theologically, what would justify its adoption and implementation.”

Had setting up an Islamic State been so important to most Islamist groups, why did they not give religious scholars the highest priority to advise the government on how its set-up should be? Rather, the religious scholars have been marginalized by Islamist governments, which illustrates that Islamists are not concerned about creating an Islamic State, in spite of their rhetoric.

If Islamists in general are unsure, unclear, and seemingly unserious about establishing an Islamic State, much less a  global caliphate, their claims should be interpreted as mere saber-rattling rhetoric without genuine substance.  

[[1]] Jeffry R. Halverson et al., “How Extremists Quote the Quran.” Center for Strategic Communication, Arizona State University.

[[2]] Ibid.

[[3]] Steven Kull et al., “Muslim Public Opinion on US Policy, Attacks on Civilians and al Qaeda.” International Policy Attitudes Program, University of Maryland. April 24, 2007.

[[4]] S. Telhami, op. cit.,p.117.

[[5]] J. Esposito and D. Mogahed, op. cit., pg.5.

[[6]] C. Onal, op. cit.

[[7]] Cumali, Onal, “Goal of Muslim Brotherhood Not to Bring Back Caliphate,” Today’s Zaman, September 16, 2012, accessed May 25 2013,

[[8]] Juan, Cole, May 15, 2013 (6:25 p.m.), “Fear Not the Muslim Brotherhood Boogeyman,” Juan Cole’s Columns –Truthdig, February 15, 2011,