(© 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
“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
“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.”
“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
“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
“…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
“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
“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).
“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.
A 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
“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
“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).
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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.”
“While the wives and daughters watched,”
“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.