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Thursday, May 5th 2011


Osama bin Laden, R.I.P.

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: On the Road Again

Osama bin LadenWhat happens to Osama now is between him and Allah.  Given the interpretation that many Muslims gave to his actions after 9-11, to which he finally owned up with pride, he does not seem to have much of a chance.  Actually, he would probably have a better chance if we used "Allah" in a totally generic sense as "God" and included the God of the Bible, Who sent His Son to die for Osama's sins as well as mine and yours, but--to the best of my knowledge--he never trusted Christ to receive that free salvation.  Instead he killed people on behalf of a radical version of Islam that is generally rejected by most Muslims.  

I wonder: Over the last few years I have mentioned off and on that the ideology motivating Osama bin Laden was not Islam in general, nor Hanifite Islam, nor its adaptation by the Wahhabite movement, but the Qutbist movement, originated by Seyyid Qutb.  I have recommended that folks should read Milestones, Qutb's blueprint for converting the world to Islam. Has anybody done so over that time?  It is essential to understand what al-Qaeda is all about.  Please read Milestones !!!

Here's a point of difference between Qutbism and other contemporary schools of Islam that should make the distinction pretty clear.  Have you discussed with a Muslim lately the idea that "Islam was spread by the sword"?  Chances are that, if you bring up that idea, your Muslim acquaintance will go to intense lengths to say that it is not true;

  • this is a lie spread by Westerners to discredit Islam.  
  • Islam is a peaceful religion, they will claim.  
  • The Qur'an says (2:256): "Let there be no compulsion. In religion: truth stands out."
  • Jihad refers first and foremost to inner spiritual striving.
  • Islam allows warfare only in defense of al-umma, the community.
  • The early Muslims did not have to fight on behalf of Islam because they were readily welcomed by most everyone.
  • And so forth  

In short, they resist the notion that Islam was spread by violence. Here is how Hammudah Abdalati, a 20th century Muslim writer, summarizes the early spread of Islam:

The Qur'an says invite (sic) to the way of God by wisdom and beautiful preaching, and argue in the most gracious manner. But who was there prepared to listen to the peaceful call of God? . . . The early experience of Arabia taught the Muslims that it is more effective to be peaceful and at the same time stand on guard;  that you can move in peace only when you are strong enough to guard your peace; that your voice of peace would echo better when you are able to resist pressure and eliminate oppression.

Now they had, by the order of God, to make Islam known to the outside world, but there was no telecommunication system or press or any other mass medium of communication. There was only one course to take, namely, personal and direct contacts, which meant that they had to cross the borders. But they could not do that in small or unarmed groups. So they had to move in large protected groups which must have appeared like an army, but was not an army in the real sense. They crossed the borders in various directions at different times. What took place then deserves consideration. In some areas they were warmly welcomed by the natives, who had long been oppressed and subjugated by the foreign powers of Rome and Persia. In some other areas they were first to offer Islam to those who were prepared to accept it, and there were many. Those who did not embrace Islam were asked to pay tributes equivalent to the Islamic tax (Zakah). . . .

Those who rejected Islam and refused to pay tributes in collaboration with other sectors to support their state made it hard for themselves. They resorted to a hostile course from the beginning, and meant to create trouble, not so much for the new Muslim comers as for the new Muslim converts and their compatriots, the tribute payers. In a national sense, that attitude was treacherous; in the human sense, mean; in a social sense, careless; and in a military sense, provocative. But in a practical sense it needed suppression, not so much for the comfort of the newcomers as for the sake of the state in which these very traitors were living. This is the only time force was applied to bring such people to their senses and make them realize their responsibilities: either as Muslims by accepting Islam freely, or as loyal citizens by being tribute payers, capable of living with their Muslim compatriots and sharing with them equal rights and duties.

Thus, without doing a thing, people who had been free citizens one day suddenly were traitors the next. They simply neither wanted to accept the religion of the Muslims nor pay them tribute for the privilege of living under their authority.  Abdalati’s point is, of course, to describe matters in such a way as to avoid Islam being guilty of the charge of spreading by aggressive warfare.    
If this account sounds forced to you, you are not alone. There are many Muslims who do not accept it either, though those are not likely the ones who come to your class to speak and defend Islam. In the meantime, even if we take this description at face value, there are some aspects to it that would still trouble me greatly. 

  1. I am alarmed by the way in which the author blames the victims of the Muslim conquest for the consequences of their non-cooperation. These are chilling sentences, reminiscent of the rhetoric typically associated with totalitarian regimes, even though they were not written by a radical Muslim.
  2. I am also intrigued by the notion of missionaries on their way to spread a message of peace making sure that they are safe by traveling in large, armed hordes of the size of armies. I cannot help but think of Albert Schweitzer going to Africa, or Mother Teresa going to Calcutta, to spread the message of peace in Christ, but packing some heat just in case there should be trouble.
  3. And the author is just plain wrong when he insinuates that non-Muslims living under Muslim authority would be permitted to share with them "equal rights and duties."  The tax to which the author is referring is called the jizya. Here is a relevant verse from the Qur’an: 
  4. “Fight those who do not believe in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.” (9:29 Yusuf Ali translation)

    Submission and being subdued add up to toleration at best, not equality in rights and duties. And, from a purely rational point of view, if you set up a state on the basis of a religion, it only makes sense not to give too much power to those who do not accept that religion.  It would be silly to squabble with that aspect. It would be contradictory to have non-Muslims in places of authority in a Muslim state, which is supposed to be governed by the shari’a.  The alternative would be a secular state, which I would prefer, but which is certainly not the intent of Islam.  See my article, “God in the Early Twenty-first Century: Ayodhya as Test Case” (CSR 34/2 (2005):167-85).

Historically accurate or not (and I vote for "not"), this is the understanding that contemporary Muslim apologists by and large advocate. It is totally rejected by many who have no interest in maintaining a likeable face towards the West.

Seyyid Qutb"Piffle!" or the Arabic equivalent of the term ( nonsense in Arabic?) said Seyyid Qutb, and his contemporary followers do so likewise. Sure, the Qur'an says that people should not be compelled to become Muslims.  People should have a free choice in the matter.  But the way in which the world runs these days, that is not possible.  All people are enslaved because submission to any human government is slavery, and slaves cannot make free decision.  Thus, Islam needs to revive the methods of the early years, rid the world of all governments (including allegedly Muslim ones), let the entire world be governed by a single shari'a based on the Qur'an alone, and only then will people really have the freedom to make an informed choice whether to accept Islam or not. The present state is in the state of darkness, jahiliyyah, just as the time before Muhammad.  There are very few true Muslims, and the fight must eventually be directed against them, the hypocrites just as much as against the infidels.  First, there must be the violent overthrow of all governments, then shari'a can be implemented.  Many opponents may get killed in the process; this is only to the good because in the end, the entire world will benefit from the universal rule of Islam.  

This is the ideology that motivated Osama and al-Qaeda.  He moved a step or so further than the  Wahhabite form of Islam in which he was brought up and embraced Qutbism.  Please read my web piece on "Groups of Islam" for more information on these groups.  

Groups of Islam

Click here to go to "Groups of Islam"

Here is a quote by Osama bin Laden, going all the way back to 1994:

    The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military—is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque [Jerusalem] and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies  to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty God, "and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together," and "fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God."

Don't get me wrong.  The Qur'an advocates violence, but draws certain boundary lines.  At least in theory, and often in practice, Muslims respect those lines.  Not so Osama.  This quote is a garbled version of the quote we cited above, conflating "people of the book" and "pagans," and the Qur'an specifically forbids the killing of civilians in war.  Sura 5:32 equates the killing of a civilian with the killing of all humanity--perhaps because such a killer has extinguished humanity in himself.  Issuing so-called rulings (or fatwas) has become a popular pastime in certain Muslim circles.  However, they have lost sight of the fact that according to shari'a, one can only issue a fatwa after proper judicial proceedings. Islamic jurisprudence is similar to Anglo-Saxon common law in that it is case-driven.  Be that as it may, these pseudo-fatwas have been sufficiently potent to rally those who enjoy killing people whom they don't know, but don't like.  

What will happen next?  I can issue some hunches, claiming neither prophetic status nor any other spiritual input.

  1. If you would care to see something really troubling, after you've read and digested Milestones, or if you've followed what I've been saying, perhaps while ordering the book, look at some of the reviews of this book by Muslims, whether it be on Amazon or Alibris.  It appears to me that a lot of Muslim folks are being drawn in by Qutb's early chapters of the contemporary world being devoid of values, and how Islam alone can fulfill that need, and I'm not sure they understand that where he's heading goes way beyond the Qur'an or any school of shari'a.  Furthermore, even though the book has been officially condemned by eminent Muslim authorities, e.g., the Madras Al-Azhar in Cairo, I wouldn't expect a lot of people to know that.  My point is that Qutbism is being propagated, perhaps unknowingly of what it entails; a lot of non-Muslims have learned about it over the last few years, and so have a lot of Muslims, and a number of Muslims seem to be accepting what they are reading without a lot of reflective thought.  Qutbism is going to hang around.
  2. Al-Qaeda is going to hang around as well, though apparently their morale is currently lowered.  Osama was a uniquely gifted individual in several ways. Obviously, his wealth was helpful to his career.   He made a name for himself fighting alongside the mujahedin in ousting the Soviets from Afghanistan.  Then he returned to Saudi Arabia, where he was welcomed as a hero.  He paid back the honors by insulting the king, the entire house of Sa'ud, most of his own family, and anyone else who he thought deserved it, which necessitated his taking a permanent leave of absence from his  homeland.  He messed around a bit in the Sudan, getting Bill Clinton, who was lying about his affair with Monica L. at the time, to bomb an aspirin factory. When he went back to Afghanistan, the mujahedins' enemies, the Taliban, welcomed him gladly, and he lent them his support, as well as using their help in building and strengthening al-Qaeda and its mission.  Osama bin Laden managed to cross intra-Islamic boundaries among groups who were jealously guarding their fences.  He will be missed by his associates, colleagues, and loyal candidates to be his cannon fodder.
  3. Al-Qaeda has recently been in an ambiguous situation anyway due to the various revolts started in Muslim countries.  Other groups have picked up what they should have been doing, but heading into a different direction from them, insofar as these "rebels" can be said to have a clear direction.  Al-Qaeda needs to find some way of earning credit in this time of turmoil, but that's hard to do when the outcome is unclear and may very well be contrary to your intentions, particularly if you weren't involved. Without Osama bin Laden leading the way, al-Qaeda may very well be floundering for a while. King Abdullah ibn Sa'ud
  4. But Osama's money did not die with him.  Nor, as I observed, can we ring the death knell over Qutbism.  The current outbursts against America by various Islamic spokespersons, many of whom probably also condemned 9-11 when it became politically expedient to do so, are the expected jokes without punch line that we have heard a thousand times, similar to Osama's rhetoric over the last ten years.  You can only dine out on the same story for so long before you stop getting invited or someone else starts to command the conversation, but presumably Osama was in a position to add to his resumé sooner or later.   Worn out rhetoric aside someone now has access to Osama's resources, I would think.  Someone else will come along, maybe not immediately, to fill Osama's shoes, and the fact that we don't know yet whether they will be sandals, wingtips, or boots, introduces a dangerous element of uncertainty.
  5. So, what I'm saying is that we can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the oxygen we are inhaling is no longer being contaminated by Osama bin Laden's lungs.  His death is a setback for al-Qaeda.  But only a setback.  There are too many people, too many cells, too many individuals whose brains have become pickled with Qutbite rhetoric for anything to have changed in the long run. I'm afraid that we have not heard the last of al-Qaeda and its nefarious activities. This is my opinion, and I can't imagine that too many people would seriously think otherwise.  (Well, yes I can.  It would be the same people who rejoiced at Bill Clinton's ill-starred "Oslo Accords," and who think that the "Beirut Declaration," proposed by then Crown Prince, now King Abdullah ibn Sa'ud in 2002, really was a serious peace proposal, in other words, people who love to replace reality with optimistic thinking. Wonderful idea; great people, unfortunately highly dangerous.)
  6. I have not addressed any of the moral issues involved, whether long-standing ones nor recent ones.  I may talk about them next time; I definitely will if anyone expresses interest in it.


June and I are about halfway to Columbia, SC, trusting to get there tomorrow afternoon.  Thanks for your prayers for our safety on the highway and for a successful trip, both with people and with the projects that are on the agenda and that will find their way on the agenda yet.  Thanks.


There is a large collection of responses by Muslim heads of state, leaders of organizations, academicians and celebrities, compiled by Charles Kurzman at http://islam.about.com/gi/o.htm?zi=1/XJ&zTi=1&sdn=islam&cdn=religion&tm=42&f=00&tt=2&bt=1&bts=1&zu=http%3A//www.unc.edu/~kurzman/terror.htm

  Then, in a lengthy video presentation, he not only claimed all “credit” for himself, but also related how he came to this decision, beginning with the destruction of certain towers in Lebanon by American bombs in 1982.  A full transcript of this broadcast can be found at “Transcript of Osama bin Laden's Speech” Aljazeera.net (online publication), Doha, Qatar, October 30, 2004 on Worldpress.org.  URL: http://www.worldpress.org/Americas/1964.cfm. See also the summary and commentary “Bin Laden claims responsibility for 9/11” CBC News, Friday, October 29, 2004. URL: http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2004/10/29/binladen_message041029.html. There are two dates given here (October 29 and 30 because Osama made the speech on October 29, and the first American translations and comments were based on direct observation of the broadcast, which carried the text in Arabic subtitles.  Aljazeera did not publish the full content until October 30, by which time it was already known to the world from the video.) 

Hammudah Abdalati,
Islam in Focus (Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1975), pp. 149-50.

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