The Al Qaeda Reader
by Raymond Ibrahim
New York: Doubleday, 2007. 352 pp. $15.95, paper.
Reviewed by Gary H. Johnson, Jr.
Recently, Raymond Ibrahim edited and translated into English a decade’s worth of public releases by al Qaeda’s leadership. Published by Broadway Books, with partial proceeds donated to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Ibrahim’s The Al Qaeda Reader is not only a timely fountainhead for the United States citizenry’s understanding of our Jihadi enemies, it is also a necessary release for all Muslims living under secular governments to grapple with in the coming years.
The text focuses on the prepared statements of both Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leading authority figures of the Al Qaeda forces, which coordinated and carried out the devastating attacks of 9/11/2001. Since Muhammad’s definition of war is “deceit”, and al Qaeda has declared war against America, we can only assume that these al Qaeda releases hold a two-fold purpose: to provide sound, doctrinal justification for terrorism; and to gather popular support for their cause.
Raymond Ibrahim tackles these angles admirably well by splitting the releases into the broader sections: Theology and Propaganda. This revealing text brings forth the Doctrines of Loyalty and Enmity, Jahaliyya, Taqiyya, in jihadi context for the Western witness. It also sheds light on the source blood of the modern Islamist mentality in terms of ibn Taymiyya as well as the pivotal battle of Taif eight years after Muhammad’s celebrated Hegira to Medina.
Part 1, Theology, begins with a thesis entitled, “Moderate Islam is a Prostration to the West”. What is obvious from this essay is that Osama bin Laden feels betrayed by the Muslim Intellectuals (particularly of Saudi Arabia) who would seek to stamp out extremism by helping President Bush in his “Crusade” against Islam. Bush’s actual statement was made on September 16th, 2001: “This Crusade, this war on terror, is going to take a while.” Regardless of President Bush’s intent, the slip was made, and Osama bin Laden berates these “Moderate Muslims” for not including into their dialogue, with the Western Crusaders, three central elements of the Islamic Faith: the doctrine of Loyalty and Enmity; the necessity of jihad; and the bounds of Sharia.
Osama bin Laden chides the moderates for seeking the UN’s concept of equality, freedom, and justice, which differ from the Islamic Notions, of the same, in the sunna tradition. This train of thought rolls like a juggernaut into its culmination on page 43 when Osama places down the cornerstone of Al Qaeda, the Koranic ayat (sign/verse) 60:4, in which Allah via his Messenger, Muhammad, summarizes the Muslim-Infidel relation as plainly exampled by Abraham, when he states
“We disown you and that which you worship besides Allah. We renounce you. Enmity and hate shall forever reign between us–till you believe in Allah alone.”
Bin Laden lays the brick with ease, stating,
“Battle, animosity, and hatred – directed from the Muslim to the infidel – is the foundation of our religion. And we consider this a justice and kindness to them.” [emphasis added]
Osama is vexed by the pesky Moderates, since they don’t uphold Islam while dealing with the West. After all, he notes that,
“Muslims are obligated to raid the lands of the infidels, occupy them, and exchange their systems of governance for an Islamic system, barring any practice that contradicts the sharia…”
It is as if bin Laden is saying, if only these moderates had simply invited the West to submit to Islam; but, instead, by cooperating with the West, they have become apostates, denying the ultimate truth of Islam its rightful place above the Infidel, who has only three options when confronted with the Islamic faith: conversion to Islam, paying the Jizya tax, or death.
Part 1 continues with a Treatise by Ayman al-Zawahiri entitled “Loyalty and Enmity”, in which he expounds upon Osama bin Laden’s efforts. The controversial topic of Taqiyya is broached in which it is permissible for Muslims to associate with infidels to dissemble rather than befriend. Taqiyya basically states that if forced to deal with infidels, lie and smile, remain secure in faith, knowing you are not helping the enemy. Loyalty comes first, for all Muslims must heed ibn Taymiyya when he states,
“…he is obligated to befriend a believer – even if he is oppressive and violent toward you, while he must be hostile to the infidel – even if he is liberal and kind to you.”
Al-Zawahiri confirms that all Muslims are ordered to wage jihad against infidels, apostates, and hypocrites by the consensus of the ulema (jurists of accepted hadith).
It is in this vein that ibn Taymiyyah’s power is demonstrated in the line of Islamic jurists, for repulsing an invading force is second only to faith in Allah as a duty to Islam. Ibn Kathir then shows his value by verifying that unquestioning obedience to the will of the ulema is the right path of submission to Allah, while doubt and refusal to adhere is caused by fear.
But by far the most striking feature of this lengthy treatise comes when he notes those leaders that Al Qaeda has targeted, “that clique of rulers who, while domineering over the lands of Islam, oppose sharia.” Al-Zawahiri proceeds to enumerate the Arabian Peninsula, Gulf Emirates, Egypt, and Jordan as the secular clique of governments that aid the Crusader armies against the Mujahidin.
He goes on to state that anyone who joins the UN is not a true Muslim, calling them Henchmen of the Crusaders. He takes aim at the cowards who oppose sharia out of fear that the Crusaders will hurt them. And al-Zawahiri then pounds on the Northern Alliance Muslims who are aiding the American cause in Afghanistan. This juristic wrangling is the establishment of a purge to come. One can only wonder what type of purge is in store for these apostates should Al Qaeda win or become desperate. And if you doubt the purge to come, consider that the Tawhid (Oneness) of God, demands Submission to Allah and Fear of Allah, alone; yet, in this treatise’s conclusion, al-Zawahiri states,
“We warn our umma against falling to defeatism and ignoring the dangers that oppressively lie atop our chests. Behold! the Crusader-Jewish military machine… It gears its aggression against us through a network of submissive rulers.”
What happens to apostates again?
Part 1 culminates with two shorter treatises by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the first of which is entitled “Sharia and Democracy” and is simply an extract from his 1991 release, Bitter Harvest: The Muslim Brotherhood in Sixty Years. The importance of this section is in the simplicity with which democracy is labeled as the defining difference between Muslims and infidels, namely, Muslims submit to God, while infidels submit to men. Al-Zawahiri takes the consensus view of seven different jurists of the ulema, the source of Sharia Law, to explain why democratic government, created by the whims of men and nations is “a motley set of contrived rules”.
Not only that, democracy is a primitive form of religion in comparison to faithful submission to Allah’s Sharia. As proof for this rationale, Zawahiri examines Seven Islamic Jurist opinions, including those of the sheik of Islam, Ibn Taymiyya, and the father of radical Islam, Sayyid Qutb, all of which consider the rules of men to be a jahiliyya initiative, which is an attempt to bring mankind back to the time of man’s law, before the Divine Koran was delivered, before the time of Muhammad, when true Sovereignty was ordained to Allah, by Allah himself.
This section is a revealing legalist perspective on why democracy is idolatry, the earmark of infidelity, and punishable by death. But, the most startling outburst in this treatise comes as a response to the “equality” to be had under democratic institutions, raging that there isn’t anything more blasphemous than a society that does not limit apostasy (with death), abolishes jihad against infidelity, abolishes the protection tax and second-class dhimmi status of infidels, and (to top it off) abolishes man’s dominion over women. But in order to understand the impact of these ruminations on the Islamic community, one must trace back to Sayyid Qutb, who provides the just definition of democracy as a religion. Without this linchpin, the argument just sounds like raving lunacy and an attack on reason.
The Second of the minor treatises, “Jihad, Martyrdom, and the Killing of Innocents” is actually al-Zawahiri’s master stroke of blending ulema doctrines in order to justify his chief weapon of deception in his war on America: the suicide bomber. For thirty odd pages, he examines suicide and “proves” that the intent of the suicide determines whether it is a sin or an act of martyrdom. But by far the most striking element in this treatise is the examination of accidental killing of innocents or fellow Muslims, which culminates in Ibn Tamiyya’s statement,
“Based on the consensus of the ulema, those Muslims who are accidentally killed are martyrs; and the obligatory jihad should never be abandoned because it creates martyrs.”
This is the logic that America needs to understand. America must come to grips with the fact that the jihad is obligatory to the Islamic faithful. Thus, with a sweep of historic citations, Ayman al-Zawahiri, utilizes the sheik of Islam, Ibn Taymiyyah, whom all Muslims adhere or respect, to define defensive jihad as second only to faith in Islam, and at the same time justifies suicide bombing in the measure of antiquity… via ijma, or parallels, to Muhammad’s battle of Ta’if.
Part 2, Propaganda, is a hodgepodge of shorter releases, aimed at specific groups, and documented in order to seek popular support for methods and aims as well as provide the righteous sword of reciprocity for all to see. Strangely, in “Why are We Fighting You”, Osama bin Laden begins listing reasons for Al Qaeda’s war with the West, and ironically claims that the clique of secular Islamic governments give true Muslims “…a taste of humiliation, placing us in a large prison of fear and submission.”
In “Your Fate is in Your Hands Alone,” Osama bin Laden tells the touching story of tragedy in the 1982 occupation of Lebanon by Israel, with American support, which filled his heart with nebulous ideas concerning occupation and repelling the oppressor regimes of Islam, and lo! a freedom fighter was born. But it is not until bin Laden offers a truce to America that we see plain the intentions of al Qaeda for the long run, when he states,
“You have occupied our lands, transgressed against our manhood and dignity, spilled our blood, plundered our wealth, destroyed our homes, dislocated us, and played with our security — and we will give you the same treatment.“
Words like these seem to give weight to President Bush’s notion that if we tuck tail and run in Iraq (a process called redeployment in some circles), the terrorists will follow us home, especially when you take into account a previous promise of bin Laden:
“…this has not been because of a failure to break through your security measures. The operations are under preparation and you will see them in your own homes once they are readied.”
Bin Laden hints at possible future targets in his “To the Muslims of Iraq”, when he defines the countries most in need of liberation: Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. But as far as recent news is concerned, the five releases under the theme heading, “The Youth of Islam” basically state that men over 25 are busy building families, and those under 15 are still dependent on parents, while those Muslims between 15 and 25 are strongly urged to join ranks with Al Qaeda. This call virtually demands that “profiling” be implemented in all transit areas on men between 15 and 25, especially since the 2007 July Pew Report of Islam in America notes that “26 percent of Muslims [in America] age 18 to 29 believe that suicide bombing can be justified” (Newsweek Special Report, July 30, p. 31). To attempt to view the issue in any other way is suicide by denial.
The purpose of revolutionary propaganda is to gather popular support, to justify the righteousness of the cause, to generate outrage and fervor in its proponents, and to demonstrate why victory is inevitable for the righteous few. Part 2 of Ibrahim’s text, Propaganda, demonstrates these purposes well; however, it is the Soviet paradigm of victory which is the least convincing. The key element in this battle according to both Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri is Patience. The element is woven through every treatise and release. It is the belief that like Soviet Russia while fighting with Afghanistan, America will, through its “War on Terror” grow politically fractured, will eventually go bankrupt and will split apart, by the grace of Allah.
It would be hubris to say that America can’t go the way of the dodo. Yet, while the opinions in this country are divided almost 50-50 on every issue, it is this freedom to have a polarity of opinion that differentiates America from both the communism of Stalin and Khrushchev and the rigid, puritanical Islam of al Qaeda. And, in the end, the resilience of capitalism’s inequalities compared with the desperate equality of communism promises only the inevitability of exhaustion for al Qaeda, hence its call for Muslim youth to dedicate their lives to Jihad.
In full, Raymond Ibrahim’s text The Al Qaeda Reader provides the world of English-speakers many lessons that we may choose to learn or dismiss. Chief among these lessons is that in Islam there is no separation between Mosque and State. For years, since the fall of the Twin Towers, moderate Muslims have claimed their religion had been hijacked by fundamentalists, literalists, radicals, and extremists; and, now the West has been apprised of the twisted view of two of these hijackers.
Is this message of hate the literalist perspective of Islam laid bare for the world to see? And if it is, what does it teach the World of English-speakers about the Koran’s content, intent, and merit? The fact is, allMuslims believe the Koran to be the literal, uncorrupted word of Allah, written in the celestial language of Arabic. Moving past the arrogance necessary to declare to the world that any language is that of God, what does this text teach us about the original words of the Islamic God? Has the God of Islam, Allah, demanded His followers to wage jihad on all infidels in a quest to force the entire planet to convert, pay alms, or die? And if the Koran is the literal, uncorrupted, Word and Warning of Allah; then, why would we, infidels, ever consider “Peaceful” a religion which promises our demise as sovereign states in one form or another, following obligatory genocidal purges, inquisitions, enslavements, indoctrination, trials of apostasy, and the death of the very idea of American Freedom, and the death of every value held as heroic in the West? For the West’s concepts of equality, justice and freedom do not hold parallel with the Koran’s or Sharia’s view of the same.
In full, Raymond Ibrahim’s release The Al Qaeda Reader is a necessary addition to the scholarship of jihad. The text begs the question: does the doctrine proclaimed by al Qaeda’s leadership, now widely known among the world’s Muslims, guarantee a state of perpetual war against the whole of humanity? And if so, what is the process of eradication of these elements from the Ulema consensus in order to defuse this ticking bomb of world-wide genocide?