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Bin Laden’s theology a radical break with traditional Islam

4 May 2011 General 12 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) – Osama bin Laden wore the mantle of a religious leader. He looked the part and talked a good game, but his theology was a radical departure from traditional orthodox Islam.

The pitch to join al Qaeda did not start with an invitation to put on a suicide vest but, like other religious splinter groups and cults, took advantage of disenfranchisement and poverty.

Bin Laden had no official religious training but developed his own theology of Islam.

“We don’t know that (bin Laden) was ever exposed to orthodox Islamic teachings,” said Ebrahim Moosa, a professor of religion and Islamic studies at Duke University.

The writing of ideologues in the Muslim Brotherhood influenced bin Laden heavily, Moosa said.

“He takes scriptural imperatives at their face value and believes this is the only instruction and command God has given him – unmediated by history, unmediated by understanding, unmediated by human experience. Now that’s a difference between Muslim orthodoxy and what I would call uber- or hyperscripturalists,” Moosa said.

The vast majority of Islamic scholars and imams say the teaching of the Prophet Mohammed happened in historical context that needs to be understood when reading and interpreting the Quran.

“If the likes of bin Laden, if they had spent one day or maybe one month possibly, in a madrassa (Muslim religious school) and understood how the canonical tradition is interpreted, they would not go onto this kind of destructive path they go on,” Moosa said.

In the entire leadership structure of al Qaeda, “no one has had any sort of formal religious training from any seminary,” said Aftab Malik, a global expert on Muslim affairs at the United Nations Alliance of Civilization. He is researching a Ph.D. on al Qaeda.

“What you had was an engineer and a doctor leading a global jihad against the whole world,” Malik said. “That would never happen in normative Islam. It’s just such an aberration.”

John Esposito, a professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, said bin Laden “appropriates Islam … to legitimate and mobilize people.”

“If you look at bin Laden’s early statements and arguments, his interview with Peter Bergen on CNN … lots of people would see it as something that would go down very well not just with many Muslims but among many analysts when he talks about longstanding political grievances,” Esposito said.

“What bin Laden ends up doing is saying anyone who disagrees with him, any Muslim, is in fact an apostate,” he said. That includes Muslims who would not join his fight, he said. “It’s a distortion of the traditional teaching, and it just extends the parameters and the consequences in order to legitimate how when you’re fighting on the ground you’re fighting against your own people.”

Malik said, “The key issue is of apostasy,” referring to when a person leaves a faith. “One of the things Osama bin Laden deviates from is calling those people who do not implement Sharia, or God’s law, on the planet as apostates. If they did not implement Sharia, they deserved death. This is a major departure from normative Islam.”

“The second major deviation is the targeting of noncombatants. Even when you read in the Quran there are injunctions for fighting. But before and after the injunctions for fighting are calls for restraint. ‘Do not attack monks, do not attack women, do not attack children.’ And these are numerated heavily in the Hadith, which are uncontested,” Malik said, referring to the sayings of the prophet and his close companions.

“What bin Laden has done is ignored those injunctions,” he said. “The reason he has ignored them, in Osama bin Laden’s theology it’s basically a theology of anarchy.

“Once you let the genie out of the bottle you can’t put it back in, and that’s the big difference between al Qaeda theology and normative Islam. Normative Islam has heavy constraints – very, very heavy.”

Bin Laden’s theology is waning greatly in influence, Esposito said, in part because of the rise of the Arab Spring, the revolts of people on the street across the Middle East that have overthrown regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.

“(Al Qaeda’s) whole notion was to develop a mass movement,” Esposito said. “Well, they never did.”

Original link: Bin Laden’s theology a radical break with traditional Islam


  1. […] Bin Laden’s theology a radical break with traditional Islam | Islamophobia Today eNewspaper. […]

  2. interesting, so the author is saying that if the koran is simply read, “unmediated by history, unmediated by understanding, unmediated by human experience” it is what? does no one else find it strange that “god” revealed a book of instructions for all mankind that takes a lifetime to interpret? should not “god” have made his revealation obvious to even the most causual observer?

    “The vast majority of Islamic scholars and imams say the teaching of the Prophet Mohammed happened in historical context that needs to be understood when reading and interpreting the Quran.” now if i was god laying down an instruction book for all mankind. i would make it so a korean, chinese, afghan, pakistani, intuit, african, european, brazilian, american, etc, etc, could pick it up and read it and understand it to its fullest. someone please tell me why that doesn’t make sense????

    “If the likes of bin Laden, if they had spent one day or maybe one month possibly, in a madrassa”…. seriously, aren’t the madrassas in pakistan producing alot of suicide bombers? why is pakistan the land of madrassas always blowing things up? where do they find these articles?

    as for ” Normative Islam has heavy constraints – very, very heavy.” didn’t the prophet stand by as all the males, 5 to 9 hundred, in a jewish tribe (was it the bandu?) were put to death? please “allah’s” law doesn’t even rise to the level of the geneva convention.

  3. hey i have an idea, let’s read the koran together. now this is an english version, “the message of the koran translated and explained by muhammad asad.

    ALL PRAISE is due to God alone, the Sustainer of all the worlds, the Most Gracious, the Dispenser of Grace, Lord of the Day of Judgement! Thee alone do we worship; and unto thee alone do we turn for aid. Guide us the straight way – the way upon whom thou hast bestowed Thy blessings, not of those who have been condemned (by Thee), nor of those who go astray!

  4. sorry that was surah 1 1 thru 7 verse….the whole first surah (book)

  5. @Mike First of all, You have several pitfalls, the first is that you treat the Koran as an “instruction-manual” It is simply not that. 2:2 “This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah.”
    Another verse 2:38 “We said: “Get ye down all from here; and if, as is sure, there comes to you Guidance from me, whosoever follows My guidance, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.”
    The Koran is a book of spiritual guidance, the seeker of spiritual truth should be a real seeker and not a “casual reader”.

    The Koran is originally revealed in Arabic, and since then, It have been translated into over 49 languages, Many Islamic theological writings have been also translated into many languages, which made the process simple to anyone who studies Islam.

    A Madrassa makes suicide bombers, Your knowledge of what a Madrassa is is very limited. A Madrassah is simply a school ranging from A Public school to a private school, today, Most Madrassahs are simply either public or private, which also teach religion but on a smaller scale, I want you to show me the Madrassah that promises that its kids will become suicide bombers, bring proof, just any proof, in fact, the statement that you quoted is a direct opposite to what you just said.

  6. As for the Jewish tribe, once again, you show your ignorance of Islamic teachings, Here is a simple quote from Sahih Bukhari:
    “Narrated Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri: When the tribe of Bani Quraiza was ready to accept Sad’s judgment, Allah’s Apostle sent for Sad who was near to him. Sad came, riding a donkey and when he came near, Allah’s Apostle said (to the Ansar), “Stand up for your leader.” Then Sad came and sat beside Allah’s Apostle who said to him. “These people are ready to accept your judgment.” Sad said, “I give the judgment that their warriors should be killed and their children and women should be taken as prisoners.” The Prophet then remarked, “O Sad! You have judged amongst them with (or similar to) the judgment of the King Allah.” (Bukhari Volume 4, Book 52, Number 280)
    Their WARRIORS be killed, There does not exist such proof that from 500 to 900 persons were killed. []

  7. Well, now if only Osama Bin Laden had a ph,d and Canadian government,s studen grant, Ontario student loans, and his wives had received “under the table jobs”, and Canadain welfare system, the world would have been a better place. Life would have been good for him. No, need need to fly into a rage, under any excuse.

  8. Not all madrassas are simply schools ranging from public schools to private schools. A madrassa is an Islamic religious school. Many of the Taliban were educated in Saudi-financed madrassas in Pakistan that teach Wahhabism, a particularly austere and rigid form of Islam which is rooted in Saudi Arabia. Around the world, Saudi wealth and charities contributed to an explosive growth of madrassas during the Afghan jihad against the Soviets. During that war (1979-1989), a new kind of madrassa emerged in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region — not so much concerned about scholarship as making war on infidels. The enemy then was the Soviet Union, today it’s America. Here are analyses of the madrassas from interviews with Vali Nasr, an authority on Islamic fundamentalism, and Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

    Read them here:

  9. ahmed,

    thanks for your input. but now i’m really confused. so the koran isn’t god’s law for all mankind? it doesn’t instruct you how to live?

    my point about the hadith you quote is that i don’t think that if there is a god it would not want surrended combatants put to death. no matter what the number. not even one. perhaps i’m bringing my prejudices of what i think god would be. i just think it is a really bad precident to set. also enslaving women and children strikes me as ungodly. i guess god has sealed my heart.

    as for my knowledge of the term madrass, i have only heard of them being refered to as religious schools. in fact i saw the frontline refered to above in kaatib’s post. thanks kaatib. i never said they “promise” to develop suiside bombers just that they have. again i may be prejudiced by that program. didn’t mean to paint with a broad brush, it just struck me as funny.

    again, don’t you think it odd that “divine writ” (if you agree that that is what the koran is) wouldn’t stand up to the un charter on human rights. in fact it wouldn’t stand up to the modern interpretation of the constitution.

    [24.1] (This is) a chapter which We have revealed and made obligatory and in which We have revealed clear communications that you may be mindful.
    [24.2] (As for) the fornicatress and the fornicator, flog each of them, (giving) a hundred stripes, and let not pity for them detain you in the matter of obedience to Allah, if you believe in Allah and the last day, and let a party of believers witness their chastisement.

  10. 2nd surah the cow
    [2.1] Alif Lam Mim.
    [2.2] This Book, there is no doubt in it, is a guide to those who guard (against evil).
    [2.3] Those who believe in the unseen and keep up prayer and spend out of what We have given them.
    [2.4] And who believe in that which has been revealed to you and that which was revealed before you and they are sure of the hereafter.
    [2.5] These are on a right course from their Lord and these it is that shall be successful.
    [2.6] Surely those who disbelieve, it being alike to them whether you warn them, or do not warn them, will not believe.
    [2.7] Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing and there is a covering over their eyes, and there is a great punishment for them.

  11. In another study, we found that the responses of students at al-Islam, a radical JIlinked madrassah best known as the teaching residence of Bali bomber Ali Imron,

    “No one thought to ask about what would happen next…nearly an entire generation came of age in a peculiar all-male world where the only concern was the Koran, sharia law and the glorification of jihad”
    —Dina Temple-Raston, 2007

    However, in English, the term madrasah usually refers to the specifically Islamic institutions. A typical Islamic school usually offers two courses of study: a hifzh course teaching memorization of the Qur’an (the person who commits the entire Qur’an to memory is called a hafizh); and an ‘alim course leading the candidate to become an accepted scholar in the community.

    please ahmed correct these pages if they are inacurrate.

  12. I am pretty sure that there is a shark out there somewhere that just burped up a piece of Bin Laden’s leg after reading from the quran.

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