Archive for September, 2011

Results from “Examining Bin Ladin’s Statements: A Quantitative Content Analysis from 1996 to 2011”

Friday, September 30th, 2011

Examining Bin Ladin’s Statements: A Quantitative Content Analysis from 1996 to 2011


Our research covered 49 statements dated from 1996 to 2011 and totaling 124,571 words. Overall, we found Usama bin Ladin spoke about policy grievances the most, 36% of the time. Next came “other” at 18%, followed by religious justification and religious appeal, evenly split at 17% each. This means the ratio of policy grievance-justifying language to religion-based justifying language is nearly 2 to 1, that is, the Justification Index [JI, the ratio of policy justifications to religious justifications] is slightly below 2.0.

We then broke down our findings by audience. A plurality of bin Ladin’s statements appear to be addressed to Muslims in general (18%), followed closely by Westerners (16%), and Irhabis (8%). Seven% were unclear as to the target.

When addressing audiences classified as “Unclear,” bin Ladin spoke about policy justifications most of the time (32%), followed by Religious Justification (24%) and “Other” (23%). The Justification index is thus 1.3.

When speaking to Western audiences, bin Ladin overwhelmingly cited policy grievances in his speeches, 69% of his words. This is followed by Religious Appeal at 13%, Other at 11%, and Religious Justification at 3%. This represents a Justification Index rating of 22.6.

However, as already noted, the majority of statements in our dataset are directed at general Muslims. Even when directed at Muslims the majority of bin Ladin’s words focused on policy grievances. We find bin Ladin’s words focus on Policy Grievances, 38%, followed by Other at 19%, Religious Justification at 15%, Religious Appeal at 12% and Strategy and Tactics at 7%. This represents a Justification Index score of 2.5. This clearly contradicts claims that bin Ladin focused on religious justification (or “religious exegesis” as Raymond Ibrahim phrases it), more than policy grievances with Muslims.

With Irhabi audiences, religious justification plays a significantly larger role. In fact it is the only category where religious justifications are more prevalent than policy justifications. According to our findings, bin Ladin cited Religious Appeal the most, 30% of the time, followed by Religious Justification at 23%, Other at 17% and Policy Justification at 16%. This represents an overall JI of 0.7.

In order to ensure our findings were not skewed by a small number of statements containing a disproportionately large number of words, we examined the distribution of Justification Indices across all individual statements unweighted for word number. Out of the 47 statements in our dataset, only 10 had a JI score of 1.0 or less. In other words, slightly more than one-fifth (21.3%) of the total statements in our dataset had bin Ladin spending an equal or greater amount of time on religious justifications as opposed to policy justifications.

Furthermore we analyzed each category of statements based on their frequency and JI rating. This helps us to identify any communication trends toward specific audiences. This distribution would highlight any distortions demonstrating the degree of scatter within groupings according to intended audience. The result depicted in the histogram below clearly demonstrates bin Ladin’s emphasis of policy justifications over religious justifications for violence.

The distribution of each category in this chart shows interesting trends. Irhabi audiences trend toward employing the least amount of policy-justification statements, yet even to this constituency a majority of his statements (5 out of 8, unweighted) have a JI score equal to or greater than 1.0. Western audiences have the highest average of policy justifications and in between are Muslim and unclear audiences.

Though presentations to Muslim audiences show a distribution of a lower JI score, this is due to the fact that the lowest scores in presentations to Muslim audiences occur in the shorter pieces (see Appendix). A graph with the distributions weighted by the number of words in each statement (instead of giving each statement equal weight) would push the distribution of statements to a Muslim audience to a higher range.


As our results show, bin Ladin spent a preponderant amount of words discussing policy issues. Even when breaking down the data further along Muslim/Western lines, we find bin Ladin discussed policies more than any other subject in both cases.  On the other hand, bin Ladin devoted a greater volume of words to policy grievances when speaking to Westerners (68%), as opposed to Muslims (40%). The lower percentage of policy justifications in statements toward Muslims, however is not indicative of “doublespeak.” In our view, the reason bin Ladin resorts to more religious language when speaking mainly to Irhabis is to maintain his base of support. This appears to indicate Bin Ladin was cognizant of the hostile marketplace of ideas he faced when reaching out to Muslims. This conclusion follows directly from several vulnerabilities afflicting bin Ladin. First, he lacks religious scholarly credentials. Thus he needs some defense against his second vulnerability: many prominent religious figures have denounced him.

A third vulnerability is that a majority of Al-Qa’ida (and its ideological affiliates’) victims are Muslims. In 2007 the State Department and National Counterterrorism Center found at least 50 percent of victims from Al-Qa’ida attacks were Muslims; such attacks included approximately 100 mosques being targeted. A December 2009 from West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center found at least 85 percent of Al-Qaeda’s fatalities occurred in Muslim-majority countries. Non-U.S. government sources, such as Europe-based terrorism expert Rik Coolsaet, find, “A very rough estimate puts the number of Muslim victims since the start of the wave of jihadi terrorism in the early 90s at some 175,000 compared to some 4000 Western victims.” Unsurprisingly this has upset many Muslims, as reflected in polls showing only a minority of Muslims now feel they are represented by bin Ladin.

A fourth vulnerability, bin Ladin and other terrorist ideologues face stiff competition from nonviolent Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. Such organizations employ religious justifications to effectively channel Muslims’ frustrations into peaceful political engagement and away from militant behavior. Therefore the Brotherhood, “… is viewed by Al-Qa’ida as one of the primary threats to its long term viability.” Bearing this in mind, it is not surprising that in a recent Q&A with the public, Al-Qa’ida deputy Ayman Al-Zawahiri spent a significant amount of time on criticizing the Muslim Brotherhood, although only 1% of all questions asked him were on that topic.

Bin Ladin employed religious justifications to protect himself from criticism by other Muslims as a matter of short and long-term viability. He must do this as a defensive act to compete with non-violent Islamists for his co-religionists’ hearts and minds. Failing to address his Muslim critics’ and rivals’ arguments would erode his base of support.

The statements ranked as unclear need to be considered individually, since we cannot be certain as to whom they are directed. It may be that such statements are intended for Western, Muslim and Irhabi audiences all at the same time. Two of them are alleged to be “fatwas.” Setting aside the fact that bin Ladin was not qualified to issue a fatwa, and accepting this designation at face value, we would expect fatwas, by their nature as a religio-juridical opinion to contain religious justifications.

Yet, the JIs of the two fatwas are 1.0 and 0.8 showing that even in these cases bin Ladin resorted almost as much to policy justifications as religious ones. The shortest of the statements in the Unclear category contains no religious justification at all. A press interview had a high number of policy justification words (JI=4.8). Two TV interviews had relatively low JIs of 1.5 and 0.9, yet even here the policy and religious justifications are roughly equal.

Given the predominance of policy justifications, it is far-fetched to explain new recruits’ motivations to enter into terrorist activities as being based on violent interpretations of Islam. If religion gets people to join his ranks, why not focus on that more than policy? It is also untenable to advance theories that scripturally Islam tends to be more violence prone than other religions. Beyond the empirical studies we cited earlier debunking this claim, the argument flies in the face of bin Ladin’s overwhelming preference for policy arguments over religious ones when he sought to persuade Muslims not already in his ranks.

Can this failure of religion-centered explanations of terrorism be resolved by hypothesizing the majority of Muslims are simply ignorant of their faith or not practicing it? Empirical indicators based on the World Values Survey, Pew Global and Gallup Polls all indicate Muslims have a high-level religiosity. If such a high number of religious Muslims are ignorant of the allegedly violent nature of their faith, one would expect bin Ladin to have spent more time on religious arguments than policy issues in order to educate them as to why the religion to which they are pre-disposed to favor his position.

One must wonder why then the majority of Muslims and religious leaders, and even some prominent militants, oppose violence against civilians? At one point bin Ladin himself conceded, “Islam strictly forbids causing harm to innocent women, children, and other people. Such a practice is forbidden ever in the course of a battle.” Bin Ladin never has repudiated this statement. Rather, he has grasped at increasingly thin reasons why non-combatants were not really innocent—that is, he made yet more policy-based arguments.

The evidence overwhelmingly points toward the use of policy justifications to recruit new followers because that is where any hope of persuasion lies. As noted earlier, polls indicate Muslims worldwide have very unfavorable views of Western foreign policy. Bin Ladin used this public opinion to his advantage for recruitment and other means of support.

This is not terribly surprising when one compares bin Ladin to other terrorists. Michael German finds this is a typical behavior of terrorists, regardless of ideological persuasion: “The Weather Underground’s ‘Declaration of a State of War’ called for a Communist revolutionary struggle against ‘Amerikan imperialism,’ the Creativity Movement’s White Man’s Bible included a ‘Declaration of Independence against Jewish Tyranny,’ and al Qaeda issued a fatwa against the ‘crusader-Zionist alliance.’ These documents all read like criminal indictments. The terrorists list the charges against their oppressor, just as the U.S. Declaration of Independence laid out the American colonists’ grievances against King George III.”

However, comparing bin Ladin to violent White Supremacists, like the Creativity Movement, may give the sense the grievances he articulates are completely fictional. A policy-based response to bin Ladin’s propaganda requires an understanding of the degree to which his grievance claims are or are not based on historical reality. Developing such responses requires first knowing whether bin Ladin should be classified with what German calls “legitimately motivated” terrorists, or “extremist terrorists.”

Legitimately motivated terrorists have well-defined political goals (typically based on protecting communal rights within a country or “a limited, well-defined, but disputed territory”. On the other hand, extremist terrorists are defined by broad political goals and aims, “…to enforce their ideologies throughout the world … [who] speak of the utopian regimes they want to establish in broad, generalized terms—a new Reich or a new caliphate.” When examining bin Ladin’s statements, we find he is an extremist terrorist who overwhelmingly cited legitimate political issues to increase support for his organization.

There is no doubt bin Ladin has made statements that would classify him as an extremist terrorist. For instance in an op-ed to the Rawalpindi-based Nawa-i-Waqt, bin Ladin argued for the establishment of a Global Islamic State. He has also said in the past he fights against non-Muslims simply because of their different faith.

Nevertheless, he much more frequently cites policy justifications for his militancy, to all audience categories, by at least a 2 to 1 ratio and Muslims by a 51 to 1 ratio. It is outside the scope of this paper to debate whether or not bin Ladin sincerely believed his arguments, including the policy justifications. As a militant leader and a charismatic and eloquent man, bin Ladin knew the value of policy justifications in persuading his target audience to support his cause—whether he believes them or not.

Bin Ladin regularly cites a litany of perceived injustices against Muslims around the world by Western governments and their local allies. These include European imperialism’s negative effects on Muslim social and political institutions and changes in the political boundaries of Muslim-majority states (such as the Sykes-Picot agreement). Such examples are well-documented and beyond dispute.However, even more questionable examples tend to have some basis in reality. Analyzing bin Ladin’s invocation of UN sanctions against Iraq during the 90s, Bruce Lawrence found while bin Ladin exaggerated the impact of the sanctions, their devastating effects are nonetheless well known.

By invoking politics rather than religion, it seems bin Ladin is taking the advice of his senior strategists who learned from other radicals’ earlier mistakes:…. In other words, people are more willing to die for their people than for some abstract Islamic State. Not only have Al-Suri and bin Ladin seemed to learn from others’ failures during the 70s to the early 90s, but they incorporated lessons from others’ successes. During the anti-Soviet struggle of the 80s, Abdullah Azzam co-founded Maktab al-Khidamat (Services Bureau) with Usama bin Ladin. Bin Ladin gave financial support and ran military affairs while Azzam raised money abroad and gave speeches promoting the Afghan cause.

Azzam preached a type of militant pan-Islamism claiming it was the duty of all Muslims to fight wherever their co-religionists were militarily under attack. His calls for foreign military assistance were based on an ideology emphasizing a pan-nationalist Muslim identity. The approach worked, quickly increasing the Maktab’s number of foreign volunteers. As terrorism analyst Thomas Hegghammer observes, “Pan-Islamism had mobilizing power because it was a macro-nationalism centered on the Muslim nation. Arabs went to Afghanistan not because they were extremely religious but because they were extremely nationalistic on behalf of the umma.”

Bin Ladin seemed to have learned from Azzam’s successes. Dealing with a hostile socio-political environment, crafting a messaging strategy largely shaped by certain historical lessons and lacking religious scholarly credentials, these three factors largely explain why bin Ladin has such a strong focus on political grievances.

It may also explain why bin Ladin spent a considerable amount of time making purely religious appeals, as opposed to religious justifications. In his context, it may be more appropriate to see his invocation of religious justifications as a subset of appeals to the (pan)“nationalism” of the Ummah. Providing religious justifications is meant to appeal to Muslims’ religious identity, as much as, if not more than, their piety.

Returning to the JI distribution graph at the end of the previous section, the data shows a greater proportion of statements to Irhabis are majority-religious justification than any other category. In other words, Bin Ladin religiously preached to the ideologically converted.

Putting the JI distribution in the context of bin Ladin’s vulnerabilities discussed earlier in this section and bin Ladin’s overwhelming preference for invoking policy justifications, it appears religious justifications are not a means of obtaining new recruits, but instead meant to maintain the loyalty and morale of his followers.

It is only after bin Ladin had attracted recruits through an extensive pan-nationalist narrative centered on an oft-repeated and extensive litany of policy grievances, that his indoctrination method switched to a more explicitly scriptural and religious legal tone (i.e. religious justification). Nevertheless, as is consistent in all audience categories—including Irhabis—policy grievances are discussed the most. They are the lifeblood of bin Ladin’s recruiting narrative and ideology.

Additionally, it is interesting to note our analysis of this study’s findings fits well with the secular backgrounds of Muslims committing themselves to international terrorism. According to Marc Sageman’s study of 500 Al-Qa’ida operatives, only 13% had any background in religious training. Sageman also notes about two-thirds of those in his dataset “grew up secular, in secular environments.” They only became religious after they became attracted to Al-Qa’ida’s cause. Terrorists’ religious knowledge tends to be extremely superficial, and revolves mostly around armed opposition to certain policy grievances.

Finally, we would like to highlight one audience for bin Ladin’ statements we have not mentioned thus far and deserves special mention, and that is researchers such as ourselves. Like anthropologists and quantum physicists we need to be keenly aware that the process of observation can affect the outcome. This is demonstrated clearly by bin Ladin’s speech of 6/3/2009, delivered just one year after publication a preliminary summary of this research project and one month after its first presentation at an academic conference. Although titled a “Speech to the Pakistani Nation,” the first half of the speech is atypical for one addressed to a general Muslim audience in that the first half is almost completely religious justification.  In the middle it abruptly shifts gears to become mostly policy justification, but before concluding bin Ladin pointedly addresses Americans (“Before we come to the end, I have some words that I wish to address America with”), specifically mentioning, “Some of the wise and righteous, at the research and investigative centers, as well as others like them, have looked into the reasons that encourage people to combat America and seek revenge against it, based on what I have relayed.” (emphasis added)

These words leave no doubt that bin Ladin was aware his words were being analyzed and suggests strongly that the statement in question is an outlier specifically so he can make the point that he can make religious justifications when he wants to. Nonetheless, in the end he returns to the standard pattern, decrying the fact that: “no one from the representatives of the major corporations gives the slightest attention to what we have said to the White House. To this, I say the free men that carried out the 11th of September will never taste the bitterness of oppression and eviction from their homes and their land, only to be sheltered in tents with very little to eat. Rather, those 19 heard what struck their brothers in Palestine in the form of American weapons and through Zionist hands.”

The timing of this statement, its wording, and the way it differs from the rest of the data analyzed demonstrates the effect of the observer on the subject and underscores the importance of taking that impact into consideration. In this particular instance it does not change our conclusions, for despite his unusual attention to religious justification in an apparent attempt to refute those who say his action are not religiously justifiable, he nonetheless returned to focus on the fact that the motivations of those who follow him are policy-based.


We find that Usama bin Ladin focused primarily on policy arguments. We encourage policymakers to move away from simplistic cultural and religion-centric theories seeking to explain the political behavior of Muslims. We have no concern for political correctness, only with the fact that such theories do not withstand scientific scrutiny, yet form the theoretical basis for many current policies. We say, “let the data lead the discourse” and lead the policies too. Just as bin Ladin focused on policy in trying to incite Muslims against the West, the West must focus on policy if it wishes to improve its relationship with the Muslim world.

Alejandro J. Beutel and Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad. Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute


News and Analysis (9/29/11)

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

The “doctors have repeatedly denied the charges [of terrorism], which they say were created by the authorities to punish medical staff for treating people who took part in anti-government protests”:

“The top demand of the protesters was to end the emergency law that allowed authorities to arrest Egyptians for no reason. Instead, the council has expanded that law. It has arrested more than 10,000 people and tried them in hasty military proceedings, practices that critics say are human rights abuses”:

“‘Before one year ago I would have seen you and thought ‘infidel.’ But in the past year, we have studied the Quran closely and reinterpreted some of the verses and have come up with new views. We believe that everyone is equal like brothers. The Christians especially are closest to Muslims”:

“Criticised by religious groups – Muslim and Christian alike – the law bans religious ceremonies in all state institutions and requires religious groups and missionaries to re-register with the government”:

Following U.S. accusations that some in the Pakistani government have aided anti-U.S. militants, Congress is re-evaluating its 2009 promise to triple non-military aid to Pakistan to a total of $7.5 billion over five years … on top of billions in security assistance provided since 2001, which Washington is also rethinking”:

“Walid al-Amari, a leading activist from the youth revolution committee, told the AFP news agency that young people are planning” a peaceful march on Thursday to the president’s residence, adding that “they have asked the leadership of the defected First Armoured “Division not to provide any armed protection that could provoke Saleh loyalists”:

“Blackburn’s ruling was mostly consistent with decisions from other states with the exception of her allowing Alabama’s ‘stop and ask’ provision, which lets police request people’s immigration papers”:

“The sentence is believed to be the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia that has not involved a violation of Islamic law.” it has since been “reported that King Abdullah had intervened to revoke the sentence”:

“The alleged attack would have represented a rare attempt to strike the United States with a technology that successive administrations have deployed against suspected terrorists and insurgents in a half-dozen countries, ranging from Afghanistan to Yemen, over the past decade”:

News and Analysis (9/28/11)

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

“I honestly don’t see myself as a hero…  I never had to stand alone in this” — says one of the Irvine 11; “He was just doing his job,” says the father of another. “He’s not the first one and he’s not going to be the last one”:

“[I]f we can’t live a decent and dignified life, we’d rather die”:

The politics of exclusion: Sixty “[p]olitical parties have been pressuring the army council to base the vote exclusively on the party-based proportional list system, saying allowing individuals to seek election would enable remnants of the ousted regime to use money and tribalism to win in polls due to start in November”:

“What is and isn’t allowed is debated within the Muslim community. But those who seek a matchmaker’s help tend to steer clear of anything resembling dating and to avoid meeting one another without a chaperone.They avoid “parents’ methods as too traditional” but are “more comfortable seeking help from a go-between than online matrimonial sites or singles’ events held at mosques under the guise of ‘networking'”:

Neither restrictions on proslytizating nor their own miserable track record deters these Muslim missionaries; the approximately 20 annual Israeli Jewish converts to Islam tend to be women seeking Muslim husbands; says one 20-year old, “The Muslims greeted me with love I never got from my parents, and the women here say, ‘You’re one of us now'”:

“Amnesty International condemned the insurgents for targeting civilians in the conflict, saying such attacks constitute war crimes. It said noncombatants have accounted for two-thirds of the nearly 5,000 deaths reported during the insurgency in the past eight years”:

News and Analysis (9/27/11)

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

“The king … also announced that women would be appointed to the Shura Council, a currently all-male body established in 1993 to offer counsel on general policies in the kingdom,” but Saudi women will have to wait four years to exercise their new franchise; in the meantime a woman is sentenced to ten lashes for driving:

“More than a month since Tripoli fell to rebel brigades backed by Nato, the National Transitional Council (NTC) has failed to expand to be more representative, generating a sense of division and drift about the future that western diplomats and many Libyans admit is worrying. It is now clear there will be no deal before the liberation of the whole country is formally declared”:

“Pakistani PM Yusuf Raza “Gilani pointed out that Washington didn’t help itself when it struck a deal on civilian nuclear cooperation with New Delhi but not Islamabad”:

The precipitous drop in American credibility in  the Arab and Muslim worlds so soon after the 2008 can be attributed to raised expectations followed by an utter failure to deliver; Palestinian statehood is Exhibit A:

The “judges, acting like terrorists with a hostage, demanded that he recant his faith in Christ before even taking evidence. The judges stated that even though the judgment they have made is against the current Iranian and international laws, they have to uphold the previous decision of the 27th Branch of the Supreme Court in Qom”:

“We want to be clear: they do not deserve undue credit for ending what they had no right and no justification to start in the first place” — Josh Fattal:

The shameful attack on Christian civilians is matched by the shameful posturing of Indonesian politicians; “the overwhelming majority of these religion-based ordinances are proposed by politicians from secular parties, rather than the Islamic parties. That suggests the regulations are more about electoral politics than piety”:

“The degree to which Syrian protesters are arming themselves is difficult to quantify because Syria has blocked nearly all outside witnesses to the bloodshed by banning foreign media and restricting local coverage”:


News and Analysis (9/24/11)

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

Abbas gets political capital among Palestinians and a “rousing ovation” at the UN while Netanyahu gets a cool reaction and Hamas mimics Israel in banning pro-statehood demonstrations:

The “dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, agreed with the university’s punishment noting that speech used to squelch another’s First Amendment right is not constitutionally protected. But he and others were critical of Rackauckas bringing criminal charges as “‘unnecessarily divisive,” saying, “Now this keeps it an open wound”:

Mr. Reeve has Constitutional right to make remarks offensive to religious minority, even in a Council session; and American Muslims have the right to use the ballot box to make sure he never serves in any elective office again:

The CIA’s apology “doesn’t explain how or why the decision to pull the advertising package was made, [but Arab American News editor Osama] Siblani says he’s turning the other cheek in the name of national security”:

“’s blog Danger Room, which first reported about the trainer, said that it has also found a second instance in June of an FBI employee delivering a lecture filled with anti-Muslim bias” and urging the FBI target not limit itself to concern with violent actors but to target the holy texts of Islam:

Bigots may find this counter-intuitive, but:

The “resolution calling on all Middle East states to adopt the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in an indirect demand on Israel, the only country in the region not bound by the treaty”:

With 12,000 in attendance, the “message is primarily aimed at people who are on the edge of being radicalized not those who had already been ‘brainwashed'”:



News and Analysis (9/21/11)

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

As “Obama tries to derail [the] Palestinian U.N. bid,” local and international activists are “setting up neighborhood watch patrols to monitor” and document settler aggression against the indigenous people:

Ahmadinejad is at playing at two chess boards at once in the timing of the hikers’ release, maneuvering for position at the UN while avoiding a sacrifice in his political struggle with the mullahs at home; hikers and their families are just glad they are free:

Is the assassination of Rabbani the precursor to a civil war? The Taliban are keeping uncharacteristically silent:

“The way the Turkish and Chechen media tell the story, the circumstances surrounding the deaths of three suspected Chechen militants, possibly at the hands of a Russian spy, in Istanbul last week read more like the latest Jason Bourne screenplay than any run-of-the-mill homicide — and, according to a Russian official, are just as fantastic”:

The NYPD claims “it has established its own internal review committee to determine whether prior evidence or indications existed that anyone under surveillance had been planning to break the law. But this is hardly an independent committee. It reportedly consists of Police Intelligence head David Cohen, the former CIA spook and current NYPD spy mastermind”:

“Kergaye’s uniform might look different compared to her teammates, but state athletic directors say uniform accommodations are built into the rules for every sport in order to protect religious expression”:

“tens of thousands of men, women and children stood in silence. The crowd had gathered to mourn the deaths of 83 protesters, shot dead by Yemeni security services over the past three days. It was the worst bout of violence in the eight-month uprising”:

Now with at least one 9/11 family member” on its advisory board, the once controversial Park51 project is quietly open for business:

News and Analysis (9/19/11)

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Uri Avnery “wrote recently that when he saw some anti-Muslim German blogs, he was ‘shocked to the core. These outpourings are almost verbatim copies of the diatribes of Joseph Goebbels,’ the propaganda minister for Hitler. ‘The same rabble-rousing slogans. The same base allegations. The same demonization’”:

“[I]n this new battlefield of perception that has emerged since Sept. 11 — where ammunition consists of past associations, loaded words and fear — there is seldom space for nuance”:

As world attention turns to the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN, Abbas won’t say what he will do if (when) the US vetoes, Israel threatens to keep Palestinian tax money for itself:

If Netanyahu buys a copy of my book does that mean I’m working for him? BBC says “buying the rights to independent films” is a common practice that implies no formal or informal connection between them and the film-makers:

As “Qaddafi loyalists hold tight to strongholds of Bani Walid and Sirte,” Gaddafi spokesman Moussa Ibrahim makes the unverified claim “that foreign security personnel had been captured in the battle for the pro-Gaddafi bastion Bani Walid”:

“Despite a sharp rise in the number of night raids, there have been no benefits in the form of decreased insurgent attacks, and anger over the operations has continued to mount among Afghan civilians, found the report by the Open Society Foundations and The Liaison Office, a research and analysis group in Kabul”:

“The chairman of the Sri Lanka Muslim Council … said Muslims and Sinhalese Buddhists lived peacefully together, but that ‘unknown groups’ had been trying to create problems between them”:

On a bus ride to Amman to attend a Lebanese band concert, a “Mizrahi (Sepahredic)”  Jew from Haifa has an epiphany that bredaks through a lifetime of Isreali propaganda:

“The rebels have been angered after Saleh deputised the vice-president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, last week to negotiate further on a Gulf-mediated, US-backed deal under which the president would step down in return for immunity from prosecution. Saleh has already backed away three times from signing the deal”:

News and Analysis (9/16/11)

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Embarrassed by an expose in Wired, “[t]he FBI on Thursday said it had stopped a training session that called the Prophet Muhammad a ‘cult leader,’ said mainstream Muslims were likely to support violent extremism and described the Islamic principal of charity as a ‘funding mechanism for combat’”:

With the Palestinians intent on submitting their declaration of independence to the U.N., can Tony Blair’s delaying tactics save Israel from having charges of war crimes heard before the ICC, the logical aftermath recognition of Palestinian statehood?

“As a rule, radical Muslim voices in France are rare, but” the “driving [of] thousands of Muslim worshippers in northern Paris into a makeshift prayer site in a disused fire brigade barracks”  for this Friday’s prayers “drew a small but angry protest from a radical minority more often seen in online posts”:

The city’s Taxi & Limousine Commission agreed to give cabbies who own their vehicles absolute veto power on the content of ads on their cars — delighting scores of modest hacks of various faiths who had fought hard for the rule overhaul:

After downloading “‘the Al Qaeda Training Manual’ for a PhD study into counter-terrorism at the University of Nottingham” in 2008, “Mr Sabir was held in police custody for a week and then released without charge”:

Kurds accuse Turkey of betrayal; Erdogan has no comment; “defector” denies Syrian culpability for civilian deaths, blames Islamists:

Developments in Libya:

Ibn Taymiyya: Past & Present / Ibn Baz: His Authority and Methodology of Fatwa

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011


[This is the fourteenth in a series of my notes on the International Institute of Islamic Thought conference on iftaa and fatwa held in Herndon, VA. These notes are raw material for an edited report I will write on the conference and represents my perception of the discussion. The proceedings will be published by IIIT at a later time. The Minaret of Freedom Institute thanks IIIT for the grant that makes the publication of these notes possible. Responsibility for any errors in the notes is mine alone. Names of participants in the general discussion have been omitted.]

Moderator: Khaled Troudi

“Ibn Taymiyya: Past & Present”
Yahya Michot, Prof of Islamic Studies, Hartford Seminary

Ibn Taymiyya is an important scholar with a very bad reputation in certain circles. He is blamed for takfîr, for dividing the world into Dar-al-Islam and Dar-al-Kufr, and for the permissibility of overthrowing a ruler. I shall focus on three fatwas that will demonstrate that these charges are unfounded and that when you issue a fatwa you should be aware that it could be abused centuries later and give you a bad name:

  1. Fatwa on the Qalandars (“hippies” who went around in defiance of Muslim conventions as late as the 19th century).
  2. The Mardin Fatwas (see the article by Y. Michot in Muslim World).
  3. The 3 anti-Mongol fatwas.

The Qalandars were probably initially gypsies who came from India. The fatwa says they are unbelievers if they let their views become apparent and hypocrites if they do not.  God forgives those who have not been notified, as opposed to those who have been notified. There can be no punishment before justification. You cannot call someone kafir for what he says unless ALL the conditions are established AND all the objections prohibiting a charge of takfîr have been met. For example people born into a time and place when all traces of Prophethood have disappeared or not arrived, or people who may be new to Islam and uninformed, are not kâfirûn. On the contrary he sees such people as being astray and may return to God. In such cases silence, not takfîr is the safe position. I see little difference between the positions of ibn Taymiyyah anmd al-Ghazali.

Mardîn was a satellite city-state of the Mongol empire, which he said was neither part of Dar-al-Islam nor Dar-al-Kufr but of a third status. The Mardin Declaration from the conference, convened by Shaikh Bin Bayyah and attended by worthies as the mufti of Bosnia, has prompted violent refutations on the Internet. It was praised by others including Shaikh Bin Bayyah’s student Hamza Yusef who oversimplifies the issue by saying al-Qaeda is based on a fatwa misprint. At the end of the fatwa the translation says Mardin is a third type of domain in which the Muslim shall be treated as he merits and the one who departs from Islam shall be combated as he merits. But yuqâtil should read yu`âmil and “combated” should be “treated.” In the earliest manuscripts things are unclear. There is a more serious issue demonstrated in Understanding Islam by David Cook, a worthless book by a man who does not know Arabic. Even participants in the conference made serious errors. “The non-Muslim living outside the authority of Islam” is a mistranslation of “the Muslim not living according to the Islamic law.” Ibn Taymiyyah has decided the division of the world into Dar-al-Kufr and Dar-al-Islam is obsolete and he introduces the notion of a place of a composite type. Ibn Taymiyyah’s own students are reluctant to accept these insights. The status of a land is an accident that is a consequence of the nature of its inhabitants, not of the political system ruling the place. Ibn Taymiyyah’s views were complex and the jurists were not up to its complexity. Ibn Bayyah has essentially accused me of being the inspirer of terrorism. If you look at the fan club of Shaikh al-Awlaki you see they have a better understanding than Bin Bayyah, which is important because it turns things into an American affair. Awalaki condemns the Mardin declaration as misrepresenting Islam as a pacifist religion. I am fed up with extremists who make absolutist statements whether they are of Mardin declaration that totally prohibits force or Awlaki’s statement that Palestine cannot be liberated except by force. It is poor scholarship on one side that provokes overreaction on the other. It is diabetes being combated by cancer.

Ibn Taymiyyah wrote fatwas against the Mongel invaders who, even after their conversion to Islam, continued to penetrate deeper into the Muslim world, and perpetuated massacres, as in Damascus. Ibn Taymiyyah declared them non-Muslims because they did not abide by Islamic law, according to Abdus-Salaam Faraj in The Neglected Duty, who uses this as a precedent against the rulers of the Muslim world today not only in Egypt, but Algeria (by Bel Haj), etc. to Usama bin Lain e.g., in his letter to King Fahd who in 1986 calls for his resignation, but unlike Bel Hajj and Faraj, not threatening war even in a follow up letter in 1996, when he calls for war against the far enemy (America). Ibn Taymiyyah never abandoned the traditional position that tyranny and oppression must be fought by total obedience and patience because that was the practice of the Prophet and his companions, but to only speak the truth. Ibn Taymiyyah never called for rebellion against the Mamlukes.  If you are beaten, detained, and subjected to harm for speaking the truth then you must continue to be patient for that is the Sunnah of the Prophet and his companions. The problem is that the anti-Mongol fatwas were applied outside their context. This can be attributed to Ibn Kathir in his commentary on al Maidah: 50. He says the Mongols preferred their own laws to that of God. What was a fatwa calling for resistance to an invasion turned into something completely different. When you issue a fatwa, you should say this fatwa is for this place, this time, and this circumstance, it should not be used in a tafsîr of the Qur’an that creates a general rule. The claim that when you do not rule according to the religion you have to be fought misses Ibn Taymiyyah’s understanding that whoever rules according to justice rules according to the law (shar`). The assassins of Sadat who boasted they had killed pharaoh used a misunderstanding of Ibn Taymiyyah. Ibn Taymiyyah didn’t call for the killing of pharaoh. On the contrary, he mentions that Joseph not only worked for Pharaoh but volunteered his service in honest devotion and the best intentions despite his rejection of their beliefs. Ibn Taymiyyah is a post-Islamist. Fatwas can have a long life after the time they are written.

“Ibn Baz: His Authority and Methodology of Fatwa”
Samy Mutwalli

My paper is about Abdul Aziz ibn Abdullah Ibn Baz, how he gained his authority, his fatwa methodology and his fatwas on minorities. He worked in many positions in academy and in office. He was an agent in the third Saudi state following Ibn Abdul Wahab in support of the Saudi political claim. There are five elements that helped establish his authority academically, politically, or within the Muslim world and the media. He memorized Qur’an while young and interacted with influential descendents and followers of Ibn Abdul Wahab. We was vice president and president of the University at Medina and then chairman of the scholarly researchers. He witnessed the era of five Saudi kings and had good relations with them and was acknowledged by both the rulers and the people. He was a major source of fatwas and counseling for the people. He was highly regarded by Muslim scholars around the world for his knowledge. He helped Islamic institutions in the West to receive funding and guiding. He was influenced by the Wahabi school of thought. He had the trust of the influential family of al-Shaikh. The fifth element was the media. He was a frequent guest on a program (934 broadcasts, all posted on the Internet, all translated into English). A student collected his fataws in a 70-volume set, all of which have been translated. The proliferation and translation of his fatwas show that he had many followers and could not be ignored, especially after he became the mufti of Saudi Arabia. His fatwas were closely read by judges.

He professed to follow the Hanbali madhhab in usûl and in branches. The usûl are the Qur’an, Sunnah, consensus of the companions, and qiyâs. His style is demonstrated in his prohibition of participating or congratulating the People of the Book on their holidays. His approach is essentialist rather than pragmatic. His definition of ijma is the consensus of the Salaf, for him the companions. He was not blind imitator of the Hanbalis but sometimes goes directly to the Sunnah, for example disagreeing with the Hanbalis on pronouncing divorce three times at one sitting. However, most of his ijtihad was within the views of the classical jurists and most of his fatwas were short with no argumentation or indicator of the context, which to me shows his authority was so strong it was not necessary for him to show the evidence.

He did not establish himself as a mufti for minorities but nonetheless became because he was mufti of the guardian of the two holy places and he was in charge of the resources that could be used to support Muslim minorities. Students here adopted his fatwas. Saudi-funded enterprises like the Saudi embassy published and circulated some of his books including fatwa collections including one called “Fatwas Regarding Muslims Living as Minorities.” In this collection he says they must hold onto Islam with patience in order to be a good model for their enemies living around them. There is no mention of social relations or context. When a woman asked him to recommend books for relations with non-Muslims, he only recommended books by Wahabis or classical jurists. He warns of the great danger of traveling to the lands of disbelievers citing the hadith “I am innocent of any Muslim residing among the disbelievers.” He believes such Muslims are living in the Dar-al-Kufr and they must leave it immediately unless they are there for da`wa. There is no indication he distinguishes those here from those than anywhere else. He calls for isolation or detachment from their society. He relies on books written in times when Muslim states were at war with non-Muslim states or in expectation of war absent treaties. Those books were not based on Qur’an or hadith but on contemporary political realities. He never traveled to the West and got little chance to meet with non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia. Strict on minority issues, he might be lenient in other branches of fiqh.

Discussant: Mahmoud Ayoub

Dr. Michot makes a convincing case against characterizing Ibn Taymyah as an extremist, but the characterization is too well-established to just put away. He was a great scholar and if we can keep him from being limited by extremists he would be more useful as a source of Islamic thought. Bin Baz was the mufti of the balâd, as it were, of the Saudi government, well-known and highly respected by many. His conservatism can be explained by the fact that he did not travel much, compared to Qaradawi who had traveled extensively.

Discussant: Mohamed Adam al Sheikh

I would add only a few points. What has been said about Ibn Taymiyyah may be motivated by envy or a wish to destroy this important reference for students of fiqh. I admire his reasoning, and many of his fatwas could have been written for us today in the West, for example in the area of mortgage discussed in vol. 29. The jihad fought by the Prophet and his companions was a defensive one to remove the obstacle to the propagation of the faith.

Michot: The problem is that Faraj’s critics confuse the Mardin fatwa with the anti-Mongol fatwas. Bin Ladin has made not a single reference to the Mardin fatwa. I have asked Bin Bajjah to document his claim that jihadis are using my book and he has not responded.

General Discussion

The definition of removing an obstacle to the faith as a form of defense is an interesting suggestion. It is reminiscent of the Western assertion that they are not engaged in aggression when they militarily intervene in Muslim countries in the name of freedom of speech or freedom of religion. Perhaps this is correct, but we need to make a rigorous demonstration.

Did you originally translate yu`âmil or yuqâtil? Do you have any insights on the debate between Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Ataullah, if it took place? Did he spend time in prison? The five points about Bin Baz are interesting but I can assure you that he is not highly regarded among the ulama of Morocco. Which classical books of fiqh does Bin Baz cite? What do you think scholastically of his fatawa?

As far as I know Dar al Islam was not defined by majority population. Is Ibn Taymiyyah an exception or was he building on some earlier views? When did Bin Baz write the text published in 1998 which seems like a response to the fiqh al `aqaliyât?

Bin Baz often refers to Ibn Taymiyyah in his fatwas, he gives aggression and not only kufr as the reason for fighting. He was blind and he didn’t even ask for rights of intellectual ownership, perhaps because he felt superior books were written by earlier scholars. The books are the work of his students. He justifies war as a response to muqâtala, which means aggression, not kufr.

Ibn Taymiyyah has a spiritualist approach that sometimes doesn’t necessarily correspond to the fiqh approach. For him there is Dar al Islam as soon as there is a community of Muslims living according to Islam. He doesn’t rust the Mongol army because he knows they have massacred Muslims. Modern Islamists have shifted from ihkâm al islam to hukm al islamiyya which is completely wrong. His approach is not political in the modern sense of the word. We can go for the amendation of the text proposed by Bin Bayyah and I will add it to any future edition of the book, but it doesn’t change the spirit in which I wrote that book. I never found a source relating to a meeting between Ibn Ata and Ibn Taymiyyah. He spent time in jail for various reasons. I prefer people who live in jail for their ideas to those who live in palaces because of their absence of ideas. Even Ibn Taymiyyah often couldn’t read his own writing because it was so bad. Ibn Rushayak was the only student of Ibn Taymiyyah who could read his handwriting. But what role did Ibn Rushayak play in editing?

Does Ibn Taymiyyah compare those before revelation to those with a lack of guidance?

There is hardly a subject that Ibn Taymiyyah didn’t write on and his works are often refutations of others. If we judge him only on his fatwas we have much room for evaluation, but what do we do with books like minhaj as-sunnah, and others that appear to be fairly conservative.

What do you think can be done to facilitate an environment in which scholars do their homework? What do you see as the importance of citing the argument by which one arrives at a fatwa? Cite the importance of learning the Arabic language for this kind of study.

Learning Arabic is much easier than learning Greek. In Judaism you cannot even speak about the religion if you can’t speak Hebrew. We have no historical dictionary of Arabic.

Manzoul does it to some extent.

But what do we have since that? I agree about the importance of giving the reasons. That’s why I like the Ottoman fatwas. More space is given to the question than to the answer. Let’s hope with the Arab revolutions things will Improve, but this kind of approach is not in the interest of dictators. Some Hanbalis accused Ibn Taymiyyah of being masmoum bi falsafa, poisoned by the philosophers. He read and commented on ar-rasâl by Ibn Sina. The idea that he is against philosophy is just wrong. He says if a new Muslim says something against the ijma quoting some shaikh or claiming to be a mujtahid, his opinion must be respected; he cannot be condemned and no one can impose an opinion on him because ikhlâs (sincerity) and niyyah (intention) is what is most important. It is not just extremists who quote Ibn Taymiyyah; even reformers use his ideas with or without citation. Take two extremes and you will find Islam in the middle. I think he is one of the most important sources for the development of a civil democratic Muslim society because of his frequent opposition to the imposition of Islamic law by force; because he always depends on the consent of the individual, because you cannot follow blindly; because at the end of the day everything is between ourselves and God—four centuries before Milton. We are subject to the laws of God; we are not its enforcers.

Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Hazm were rejected by the scholars of their time, but the focused on what is pleasing to Allah.

Bin Baz was mainly concerned with da`wa and taking all his fatwas on minorities together they number no more than fifty.

Speak more about the anxiety of the terrorist and the anti-terrorist that leads them to oversimplify and to seek to depoliticize.

I asked Shaikh Bin Bayyah directly is there a connection between your book and the Mardin conference. He avoided the question, but his student Hamza Yusef in translation added that it was for that reason the Mardin conference was called.

The little I know about Ibn Taymiyyah is he is the model mufti because he was a merchant, a scholar, imprisoned, and he himself gives two qualifications for a mufti that he must know Islam and the condition of his people.

Between the extremes of total passivity and taking up a Kalishnikov against a tyrant there is a middle way, which is to speak the truth. This was the third article of the pledge of the companions. The most important problem we have today is what do we do with our brothers—and they are our brothers—who fall into extremes and take up violence. I do not believe the solution to a minefield is to plant a poppy field next door. We must go into the mine field and remove the mines. If they have read the anti-Mongol texts of Ibn Taymiyyah, the antidote is not give them the writings of the Sufis or al-Ghazali. Rather, force them to learn Arabic and give them a proper library so they can read Ibn Taymiyyah in context. This has been done in some countries. We have to develop such debates BEFORE they become terrorists. If you are going not between the extremes, you are not a Muslim. Allahu a`lam.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

News and Analysis (9/13/11)

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

“‘Freedom and democracy and human rights must be a united slogan for the future of our people,’ Erdogan told an audience of Arab foreign ministers and millions more watching on television across the region. ‘The legitimate demands of the people cannot be repressed with force and in blood'” …

… “What I can say is that we are committed to four things: Protecting the rights and honor of the Turkish people, stopping Israel from disregarding international treaties and customs, implementation of Turkish demands through international tribunals, and ending the blockade on Gaza” — Erdogan:

“In 2007, Kimathi uncovered the arrest of dozens of terror suspects in Kenya after the fall of an Islamist administration in Somalia. An investigation by The Associated Press found those suspects were flown to Ethiopia and some were questioned by American agents. Most have since been released without charge”:

Mustafa Abdul Jalil outlined his plans to create a modern democratic state based on ‘moderate Islam.‘” ”Libya is big enough for everyone. We are Muslim, forgiving people,’ [he] told a cheering and chanting crowd … on the same day that Amnesty International accused rebel fighters of unlawful killings and torture during nearly seven months of war”:

For years Iran has claimed it’s nuclear program was aimed at the development of nuclear power, and now to the great consternation of its Western critics, it opens a nuclear power plant:

It seems the two hikers may be released soon, but it is unclear whether it will be because of a pardon by Ahmadinejad or a release on $500,000 bail pending appeal:

At least 9 have been killed and 23 wounded “in the biggest assault the insurgent group has mounted on the Afghan capital”:

E-rumors turned a simple traffic accident into an explosion of sectarian violence; “Communications also plays a major role both causing and in solving the problem” — Sydney Jones, International Crisis Group senior analyst:

“The spiraling total of detainee deaths together with the Syrian authorities’ failure to conduct any independent investigations points to a pattern of systematic, government-sanctioned abuse in which every detainee must be considered at serious risk” — Philip Luther, Amnesty International: