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Moazzam Begg and Abdullah Azzam: Part One

This is a cross-post by Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens

Today, Moazzam Begg was due to speak at an Amnesty International screening of ‘Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo’. However, he has announced that he will not be attending "so that the focus is not about my personal beliefs or Amnesty’s internal issues but, that the lives of men who have suffered human rights violations for so many years, as discussed in Outside the Law, are not overshadowed."

There are many reasons why it would be a wise move for Amnesty to make this a permanent cancellation of Begg appearances at their events, and many of these have been detailed both on the blogosphere and by a senior Amnesty official. While Amnesty decides whether it will continue backing this man, it should also take note that among other things, he has expressed support for renowned jihadi ideologue and religious supremacist, Abdullah Azzam. Writing for the Cordoba Foundation’s journal, Arches Quarterly, Begg states:

In his magisterial discourse on jihad during the soviet occupation, ‘Defence of the Muslim Lands’, the charismatic scholar, Sheikh Abdullah Azzam resurrected the famous 13th century fatwa of Ibn Taymiyyah which states: ‘As for the aggressive enemy who destroys life and religion, nothing is more incumbent [upon the believer] after faith than his repulsion.’ Al-fatawaa al-kubraa, Ibn Taymiyyah.

As was noted by Harry’s Place last week, Azzam is also celebrated in a jihadist text published by Begg’s Maktabah al-Ansar bookshop in Birmingham which was written by Dhiren Barot, now in prison for planning a string of terror attacks in London and New York.

Azzam taught that jihad was both a defensive and offensive measure, and although he put more importance on the defence of what he regarded as Muslim lands, he saw it as a necessary measure in order to create a launching pad from which to carry out an offensive campaign against the rest of the world. This blog will look at his exegesis of defensive jihad, and part two will analyse his intentions towards the world of kufr (unbelief). Part three will look at Azzam’s uncompromising text, ‘Morals and Jurisprudence of Jihad’.

Abdullah Azzam is known as one of the founders of modern militant jihad and is still highly venerated by most of the world’s jihadi groups. Most recently, his lectures featured in one of Somalia’s al-Shabab recruitment videos. The ringleader of the 2006 transatlantic bomb plot, Abdullah Ahmed Ali, also kept one of Azzam’s books – along with Qutb’s ‘Milestones’ – hidden under the cot of his infant son.

Azzam was one of Osama bin Laden’s mentors and a leader of the Arab jihadis who travelled to Afghanistan to join the jihad against the Soviets. With the help of Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki al-Faisal, Osama bin Laden and Azzam founded the Makhtab al-Khidmat (Service Bureau). In ‘Al-Qaeda in its own words’, Thomas Hedgehammer explains that:

…the Service Bureau and its branches created a cadre of extremely motivated, experienced, and hardened activists, whose paramilitary prowess was superior to that of any previous Islamist group. The most remarkable product of the Afghan Arabs was Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda phenomenon.

In his book, ‘Join the Caravan’, Azzam uses Islamic texts to justify jihad as purely a military act, and criticises other Muslim jurists who sought to define it as a spiritual inner struggle:

The word "jihad" refers exclusively to armed combat, as Ibn Rushd said. The four imams agreed upon this.

The sentence "we returned from the lesser jihad (battle) to the greater jihad (jihad of the soul)", which some cite as if it were a hadith, is a forgery, and baseless.

Azzam was also one of the first modern jihadist ideologues to elucidate the religious imperative of defensive jihad. In ‘The Defence of Muslim Territories’, which was recognised at the time by Saudi Arabia’s Adl al-Aziz Bin Baz as a fatwa, Azzam explains:

Defensive jihad consists of expelling unbelievers from our territory. This is an individual duty, indeed the most important of all individual duties, in the following cases:

1. when unbelievers enter one of the Muslim territories;

2. when two armies meet and exchange blows;

3. when the imam mobilises individuals or a group: then they must gather to fight;

4. when unbelievers imprison Muslims.

Although Azzam preceded the Taliban, the type of state he wished to create and defend was precisely what the Taliban eventually achieved. In ‘The Defence of the Muslim Lands’, he only briefly mentions this:

The banner flying over Afghanistan is clearly Muslim. The goal is clear as well ("The word of God is exalted to the heights") Article 2 of the charter of the Islamic Union of Afghan Mujahideen stipulates: "Our goal derives from his word". "None can command except God"; and so absolute sovereignty belongs to the Lord of the worlds.

It is worth noting here his reference to the sovereignty of God: Azzam’s ideas for how nations should be governed are clearly inspired by both Sayyid Qutb and Mawdudi, who had already laid out the what they saw as the religious imperative for the creation of a supremacist and totalitarian theocratic state.

Tomorrow, I will explain how Azzam was not only interested in ‘liberating’ his own lands.

For more on offensive and defensive jihad, see this recent blog from King’s College.

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