On the 11th of September 2001 three hijacked airplanes crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. One crashed down in Pennsylvania. The Twin Towers collapsed and left the city of New York, The United States and the rest of the world in shock. Around 6000 people where killed in the tragic event. The US pointed their finger at an Islamic terrorist group Al-Qaida, lead by the Saudi Arabian billionaire Osama Bin Laden, and claimed that they stood behind the attacks. Osama Bin Laden was already a known man to the US. In 1993 a bomb planted in the basement of the World Trade Center, and bombings against US embassies in Africa were linked to Osama Bin Laden. At that point Bin Laden was hiding in Sudan, but after the bombings he was thrown out of the country. Then he ran for cover in Afghanistan, which after 1996 was lead by the Taliban. The US demanded the extradition of Bin Laden, but the Taliban regime refused to hand him over to the US government. Then the US gave the Taliban bombing and war threats, and the Taliban responded by declaring jihad, or holy war, against the US if they chose to attack. Despite the dependent jihad-declaration, the US and the UK on the 7th of October started their bombing of military targets in Afghanistan. The US and the Taliban found themselves at war. The terrorist attacks towards the US also affects the rest of the world, because of the NATO declaration. The declaration’s paragraph 5, says that an attack on one of the NATO countries means an attack on all of them.
Although both the Taliban and the US seem certain in their cases, there are some questions yet to be answered. One of them concerns the declaration of “jihad”. The Islamic “jihad” has some criteria that need to be fulfilled to create a legitimate “holy war”.
Are the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the following war between the US and the Taliban legitimate to the criteria for “jihad”?
What are the criteria for a legitimate “jihad”?
In order to know if the Taliban’s jihad declaration and the terrorist attacks are legitimate or not, it is important to know the definition of a jihad. What are the criteria of a real jihad?
Holy war is the most common translation of jihad, but according to Ahmed Rashid, “The essential part of jihad is the inner struggle of a Muslim to become a better human being,” (Rashid p.84). As stated in “The concise encyclopedia of Islam”, “directly translated jihad means to make an effort,” (Glassé p.209). Both in the Muslim world and in the western world Muslims are discussing whether it includes a military effort or just a spiritual one.
Muslims would rather focus on the peaceful side of Islam. They emphasize that Islam is a religion of peace. In fact the word Islam comes from the same origin as “salam”, which means peace. But according to Jan Opsal, “the Muslims are in constant war against the non-Islamic world. They are obligated to make an effort in order to spread Islam, and also to defend Islam, where it is threatened,” (Interview).
Islamic theology states that jihad is fought by human beings, but with Allah’s help. If the jihad is a legitimate jihad, the war cannot be lost. But this is also the bursting point of jihad. Jan Opsal says, “some Muslims have the opinion that so far only Mohammed the prophet has had a totally legitimate jihad. He won, according to the Muslims, with Allah’s help. Other declared jihads have been lost because they haven’t got Allah’s support. Many Muslims claim these jihads to be fake,” (Interview).
There exists a few explanations of jihad, and there is no general agreement in the Muslim world. In the book “Lydighetes Vei” by Jan Opsal there are listed six rules of a legitimate jihad. These are:
- Jihad is a war of defending Islam. Islam has to be threatened by an aggressive part.
- Jihad cannot be declared against other Muslims.
- In Sunni Islam there is a demand for agreement among the believers to make a legitimate jihad. In Shia Islam the decision is made by the religious leader, the Imam.
- All Muslims are obligated to join in jihad. The mobilization duty is at first local, but if necessary universal.
- It is a criteria that victory is possible to achieve. If it is not within range there are no obligations to join in jihad.
- A legitimate jihad cannot and will not be lost, because Allah supports a real jihad,
I will use this as the ”real” definition of jihad in my paper.
In many cases of jihad have one or more of these criteria been missing. But what about the jihad of the terrorists and the Taliban? Do they fulfill these criteria?
An important motivation for jihad is that the victims of jiahd goes directly to paradise. They are granted paradise, and eternal life through martyrdom. We will come back to this later in the paper (letter of Muhammad Atta p. 7. in the paper).
Jihad is taken very seriously by the Muslims. It is spoken of in the Hadith, which is a holy writing of Islam. The Hadith includes advices and rules for living based on the example of Muhammad. It says: “The most excellent man is the one who works hard in the ways of Allah with his life and property,” (Sarwar p.196). Some radical Muslims even regard it as the sixth pillar in addition to the regular five; the Prayers, the Witness, the Almsgiving, the Fasting and the Pilgrimage.
The definition of a legitimate jihad involves several criteria. In order to know whether the jihad declaration made by the Taliban is legitimate or not, we need to take a look at the Taliban as a regime, and a closer look at the current situation and the history behind it.
Taliban and their power over the Afghan people
- The Taliban regime ruled most of Afghanistan on September 11th . Now they have declared jihad against the US. How did the Taliban get their power and how do they use it?
The Taliban began to make their appearance in Afghanistan at the beginning of the 1990’s. In a book about Islamism it is stated that, “The people who created the movement were Muslim students who where studying the Quran,” (Ettrup n.p.). Afghanistan was then devastated by the communist regime which then had ruled the country for many years. In 1996 the Taliban achieved their full power over most of Afghanistan.
As stated by Ahmed Rashid, “many Afghans hoped and believed that the Taliban, lead simply by Islamic students with an agenda of bringing peace, would change the country and save it from the devastation of the communist regime. Others feared that the Taliban would lead Afghanistan into more wars, determined to force the Islamic law on the Afghan people,” (Rashid n.p). This means that there was a division within the Afghan people. Some Afghans didn’t meet the Taliban with skepticism. They hoped that the Taliban would change Afghanistan into something better than it was.
Ahmed Rashid says that, “after their dramatic appearance in 1994 the Taliban has brought relative peace and security of Kandahar and the neighboring provinces. The heavily armed population has been disarmed,“ (Rashid n.p). This means that the Taliban changed what had been an unstable war-zone into a more controlled war-zone.
Rashid continues,“The Taliban introduced the death-penalty to the Afghan people. The Taliban soldiers frequently executed people who had broken an Islamic law, or a law made by the Taliban,” (Rashid n.p). Executions where done at a stadium in Kandahar, and looked upon as first-class entertainment. Rashid also says that, “A mixture of fear, acceptance, total exhaustion and devastation after years of war, made many Afghans accept the Taliban way of justice.” (Rashid n.p) This means that although some Afghans supported the Taliban in the beginning, it was the strict rules and the scaring factors implied by the Taliban that made the Afghans give in.
Rashid continues, “The Taliban also implemented an extreme interpretation of the Islamic law that appalled many Afghans and the Muslim world,” (Rashid p.2). The Taliban made restrictions and banned all communication with the outer world. Rashid describes Afghanistan as a prison. He says: “Before 1997 the Taliban had banned all conceivable form of entertainment. Music, TV, video, playing-cards, kites for kite-flying and almost any sport and game,” (Rashid n.p). The Taliban controlled in any possible way, what kind of information the Afghan people would receive and what law they would follow. By the end of the 1990’s they had a firm grip around the people of Afghanistan.
The Taliban is currently the most secretive political movement in the world. No one, not even the Afghan people know the entire structure of the Taliban regime. They have an immense security concerning their political structures and leadership. They don’t give press-releases or have regular press-conferences. Ahmed Rashid claims that, “No one knows what their leaders look like, because of their ban of photography and TV,” (Rashid p.5). Only the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar shows his face to the people. This means that the Taliban might be afraid to show their faces. They know that they are being hated, and they don’t want show who they are.
The Taliban’s power and influence in Afghanistan, gives them the possibility to take advantage of the Afghan people. Young Afghans are transported to training camps every year. Erik Ettrup says, “Here they learn of battle tactics and how to fight a jihad. They are being trained for what the Taliban characterize as a world-wide jihad,” (Ettrup n.p). This means that the Taliban are using their power in order to join Afghans in jiahd. They would probably not get as many people to join in if it wasn’t for their power and control.
The Taliban has a firm grip around the Afghan People, and they are able to use it in their best interest. But who has inspired the Taliban? Who’s thoughts lies behind their military and religious ideology?
Sayyid Qutb and his influence on the Taliban
- Sayyid Qutb has had an enormous impact on many radical Muslim groups, including the Taliban. What thoughts do Qutb represent and where do we find his thoughts in the Taliban’s jihad declaration?
Sayyid Qutb is probably the Islamic philosopher who has had the greatest impact on the contemporary Islamist thoughts. This Egyptian man who lived about 50 years ago, is regarded as the most important developer of Islamist ideology. Yvonne Haddad states, “His writings, until he was executed in 1966, have inspired numerous revivalists movements throughout the Muslim world. They are also recommended by, and to, Islamic groups all over the world,” (Esposito p.67). His detailed interpretation of the Quaran has become very popular in the Islamic world.
As stated in “Voices of Resurgent Islam”, “Sayyid Qutb studied educational administration in the US, and was provoked by the American support for Israel in the Middle East conflict , and the discrimination of Arabs left him with a bitterness he couldn’t hide,” (Esposito p.68). He meant that the injustice brought on the Palestinian people was a rejection of all Arab people. The quote continues, “Qutb spoke of a western world without respect for the Islamic world. The western world had acted out of hostility against Islamic groups throughout the years. He focused especially on the discrimination of the Palestinian people,” (Esposito n.p). This means that the acridity Qutb had towards the west was based on historical issues, especially concerning the Middle East conflict.
Qutb’s ideology of Islam made an argument against both capitalism and communism. He made the ideology of these societies seem appalling to the Muslims. He stated that “Communism is an insignificant idea, which deserves no respect from those who think above the level of food and drink,” (Esposito n.p). He tried to turn the Muslims against other societies and he wanted all Islamic nations to stand together against the non-Islamic world.
Why are this man’s thoughts still alive today? According to Jan Opsal, “there are several reasons. The most important is that his thoughts were developed in a situation where Islam was under a lot of pressure, but where it’s wanted to create new and radical solutions,” (Interview). The Taliban has used this when declaring jihad against the US. They claim that the US is a threat against Islam. Opsal continues, “The fact that Qutb was executed because of his radical statements against the Nasser regime in Egypt, makes his thoughts even more current. This makes him a martyr in the eyes of many radical Muslims,” (Interview). Another very important issue in Qutb’s ideology is that it allows Muslims to go in armed attacks against both non-Islamic and Islamic groups.
Jan Opsal says, “Osama Bin Laden’s conflict with the Saudi Arab royal family, can be compared with Muhammad’s conflict with the Nasser regime. Mohammad fought the Nasser regime and simultaneously the tourists, who supported the regime. Bin Laden fights the royal family and at the same time the US, who are allies with the Saudi Royal family,” (Interview). This means that we can draw a direct line between Osama Bin Laden, Mohammad and Sayyid Qutb, who declared these actions to be right.
According to Jan Opsal: “we also get a small picture of Qutb’s influence on Osama Bin Laden, when we hear his threats against the UN. He warns all Islamic nations that participates and cooperates with international organs like the UN,” (Interview). He claims that they have turned their backs on Islam and that they betray other Muslims by participating in such organs. This is probably an attempt to make them feel guilty and to “convert” to what Bin Laden calls the Right Side.
Qutb’s thoughts have influenced the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden in many ways, together with a lot of other Muslim groups. Sayyid Qutb shows a clear acrimony against the west. When did this hatred start, and why did it develop?
Islam and Muslims relations to the west
- The Taliban and Osama Bin Laden have for a long time been in conflict with the western world. Now they are trying to turn the entire Muslim world against the West in a world wide jihad. What lies behind the bitterness towards the West?
The start of the conflict between the Muslim world and the West has, according to Jan Opsal, “its roots in the time of colonies. For the first time since Islam’s beginning no Islamic country played an essential part in the world,” (Interview). Jan Opsal says that this is the reason why the Muslims turned against the western world. They had lost their importance within politics and trade, and they did not have the same influence as before.
Muslim philosophers tried to figure out what had gone wrong and they reached a conclusion. Jan Opsal states that, “They found out that Muslims had turned their back on the roots of Islam,” (Interview). Jan Opsal continues, “Because they had lost the path of real Islam the solution was to clean Islam from all outside influence,” (Interview). These thoughts, from the time of colonies, have affected the thoughts of many radical Muslims, and inspired to a hate towards the West. The West which, according to the Muslim thinkers, had polluted the real Islam. The pollution constitutes in introduction of ideas which where incompatible with Islamic principles.
Later the bitterness and frustration from many confused Muslims have turned into hate. As stated in “Taliban”, “Muslims are left with a feeling of being taken advantage of by the west, economically and politically,” (Rashid n.p). Terrorist groups, like Al-Qaida, are results of years of this confusion and feeling of being used and trampled upon.
Now these groups are working inwards and outwards. Ahmed Rashid stated in Taliban that, “Inwards they are trying to provoke the Muslims into developing a bigger hate towards the vast empires of the West. Outwards they are carrying out terrorist attacks to scare and to wake up the western civilization. They want to make them realize the damage the groups are able to cause,” (Rashid n.p). The groups statements encourage other Muslims to do the same.
Osama Bin Laden has been quoted in Ahmed Rashid’s book about the Taliban, “ The ruling to kill the Americans and all their allies – civilians and military – is an individual duty for every Muslim who can to it in any country it is possible to do,” (Rashid n.p). Bin Laden here encourages every Muslim to kill the main enemy of the western world, the Americans in jihad. Bin Laden leaves nothing in the shadows when he continues his encouragement by saying; “America is the biggest terrorist in the world. We should all confront, fight and kill the Americans.” (Rashid n.p) Bin Laden has had these opinions long before September 11th 2001.
Osama Bin Laden has also, in a recently broadcasted speech, threatened Muslim regimes that are cooperating with international, non-Islamic organs, such as the UN. Jan Opsal says, “It’s really the ideas of Sayyid Qutb’s thoughts that are reflected in these thoughts. Bin Laden has also said that, “If you’re against me, jihad can also be fought against you. Although you are Muslims.” Jan Opsal continues by quoting a Muslim UN representative; “Bin Laden is actually in war with the entire world,” (Interview).
Also the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar has tried to provoke the Muslim world by throwing dirt on the Americans and the remaining parts of the West. As stated in “Taliban”, “He accuses the previous president of the US of being a liar and a man without decency,“(Rashid n.p). This means that the Taliban leader is trying to make the US look like a big bad wolf. This is probably to get supporters, who share the same opinion about the US.
In addition to their firm grip around the Afghan people, the Taliban has had a close relationship with the terrorist Osama Bin Laden, which is the leader of Al’Qaida, for a long time. According to Ahmed Rashid, “The Taliban and their leader insisted that Osama Bin Laden would be a guest in Afghanistan, and swore that they would never hand him over to the US government,” (Rashid n.p). Rashid is referring to the situation after the bombings of the embassies in Africa, and Jan Opsal has the same opinion after September 11th.
According to Jan Opsal, “the Taliban wouldn’t extradite Osama Bin Laden against his will because the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden has such close bounds. Mainly financial, but also familiar. Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar have arranged for a marriage between their children to make the bonds even stronger,” (Interview) . The arranged marriage made Bin Laden a family member of Muhammad Omar, and a family tie is stronger than any other bonds in the eastern world.
The bitterness between the Muslim world and the West was created during the time of colonies, and has developed into a deeper hate throughout the years. The Muslim world feels abused by the west, and many radical Muslims and Muslim leaders have tried to increase the bitterness by provoking and throwing dirt upon the West. This is what the Taliban now is taking an advantage of, when they are trying to gather the Muslim world in jihad.
Are the criteria of a legitimate jihad fulfilled?
- By comparing the criteria for a real jihad, with the jihad declaration made by the Taliban, we can ascertain if this is legitimate. By taking a starting point in Mohammad Atta’s letter and the current situation in Afghanistan I’ll reach my conclusion.
The terrorist attacks on September 11th were performed by a group of terrorists, one of them was Mohammad Atta. He left a letter behind containing instructions and commands for what to do and what to think. It states, “Make your strike and everything on the basis of doing it for the sake of God. You will soon be in the Gardens of Paradise,” (Letter of Muhammad Atta n.p). It is obvious that Atta was under the belief that what he did was in a mission for God, and that he would become a martyr. The only way for a Muslim to be granted martyrdom is through jihad. Therefore we can assume that Atta and his fellow terrorists believed that they were fighting a jihad.
The letter continues; “Open your chest and welcome death in cause of God, always remembering your prayers to ease your mission before the goal in seconds. And let your last words be: There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his messenger. And then comes the meeting in the Highest Paradise with the mercy of God” (Letter of Mohammad Atta n.p). We see here clear references to the glorified death of jihad and the last words of the martyrs. The letter also has a direct reference to sura number 9 in the Quran. This sura is called “Al Tawbah” which means “The Repentance”. We read in verse 5 “find and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them,” and we can only imagine how these words fitted into the plans of Atta.
The terrorist attacks have not been accepted as a jihad in the Muslim world. The reason is because of the way the victims were killed. They were killed in fire and literally cremated. According to Jan Opsal, “Cremation is not allowed in Islamic law. It is considered to be a brutal and inhumanly way to die. Islamic law would never accept the terrorist attacks no matter what the arguments were,” (Interview).
After the terrorist attacks on the 11th of September, the US warned Afghanistan that they would bomb the country if the Taliban didn’t extradite Osama Bin Laden. The Taliban responded by declaring a conditional jihad. An attack on Afghanistan would result in a jihad. When the US started to bomb Afghanistan on the 7th of October, the jihad was a fact.
The Taliban seems certain that the criteria for jihad has been fulfilled. But Jan Opsal, however claim that they are trying to construct a jihad situation, and they want to formulate the classic jihad criteria. ”The Taliban is being very eager to emphasize that Afghanistan is being attacked without a reason. They have not done anything. At the same time they are saying that an attack at Afghanistan is an attack on Islam.” (Interview) This is a criteria for jihad, but are they making it up? The US has under no circumstances expressed that this war is a war against Islam. They have been very eager to make it clear that it is a war against terrorism. President George W. Bush states, “The United States of America is a friend to the Afghan people, and we are the friends of almost a billion worldwide who practice the Islamic faith,” (Nettavisen n.p) Here he says that the war they are declaring is not a war against a religion, but a war against the terrorists.
Jan Opsal also says that “it is only the Kaliph of Sunni-Islam that is allowed to declare jihad, unless there is an agreement among the believers.” In this case there is not an agreement among the believers, but Jan Opsal says that “The Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, has crowned himself “The prince of the believers” which was the same title given to the second Kaliph, Omar. This is most likely Mullah Omar giving himself the permission to declare jihad,” (Interview). In that case the jihad declaration is legitimate to those who consider Mullah Omar as a “Prince of the Believers”.
We can actually say that according to the Taliban all the criteria for jihad have been fulfilled, but not in the eyes of other Muslims. They see these gaps and holes in the declaration.
In the media we get the impression that Bin Laden and the Taliban have a massive support in the Muslim world. But although the media are showing demonstrations in Bin Laden’s favour, this doesn’t mean that they support him. Jan Opsal says, “These people are doing it out of frustration with the West. Muslims feel abused and manipulated, financially and politically, by the West, and are ready to support anyone who stands up against it. Some Muslims don’t even care what way the war is fought in,” (Interview). But Jan Opsal also makes it clear that, “the majority of the Muslims are scared by the kind of Islam that Bin Laden represent, they do not, and will not support it,” (Interview).
The Taliban and Osama Bin Laden obviously has to twist the jihad criteria, in order to appeal to as many Muslims as possible. If not they will not stand a chance in a war against the powerful West.
- Are the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the following war between the US and the Taliban legitimate to the criteria for “jihad”?
In my analysis, I soon realized that according to the general accepted criteria for jihad, the attacks on the US and the Taliban and al-Qaida war in Afghanistan did not in any way qualify for any recognition as an Islamic jihad. Taliban and bin Laden have broken a number of the Islamic rules concerning jihad, so I did not expect the Muslim world to mobilize for their cause. Actually most of the Muslims mobilized in different ways against the Taliban .
As the events in Afghanistan have been developing parallel to my work, my hypothesis has been proven right. Even many of the fellow tribesmen of the Taliban turned against the Taliban leaders as the luck of war obviously turned. Many Taliban and al-Qaida soldiers have been eager to find opportunities for safe surrender, instead of seeking death in fight. This is an indication that they did not even themselves believe in the declaration of jihad.