Homework – Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Global Jihad

Here’s the post where I first mentioned my essay!

***Disclaimer: Although the written essay is my own, the ideas were pulled from the sources listed in footnotes. As my professor does not require exact citations, I simply used the book title and author or a weblink. I do not claim responsibility for any use of my essay if plagiarized.***

Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are two distinct entities that are often confused as the same group with one agenda – to conquer the Western world and rule the world using the iron fist of Islam. While …relatively little is known about them by most…easy to demonize Islam…In order to understand the purpose of and network between these two unfamiliar organizations, it is important to understand the religious ideologies of both as well as the political climate in which both groups were formed.

The single most defining event of both al-Qaeda and the Taliban was the war of Afghanistan with Russia. This became the reason for the inception of both groups, although the ideas they represent started earlier. With the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a rallying cry was made throughout all the Middle Eastern countries to help members of the Umma. As Sheikh Uthaymeen said, it is important for Muslims to defend their country when besieged, and this was the original purpose of any violence associated with jihad.[1] In Saudi Arabia, Imams were encouraged to give sermons urging men to fulfill their religious calling and fight for their brothers. Sheikh bin Uthaymin issued a fatwa stating that Muslims had an obligation to fight invaders.[2] Muslims from all over, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan came forward to help fight the communist Russians, because it was an outrage to the Islamic faith to be subjected to secular rule. It was during this time that many extremists met each other and formed relationships that would later connect groups of radical Muslims. They fought side by side and shared a zeal for freeing their Muslim brothers from non-Muslims, one that would not end with the retreat of the Russians. After the war, three groups of people emerged – those that wanted to back to their lives in peace, those that just wanted power over a country, and those that saw the victory as a sign from God for worldwide jihad.

The Taliban was created by Mullah Mohammad Omar in 1991. Omar, a scholar of Islam, had intentions of making “a powerful Islamic government in Afghanistan” after the widely hated secular rule supported by the Soviet Union.[3] With the retreat of the Russians in 1988, Afghanistan fell into more fighting as the mujahideen wanted to oust president Mohammad Najibullah, who ruled only with Soviet support. In 1996, the Taliban gained control of most of Afghanistan by forcefully declaring rule over the various factions and marked it with the hanging of former president Najibullah. Fighting had been a part of the life in Afghanistan since 1978 with the invasion of the Russians, so the Taliban initially gained much favor from the people of Afghanistan because of the peace it apparently brought.[4] However, the Taliban quickly came under scrutiny because its actions were less than favorable. They responded with, “Those who consider the imposition of [Hudud] law to be against human rights are insulting all Muslims and their beliefs.”[5]

In September 1998, Mullah Omar, in an attempt to give his rule authority (as well as discuss the presence of Osama bin Laden) called a meeting of 1,500 Ulema. The Ulema agreed with Omar’s policies, lending it religious authority. It was widely suspected that they simply said what Omar instructed them to say, for fear of the wrath of the Taliban.[6] Omar also held authority because of the tradition of Wahhabism that had been introduced by Saudis during the war with Russia. The founder of Wahhabism, Mohammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, formed an alliance with a chieftain, and this relationship became a religious obligation: “A Muslim must present …[an] oath of allegiance to a Muslim ruler during his lifetime to ensure his redemption after death. The ruler is conversely owed unquestioned allegiance from his people so long as he leads the community according to the laws of God.”[7] Maulvi Qalamuddin, head of the Department of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (referred to derogatorily by the people as “religious police”), sums up the Taliban’s beliefs with this statement: “We lost two million people in the war against the Soviets because we had no Sharia law. We fought for Sharia and now this is the organization that will implement it.”[8]

In contrast to the Taliban, which at first only sought to gain absolute rule in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda, founded by Osama bin Laden, championed a belief in a pan-Islamic world. Bin Laden gained many of his views during his college years from his mentor Dr. Abdullah Azzam. Azzam, a religious scholar, had advocated an extremely radical form of Islam for many years starting with the Palestinian conflict with Israel. He is called “the godfather of Jihad,” and influenced other radicals such as Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mullah Krekar. He was instrumental in setting up a vision of global Islamism, stating: “Unfortunately, when we think about Islam we think nationally. We fail to let our vision pass beyond geographic borders that have been drawn up for us by the kafir.”[9] After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Azzam issued a fatwa called Defense of the Muslim Land calling for jihad. Azzam had this fatwa confirmed by Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti, giving the fatwa the greatest legitimacy it could obtain.[10] Azzam also arranged for bin Laden to secretly travel to Peshawar, where bin Laden would meet other Muslims fighting for the liberation of Afghanistan. After these meetings, bin Laden moved to Afghanistan to devote himself entirely to the war.[11] It was also during this time that bin Laden met al-Zawahiri who would go on to become the leader of the radical Egyptian group al-Jihad and second in command of al-Qaeda.

Bin Laden came from an extremely affluent family in Saudi Arabia and gained admiration during the Afghan war because of his seemingly endless donations and his tireless devotion to the cause, despite the fact that he could easily live in luxury elsewhere. The combination of his mentor’s ideas as well as the successful jihad against the Soviets confirmed for bin Laden the need for worldwide jihad, or, in his eyes, war against all non-Muslims. Although bin Laden is neither a mufti nor a religious scholar and thus cannot legally issue fatwas, his announcements have come to be viewed and called as such.[12] He issued two so-called fatwas, first in 1996 and again in 1998. The 1998 Fatwa Against the Jews and Christians was heavily influenced by al-Zawahiri and also signed by senior members of the Egyptian Islamic Group, the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Pakistan, and the Jihad Movement in Bangladesh. These two fatwas provoked the U.S. into attacking seven targets in Afghanistan and Sudan.[13] Suddenly, not only was the revered (by descendants of the war with Russia) bin Laden calling Muslim brothers to action against an “evil” non-Muslim foreigner, but now, as bin Laden “knew,” the foreigners were indeed committing atrocious offensive attacks against Muslims. Radicals who remembered toppling the mighty Soviet Union army were again motivated to fight for religious freedom, and they had a leader who clearly knew the way. As al-Zawahiri stated, “The West, led by the US, which is under the influence of the Jews, does not know the language of ethics, morality and legitimate rights. They only know the language of interest backed by brute military force. Therefore if we wish to have a dialogue with them and make them aware of our rights we must talk to them in a language they understand.”[14]

As bin Laden prepared al-Qaeda for war against America, he fled both Saudi Arabia and Sudan as they attempted to cooperate with the U.S. and keep him captive. Bin Laden found sanctuary in Afghanistan in 1996. He approved of the Taliban’s implementation of shari’ah as well as their religious justification since bin Laden was also influenced by Wahhabism. He reached out to Mullah Omar with whom he would cultivate a close relationship. Bin Laden’s ideology of global Islam began to heavily influence the senior members of the Taliban. However, this would create rifts within the Taliban. The main desire of the Taliban was to establish political rule in Afghanistan and become recognized by all countries as a legitimate government. Al-Qaeda’s radical views and actions greatly hindered this goal. The relationship between these two groups was only based on the personal relationships among the members (especially Omar and bin Laden) and circumstances of a shared location.[15]

A more currently relevant network is one created by the vast affiliates of al-Qaeda. This network is the direct result of the war with Soviet Russia and the radical jihadist thinking that was encouraged during this time. The Arab Afghans, as they are now known, fought in the war but came from various other countries. After the war, the Arab Afghans returned to their homelands, but the ideas espoused by Azzam, bin Laden, and al-Zawahiri remained with them. In the words of Samuel Huntington, “The war …left a legacy of expert and experienced fighters, training camps and logistical facilities, elaborate trans-Islam networks of personal and organization relationships, a substantial amount of military equipment…and, most important, a heady sense of power and self-confidence over what had been achieved and a driving desire to move on to other victories.”[16] Nothing leaves an impression like a personal experience, and the experience of winning against the Soviets allowed the belief that all powers could be defeated.

Many affiliates have the goal of overthrowing state governments. The Armed Islamic Group (GIA) aims to overthrow the secular Algerian regime. The Islamic Army of Aden has the same vision for Yemen and Ansar al-Islam wants this for Northern Iraq. Asbat al-Ansar takes this one step further as it wants to establish a strict Islamic rule in Lebanon as well as fight Israel. Al-Qaeda supports each of these groups in various ways, whether through finances, personnel, or other connections. But it seems that this help is always given with al-Qaeda’s vision in mind: “al-Qaeda gains access to smaller groups by pledging to help them achieve their regional goals, but soon wields them as tools in pursuing its wider aim of global jihad.” [17] It is predicted that al-Qaeda now only attacks once a year, while an associate group attacks once every three months. Al-Qaeda has become less of a formal group and more like a movement that inspires many radical groups.[18] An estimation of radical affiliates of al-Qaeda number around 30 to 40, while “cells” number around 80.

Osama bin Laden, terrorism, and even the violence of the Taliban have been denounced many times over by various Islamic scholars. Hamza Yusuf, who signed A Common Word and an advocate for peace, denounces the violent tactics, saying, “There’s no Islamic justification” for the violence of the misguided warmongers.[19] Similarly, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR CAN) and the Canadian Muslim Civil Liberties Association (CMCLA) both officially disagreed with bin Laden’s statements.[20] Even Iranian politician Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati stated: “What could be worse than committing violence, narrow-mindedness and limiting women’s rights and defaming Islam?”[21] However, in bin Laden’s mind, and perhaps those of all radicals, they are doing what they believe to be the work of Allah. Perhaps, as A Common Word  suggests, more dialogue in understanding each other is critical to peace


[2] Atwan, Abdel Bari. The Secret History of Al Qaeda.

[3] Marsden, Peter. The Taliban: War, Religion, and the New Order in Afghanistan. page 62

[4] Rashid, Ahmed. Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia.

[5] Marsden.

[7] Gohari, M.J. The Taliban: Ascent to Power.

[8] Rashid.

[9] Atwan. Page 74.

[11] Atwan.

[12] Rashid.

[13] Atwan.

[14] Awan. Page 84.

[16] Rashid. Page 130.

[17] Schanzer, Jonathan. Al-Qaeda’s Armies. Quote from page 24.

[18] Gunaratna, Rohan. “The Post-Madrid Face of Al Qaeda.”

[21] Rashid. Page 116.

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