By Nabeel Jabbour
He was born in Baghdad (1263), but most of his life was spent in Damascus, where he died (1328). He lived during the days when Mongols invaded the Middle East (1299-1303) and inflicted terrible suffering on Muslims. Influenced by ultra-conservatives, Tamiyyah concluded such things happened to them because they had forsaken Islam. The solution was that they return to Islam. They must be better Muslims. Thus, he adopted the principle of takfir, where the good guys denounce the bad guys as infidels (kafirs). This same theology later greatly impacted Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, founder of the Saudi Arabia-based Wahabbi movement, and ultimately Sayyid Qutb. It is the same principle that drives ISIS today.
He was born in Egypt (1906) and memorized the Qur’an by the age of 12. After teaching for a time, he began the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928. As a promoter of extremism, this group spread rapidly in the Middle East and beyond. When al-Banna was assassinated in 1949, the Egyptian government assumed Islamic extremism was dead, but nothing could be further from the truth. Islamic fundamentalism can only be defeated when root causes are acknowledged and dealt with. What is worrisome is that as violence grows each generation will find it more difficult to deal with the problem. The Brotherhood was the foundation for al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda the foundation for ISIS.
He was in some ways similar to al-Banna. He was born the same year and mastered the Qur’an at age 12. But unlike al-Banna, he was not a practicing Muslim in the early years. He began as a teacher, then rose to the rank of government school inspector. In 1948, the Egyptian government sent him to the United States as an international student with two objectives. First, they wanted him to understand the American education system, and second they thought he should be westernized. Actually, it was the start of two journeys: one was to the US and the other was to find himself. He left Egypt as a secular Muslim, but during his time in the US, moved toward Islamic fundamentalism. Eventually he became a leader in the Brotherhood, resulting in his arrest, imprisonment and ultimately execution. Qutb’s views on takfir mirrored those of Ibn Tamiyyah. He wrote an exhaustive commentary on the Qur’an, but his most influential book was Milestones. It was banned shortly after release, and because he refused to recant, Qutb was hanged by President Nasser in 1966. Again, contrary to expectations, extremism was not eradicated. For many Muslims he became a martyr and his writings live on.
He was born in 1957 in Jeddah, the son of Muhammad bin Laden’s fourth wife. His father began in Saudi Arabia as an illiterate immigrant from Yemen and became extremely wealthy. Thanks to connections with the royal family, he contracted to restore Islam’s three holiest sites–Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. Learning about Osama bin Laden’s family, early education and years to follow, tells us much about him. His exposure to Qutb’s writing, life in Saudi Arabia and sojourn in Afghanistan and Sudan, plus associations with Egyptian Ayman Zawahiri, produced al-Qaeda. After his demise in Pakistan (2011), al-Qaeda spread into Iraq, and there under new leadership, became more violent than ever.
He was born in Cairo (1951) into a family that included 31 doctors and chemists/pharmacists. Besides, there was an ambassador, a judge and a member of parliament. His uncle became rector (papal status) at al-Azhar University in Cairo. Then, on his mother’s side, there was wealth and political clout. His grandfather was president of Cairo University, founder of King Saud University in Riyadh, and served as Egypt’s ambassador in Pakistan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Zawahiri himself graduated from medical school and temporarily served as a surgeon. His uncle was Qutb’s student, and later became his lawyer. Zawahiri used Milestones to disciple students. His years in Egypt, Afghanistan, Sudan and Afghanistan also helped to establish al-Qaeda. Although currently al-Qaeda’s leader, he lives in the shadow of al-Baghdadi. Where al-Qaeda achieved partial success, ISIS is thriving in terms of territory, fame, funds and recruiting power. Time will tell whether or not Zawahiri joins hands with al-Baghdadi and recognizes him as Caliph of the Islamic State.
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