Juhayman al-Otaybi

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Juhayman al-Otaybi
Juhayman al-Otaibi.jpg
Born (1936-09-16)16 September 1936
Died 9 January 1980(1980-01-09) (aged 43)
Criminal status
Children 3

Juhayman ibn Muhammad ibn Sayf al-Otaybi (Arabic: جهيمان بن محمد بن سيف العتيبي‎) (16 September 1936[1] – 9 January 1980) was a religious activist and militant who led the takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam's holiest site, to protest against the Saudi monarchy and their ruling, in the last months of 1979.


Otaybi was born in al-Sajir, Al-Qassim Province,[2] a settlement established by King Abdulaziz to house Ikhwan bedouin tribesmen who had fought for him. This settlement (known as a hijra) was populated by members of Otaybi's tribe, the 'Utaybah tribe, one of the most pre-eminent tribes of the Najd region.[1] Many of Otaibi's men participated in the Battle of Sabilla during the Ikhwan uprising against King Abdulaziz, including his father and grandfather (who was killed). Otaybi grew up aware of the battle and of how the Saudi monarchs had betrayed the original religious principles of the Saudi state.[2] He finished school without fluent writing ability, but he loved to read religious texts.[3]

He served in the Saudi Arabian National Guard from 1955 to 1973.[4] He was a thin and stood 6' 1½" (187 cm) according to his friends in the Saudi Arabian National Guard. Then he moved to Medina and studied at Islamic University.[4] It is when he met with Muhammad ibn Abdullah Al Qahtani.[4]

Otaybi, upon moving to Medina, joined the local chapter of a Salafi group called Al-Jamaa Al-Salafiya Al-Muhtasiba. The group was headed by the Islamic University's president, Abd al-Aziz ibn Baz.[5] Ibn Baz used his religious stature to arrange fundraising for the group, and Otaybi earned money by buying, repairing, and re-selling automobiles from city auctions.[6]

Otaybi lived in a "makeshift compound" about a half hour's walk to the Prophet's Mosque, and his followers stayed in a nearby dirt-floored hostel called Bayt al-Ikhwan ("House of the Brothers"). Otaybi and his devotees obeyed an austere and simple lifestyle, ensuring that they could find scriptural evidence for their actions and beliefs.[7] Otaybi was perturbed by what he saw as bid'ah, or the encroachment of Western beliefs on Saudi society to the detriment of traditional Islam. For example, he believed soccer players were immodest for the shorts they wore during matches[citation needed], he opposed the integration of women into the workforce, and he refused to use paper money with an image of the King of Saudi Arabia on it.[8]

By 1977, ibn Baz had departed to Riyadh and Otaybi became the leader of a faction of young recruits that developed their own—sometimes unorthodox—religious doctrines. When older members of the Jamaa traveled to Medina to confront Otaybi about these developments, the two factions split from each other. Otaybi attacked the elder sheikhs as government sellouts and called his new group al-Ikhwan.[9]

In the late 1970s, he moved to Riyadh, where he drew the attention of the Saudi security forces. He and approximately 100 of his followers were arrested in the summer of 1978 for demonstrating against the monarchy, but were released after ibn Baz questioned them and pronounced them harmless.[3]

He married both the daughter of Prince Sajer Al Mohaya[citation needed] and the sister of Muhammad ibn Abdullah Al Qahtani.[4]

His doctrines are said to have included:

  1. The imperative to emulate the Prophet's example—revelation, propagation, and military takeover.
  2. The necessity for the Muslims to overthrow their present corrupt rulers who are forced upon them and lack Islamic attributes since the Quran recognizes no king or dynasty.
  3. The requirements for legitimate rulership are devotion to Islam and its practice, rulership by the Holy Book and not by repression, Qurayshi tribal roots, and election by the Muslim believers.
  4. The duty to base the Islamic faith on the Quran and the sunnah and not on the equivocal interpretations (taqlid) of the ulama and on their "incorrect" teachings in the schools and universities.
  5. The necessity to isolate oneself from the sociopolitical system by refusing to accept any official positions.
  6. The advent of the mahdi from the lineage of the Prophet through Husayn ibn Ali to remove the existing injustices and bring equity and peace to the faithful.
  7. The duty to reject all worshipers of the partners of God (shirk), including worshipers of Ali, Fatimah and Muhammad, the Khawarij, and even music.
  8. The duty to establish a puritanical Islamic community which protects Islam from unbelievers and does not court foreigners.[4]

Juhayman's charge against the Saudi leadership[edit]

Juhayman said that his justification was that the Al Saud had lost its legitimacy through corruption and imitation of the West, an echo of his father's charge in 1921 against Abd al Aziz.

Takeover of the Grand Mosque[edit]

Juhayman's Officers

On November 20, 1979—the first day of the Islamic year 1400—the Grand Mosque in Makkah was seized by a well-organized group of 400 to 500 men under al-Otaybi's leadership.

The Grand Mosque Seizure lasted three weeks before Saudi Special Forces[citation needed] attempted to break into the Mosque finally using armored personnel carriers. French Special Forces[citation needed] advisers assisted in strategy. Tear gas, and extensive small arms fire was used.[citation needed]

Unofficial sources and alleged eye witness accounts tend to dispute these claims, attributing the successful end of the takeover to the flooding of the lower levels of the Grand Mosque by the Pakistani SSG. Claimants argue that the Holy Quran forbids blood shed within the holy site's boundary and also forbids non-Muslims to enter its boundary. Saudi scholars, therefore, would not have permitted the use of firearms or the direct entry of non-Muslim forces into the Mosque's boundary. However, SSG's own site does not list this as one of its operations.

Upon entering the mosque, it was full of dead bodies and waste. The fleeing militants tried to escape through water tunnels around the mosque, which however were then flushed with water to bring the rebels out.

When Juhayman was arrested he refused to speak to anyone until a group of scholars from Medina who were his teachers, led by Shaykh Muhammad al-Ameen ash-Shanqeeti, visited him in prison and embraced him and wept severely and asked him for his justification. Juhayman replied that he was motivated by the turmoil of that time and that he hoped that if they called on Allah and asked for forgiveness so that perhaps Allah would forgive them.[citation needed]

Juhayman and 67 members of his group were subsequently beheaded by the Saudi Government.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lunn 2003: 945
  2. ^ Lacroix & Holoch 2011: 93
  3. ^ Lacey 2009, p. 16.
  4. ^ a b c d "The Dream That Became A Nightmare". Al Majalla 1533. 20 November 2009. Retrieved 11 April 2013. 
  5. ^ Lacey 2009, p. 9.
  6. ^ Lacey 2009, p. 17.
  7. ^ Lacey 2009, p. 8.
  8. ^ Lacey 2009, p. 12.
  9. ^ Lacey 2009, p. 13.


  1. ^ Krämer, p. 262; Graham and Wilson, p. 57
  2. ^ Abir, p. 150
  3. ^ Lacey 1981, p. 481; Ruthven, p. 8; Abir, p. 150
  4. ^ Graham and Wilson, p. 57
  5. ^ Quandt, p. 94, gives 1972 as the date of his resignation; Graham and Wilson, ibid., say 1973; Dekmejian, p. 141, says "around 1974"
  6. ^ Dekmejian, p. 143; Lacey, p. 483; Krämer, p. 262, p. 282 n. 17
  7. ^ Lacey 1981, p. 482
  8. ^ Quoted and summarized in Dekmejian, p. 142
  9. ^ Lacey 1981, p. 483; Graham and Wilson, p. 57

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]