Beliefs and ideology of Osama bin Laden

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Osama bin Laden took ideological guidance from individuals named Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, and Sayyid Qutb.[1] Bin Laden also belonged to the Wahhabi sect and was hence a follower of Ibn Abdul Wahhab Najdi.[2] He subscribed to the Athari (literalist) school of Islamic theology.[3]

To effectuate his beliefs, Osama bin Laden founded al-Qaeda, a Sunni Islamist militant organization.[4] In conjunction with several other Islamic leaders, he issued two fatwasin 1996 and then again in 1998—that Muslims should fight those that either support Israel or support Western military forces in Islamic countries, stating that those in that mindset are the enemy, including citizens from the United States and allied countries. His goal was for Western military forces to withdraw from the Middle East and for foreign aid to Israel to cease as it reflected negatively on Palestinians.[5][6]


Following an extreme form of Islamism, Bin Laden believed that the restoration of God's law will set things right in the Muslim world. He stated, "When we used to follow Muhammad's revelation we were in great happiness and in great dignity, to Allah belongs the credit and praise."[7] He believed "the only Islamic country" in the Muslim world was Afghanistan under the rule of Mullah Omar's Taliban before that regime was overthrown in late 2001.[8]

Differences with Wahhabi Ideology[edit]

Bin Laden's connection with contemporary Wahhabi Islam is disputed. Some believe his ideology is different in crucial ways. While modern Wahhabi doctrine states that only political leaders can call for jihad, bin Laden believed he could declare jihad. Modern Wahhabism forbids disobedience to a ruler unless the rule has commanded his/her subjects to violate religious commandments.[9] Furthermore, the basic goals of bin Laden are different to contemporary Wahhabists. Bin Laden was most interested in "resisting western domination and combating regimes that fail to rule according to Islamic law,"[9] while Wahhabism focuses on correct methods of worshiping God, removing idols, and ensuring adherence to Islamic law.[9]

On the other hand, some believe[10] bin Laden "adopted Wahhabi terminology" when they called America `the Hubal of the age`, since Hubal was a stone idol and idolatry (shirk) was the primary Wahhabi sin.[10]


In a January 2004 message Bin Laden called for the establishment of provisional underground ruling councils in Muslim countries to be made up of "ulema, leaders who are obeyed among their people, dignitaries, nobles, and merchants." The councils would be sure "the people" had "easy access to arms, particularly light weapons; anti-armored rockets, such as RPGs; and anti-tank mines" to fight "raids" by "the Romans," i.e. United States.[11]

His interviews, video messages and other communications always mentioned and almost always dwelt on need for jihad to right what he believed were injustices against Muslims by the United States and sometimes other non-Muslim states,[12] the need to eliminate the state of Israel, and to force the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Middle East. Occasionally other issues arose; he called for Americans to "reject the immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling, and usury," in an October 2002 letter.[13][14]

Grievances against countries[edit]

East Timor[edit]

In his November 2001 statement, Osama bin Laden criticized the UN and Australian "Crusader" forces for ensuring the independence of the mostly Catholic East Timor from the mostly Muslim state of Indonesia.[15]


Bin Laden considered India to be a part of the 'Crusader-Zionist-Hindu' conspiracy against the Islamic world.[16]

Saudi Arabia[edit]

Bin Laden was born in Saudi Arabia and had a close relationship with the Saudi royal family, but his opposition to the Saudi government stemmed from his radical ideology. The Saudi decision to allow the U.S. military into the country in 1990 to defend against a possible attack by Saddam Hussein upset bin Laden, although he was not necessarily opposed to the royal family at this time or going to war with Iraq and even offered to send his mujahedeen from Afghanistan to defend Saudi Arabia should Iraq attack, an offer which was rebuked by King Fahd. From his point of view, "for the Muslim Saudi monarchy to invite non-Muslim American troops to fight against Muslim Iraqi soldiers was a serious violation of Islamic law".[17]

Bin Laden, in his 1996 declaration entitled "Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places",[18] identified several grievances that he had about Saudi Arabia, the birthplace and holy land of Islam. Bin Laden said these grievances about Saudi Arabia:

Bin Laden wanted to overthrow the Saudi monarchy (and the governments of Middle Eastern states)[20] and establish an "Islamic Republic" according to Shari'a law (Islamic Holy Law), to "unite all Muslims and to establish a government which follows the rule of the Caliphs."[21]

Soviet Union[edit]

In 1979, bin Laden opposed the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan and would soon heed the call to arms by Afghan freedom fighters. Bin Laden would use his own independent wealth and resources to get Arab fighters from Egypt, Lebanon, Kuwait and Turkey to join the Afghans in their battle against the Soviets. While bin Laden praised the U.S. intervention early on, being happy that the Afghans were getting aid from all over the world to battle the Soviets, his view of the U.S. soon grew sour, stating "Personally neither I nor my brothers saw evidence of American help. When my mujahedin were victorious and the Russians were driven out, differences started..."[22]

After two years into the Soviet war, bin Laden headed to Sudan to continue his work as a construction engineer and an agriculturalist, building bridges alongside some of the people he had fought alongside during the war.

United Kingdom[edit]

Bin Laden believed that Israeli Jews controlled the British government, directing it to kill as many Muslims as it could. He cited British participation in 1998's Operation Desert Fox as proof of this allegation.[23]

United States of America[edit]

Bin Laden's stated motivations of the September 11 attacks include the support of Israel by the United States, the presence of the U.S. military in the Saudi Arabian borders, which he considered to be sacred Islamic territory, and the U.S. enforcement of sanctions against Iraq. He first called for jihad against the United States in 1996. This call solely focused on U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia; bin Laden loathed their presence and wanted them removed in a "rain of bullets".[24]

Bin Laden's hatred and disdain for the U.S. were also manifested while he lived in Sudan. There he told Al-Qaeda fighters-in-training:[25]

Grievances against the United States[edit]

In his 1998 fatwa entitled, "Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders"[26] bin Laden identified three grievances against the U.S.:

Bin Laden criticized the United States in a "letter to the American people" published in late 2002,[27] and further outlined his grievances with the United States in a 2004 speech directed towards the American people.[28]

Favorable opinion of two American authors[edit]

In 2011, in a review of a new book from former CIA officer Michael Scheuer, professor and writer Fouad Ajami wrote that "[i]n 2007, [bin Laden] singled out two western authors whose knowledge he had high regard for: Noam Chomsky and" Scheuer.[29]

John F. Kennedy conspiracy theory[edit]

Bin Laden supported the conspiracy theory that John F. Kennedy was killed by the "owners of the major corporations who were benefiting from its (Vietnam War) continuation":

In the Vietnam War, the leaders of the White House claimed at the time that it was a necessary and crucial war, and during it, Donald Rumsfeld and his aides murdered two million villagers. And when Kennedy took over the presidency and deviated from the general line of policy drawn up for the White House and wanted to stop this unjust war, that angered the owners of the major corporations who were benefiting from its continuation. And so Kennedy was killed, and al-Qaida wasn't present at that time, but rather, those corporations were the primary beneficiary from his killing. And the war continued after that for approximately one decade. But after it became clear to you that it was an unjust and unnecessary war, you made one of your greatest mistakes, in that you neither brought to account nor punished those who waged this war, not even the most violent of its murderers, Rumsfeld.[30]

Killing of non-Islamic believers[edit]

According to bin Laden's ideology, non-Islamic believers may be deliberately killed in support of jihadism. This position evolved from an earlier, less violent one. In a 1998 interview, he alleged that in fighting jihad, "we differentiate between men and women, and between children and old people," unlike hypocritical "infidels" who "preach one thing and do another."[31] But two years later he told another interviewer that those who say "killing a child is not valid" in Islam "speak without any knowledge of Islamic law", because killing non-Islamic believers may be done in vengeance.[32] In other words, bin Laden's interpretation of Islamic doctrine allows retaliation against U.S. citizens because of perceived indiscriminate U.S. aggression against Muslims.[33] To another question by a Muslim interviewer about Muslims killed in the September 11 attacks, bin Laden replied that "Islamic law says that Muslim should not stay long in the land of infidels," although he suggested Muslim casualties in the attack were collateral damage.[34]

Other ideologies[edit]

In his messages, bin Laden has opposed "pan-Arabism, socialism, communism, democracy and other doctrines," with the exception of Islam.[35] Democracy and "legislative council[s] of representatives," are denounced, calling the first "the religion of ignorance," and the second "councils of polytheism."[36] In what one critic has called a contradiction,[37] he has also praised the principle of governmental "accountability," citing the Western democracy of Spain: "Spain is an infidel country, but its economy is stronger than ours because the ruler there is accountable."[38]

Opposition to music[edit]

Bin Laden opposed music on religious grounds. Despite his love of horse racing and ownership of racing horses, the presence of a band and music at the Khartoum race track annoyed him so much that he stopped attending races in Sudan. "Music is the flute of the devil," he told his Sudanese stable-mate Issam Turabi.[39]

Support for environmentalism[edit]

Osama bin Laden and his aides have, on more than one occasion, denounced the United States for damaging the environment.

You have destroyed nature with your industrial waste and gases more than any other nation in history. Despite this, you refuse to sign the Kyoto agreement so that you can secure the profit of your greedy companies and industries.[40]

Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's aide, said global warming reflected

how brutal and greedy the Western Crusader world is, with America at its top [41]

Bin Laden has also called for a boycott of American goods and the destruction of the American economy as a way of fighting global warming.[42]


On the subject of technology, bin Laden is said to have ambivalent feelings –being interested in "earth-moving machinery and genetic engineering of plants, on the one hand," but rejecting "chilled water on the other."[43] In Afghanistan, his sons' education reportedly eschewed the arts and technology and amounted to "little other than memoriz[ing] the Quran all day".[44]


Osama bin Laden believed that masturbation was justifiable in "extreme" cases.[45][46]

Jews, Christians, and Shia Muslims[edit]

Bin Laden was profoundly anti-Semitic, and delivered many warnings against alleged Jewish conspiracies: "These Jews are masters of usury and leaders in treachery. They will leave you nothing, either in this world or the next."[47]

At the same time, bin Laden's organization worked with Shia militants: "Every Muslim, from the moment they realize the distinction in their hearts, hates Americans, hates Jews, and hates Israelis. This is a part of our belief and our religion."[48] and was apparently inspired by the successes of Shia radicalism—such as the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the implementation of Sharia by Ayatollah Khomeini, and the human wave attacks committed by radical Shia teenagers during the 1980s Iran–Iraq War. While in Sudan, "senior managers in al Qaeda maintained contacts with" Shia Iran and Hezbollah, its closely allied Shia "worldwide terrorist organization. ... Al Qaeda members received advice and training from Hezbollah."[49] where they are thought to have borrowed the techniques of suicide and simultaneous bombing.[50] Because of the Shia-Wahhabi enmity, this collaboration could only go so far. According to the US 9/11 Commission Report, Iran was rebuffed when it tried to strengthen relations with al Qaeda after the October 2000 attack on USS Cole, "because Bin Laden did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia."[49]


  1. ^ DeLong-Bas, Natana (2007). Wahhabi Islam. London: I. B. Tauris. pp. 266, 273, 279.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Halverson, Jeffry R. (2010). Theology and Creed in Sunni Islam: The Muslim Brotherhood, Ash'arism, and Political Sunnism. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 80. It was there that he met the Athari-Wahhabite militant Osama bin Laden...
  4. ^ Scheuer, Michael, Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama Bin Laden, Radical Islam & the Future of America (2003, Brassey's Inc. ISBN 1-57488-553-7); p. 110.
  6. ^ "Online NewsHour: Al Qaeda's 1998 Fatwa". PBS. Archived from the original on 1 September 2006. Retrieved 2006-08-21.
  7. ^ Lawrence Wright (2006). The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Knopf. p. 246. ISBN 0-375-41486-X.
  8. ^ Osama Bin Laden, Bruce Lawrence (2005). Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden. Verso. p. 143. ISBN 1-84467-045-7.
  9. ^ a b c Commins, David (2006). The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia. I. B. Tauris. pp. 185, 190. ISBN 1-84511-080-3.
  10. ^ a b Gold, Dore (2003). Hatred's Kingdom (First ed.). Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing. p. 12.
  11. ^ Osama Bin Laden, Bruce Lawrence (2005). Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden. Verso. p. 230. ISBN 1-84467-045-7.
  12. ^ Messages to the World, (2005), p.xix, xx, editor Bruce Lawrence
  13. ^ Oct. 6, 2002. Appeared in Al-Qala'a website and then the London Observer Nov. 24, 2002.
  14. ^ Osama Bin Laden, Bruce Lawrence (2005). Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden. Verso. p. 166. ISBN 1-84467-045-7.
  15. ^ "Bin Laden rails against Crusaders and UN". BBC News. 2001-11-03.
  16. ^ Terrorism in India and the Global Jihad Archived November 11, 2011, at the Wayback Machine., Brookings Institution, November 30, 2008
  17. ^ DeLong-Bas, Natana (2007). Wahhabi Islam. London: I. B. Tauris. pp. 267–269.
  18. ^ a b "Online NewsHour: Bin Laden's Fatwa". Archived from the original on 12 August 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-04.
  19. ^ "Understanding Terrorism: Why dies Osama bin Laden hate the USA and other Western nations?". 2008-07-19. Retrieved 2010-09-04.
  20. ^ "Welcome to IASPS". 2001-09-27. Retrieved 2010-09-04.
  21. ^ "al-Qa'ida (The Base) / World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders / Usama bin Laden". Archived from the original on 24 August 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-04.
  22. ^ Fisk, Robert (1993-12-06). "Anti-Soviet warrior puts his army on the road to peace: The Saudi businessman who recruited mujahedin now uses them for large-scale building projects in Sudan. Robert Fisk met him in Almatig". The Independent. London.
  23. ^ "Conversation With Terror". Time. January 1999. Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  24. ^ DeLong-Bas, Natana (2007). Wahhabi Islam. London: I. B. Tauris. p. 272.
  25. ^ Wright, The Looming Tower, p. 187
  26. ^ "World Islamic Front Statement Urging Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders". Archived from the original on 7 September 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-04.
  27. ^ October 6, 2002. Appeared in Al-Qala'a website and then The Observer and The Guardian on November 24, 2002.
  28. ^ "Full transcript of bin Ladin's speech". Al Jazeera. 1 November 2004. Archived from the original on 1 January 2016. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  29. ^ Ajami, Fouad, "Osama Bin Laden: The Specter", review of Michael Scheuer, Osama Bin Laden, (2011, Oxford University Press ISBN 978-0-19-973866-3); The New York Times Book Review, February 11, 2011 (February 13, 2011 p. BR20). Retrieved 2011-02-14.
  30. ^ Transcript
  31. ^ Messages, (2005) p.70. Al Jazeera interview, December 1998, following Kenya and Tanzania embassy attacks.
  32. ^ Messages, (2005), p.119, October 21, 2001 interview with Taysir Alluni of Al Jazeera
  33. ^ "The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia", (2006) David Commins. p.189
  34. ^ "The main targets [of 9/11] were the symbols of the United States: their economic and military power. ..." from Interview published in Al-Quds Al-Arabi in London Nov. 12, 2001 (originally published in Pakistani daily, Ausaf, Nov. 7, 2001
  35. ^ Messages, 2005, p.218. "Resist the New Rome, audiotape delivered to al-Jazeera and broadcast by it on 4 January 2004
  36. ^ Messages to the World, (2005), p.208-9. "Quagmires of the Tigris and Euphrates," October 19, 2003, videotape delivered to al-Jazeera.
  37. ^ New York Review of Books, 9 March 2006, "Their Master's Voice" by Max Rodenbeck, review of Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden
  38. ^ Messages, (2005), p.227. "Resist the New Rome", audiotape delivered to al-Jazeera and broadcast by it on 4 January 2004
  39. ^ Wright, The Looming Tower, p. 167.
  40. ^ "Full text: bin Laden's 'letter to America'". The Guardian. London. 2002-11-24. Archived from the original on 18 April 2010. Retrieved 2010-04-26.
  41. ^ Osama bin Laden's aide Ayman al-Zawahiri rants on global warming -
  42. ^ Kates, Brian (2010-01-30). "Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden blasts U.S. in audiotape spewing hate for... global warming". Daily News. New York.
  43. ^ Wright, The Looming Tower, p. 172.
  44. ^ Wright, The Looming Tower, p. 254.
  45. ^ Cottee, Simon (February 1, 2017). "Osama bin Laden's Secret Masturbation Fatwa". Foreign Policy. Retrieved February 2, 2017. It is well-known that bin Laden was a fastidious and overbearing micromanager. But few would have suspected that it extended this far. And although it has been widely reported that he was in possession of a porn stash at his Abbottabad compound, it will no doubt come as a surprise that bin Laden, the foremost jihadi of his generation, had thought long and hard (no pun intended) on the issue of masturbation, as has current al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Bin Laden’s edict, though, raises more questions than it clarifies: If knocking one out in times of “extreme need” is permitted, how does one define the emergency of “extreme need”: Is it a week, a month, or a mere day of celibacy? Alas, bin Laden’s letter doesn’t shed any light on these burning questions.
  46. ^ Osama bin Laden. "Letter to Abu Muhammad Salah" (PDF). Director of National Intelligence. p. 3. Retrieved February 2, 2017. Dr. Ayman has written us his opinion, and a summary of what we took from it (although this is only initial, not final, and cannot be ultimately relied upon) is this: God is not ashamed of the truth. As we see it, we have no objection to clarifying to the brothers that they may, in such conditions, masturbate, since this is an extreme case. The ancestors approved this for the community. They advised the young men at the time of the conquest to do so. It has also been prescribed by the legists when needed, and there is no doubt that the brothers are in a state of extreme need.
  47. ^ Messages, (2005), p.190. from 53-minute audiotape that "was circulated on various websites." dated Feb. 14, 2003. "Among a Band of Knights."
  48. ^ Messages" (2005), p.87. Al Jazeera interview December 1998, following Kenya and Tanzania embassy attacks
  49. ^ a b 9/11 Commission Report, p.240
  50. ^ Wright, The Looming Tower, p. 174.

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