Bin Laden's theology a radical break with traditional Islam
May 4th, 2011
03:00 AM ET

Bin Laden's theology a radical break with traditional Islam

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) - Osama bin Laden wore the mantle of a religious leader. He looked the part and talked a good game, but his theology was a radical departure from traditional orthodox Islam.

The pitch to join al Qaeda did not start with an invitation to put on a suicide vest but, like other religious splinter groups and cults, took advantage of disenfranchisement and poverty.

Bin Laden had no official religious training but developed his own theology of Islam.

"We don't know that (bin Laden) was ever exposed to orthodox Islamic teachings," said Ebrahim Moosa, a professor of religion and Islamic studies at Duke University.

The writing of ideologues in the Muslim Brotherhood influenced bin Laden heavily, Moosa said.

"He takes scriptural imperatives at their face value and believes this is the only instruction and command God has given him - unmediated by history, unmediated by understanding, unmediated by human experience. Now that's a difference between Muslim orthodoxy and what I would call uber- or hyperscripturalists," Moosa said.

The vast majority of Islamic scholars and imams say the teaching of the Prophet Mohammed happened in historical context that needs to be understood when reading and interpreting the Quran.

"If the likes of bin Laden, if they had spent one day or maybe one month possibly, in a madrassa (Muslim religious school) and understood how the canonical tradition is interpreted, they would not go onto this kind of destructive path they go on," Moosa said.

In the entire leadership structure of al Qaeda, "no one has had any sort of formal religious training from any seminary," said Aftab Malik, a global expert on Muslim affairs at the United Nations Alliance of Civilization. He is researching a Ph.D. on al Qaeda.

"What you had was an engineer and a doctor leading a global jihad against the whole world," Malik said. "That would never happen in normative Islam. It's just such an aberration."

John Esposito, a professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, said bin Laden "appropriates Islam ... to legitimate and mobilize people."

"If you look at bin Laden's early statements and arguments, his interview with Peter Bergen on CNN ... lots of people would see it as something that would go down very well not just with many Muslims but among many analysts when he talks about longstanding political grievances," Esposito said.

"What bin Laden ends up doing is saying anyone who disagrees with him, any Muslim, is in fact an apostate," he said. That includes Muslims who would not join his fight, he said. "It's a distortion of the traditional teaching, and it just extends the parameters and the consequences in order to legitimate how when you're fighting on the ground you're fighting against your own people."

Malik said, "The key issue is of apostasy," referring to when a person leaves a faith. "One of the things Osama bin Laden deviates from is calling those people who do not implement Sharia, or God's law, on the planet as apostates. If they did not implement Sharia, they deserved death. This is a major departure from normative Islam."

"The second major deviation is the targeting of noncombatants. Even when you read in the Quran there are injunctions for fighting. But before and after the injunctions for fighting are calls for restraint. 'Do not attack monks, do not attack women, do not attack children.' And these are numerated heavily in the Hadith, which are uncontested," Malik said, referring to the sayings of the prophet and his close companions.

"What bin Laden has done is ignored those injunctions," he said. "The reason he has ignored them, in Osama bin Laden's theology it's basically a theology of anarchy.

"Once you let the genie out of the bottle you can't put it back in, and that's the big difference between al Qaeda theology and normative Islam. Normative Islam has heavy constraints - very, very heavy."

Bin Laden's theology is waning greatly in influence, Esposito said, in part because of the rise of the Arab Spring, the revolts of people on the street across the Middle East that have overthrown regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.

"(Al Qaeda's) whole notion was to develop a mass movement," Esposito said. "Well, they never did."

Flashback: Read CNN's Chief International Correspondent Nic Robertson's report on a Libyan group that denounced bin Laden ideology

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- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 9/11 • Egypt • Islam • Islamic law • Leaders • Middle East • Osama bin Laden • Quran • Sharia • Terrorism • Violence

soundoff (671 Responses)
  1. abudajan

    there one attack in some of united state

    May 4, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
    • Joseph36

      Take some medicine for your fanatic madness.

      May 4, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  2. stevie68a

    So stupid people defending the buy bull and koran. If you teach ethics, you don't need imaginary people to make your point.
    Religion is a mass delusion used to control people. The promise of an afterlife is just a racket used to lure people. The only hell
    Bin Ladin experienced, was what he created for himself here on earth. He surely felt like a caged animal for 9 1/2 years. He also
    cheated himself out of perhaps 30 years of life. Top this off with a truly horrific ending, his debt has been paid, and he doesn't
    exist anywhere (not heaven or hell).

    May 4, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  3. abudajan

    Bu, Amerika Birləşmiş Ştatları heyran və bir xəbərdarlıq
    müharibə, müharibə, müharibə, müharibə, müharibə
    Ölüm, Ölüm, Ölüm, Ölüm, Ölüm, Ölüm, Ölüm, Ölüm

    May 4, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  4. Homer

    Some people will not recognize Evil even when it stares them in the face:

    Allah is an enemy to unbelievers. – Qur'an 2:98
    On unbelievers is the curse of Allah. – 2:161
    Slay them wherever ye find them and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. – 2:191
    Fight against them until idolatry is no more and Allah’s religion reigns supreme. (different translation: ) Fight them until there is no persecution and the religion is God’s entirely. – Sura 2:193 and 8:39
    Fighting is obligatory for you, much as you dislike it. – 2:216
    (different translation: ) Prescribed for you is fighting, though it is hateful to you.
    ….. martyrs…. Enter heaven – Surah 3:140-43
    If you should die or be killed in the cause of Allah, His mercy and forgiveness would surely be better than all they riches they amass. If you should die or be killed, before Him you shall all be gathered. – 3:157-8
    You must not think that those who were slain in the cause of Allah are dead. They are alive, and well-provided for by their Lord. – 3:169-71
    Let those fight in the cause of God who sell the life of this world for the hereafter. To him who fights in the cause of God, whether he is slain or victorious, soon we shall give him a great reward. – 4:74
    Those who believe fight in the cause of God, and those who reject faith fight in the cause of evil. – 4:76
    But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever you find them. – 4:89
    Therefore, we stirred among them enmity and hatred, which shall endure till the Day of Resurrection, when Allah will declare to them all that they have done. – 5:14
    O believers, take not Jews and Christians as friends; they are friends of each other. Those of you who make them his friends is one of them. God does not guide an unjust people. – 5:54
    Make war on them until idolatry is no more and Allah’s religion reigns supreme – 8:39
    O Prophet! Exhort the believers to fight. If there are 20 steadfast men among you, they shall vanquish 200; and if there are a hundred, they shall rout a thousand unbelievers, for they are devoid of understanding. – 8:65
    It is not for any Prophet to have captives until he has made slaughter in the land. – 8:67
    Allah will humble the unbelievers. Allah and His apostle are free from obligations to idol-worshipers. Proclaim a woeful punishment to the unbelievers. – 9:2-3
    When the sacred months are over, slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. – 9:5
    Believers! Know that idolators are unclean. – 9:28
    Fight those who believe neither in God nor the Last Day, nor what has been forbidden by God and his messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, even if they are People of the Book, until they pay the tribute and have been humbled. – 9:29 (another source: ) The unbelievers are impure and their abode is hell. (another source: ) Humiliate the non-Muslims to such an extent that they surrender and pay tribute.
    Whether unarmed or well-equipped, march on and fight for the cause of Allah, with your wealth and your persons. – 9:41
    O Prophet! Make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites. Be harsh with them. Their ultimate abode is hell, a hapless journey’s end. – 9:73
    Allah has purchased of their faithful lives and worldly goods, and in return has promised them the Garden. They will fight for His cause, kill and be killed. – 9:111
    Fight unbelievers who are near to you. 9:123 (different translation:
    Believers! Make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Let them find harshness in you. (another source: ) Ye who believe! Murder those of the disbelievers….
    As for those who are slain in the cause of Allah, He will not allow their works to perish. He will vouchsafe them guidance and ennoble their state; He will admit them to the Paradise He has made known to them. – 10:4-15
    Allah has cursed the unbelievers and proposed for them a blazing hell. – 33:60
    Unbelievers are enemies of Allah and they will roast in hell. – 41:14
    When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks, then when you have made wide slaughter among them, tie fast the bonds, then set them free, either by grace or ransom, until the war lays down its burdens. – 47:4
    (different translation: ) When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield, strike off their heads, and when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly.
    Those who are slain in the way of Allah – he will never let their deeds be lost. Soon will he guide them and improve their condition, and admit them to the Garden, which he has announced for them. – 47:5
    Muslims are harsh against the unbelievers, merciful to one another. – 48:25
    Muhammad is Allah’s apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another. Through them, Allah seeks to enrage the unbelievers. – 48:29
    Prophet! Make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal sternly with them. Hell shall be their home, evil their fate. – 66:9
    The unbelievers among the People of the Book and the pagans shall burn forever in the fire of hell. They are the vilest of all creatures. – 98:51

    May 4, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  5. Jconnelly

    Good article. Reads like it came right out of the very good book "our last best hope" from King Abdulla II. A must read for anyone interested in middle east politics.

    May 4, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  6. K from AZ

    If the writer would take the time to read (that's if he can read) the quran (small letters intentional) he would find that Binney baby was following the Islam doctrine to a 'tee'. Read it!

    May 4, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  7. VAA

    I love all the back and forth going on here. Was he following Islam was he not? Irrelevant. He did evil. What he uses to justify it is just that his justification and nothing more. It is still killing in the name of religion.

    May 4, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Rogue

      VAA you are correct.

      May 4, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Vicki

      Love this. At the end of the day OBL was a REALLY bad guy. He killed people, and then hid behind religion as an excuse. Doesn't make him a religious man, not at all.

      May 4, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  8. Eric G

    There are no "real Muslims" or "real Christians" or "real any other religious follower". Logically speaking, they cannot all be right, but they can all be wrong. One can have faith that they are a true believer, but that does not prove truth of what you believe. Based on his actions, I would say that Bin Laden was a person of very strong faith. His faith is just as valid as anyone on this blog. All faith carries the same burden of proof within its claims. No evidence exists to support the accuracy of any faith over any other, which makes them all equal.

    May 4, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • K from AZ

      Everyone has the right to be stupid: you, however, are abusing ther privilege.

      May 4, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • HowLazy

      You're so intellectually lazy it's a crime. Wake up, do some thinking, and have the guts to make some decisions...

      May 4, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Rogue

      @Eric G – I see you are making new friends amongst the deluded.
      They don't like you pointing out the obvious truth that the delusional beliefs of others are just as sincerely held as their own delusional beliefs.
      Nope. They didn't like hearing that at all. Ha ha ha ha!

      May 4, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Eric G

      @HowLazy: Please explain how I am being "intellectually lazy". Can you give an example? Please be prepared to rationally discuss and defend your position, because I am.

      May 4, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
  9. bilal moore

    the submission is deffinitly one of them. allthough laws of man (preservation laws) do continue to exist. but the fact remains that osoma bin laden is was and shall remain a pervert.

    May 4, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  10. America Rocks

    It doesn’t matter what VERSION of the Qu'ran you have, the Qu'ran specifically directs Muslims to slay infidels – and infidels are anyone who is not a Qu'ran following Muslim. Period. End of Story.

    The only difference between terrorists like Bin Laden and peace-loving Muslims, is that the terrorists follow through with that Mohammed directs them to do. The Qu'ran is inherently evil

    May 4, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • NAS

      Infidel is a Christian word that was developed in the 15th century during the crusades. The Christian Crusaders made up the word to justify their killing of Muslims and Jews–calling them "infidels." Please be educated before you statements.

      May 4, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • America Rocks

      NAS – your point is ridiculous. “The infidels should not think that they can get away from us. Prepare against them whatever arms and weaponry you can muster so that you may terrorize them.”

      May 4, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • art

      Oh really? Then how come Kuffir is an Islamic word that means infidel?

      May 4, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • mister one two

      art, in reply to your comment kind sir, kuffar does dot mean infidel.

      it has an altogether linguistic meaning, to be more precise it means a person who rejects or covers the truth from their own hear once the truth has been presented to them. the world is only temporary who amongst the creation can avoid the day of judgement ?

      The natural state of Islam is a state of Peace which cannot be achieved through worldly gains but only through the remembrance of God i.e. Allah and following the practices of the messengers of God.

      May 5, 2011 at 6:35 am |
  11. markjuliansmith

    One only has to read the Quran foundation Chapter "THE COW" and read how Mohammed violently enforced his views on communities around him and assassinated poets and even a woman who parodied him to know with certainty Bin Laden's theology is not only Traditional Islam it is Islam.

    May 4, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • NAS


      May 4, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • art

      Nope, sorry but that was the truth. You don't even know your own history do you?

      May 4, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  12. TheGuy

    you guys no nothing i moved to america before 9/11 from afghanistan my dad knew bin laden he's till living there and asked him when bin laden died he said around october 2002 how is he dead now?

    May 4, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Commonsense

      Like your dad would know!

      May 4, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  13. The Truth About Islam

    Islam is actually peaceful and beautiful.. it does not advocate violence and anything taken out of context is just ignorant.. Please read the following section that actually explains the truths behind many questions about Islam – http://www.whyislam.org/index.php/faq-2/

    Knowledge is power..

    May 4, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • art

      So then why did Mohammed himself personally behead or have beheaded 700 Jewish men and boys? Why are the violent passages "taken out of context" but the peaceful passages are not "taken out of context"? Please put the violent passages into context to educate me.

      May 4, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  14. Stella

    Osama was the son of a wealthy man and acted like it, regardless of his posturing. He acted as though his ideas were the most important ones (more important than the Koran even), disregarded the effects of his actions, constantly acted out of self-interest while proclaiming his morality. Just the spoiled brat son of a rich family; no ideology there, nothing honest and nothing religiously observant.

    May 4, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  15. Fred

    Unfortunately, Osama was a very Orthodox Muslim. He believed the teachings of the Koran and the teachings of the Hadith. The belief in Jihad, beheading, killing of the "great Satan", these were all teachings of Muhammad. Thus Osama was very orthodox. Heck, just ask the Saudi's who still publish the same garbage in their school textbooks. The UN has been trying to get them to stop doing this for decades...

    May 4, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  16. Richard Cheese

    OF COURSE he had his own version of Islam. EVERY person who is religious has their own paradigms and belief structures. Which is why religion needs to end.

    May 4, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  17. SilentBoy741

    'Bin Laden ... developed his own theology of Islam."

    Yes, in his version, he wasn't shot in the eyeball.

    May 4, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  18. capnmike

    All Religions are LIES. They are based on lies. There are no gods. These are inventions of humans. EVERY VERSION of any religion is false, because it is based on lies. The human race will never be mature until we throw the whole load on nonsense on the trashpile where it belongs.

    May 4, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • groinksan

      The problem with this world today is that the word "lie" is totally misused. Even if someone speaks of something because of sheer ignorance, people claim that they're lies. A lie is when someone knows the truth, but blatantly attempt to twist the truth to make it work for him. In the case of religion, religion came about because the human being has two things other species do not have: "reasoning" and "spiritual belief". Reasoning not only allows us to learn, but it also causes us to ask questions to things we do not understand. When we don't receive an answer, we start making stuff up. That's basically how religion started – our spiritual belief part kicks in, and offers us these answers. In the case of bin Laden, another part of the human species – the instict to be lead or to lead, allows for people to either become a prophet or a deciple. Like yourself, I'm also an athiest, but I would never tell a spiritual believer that he's lying. Never.

      May 4, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • antiemetic

      I have to agree with groinksan. Deists are no more liars than Republicans who actually do belive in supremacy of free markets despite all the evidence to the contrary. I, personally, have to constantly be on guard against accepting a "common wisdom" simply because I have no other immediate answer.

      May 4, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Mohan Lahe

      Sent-serpent agree! Why we are fighting for nonsence?

      May 4, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • kamana

      The battle for religious supremacy began in India when that land mass was still part of south africa some three-hundred million years ago. India than separated from africa, drifted 2300 miles northward and crashed into Asia about 65 million years ago. When the crash occurred there were millions of indians on india and millions of asiatics in asia. It is important to note this because the Bible claims that God created the earth thousands of years ago.

      May 4, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  19. Timetraveler

    People who say Bin Laden "had his own version of Islam" don't know the first thing about Islam, nor have they read the Quran. Most Christians think Islam is just a slight variation of Christianity, but mostly similar to it. And they are DEAD WRONG. Read the Quran, read the Hadith, and THEN tell me Bin Laden's version was "radical". Bin Laden's, and indeed the Taliban's version of Islam is in fact the truest adherence to Islam. Read the Quran, Read the Hadith.

    May 4, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Fred

      Right on, many teachings of the Koran and especially the Hadith contradict the teachings of the Bible.

      May 4, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • dtwin

      You're the idiot. You do know that people can make up answers on answers.com? And that nothing you say proves your argument? Just because someone was born Muslim doesn't automatically mean they are an orthodox Muslim. Just like not all who are born Christian actually follow Christianity. And every religion has their crazy people. What if Christianity was based off the KKK, who follow the.Bible? Or based of the church that protests military funerals?

      May 4, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Fred

      Proof is in the pudding. Read the Hadith then look at Osama's actions. They line up very well.

      May 4, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • Ray

      I will simply respond to you with one verse from the qu'ran and you tell me if this coincides with bin laden's ideology. "If you kill one soul, it is as if you have killed all of humanity". Religion is what people make of it and how they interpret it. All religions are the same, there is no doubt about it.

      May 4, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • art

      Ray.... Actually that comes from the early Koran or the Mecca period. That was when Mohammed was weak and was friendly with everyone so he wouldn't be killed. Later during the Medina period when he was strong, the Koran became very violent and intolerant. The later Koran supersedes the early Koran by definition.

      May 4, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • Humza

      The Quran obviously contradicts the Bible in many cases; otherwise the two religions would be one and the same. The main difference between the two religions is that although, the teachings are very similar (Do good, pray, heaven and hell, etc), the fundamental theologies are different (Islam does not accept the concept of trinity, and Christianity does not accept Muhammad as a prophet).
      And the Quran is a book which must be taken in context. To understand, one must find (valid) supporting sayings and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.

      May 4, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  20. TruthMonger

    The author of this article is an idiot. All he had to do was 5 minutes of research on the internet to find out his source about Osama's religous education.

    I found this information on answers.com which coincides with information I had already learned about him from watching numerous historical shows and Nat Geo shows about the 9/11 attacks, Islam, and Osama bin Laden.

    Here is the information I found:

    Osama was raised as a devout Wahhabi Muslim.[17] From 1968 to 1976, he attended the "élite" secular Al-Thager Model School.[15][18] Osama studied economics and business administration[19] at King Abdulaziz University. Some reports suggest Osama earned a degree in civil engineering in 1979,[20] or a degree in public administration in 1981.[21] Other sources describe him as "hard working,"[22] but having left university during his third year[23] without completing a college degree. At university, Osama's main interest was religion, where he was involved in both "interpreting the Quran and jihad" and charitable work.[24] He also wrote poetry.[25]

    Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/osama-bin-laden#ixzz1LPxKWrbW

    May 4, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Fred

      Dead on, Osama was a very Orthodox Muslim.

      May 4, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • dtwin

      You’re the idiot. You do know that people can make up answers on answers.com? And that nothing you say proves your argument? Just because someone was born Muslim doesn’t automatically mean they are an orthodox Muslim. Just like not all who are born Christian actually follow Christianity. And every religion has their crazy people. What if Christianity was based off the KKK, who follow the.Bible? Or based of the church that protests military funerals?

      May 4, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • scotty307

      maybe you should check Wikipedia. Don't you know that you can't believe everything your read on the internet or see on T.V. Just remember everyone has an agenda.

      May 4, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Fred

      Nice Spam reply. Read the Hadith then look at Osama's actions. They line up very well.

      May 4, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Kivu

      You call the author an idiot for saying Osama didn't go to religious school and then say that he went to an elite "secular" school. Do you know the meaning of secular? Just because his "interest" in university was religion doesn't mean he went to a religious school – if you study engineering at MIT but study the Bible in your spare time does that mean MIT is a religious school?

      Maybe you just don't know what secular means, or maybe English isn't your first language, but everything you posted supports this article. Osama didn't go to religious school. He independently studied religion at a secular school and, therefore, developed an unorthodox interpretation of Islam.

      May 4, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • funny

      answers.com? really mate?

      May 4, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Zaphod2000

      bin laden's god was green as in money.
      We might celebrate the death of a monster who killed over 3,000 innocent people but we don't go out and behead anyone because our "god" or "prophet" has been maligned.
      I feel very good about the death of this man and the celebrations after his death.

      May 4, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.