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. The End is Near....

    ...because this thread just shows how many freaking morons there are in this world. Anyone who knows anything about history knows that after Muslims established their rule in the Middle East and North Africa they were more well liked than their previous rulers, The Eastern Roman Empire, who were Christian. The Romans persecuted anyone who didn't follow their brand of Christianity, while the Muslims didn't forcibly convert anyone, they actually were tolerant of other "People of the Book" which included Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians. Modern Muslim extremism is a product of Western Imperialism, and only represents a very small fraction of the Muslim population, less than 1%. Get your facts right.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • Really Now?

      So you're saying Gay people are welcome in 99% of the Muslim world? Tolerant? Accepting? I think you drank too much KoolAid or your just a lying moron...or both.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • richard gardner

      No they were not tolerant of "people of the book", non-muslims were taxed at a different rate, not allowed the rights or respect of muslims. In point of fact any non-muslim could be killed with little or no consequence if the perpertrator was a muslim. This means that the islamic rulers of the middle east, north africa and parts of europe were no better and no worse than the other powers of there day.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • Muneef

      Good God.
      Tell you what send us the ladies and keep the gays at yours 99.99%

      May 4, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • john

      Tell me, when was Saudi Arabia–the birthplace of Wahabbism–colonized?

      May 4, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • Greene

      If you mean that less than 1% are directly involved in terrorism, correct. If you think less than 1% sympathize with terrorists, you're a flaming moron. "Extremist" is also different than "terrorist." Muslim reactions to cartoons and novels and so forth are what we should really be concentrating on.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
    • Shardik

      Who was talking about gay people?

      May 4, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
    • Miracle Manna

      No one hates a gay like a Christian does. No one.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
    • Miracle Manna

      Even the Christians that are gay hate gays. Now that's some real hatin'

      May 4, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • gupsphoo

      "No one hates a gay like a Christian does. No one."

      At least Christian nations don't execute gay people like Muslim countries do.

      I'm no Christian, but I know Islam is way more intolerant than Christianity when it comes to gay people.

      May 5, 2011 at 4:30 am |
  2. Fred

    I'm sorry, these learned Islam apologists make me mad. Islam is a religion that teaches hate and violice. Here is what the quran says: [5:33] The just retribution for those who fight GOD and His messenger, and commit horrendous crimes, is to be killed, or crucified, or to have their hands and feet cut off on alternate sides, or to be banished from the land. This is to humiliate them in this life, then they suffer a far worse retribution in the Hereafter.
    And it does not end there, it goes on (and on…and on…and on…):
    SURA 9:5: …slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush.
    SURA 2:39: But they who disbelieve, and deny Our revelations, such are rightful Peoples of the Fire. They will abide therein.
    (my note: Peoples of the Fire, aka burn them!)
    SURA 2:191: And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • Muneef


      We were told to defend our selves from those attacking our being and those verses were the green light that we are to respect who respect us and to fight those who do not exchange respect with us...
      But if you want to give your other cheek go ahead but for us Muslims we do not give the other cheek and will take what is ours from the eyes of the devil sooner or later.
      Hope have clarified for you what you did not understand...!?

      May 4, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  3. Worried_Muslim

    I came to USA 4 years ago and I always thought that Americans don't hate Muslims or Islam and I thought Americans would be more aware of reality that Islam and Terrorism are poles apart. I must say every day I read comments by users on different CNN stories and I become more and more worried and depressed. Do the Americans that I see in my daily life who are very friendly with me the real face of America or all those writing hateful comments about Muslims and Islam represent the true face of America? I don't say people have not used the name of Islam to kill people but that does not mean we are all bad or that our religion is bad.

    I always thought I would miss America when I go back home next year, I always thought I will be really depressed to leave this place, now I can't wait to head home where I can live confidently. America and Americans have been great to me 🙂 but this isn't my home and never will be.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  4. Muneef

    God "Allah" is the Light of Lights, his light covers The Heavens and Earth....and who ever says other than that is a SlaveOfSatan...

    May 4, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
  5. Kerygma

    No, there is only Islam and nothing else.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  6. Hadji

    The awakening and the awareness of this Arab spring revolution is exterminating all the nefarious dictatorships that have kept the Arabs besotted and benighted for too long.The Arabs would never let themselves being ruled again by generational dictatorships....The Turks have kept the Arabs in the dark for centuries (the printing presses kept away, for fear of awakening...).
    All these despots must leave now, for the Arabs to realize their potentials, and their dreams.The world is much better place, with totally free and highly educated Arabs.

    May 4, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  7. Thersites

    Well in official governmental Islam women are executed on the street in a way that would earn you a prison sentence if you treated a dog in a similar fashion in the United States.... besides, I didn't hear a whole lot of complaints about Bin Laden during the bombing of the Twin Towers, I'll bet if we checked the record we'd see a very different tale indeed from these Johnny-come-lately apologists.

    May 4, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  8. SlaveofAllah

    The Great Unknowable Allah, who cannot Talk accept through Muhammad, orders the lopping off of heads in a righteous fashion without even communicating with his People. For you show your amazing abilities by vanishing after Muhammad.

    But why allah is your throne upon the waters of the ocean? if they are so great why reside on the mortal earth with us lowly servants. But of course you are unknowable, so thou maketh the answer impossible.

    Its all well for us Allah, you have left us a Black Stone, Cold as Death, this shall be your image Upon the Earth! For your image is black like Space, because Space is Nothing and Allah is Nothing.

    Oh Great Lord of Nothingness, why hath thou not updated thy works since "Muhammad?"

    Thus sayeth Allah "Nothing."

    "Oh mighty one! Your are like a Meteor Shot down from the Heavens! Your symbol fallen to earth to show your great "nothingness". You freed "nothing" and certainly "spare "nothing" except those who destroy Infidels and bend toward a Black Stone!!

    May 4, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  9. wowlfie

    If the reams of data uncovered by the Seals shows definite links to those in Pakistan's ISI, Army, or government Obama had better cut off every dime and demand a payback of every dime we gave them!

    If they won't give it back then nuke them to the stone age!

    May 4, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • Aiman

      they also have nukes 😉

      May 4, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • SlaveofAllah

      Yeah but since they are seperate tiny countries, each world power can use less nukes to blow up the whole land. Margin of error says we would get the job done quicker, hell maybe even a 15 min smoke break in between 😉

      May 4, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  10. Muneef

    The WP Virtual Islamic School (http://www.witness-pioneer.org/VSchool/index.htm) (WPVS) is a project of Witness-Pioneer, an Internet-based Islamic Organization that is dedicated for the study of Islam through authentic sources.

    WPVS is offering a course to start (April 29, 2011 ~ August 26, 2011) Inshallah. Details are as follows:

    HP101: International and Interfaith Relations: Islamic Perspectives: 
     Name of the Course:  Visit http://witness-pioneer.org/VSchool/hp101.htm

    May 4, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • Eric G

      @Muneef: I hope all is well and that you and your family are safe my friend!

      Interesting class. I will try to attend.

      I have seen a lecture by Prof. Abdullah al-Ahsan at the University of Michigan. I question his position of discrediting the role of economic inequality within Islamic cultures creating more extremist views, but still an interesting view.

      May 4, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • Muneef

      Eric G.
      Hi friend we are fine here although starting to face scarcity of Cooking Gas,Diesel oil,Petrol...but up to now we are fine Thanks to God...
      Received this notification by mail not sure what it is or how good but thought to post it here may be some body I thought would benefit or contribute through it...
      Am not with any signs of extremisem whether in the name of Islam or any thing else...we were not taught to hate but many less unfortunate were taught to hate any thing and every thing and those can be found among Muslims or non Muslims.

      May 4, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  11. John D

    Oh my goodness the amount of haughty, arrogant comments on this board is appalling. I reckon by these comments that every 15-45 year old that trolls the comment section of CNN is a theological scholar, well versed in the complexities of Islam.

    May 4, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  12. Muneef

    Hadith and Apostasy
    by Abdullah Saeed
    April 4, 2011, The Public Discourse

    May 4, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  13. Andy

    News update: Osama Bin Laden is dead and now rotting in hell with 40 sturgeons!

    May 4, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  14. Enoch

    I don't understand why Christians think they are above it all. Their religion has been killing people in the name of their god for centuries.
    I don't think there has ever been an agnostic terrorist/crusader/whatever you want to call it. The problem is belief in a god.

    May 4, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • Bob

      Enoch – That's because you were and still are all cowards hiding behind rocks.

      May 4, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • Smed

      Adolf Hitler led Germany during World War II when he executed six million Jews in the Holocaust, three million Poles, three million Russian prisoners of war, and as many as eight million others throughout Europe. Joseph Stalin was the General Secretary of the Soviet Union following the Russian Revolution until his death after World War II. Between 10 and 20 million Soviets and German prisoners of war died under his regime, depending on how many famine victims you count, from Gulags, execution, and forced resettlement. Mao Zedong, who led China for more than a quarter of a century following World War II, created the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution programs which collectively killed unknown tens of millions of Chinese, most of them in public executions and violent clashes. Pol Pot led the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia during the 1970's, when as many as 2 million Cambodians, or as much as 20% of the population, died from execution, disease and starvation.

      May 4, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  15. Jack Mac

    "Religion is blanket of comfort for the things unknown to mankind" – take religion out of the equation, the world wll be better place to live. Only thing religion had done and will do, is to create monster like UBL and Crusaders. Look at any religion, its beigh used as instrument of supression.

    May 4, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • carlos007

      well said. Totally agree.

      May 4, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  16. Abu Ruqayyah

    As a muslim who believe wit Allah and the last prophet Muhammad(pbuh), i did not see any were in the Qur'an or hadith were Allah command us to commit a suicide or kill every soul including a child, women, monk etc in the name of preaching to the right religion(islam). As such whether Osama action was based on his islamic theology is something to question. But if his actions was to defend his religious from the evils(American), that killed thousand of muslims and still wanted to annihilate islam religion in the world. I believe, if Osama theology is base on this reason, then he own absolute right to wage war against the american. I will not say the so-called american soldiers kill you, because, their is no enough evident, not talkin of his peaceful body.

    May 4, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • NoCrap

      you sound like an Osama sympathiser. You are not fit for human civilization!

      May 4, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • sfresh

      You'll die in a suicide bomblast. very soon and your family will mourn you and rain curse on OBL.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
  17. carlos007

    all you people do is argue, f all religions, all it does is make man ignorant and intolerant. That's why I can care less about being religious, I do believe in god, but since all you religious wacko only argue, I will remain just a humble human. If you are born in a Muslim country, its very likely you would end up Muslim, same goes for other religions, typically you follow you're families beliefs. so will god judge you? That's why its all stupid. in 1000 years, we will be looked at as Ignorant cavemen and woman. use common sense people. its pathetic really. Ps. If I'm an infidel, then come to my house and see what happens to you. That's the law of the land. Now mind your own buissness, you can believe in the tooth fairy for all I care.

    May 4, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • Joseph36

      You seem to be bigoted against religion.It seems you are a budding secular jihadist.

      May 4, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • carlos007

      No, I'm none of those, I just won't judge all people because of a few bad apples. That's what you call being ignorant. I follow my intuition, the key world is being righteous, and that is lacking here. there is millions of Muslims I'm this world, they aren't all terrorist. Again that's ignorance. I'm not Muslim either.

      May 4, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • carlos007

      And I won't force my views or beliefs on anyone. If the Christians say ill go to hell, oh well, god will judge you for judging me or anyone else for that matter, and Muslims view it as being an infidel, and want to become violent, if that was the case, ill have my little friend waiting for ya. I say peace to all, my wish is a land without borders or prejudices, but we are lifetimes away I'm afraid.

      May 4, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  18. Name*walex kolawole

    I don't Believe dat osama is dead

    May 4, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  19. Not_A_Muslim

    Every terrorist is a Muslim

    May 4, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • jane

      Yes, you are correct. It is their mission to kill non-muslims.

      May 4, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • RJ

      What about the guy who carried out a massacre in VA Tech? he said he was a christian and wanted to die like Christ, I don't think he was a Muslim? how about the OK Bombing? what about KKK?

      May 4, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • Joseph36

      You seem to be as ignorant as a Islamic fundamentalist.

      May 4, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • Robert L. Whitefield jr.

      Islam has nothing to do with Extremism. People can twist and turn any religion to their benefit just like Christianity did do we consider Christian religion a violent religion then? What about the Jewish religion? no religion is evil it is the "people" who make it evil for their "own" gain political/financial and use it to suppress others or brainwash others using "religion" as an excuse. They are the evil ones. OBL = evil!

      May 4, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • Truptisaurusrex

      Suggesting that Bin Laden was a Muslim is akin to suggestion Hitler was a Christian. They were both fanatic, terrorists, nothing more. I would not associate either creep with any religion. I also think it's unfair to paint Muslims with one brush; have you all forgotten about Timothy McVeigh? What about the countless "Christian" priests who abuse children? Does that make all Christian men pedophiles? Is common sense dead in America?

      May 4, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • zil

      Really? What about Timothy McVeigh?

      May 4, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • Iman

      @RJ; Can you show how the bible ordered this man to kill the students at VA Tech?

      OTOH, Muslims are ordered to forcefully subjugate and convert non-muslims regardless of what some taqyya comments from muslims and muslims appeasers above otherwise say. When they do, they are following a high calling from their Allah and attaining the utmost reward for it... you know... the whole Jana package including the 72 virgins, etc.

      May 4, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
  20. Adam7

    You know. I really don't get it. They say Islam must kill all infidels and kill everyone who doesn't believe in sharia law. If that was the case, America would have already been burned to the ground and Islamic countries would be the dominant force in this world. If Islam is really a merciless killing religion....then these guys are doing it all wrong. They've failed they're lord. Shame on them.......

    May 4, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • jane

      Don't worry, they will come. Sharia is Sharia, it isn't intrepreted any other way than Sharia.

      May 4, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • Chuck

      While in the minority they are peaceful, wait until they are the majority then we will see the real core of this "religion"

      May 4, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • LegendOfAmerica

      @Adam7 you are funny. Have you even read one small book about Islam? (Islam must kill all infidels and kill everyone who doesn't believe in sharia law). In Hadiths and in Quran it said clearly to be good with Non Muslims, Help them, If your neighbor is a Non Muslim an he is sick visit them, Be sure that your neighbour have something to eat before you eat anything even your neighbour is a Non Muslim and when in war with Non Muslims, don't harm the Non Muslim Women and Children, Unarmed Men, Crops Fields and there Houses. You think Islam grew this fast for Killing innocent Infidels and Muslims?
      There was a non Muslim Old Lady who used to throw dust she gathered while cleaning her home on Prophet Mohammad everyday from her balcony when he passed from her house. one day He passed by, but there was no sign of Dust and the Old Lady, so he tought maybe she is busy or something. The next two days he passed again from there but again no signs of the Lady so he become worried and knocked her door. The Lady said come on and when he entered she was on bed and she was Sick. She asked what are you doing here Mohammad? He said well i didn't see you from last few days so i got worried and come to visit you. The lady started crying and was ashamed of what she did in past to Mohammad. Thats what Mohammad said in his Hadith. He didn't said I killed a Non Muslim because she insulted my religion and myself, He didn't said if a Non Muslim do something bad to you return it with something worse, but Bin Laden version of Islam said kill anyone who don't help me in killing (Those who are not with us are Against us). Go tie a bomb around yourself and explode yourself in a Mousque where Muslims gather to pray, just because those Muslims weren't in his side. Don't forget the victims of Osama were more Muslims than Non Muslims. Not only he killed thousands of non Muslims but Tens of Thousands of Muslims and even more than that had to pay for what he did.

      May 4, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • Fred

      Wrong. They do believe that infidels should be converted, taxed or killed. The reason the USA is not "burned to the ground" as you say is simple. The people we're dealing with live in dirt houses and eat insects to survive. They have neither the sophistication or means to destroy the USA. It they could, they would. The problem with Islam is that it's stuck in the 7th century and has not evolved with the times unlike other religions.

      May 4, 2011 at 8:23 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.