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Osama bin Ladin as the New Prophet of Islam

In a recent audiotape, Osama bin Ladin presents himself as a worthy successor to the great interpreters of Islam and urges young Muslims to join the Jihad.

At the beginning of July 2003, a new Bin Ladin audiotape roughly 30 minutes long was disseminated via the web sites identified al-Qaida supporters. It is unclear when the tape was recorded, nor whether the speaker is in fact Osama bin Ladin. However, the tape is important in that it contains new ideological material and uses a new strategy for selling the Islamic message to the younger generation.

In our assessment, if the tape was indeed made by bin Ladin, the message could be his most important ideological expression since the February 1998 fatwa on the establishment of the Global Islamic Front for Jihad against the Crusaders and the Jews. This tape is a milestone in the evolution of the doctrine of global Jihad as taught by bin Ladin and his supporters.

While there is no further substantiation of the speaker’s identity or of the material’s authenticity, the substance of the words should not be ignored.

The new prophet

From this latest tape, it is clear that bin Laden views himself as a kind of modern Muhammad, who has not only the authority but the duty to update the dogmatic principles of Islamic religious law. He bases this authority on the fact that he and his supporters, of all the Muslims, are engaged in the true Jihad.

Islam, he says, is currently under siege. The Muslim nations are subjected to “occupation, discrimination and aggression” perpetrated by “Israeli and U.S. forces,” and the territories under the influence of Islam are steadily shrinking. Thus, “a powerless Islam will be confined to its own backyard” and will be unable to fulfill Allah’s mission of spreading throughout the world as the one true religion. Islam will conquer the world, says bin Ladin, only when it is purified of flawed modern Western values, such as “materialism” and “secularism.”

Moreover, in a rare public confession, he admits that he is in personal distress as no Muslim nation is willing to shelter him. At the same time, he complains that many Muslims are shirking their duty to enlist in his global Jihad.

Bin Ladin blames the situation on senior figures in the global Muslim establishment who have failed to offer assistance to the “global Jihad”. These people, he says, claim that Jihad is “merely permissible” rather than a duty incumbent on all Muslims. Thus, the justify the shirking of this duty, and prevent Muslim youth from joining the Jihad. According to bin Ladin, such people are to be classed as “sinners” and “traitors”.

Five new Pillars of Islam

In setting out to reform Islam, bin Ladin formulates new and unprecedented additions to Islam’s original message. Among other things, he adds five new pillars of religious law (Archan al Islam): “the group, listening, obedience, emigration, and Jihad.”

In accordance with his doctrine, bin Ladin goes on to present a reinterpretation of Islam’s original message as an alternative to traditional Sunni Islam. Thus, he claims that “providing shelter and assistance” to prosecuted Muslims, particularly at the leadership level such as himself, (and on the basis of the historic precedent of the prophet Muhammad) is one of Islam’s most important tenets. In addition, he emphasizes that “engaging in Jihad for Allah” should be the top priority of the Muslims nation. Observing this duty, he says is not just “permissible” but is “mandatory for all Muslims”.

A renewed call to Jihad

He then calls on young Muslim everywhere to adopt what he calls Islam’s original message, updated in line with his own interpretation. The young generation is urged to enlist in Jihad for the purpose of establishing an Islamic state that will bolster Islam’s prestige, thus fulfilling Allah’s mission.

The wording of this call shows that he is well aware of the limited support for him among the Muslim public, and that he has not yet succeeded in sweeping entire populations to join the various Islamic terrorist organizations across the Arab and Muslim world. This frustration is reflected in his tone of voice and choice of words on the tape, which is replete with sorrow and disappointment.

Thus, he is willing to give up on the older generation; his entire focus is to convince next generation to enlist en masse to the global Jihad. In support of this goal, he cleverly rearranges the most important available Muslim sources familiar to his potential audience. He exploits sentiments common to many Muslims who seek a return to Islam’s roots—the establishment of a true Islamic state based on the tenets of the first generation of Islam (“alsalaf”).

Bin Ladin is out to portray himself as a modern Muslim reformer striving to reform Islam in the spirit of medieval Islamic thinker Ibn Taymia, whose Islamic doctrine is both religiously conservative, and politically revolutionary. Thus, bin Laden’s listeners are meant to view his message as a convincing and refreshing Islamic approach to liberating Islam and the Muslim nation from the “siege” they are under and bringing about the re-establishment of a “true” Islamic state.

The import of the message

If the speaker is indeed bin Ladin, and the material reflects authentic distress and disappointment, we can conclude that he is unlikely to cease or moderate his activity in the near future. In our estimation, this message might incite violence and additional terror attacks against both the West and “deviant” Muslim and Arab regimes. Attacks against Arab targets might be based on the claims that these regimes shirk the duty of Jihad and thus contribute to the corruption of Islam’s culture and its existence as a civilization.

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