Abdullah Yusuf Azzam

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Abdullah Yusuf Azzam
عبد الله يوسف عزام
Abdullah Azzam.jpg
Silat al-Harithiya, Palestine
DiedNovember 24, 1989(1989-11-24) (age 47–48)
Peshawar, Pakistan

Palestinian (1941-48)

Jordanian (1948-89)
Alma materUniversity of Damascus
OccupationIslamic scholar and theologian
Known forFather of Global Jihad
ReligionSunni Islam
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Abdullah Yusuf Azzam
عبد الله يوسف عزام
Abdullah Azzam.jpg
Silat al-Harithiya, Palestine
DiedNovember 24, 1989(1989-11-24) (age 47–48)
Peshawar, Pakistan

Palestinian (1941-48)

Jordanian (1948-89)
Alma materUniversity of Damascus
OccupationIslamic scholar and theologian
Known forFather of Global Jihad
ReligionSunni Islam

Abdullah Yusuf Azzam (Arabic: عبد الله يوسف عزام‎, ‘Abdu’llāh Yūsuf ‘Azzām; 1941 – 24 November 1989) a.k.a. Father of Global Jihad[1][2] was a Palestinian Sunni Islamic scholar and theologian and founding member of al-Qaeda.[3] Azzam preached both defensive jihad and offensive jihad by Muslims to help the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviet invaders.[3] He raised funds, recruited and organised the international Islamic volunteer effort of Afghan Arabs through the 1980s and emphasised the political aspects of Islam.

Azzam was a teacher and mentor of Osama bin Laden and persuaded bin Laden to come to Afghanistan and help the jihad.[4] Together, they both established al-Qaeda.[3] The two differed as to where the next front in global jihad should be after the withdrawal of the Soviets from Afghanistan.[5][6] He was also a co-founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba.[7][8][9] Azzam was killed by a car bomb blast on November 24, 1989 in Peshawar, Pakistan.[10]

Early life in the West Bank[edit]

Abdullah Yusuf Azzam was born in 1941 in the Palestinian village of Silat al-Harithiya, about eight kilometres northwest of the city of Jenin in the West Bank, then administered under the Mandatory Palestine.[6][11][12] Azzam is described by most of his biographers as being exceptionally intelligent as a child. He liked to read, excelled in class, and studied topics above his grade level.[11][12]

In the mid-1950s, Azzam joined the Muslim Brotherhood after being influenced by Shafiq Asad `Abd al-Hadi, an elderly local teacher who was a member of the Brotherhood. Recognizing Azzam's sharp mind, Shafiq Asad gave Azzam a religious education and introduced him to many of the Brotherhood's leaders in Palestine. Azzam became more interested in Islamic studies and started a study group in his village. Shafiq Asad then introduced Azzam to Muhammad `Abd ar-Rahman Khalifa, the Muraqib `Am (General Supervisor) of the Brotherhood in Jordan. Khalifa met with Azzam during several visits that he made to Silat al-Harithiya. During this part of his life, Azzam began reading the works of Hasan al-Banna and other Brotherhood writings.[11]

In the late 1950s, after he had completed his elementary and secondary education, Azzam left Silat al-Harithiya and enrolled in the agricultural Khaduri College in Tulkarm, about 30 kilometres southwest of his village. Though he was a year younger than his classmates, he received good grades.[11][12] After graduation from the college, students were sent out to teach at local schools. Azzam was sent to the village of Adir, near the town of Kerak in central Jordan.[11][12] According to one of his biographers, Azzam had wanted a position closer to home, but was sent to a distant school after an argument with his college's dean.[11] After spending a year in Adir, Azzam returned to the West Bank, where he taught at a school in the village of Burqin, about four kilometers west of Jenin. His colleagues in Burqin remembered him as being noticeably more religious than them. During breaks, while others ate, Azzam would sit and read the Quran.[11]

Religious studies in Damascus[edit]

In 1963, Azzam enrolled in the Faculty of Sharia at the University of Damascus in Syria. While in Damascus, he met Islamic scholars and leaders including Shaykh Muhammad Adib Salih, Shaykh Sa`id Hawwa, Shaykh Muhammad Sa`id Ramadan al-Buti, Mullah Ramadan al-Buti, and Shaykh Marwan Hadid.[11]Azzam's mentor, Shafiq Asad `Abd al-Hadi died in 1964. This strengthened Azzam's determination in working for the cause of Islam. During the holidays, Azzam would return to his village, where he would teach and preach in the mosque.[11] Azzam graduated with highest honors in 1966, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Sharia. Thereafter he returned to the West Bank, where he taught and preached in the region around his village. After the 1967 Six-Day War ended with the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, Azzam and his family left the West Bank and followed the Palestinian exodus to Jordan.[11][12]

Life in Jordan and Egypt[edit]

In Jordan, Azzam participated in paramilitary operations against the Israeli occupation but became disillusioned with the secular and provincial nature of the Palestinian resistance coalition held together under the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and led by Yasser Arafat. Instead of pursuing the PLO’s Marxist-oriented national liberation struggle supported by the Soviet Union, Azzam envisioned a pan-Islamic trans-national movement that would transcend the political map of the Middle East drawn by non-Islamic colonial powers.[13] He is believed to have had a role in founding the Islamist Hamas movement in Palestine.[citation needed]

Azzam then went to Egypt to continue Islamic studies at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University where he earned a Master’s degree in Sharia. He returned to teach at the University of Jordan in Amman. In 1971, Azzam received a scholarship to return to Al-Azhar University where he obtained his Ph.D. in the Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence (Usool ul-Fiqh) in 1973.

Life in Saudi Arabia[edit]

After obtaining his Doctorate in Egypt in 1973, Azzam returned to teach at the University of Jordan, but his radical views were suppressed there[citation needed] and Azzam then moved to Saudi Arabia. Since the 1960s, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia had welcomed exiled teachers from Syria, Egypt, and Jordan,[citation needed] so that by the early 1970s it was common to find many Saudi high school and university teachers who had become involved with exiled dissident members of the Muslim Brotherhood.[citation needed]

Azzam took a position as lecturer at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he remained until 1979. Osama bin Laden was enrolled as a student in the university between 1976 and 1981 and probably first met Azzam during that time.[14]

Life in Pakistan and Afghanistan[edit]

1979 became a pivotal year for Islamic movement, with three huge revolutionary events in the Muslim world. First, on 16 January 1979 the Iranian Revolution succeed in taking over the country and exiling the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, which then brought about the world's first modern Muslim theocracy under the rule of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The second major attempt at Islamic revolution that year was the 20 November 1979 Grand Mosque Seizure at Mecca, in western Saudi Arabia, the holiest site in Islam. The two-week siege and bloody ending shocked the Muslim world, as hundreds were killed in the ensuing battles and executions. The event was explained as a fundamentalist dissident revolt against the Saudi regime. The Saudi regime responded with repression, and in 1979, Azzam was expelled from the university at Jeddah. He then moved to Pakistan to be close to the nascent Afghan Jihad.[citation needed]

In the third major event of the year, on 25 December 1979 the Soviet Union, attempting to suppress a growing Islamic rebellion, deployed the 40th Army into Afghanistan, in support of advisors it already had in place.

Support for Afghan mujahideen[edit]

When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Azzam issued a fatwa, Defence of the Muslim Lands, the First Obligation after Faith[15] declaring that both the Afghan and Palestinian struggles were jihads in which killing occupiers of your land (no matter what their faith) was fard ayn (a personal obligation) for all Muslims. The edict was supported by Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti, Abd al-Aziz Bin Bazz.

In Pakistan in 1980, Azzam began to teach at International Islamic University, Islamabad. Soon thereafter, he moved from Islamabad to Peshawar, closer to the Afghan border, where he then established Maktab al-Khadamat (Services Office) to organize guest houses in Peshawar and paramilitary training camps in Afghanistan to prepare international recruits for the Afghan war front. An estimated 16,000[16] to 35,000 Muslim volunteers[17] from around the world came to fight in Afghanistan.[18][17] Thousands more Muslims attended "frontier schools teeming with former and future fighters."[18] From there, Azzam was able to organize resistance directly on the Afghan frontier. Peshawar is only 15 km east of the historic Khyber Pass, through the Safed Koh mountains, connected to the southeastern edge of the Hindu Kush range. This route became the major avenue for inserting foreign fighters and material support into eastern Afghanistan for the resistance against the Soviets.

After Osama bin Laden graduated from the university in Jeddah in 1981, he also lived for a time in Peshawar, Azzam convinced bin Laden to help personally finance the training of recruits.[19] Some have suggested that Mohammed Atef was responsible for convincing Azzam to abandon his academic pursuits to devote himself solely to preaching jihad.[20]

Through al-Khadamat, bin Laden's fortune paid for air tickets and accommodation, dealt with paperwork with Pakistani authorities and provided other such services for the jihad fighters. To keep al Khadamat running, bin Laden set up a network of couriers travelling between Afghanistan and Peshawar, which continued to remain active after 2001, according to Rahimullah Yusufzai, executive editor of The News International.

After orientation and training, Muslim recruits volunteered for service with various Afghan militias tied to Azzam. In 1984, Osama bin Laden founded Bait ul-Ansar (House of Helpers) in Peshawar to expand Azzam’s ability to support “Afghan Arab” jihad volunteers and, later, to create his own independent militia.

In 1988, Azzam convinced Ahmed Khadr to raise funds for an alleged new charity named al-Tahaddi based in Peshawar. He granted Khadr a letter of commendation to take back to Canadian mosques, calling for donations. However, the pair had a sensationalist showdown when Khadr insisted that he had a right to know how the money would be spent, and Azzam's supporters labelled Khadr a Western spy. A Sharia court was convened in bin Laden's compound, and Azzam was found guilty of spreading allegations against Khadr, though no sentence was imposed.[21]

Employing tactics of asymmetric warfare, the Afghan resistance movement was able to fend off the Soviet Union's superior military forces throughout most of the war, although the lightly armed Afghan mujahideen suffered enormous casualties amounting to 2.4 million. The Saudi Arabian government and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) gradually increased financial and military assistance to the Afghan mujahideen forces throughout the 1980s in an effort to stem Soviet expansionism and to destabilize the Soviet Union.

Azzam frequently joined Afghan militias and international Muslim units as they battled the Soviet Union's forces in Afghanistan. He sought to unify elements of the resistance by resolving conflicts between mujahideen commanders and he became an inspirational figure among the Afghan resistance and freedom-fighting Muslims worldwide for his passionate attachment to jihad against foreign occupation.[citation needed]

In the 1980s, Azzam travelled throughout the Middle East, Europe and North America, including 50 cities in the United States, to raise money and preach about jihad. He inspired young Muslims with stories of miraculous deeds, mujahideen who defeated vast columns of Soviet troops virtually single-handed, who had been run over by tanks but survived, who were shot but unscathed by bullets.[22] Angels were witnessed riding into battle on horseback, and falling bombs were intercepted by birds, which raced ahead of the jets to form a protective canopy over the warriors.[22][23] Steven Emerson's 1994 television documentary Terrorists Among Us: Jihad in America, includes an excerpt from a video of Abdullah Azzam, in which he exhorts his audience to wage jihad in America (which Azzam explains "means fighting only, fighting with the sword"), and his cousin, Fayiz Azzam, says "Blood must flow. There must be widows; there must be orphans."[24]

Global Jihad[edit]

Azzam's trademark slogan was "Jihad and the rifle alone: no negotiations, no conferences and no dialogues." In Join the Caravan, Azzam implored Muslims to rally in defense of Muslim victims of aggression, to restore Muslim lands from foreign domination, and to uphold the Muslim faith.[25]

Azzam built a scholarly, ideological and practical paramilitary infrastructure for the globalization of Islamist movements that had previously focused on separate national, revolutionary and liberation struggles. Azzam’s philosophical rationalization of global jihad and practical approach to recruitment and training of Muslim militants from around the world blossomed during the Afghan war against Soviet occupation and proved crucial to the subsequent development of the al-Qaida militant movement.[3] In 1989, after the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan, Azzam and his deputy Osama bin Laden decided to keep their movement permanent and founded the Al Qaeda.[3]

Like earlier influential Islamist Sayyid Qutb, Azzam urged the creation of `pioneering vanguard`, as the core of a new Islamic society. `This vanguard constitutes the solid base` [qaeda in Arabic] for the hoped-for society ... We shall continue the jihad no matter how long the way, until the last breath and the last beat of the pulse - or until we see the Islamic state established.'[26] From its victory in Afghanistan jihad would liberate Muslim land (or land where Muslims for a minority in the case of the Philippines or formerly Muslim land in the case of Spain) ruled by unbelievers: the southern Soviet Republics of Central Asia, Bosnia, the Philippines, Kashmir, Somalia, Eritrea, and Spain. He believed the natural place to continue the jihad was his birthplace, Palestine. Azzam planned to train brigades of Hamas fighters in Afghanistan, who would then return to carry on the battle against Israel."[27]

This put him at odds with another influential faction of the Afghan Arabs the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) and its leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.[citation needed] The next group of "unbelievers" the EIJ wanted to jihad against were the self-professed Muslims of the Egyptian government and other secular Muslim governments, not Israeli Jews, European Christians or Indian Hindus.[citation needed] For the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, takfir against the allegedly impious Egyptian government was central,[28] but Azzam opposed takfir of Muslims, including takfir of Muslim governments, which he believed spread fitna and disunity within the Muslim community.


In 1989, a first attempt on his life failed, when a lethal amount of TNT explosive placed beneath the pulpit from which he delivered the sermon every Friday failed to detonate. The Arab mosque was in the University Town neighbourhood in western Peshawar, in Gulshan Iqbal Road. Abdullah Azzam used the mosque as the jihad center, according to a Reuters inquiry in the neighbourhood. Had the bomb exploded, it would reportedly have destroyed the mosque and killed everybody inside it.[29]

On 24 November 1989, Muhammad Azzam was driving his father and brother to Friday prayers in Peshawar, when unknown assassins detonated a bomb as the vehicle approached. Lying in a narrow street across from a gas station, the explosive had a 50 metre detonation cord which led to the sewerage system where the assailant presumably waited.[30] According to Time magazine Waheed Muzhda had noticed what he assumed was a crew doing routine road maintenance working on the culvert where the bomb was placed, the day before the assassination.[31] Azzam and his sons were buried near the same site as his mother the year before, the Pabi Graveyard of the Shuhadaa' (martyrs), in Peshawar.

Suspects in the assassination include competing Islamic militia leaders, such as Osama bin Laden, the CIA and Mossad.[32]

Former FBI agent Ali Soufan mentioned in his book The Black Banners that Ayman al-Zawahiri is suspected of being behind the assassination.[33][34][34]

Many[who?] suspect the killing was part of a purge of those who favored moving the jihad to Palestine. In March 1991, Mustapha Shalabi, who ran the Maktab al-Khidmat, the Services Bureau in New York and was also "said to prefer a 'Palestine next' strategy, turned up dead in his apartment." He was replaced by Wadih el-Hage, who later became bin Laden's personal secretary.[35]

Osama bin Laden has also been accused of being a suspect in the murder, but seems to have remained on good terms with Azzam during this time.[36] However, it was reported that Bin Laden and Azzam also had a major dispute on where Al Qaeda should focus their operations.[3] Bin Laden favored using the organization to train fighters in various parts of the world while Azzam favored keeping the training camps in Afghanistan.[3]

Yet another actor accused of the hit is the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence,[37] an active adversary of Salafi Islam. In 2009, Jordanian double agent Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi claimed knowledge of Jordanian Dairat al-Mukhabarat al-Ammah cooperation with the CIA to set up the assassination.[38]


After his death, Azzam’s militant ideology and related paramilitary manuals were promoted through print and Internet media by Azzam Publications, which described itself as "an independent media organisation providing authentic news and information about Jihad and the Foreign Mujahideen everywhere." The publishing house operated from a London post office box (Azzam Publications—BMC UHUD, LONDON, WC1N 3XX) and an Internet site, www.azzam.com, that were shut down shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks and are no longer active, though mirror sites persisted for some time afterwards. Babar Ahmad, the alleged administrator of azzam.com, is awaiting extradition from the UK to the USA.

In terms of ideas, Azzam’s belief in jihad – 'one hour in the path of jihad is worth more than 70 years of praying at home' – has had considerable impact. Azzam is thought to had influence on jihadists such as al-Qaeda with the third stage of his "four-stage process of jihad". This third stage was "ribat," defined as "placing oneself at the frontlines where Islam was under siege". This idea is thought to reinforce militants "perception of a civilizational war between Islam and the West".[39]


Azzam replied: Indeed he is the hero of Islam."

Written works[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Riedel, Bruce (11 Sep 2011). "The 9/11 Attacks’ Spiritual Father". Brookings. Retrieved 20 November 2012. 
  2. ^ Peter Brookes (1 March 2007). A Devil's Triangle: Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Rogue States. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 33–. ISBN 978-0-7425-4953-1. Retrieved 20 November 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Bill Moyers Journal. A Brief History of Al Qaeda". PBS.com. July 27, 2007. Retrieved 2012-03-31. 
  4. ^ BBC News: Bin Laden biography, 20 November 2001
  5. ^ Kepel, Gilles. Jihad. Harvard University Press, (2002), p. 145
  6. ^ a b Wright, Lawrence (2006). The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the road to 9/11. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 9780375414862. 
  7. ^ Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the Future of Global Jihad http://www.brookings.edu/events/2011/0118_pakistan_america.aspx
  8. ^ Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the Future of Global Jihad, transcript [1]
  9. ^ The 9/11 Attacks’ Spiritual Father http://www.brookings.edu/opinions/2011/0911_riedel.aspx
  10. ^ Allen, Charles. God's Terrorist, (2006) p. 285–86
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Hegghammer, Thomas (2008). "Abdallah Azzam, Imam of Jihad". In Kepel, Gilles; Milelli, Jean-Pierre. Al Qaeda in Its Own Words. Ghazale, Pascale, trans. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674028043. 
  12. ^ a b c d e "Biography of Shaheed Abdullah Azzam". In Azzam, Abdullah Yusuf. Defenceof the Muslim Lands: The First Obligation after Iman. Trans.
  13. ^ Defence of the Muslim Lands; The First Obligation After Iman; Biography of Abdullah Azzam and Introduction, by Abdullah Azzam (Shaheed), English translation work done by Brothers in Ribatt
  14. ^ Letter From Jedda, Young Osama, How he learned radicalism, and may have seen America, by Steve Coll, The New Yorker Fact, Issue of 2005-12-12, Posted 2005-12-05
  15. ^ Defence of the Muslim Lands; The First Obligation After Iman, by Abdullah Azzam (Shaheed), English translation work done by Brothers in Ribatt
  16. ^ Atkins, Stephen E. (2004). Encyclopedia of Modern Worldwide Extremists and Extremist Groups. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 35. Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  17. ^ a b Commins, David (2006). The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia. London: I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd. p. 174. In all, perhaps 35,000 Muslim fighters went to Afghanistan between 1982 and 1992, while untold thousands more attended frontier schools teeming with former and future fighters. 
  18. ^ a b Rashid, Ahmed, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (New Haven, 2000), p. 129.
  19. ^ Rahimullah Yusufzai, executive editor of the English-language daily The News International, in a statement to Reuters in Peshawar on 29 December 2001. Yusufzai met bin Laden twice in Afghanistan in 1998.
  20. ^ Raman, B. South Asia Analysis Group, USA's Afghan Ops, November 20, 2001
  21. ^ Michelle Shephard, "Guantanamo's Child", 2008.
  22. ^ a b "Miracles of jihad in Afghanistan - Abdullah Azzam"| archive.org| Edited by A.B. al-Mehri| AL AKTABAH BOOKSELLERS AND PUBLISHERS| Birmingham - England
  23. ^ examples can be found in "The Signs of ar-Rahmaan in the Jihad of the Afghan,` www.Islamicawakening.com/viewarticle.php?articleID=877& accessed 2006 and Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, "Abul-Mundhir ash-Shareef," www.islamicawakening.com/viewarticle.php?articleID=30& accessed 2006
  24. ^ Goodman, Walter, "Television Review; In 'Jihad in America,' Food for Uneasiness," The New York Times, November 21, 1994, accessed January 21, 2010
  25. ^ Join the Caravan, by Imam Abdullah Azzam, Downloaded from the website www.al-haqq.org in December 2001
  26. ^ "The Solid Base" (Al-Qaeda), Al-Jihad (journal), April 1988, n.41
  27. ^ Wright, Lawrence, Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, by Lawrence Wright, New York, Knopf, 2006, p.130
  28. ^ Sageman, Marc, Understanding Terror Networks by Marc Sageman, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004, p.37
  29. ^ Profiles of Ash Shuhadaa, ABDULLAH AZZAM, Ummah Forum, posted 07-04-2002, 02:44 AM
  30. ^ Jihad magazine, "Bloody Friday", Issue 63, January 1990
  31. ^ Aryn Baker (2009-06-18). "Who Killed Abdullah Azzam?". Time magazine. Retrieved 2012-04-18. The explosion was witnessed by Jamal Azzam, Abdullah Azzam's nephew and assistant, who was following Azzam's car as it passed over the culvert where Muzhda had spotted the cleaning crew the day before. mirror
  32. ^ Peter L. Bergen, The Osama bin Laden I Know, New York: Free Press, 2006, p.97
  33. ^ http://www.rulit.net/books/the-black-banners-read-249656-11.html
  34. ^ a b http://www.rulit.net/books/the-black-banners-read-249656-135.html
  35. ^ The Age of Sacred Terror, by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, Random House, c2002, p.104
  36. ^ Wright, Lawrence, Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, by Lawrence Wright, New York, Knopf, 2006, p.143
  37. ^ The Iranian Intelligence Services and the War On Terror By Mahan Abedin
  38. ^ "CIA Base Bomber's Last Statement. The Raid of the Shaheed Baytullah Mehsud". Scribd.com. Retrieved 2010-03-25. 
  39. ^ Statement of Magnus Ranstorp to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States March 31, 2003
  40. ^ "Saudi academic recounts experiences from Afghan war". Al-Hayat/Ariana. 2006. 
  41. ^ "Saudi academic recounts experiences from Afghan war". Al-Hayat/Ariana. 2006.