The Washington Post
The Al Qaeda Readerby Raymond Ibrahim
Despite our tendency to dismiss Islamic extremism as profoundly irrational, al-Qaeda is not without a coherent body of
What do our enemies believe? What motivates their war against the West? What is their vision of the ideal Islamic society? Surprisingly, more than five years after 9/11, there is very little understanding of these questions.
Despite our tendency to dismiss Islamic extremism as profoundly irrational, al-Qaeda is not without a coherent body of beliefs. Like other totalitarian movements, the movement’s leaders have rationalized their brutality in a number of published treatises. Now, for the first time, The Al Qaeda Reader gathers together the essential texts and documents that trace the origin, history, and evolution of the ideas of al-Qaeda founders Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden.
This extraordinary collection of the key texts of the al-Qaeda movement—including incendiary materials never before translated into English—lays bare the minds, motives, messages, and ultimate goals of an enemy bent on total victory. Al-Qaeda’s chilling ideology calls for a relentless jihad against non-Muslim “infidels,” repudiates democracy in favor of Islamic law, stresses the importance of martyrdom, and mocks the notion of “moderate” Islam.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of these works is how grounded they are in the traditional sources of Islamic theology: the Koran and the teachings of the Prophet. The founders of al-Qaeda use these sources as powerful weapons of persuasion, reminding followers (and would-be recruits) that Muhammad and his warriors spread Islam through the power of the sword and that the Koran is not merely allegory or history but literal truth that commands all Muslims to action.
In addition to laying bare al-Qaeda’s ultimate motives, The Al Qaeda Reader includes the organization’s propagandist speeches, which are directed primarily at Americans, Europeans, and Iraqis. Here, al-Qaeda’s many "official" accusations against the West are meticulously delineated, from standard complaints such as the Palestinian issue and Iraq to wholly unexpected ones concerning the U.S.’s exploitation of women and the environment.
Taken together, the Theology and Propaganda sections of this volume reveal the most comprehensive picture of al-Qaeda to date. They also highlight the double-speak of bin Laden and Zawahiri, who often say one thing to Muslims in their religious treatises ("We must hate and fight the West because Islam commands it") and another in their propaganda directed at the West ("The West is the aggressor and we are fighting back merely in self-defense").
Westerners from across the political spectrum will be fascinated and enlightened by The Al Qaeda Reader’s insights into the nature of Islamic texts and the ways in which al-Qaeda has used these texts to manufacture hatred against our civilization and our way of life.
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Read an Excerpt
Al-Qaeda’s Declaration of War Against Americans
Praise be to Allah, who revealed the Book [Koran], controls the clouds, defeats factionalism, and says in His Book: “Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever you find them–seize them, besiege them, and be ready to ambush them” [9:5]. And prayers and peace be upon our Prophet,Muhammad bin Abdullah, who said: “I have been sent with the sword between my hands to ensure that no one but Allah is worshipped–Allah who put my livelihood under the shadow of my spear and who inflicts humiliation and scorn on those who disobey my commandments.”
Never since Allah made the Arabian Peninsula flat, created its desert, and encircled it with seas has it been stormed by any force like the Crusader hordes that have spread in it like locusts, consuming its wealth and polluting its fertility. All this is happening at a time in which nations are attacking Muslims in unison–as if fighting over a plate of food! In face of this critical situation and lack of support, we are all obliged to discuss current events, as well as reach an agreement on how [best] to settle the matter.
No one argues today about three well-established facts, known to everyone; we enumerate them as a reminder, so that the one remembering may remember.
1. For over seven years America has been occupying the lands of Islam in its holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula–plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead with which it fights the neighboring Muslim peoples.
While some people may have argued in the past over the realities of the occupation, all the people of the Peninsula now acknowledge it. There is no clearer evidence than America’s ceaseless aggression against the Iraqi people–all launched right from the Peninsula, though its rulers collectively refuse having their land used for this end. But they have been subdued.
2. Despite the awful devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people at the hands of the Crusader-Jewish alliance, and despite the astronomical number of deaths–which has exceeded 1 million–despite all this, the Americans attempt once again to repeat the horrific massacres, as if the protracted sanctions imposed after the brutal war, or the fragmentation and devastation, was not enough for them.
So now here they come [again] to annihilate what is left of this people and humiliate their Muslim neighbors. 
3. Now if the Americans’ purposes behind these wars are religious and economic, so too are they also to serve the Jews’ petty state [Israel], diverting attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and the murder of Muslims there. There is no better evidence of this than their eagerness to destroy Iraq, the strongest neighboring Arab state, and their endeavor to fragment all the states of the region–such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sudan–into mini—paper states, whose disunion and weakness will guarantee Israel’s survival and the continuation of the brutal Crusader occupation of the Peninsula.
All these crimes and sins committed by the Americans are a clear declaration of war on Allah, His Messenger, and the Muslims. Ulema throughout Islamic history are unanimously agreed that the jihad is an individual duty whenever the enemy tears into the lands of the Muslims. This was related by Imam bin Qudama in al-Mughni; Imam al-Kisa’i in al-Bada’i; al-Qurtubi in his commentary; and the Sheikh of Islam [Ibn Taymiyya] in his chronicles, where he states: “As for defensive warfare, this is the greatest way to defend sanctity and religion. This is an obligation consensually agreed to [by the ulema]. After faith, there is nothing more sacred than repulsing the enemy who attacks religion and life.”
On that basis, and in compliance with Allah’s order, we hereby issue the following decree to all Muslims:
The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies–civilians and military–is an individual obligation incumbent upon every Muslim who can do it and in any country–this until the Aqsa Mosque [Jerusalem] and the Holy Mosque [Mecca] are liberated from their grip, and until their armies withdraw from all the lands of Islam, defeated, shattered, and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the Word of the Most High–“[F]ight the pagans all together as they fight you all together” [9:36] and the Word of the Most High, “Fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and [all] religion belongs to Allah” [8:39].
And the Most High said: “And why should you not fight in the cause of Allah and on behalf of those oppressed men, women, and children who cry out, Lord! Rescue us from this town and its oppressors. Give us from Your Presence some protecting friend! Give us from Your Presence some defender!” [4:75].
By Allah’s leave we call upon every Muslim who believes in Allah and wishes to be rewarded to comply with Allah’s order to kill the Americans and seize their money wherever and whenever they find them. We also call on Muslim ulema, leaders, youths, and soldiers to launch the raid on the Devil’s army–the Americans–and whoever allies with them from the supporters of Satan, and to rout those behind them so that they may learn [a lesson].
Allah Most High said: “O you who have believed! Respond to Allah and the Messenger whenever He calls you to that which gives you life. And know that Allah comes between a man and his heart, and that it is He to whom you shall [all] be gathered” [8:24].
Allah Most High said: “O you who have believed! What is the matter with you? When you are asked to go forth in the cause of Allah, you cling so heavily to the earth! Do you prefer the life of this world to the Hereafter? But little is the comfort of this life, in comparison to the Hereafter. Unless you go forth [and fight], He will punish you with a grievous torment, and put others in your place. But He you cannot harm in the least; for Allah has power over all things” [9:38—39].
Allah Most High said: “So do not lose heart, nor fall into despair. Have faith and you shall triumph” [3:139].
Sheikh Osama bin Muhammad bin Laden
Ayman al-Zawahiri, Commander of the Jihad Group in Egypt
Abu Yasir Rifa’i Ahmad Taha, Egyptian Islamic Group 
Sheikh Mir Hamza, Secretary of the Organization of Islamic ulema in Pakistan
Fazlur Rahman, Commander of the Jihad Movement in Bangladesh
This statement is more commonly known as The World Islamic Front’s Declaration to wage Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders, issued February 23, 1998, in the Arabic newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi.
Meet the Author
Raymond Ibrahim is a historian of the Middle East and Islam. He works for the Near East section of the African and Middle Eastern division of the Library of Congress, where he discovered many of the never-before-translated Arabic texts that make up the bulk of The Al-Qaeda Reader.
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The author was a curator at the Library of Congress in the months after 9/11 and saw all of these primary-sourced texts coming in from the Middle East, written by bin Laden and Zawahiri. Each time they release a video or audio for Western consumption, they also release a longer statement to the Islamic world. These are those longer statements. The author translated these himself and I was astounded how easily and quickly read the translations were. These statements show in their own words the rest of the picture of what Al Qaeda believes and their intentions for their war with infidels. You may be shocked. The war is not as simple as the network news would like it to be.