Abdullah Azzam
'The Godfather of Jihad'

NameDr. Abdullah Yusuf Azzam (1941-1989)
Also Known AsThe Godfather of Jihad
Abdullah Al-Zam
BiographyDr Abdullah Azzam was both a scholar and a mujahid of immense importance to the development of contemporary Islamic radicalism, particularly in the foundation of al-Qaeda. Born in West Bank Jordan in 1941, he was a child when Israel was founded. He joined the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood before he had come of age, and was involved in actions against Israel.1 1 Introductory biographical notes to Abdullah Azzam, Defence of the Muslim Lands.
Azzam obtained a PhD in fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) at al-Azhar University, Egypt, in 1973, where he became friends with the Qutb family, Sheikh 'Umar Abd el-Rahman2 and Ayman al-Zawahiri. He became a lecturer at Amman University but was obliged to leave due to his radical views, and resumed his academic career as a lecturer at Abdulaziz University, Saudi Arabia, where he influenced a generation of Saudis, including Usama bin Laden.3 2 Leader of Gamaa Islamiyya.
3 Peter Bergen, Holy War Inc, p50,55.
He had connections with Yasser Arafat and is said to have had a role in founding Hamas,4 however he broke with the Palestinian struggle on the basis that it was polluted with a secular national liberation ideology, rather than being purely Islamic.5 The pan-Islamic ideal was important to Azzam, for whom "geographic[al] borders that have been drawn up for us by the Kuffar (non-Muslims)" between Muslim countries6 were part of a conspiracy to prevent the umma from realising the potential of a trans-national Islamic state. 4 Esposito, Unholy War, p7.
5 Bodansky, Bin Laden, p11.
6 Defence of the Muslim Lands, Chapter four.
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, Azzam produced a fatwa (religious proclamation), Defence of the Muslim Lands, and had it confirmed by high-ranking clerics including Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti (highest religious scholar), Abd al-Aziz Bin Bazz. The fatwa declared that both the Afghan and Palestinian struggles were jihads and that killing kuffar in those countries was fard ayn (a personal obligation) for all Muslims. He founded Mekhtab al-Khadimat (Services Office, MAK), establishing guest houses in Peshawar, Pakistan and training camps in Afghanistan, working closely with Usama bin Laden from an early stage.7 Many recurring elements in bin Laden's declarations duplicate the ideas Azzam expressed in works such as Defence of the Muslim Lands.8 It was also during this time that Azzam, lecturing in Islamabad, supervised the PhD thesis of Mullah Krekar, who went on to be the leader of Kurdish terrorist organisation Ansar al-Islam. 7 Chasdi, Tapestry of Terror, p297. Bergen, Holy War Inc, p54.
8 See for example, Abdullah Azzam, Join the Caravan.
9 Abdullah bin Omar, The Striving Sheik: Abdullah Azzam, Nida'ul Islam, 14th issue, July-September 1996.
Also reproduced with alterations in Rubin and Rubin, Anti-American Terrorism and the Middle East, p63.
11 Zeidan, The Islamist View of Life as a Perennial Battle, in Rubin and Rubin, p23. See also Defence of the Muslim Lands, chapter one; "One of the most important lost obligations is the forgotten obligation of fighting."
11 By 'takfiri' is meant post-Qutbists who condemned Egyptian society as non-Muslim and absolutely rejected collaboration with the Government.
12 Reeve, The New Jackals, p169.
Azzam's message was a radical one. The struggle in Afghanistan was a model for future struggles, with the objective of establishing an Islamic Khillafat (Caliphate, Islamic empire) spanning all Muslim lands, and eventually the world.9 He agreed with Muhammad Abd al-Salam Faraj that jihad was a vital but forgotten duty11 - Azzam's trademark slogan was, "Jihad and the rifle alone: no negotiations, no conferences and no dialogues." This intoxicating message, breathtaking in its expansiveness, played an important role in the ideological formation of bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mullah Krekar and many other Islamic radicals.
External Enemies Between 1966 and 1979, Egyptian post-Qutb 'takfiris'11 saw the destruction of the near enemy (the Egyptian regime) as a prerequisite for attacks on the far enemy (Israel), and condemned those who allied themselves with the regime in order to attack Israel for placing (Egyptian or Arab) nationalism ahead of the pan-Islamic ideal. Azzam's approach to this question, and the experience of fighting a defensive war against an external enemy in Afghanistan, turned this understanding on its head. Those who begged indifference to the 'foreign' war in Afghanistan were recognising artificial national barriers between Muslims. It is this shift which caused pan-Islamist terrorism to change its modus operandi from intra-Muslim terrorism to the global terrorism of al-Qaeda.
On 24th November 1989, Abdullah Azzam and two of his sons were killed in Peshawar when their car exploded. It is not known who planted the bomb.12
Author Trevor Stanley
  • Last will and testament (please cut & paste link):
  • Canada Young Muslims/Azzam: Azzam biography copied from the now defunct azzam.com.
  • ICT: Bin Laden's Spiritual Mentor, Colonel (Res.) Jonathan Fighel, 27/09/2001.
  • Slate: The godfather of jihad, Chris Suellentrop, 16/04/2002.
  • IACSP BBS: Abdullah Assam: The Man Before Osama Bin Laden, by Steve Emerson. Also includes a biography of El Sayyid Nosair.
  • Middle East History Database: Biography of Azzam by Ted Thornton.
  • Nida'ul Islam: http://www.islam.org.au/articles/14/AZZAM.HTM The Striving Sheikh - Hagiography/biography, by Abdullah Bin Omar, July-September 1996.
  • OmIslam: Biography of Abdullah Azzam in Swedish (Abdullah Azzam Biographie på Svenska). Warning: contains disturbing graphics (other parts of the site).
    OmIslam has recently been upgraded to a more 'professional' look, but at present the biographies are broken. Note: the main page of the site contains potentially disturbing graphics. However, "The Children's Room" (Barnrummet) is still an amusing component of the site:
  • Religioscope: Jihad et Jihadisme (French) - bibliographical biography of Azzam.
  • Terrorisme: Dernières volontés d'un simple serviteur d'Allah - Simple Servant of Allah. (French).
  • Publications
  • Fatwa: Defence of the Muslim Lands: The First Obligation After Iman. This is a fatwa Azzam wrote declaring jihad in Afghanistan and Palestine (with the former the priority), and had authorised by various high clergy. IslamistWatch Mirror.
  • The Islamic Ruling with Regards to Killing Women, Children and the Elderly in War: http://www.as-sahwah.com/Sahar/Islamic%20Ruling%20Wrt%20Killing%20WOmen%20Children%20and%20Elderly%20Tuesday%20September%208th%201998.phtml
  • Join the Caravan. IslamistWatch Mirror.
  • Interviews [Please notify us if you know of any Abdullah Azzam interviews.]
  • Martyrs: The Building Blocks of Nations. Islamic Awakenings (Muslim Brotherhood site) also has a document, Virtues of Shahaadah in the Path of Allah, which appears to be another translation or abridgement of this text. Address:
  • Several other articles by Dr. Azzam (biographies of Islamist Sheikhs/'Shaheed' etc) can be found at the following collection of links:
  • Bibliography
  • Abdullah Azzam, Defence of the Muslim Lands: The First Obligation after Iman. (Iman means faith).
  • Abdullah Azzam, Join the Caravan.
  • Peter L Bergen, Holy War, Inc: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden, Updated Edition, Phoenix Publishers (Orion Books), London, 2002.
  • Yossef Bodansky, Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America, Prima Publishing, California, 2001.
  • Richard J Chasdi, Tapestry of Terror: A Portrait of Middle East Terrorism, 1994-1999, Lexington Books, Lanham Maryland, 2002.
  • John L Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002.
  • Abdullah bin Omar, The Striving Sheik: Abdullah Azzam, translated by Mohammed Saeed, Nida'ul Islam, 14th issue, July-September 1996.
  • Simon Reeve, The New Jackals: Ramzi Youssef, Osama bin Laden and the Future of Terrorism, André Deutsch, London, 1999.
  • Barry Rubin and Judith Colp Rubin (editors), Anti-American Terrorism and the Middle East: A Reader, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002.
  • Citing this pageSample citation:
    Trevor Stanley, Abdullah Azzam: The Godfather of Jihad, Perspectives on World History and Current Events, 2003-2005. URL: http://www.pwhce.org/azzam.html Downloaded:
    See Also Hassan al-Banna, Usama bin Laden, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, Sayyid Qutb, Muhammad Abd al-Salam Faraj, Mullah Krekar, Al-Qaeda's Revolutionary Model, The Evolution of Al-Qaeda.

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