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Did Anwar al-Awlaki really change after his arrest?

This is a cross-post from Shiraz Maher

The al-Qaeda theorist Anwar al-Awlaki has an expansive network of supporters in the United Kingdom. My colleague Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens has produced an authoritative report on the matter for the Centre for Social Cohesion – a think tank that has consistently warned us about Awlaki. I won’t reproduce the report here, but would urge readers of this blog to consult it very closely.

After the report was released, a number of those who supported Awlaki scrambled for cover. Their defence centred around the argument that Awlaki had ‘changed’, that he had somehow been ‘radicalised’ during his incarceration in Yemen in 2006-07. Before then, they insist, he was good and progressive scholar.

Here’s what Moazzam Begg, director of Cage Prisoners, has to say on the matter:

A cursory look at Awlaki’s pre-incarceration lectures would clearly show just why he became so popular. He was not a radical ‘preacher of hate’ by any stretch of the imagination.

Muhammad Amin, who writes at the ‘between the lines’ blog which is also home to the notorious civil servant Azad Ali, says:

This new [post-incarceration] Anwar al-Awlaki is unrecognisable to every British Muslim organisation which invited him to give lectures in the past.

Inayat Bunglawala made a similar claim over at Comment is Free – the only place that will publish him these days, saying:

[Awlaki] was also invited to the UK by several Islamic organisations from the late 1990s onwards.

Friends tell me that at that time Aulaqi’s views were far more sensible, with no hint of his later extremism.

Finally, Osama Saeed, a prospective parliamentary candidate for the SNP and one-time spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, also claims that:

[Anwar] Al-Awlaki’s opinions have swung dramatically since I blogged about him following his incarceration in Yemen back in 2006. Before that he was middle of the road and had a significant following…He has changed.

Their claims merit serious assessment of what Anwar al-Awlaki was saying before his arrest in 2006.

As early as 2005 Anwar al-Awlaki translated the works of the Saudi jihadist Yusuf al ‘Uyayree. When he was 18, Uyayree travelled to Afghanistan to join the Arab Jihad against the Soviet Union before returning to Saudi Arabia when the conflict ended. Once there he continued to support Jihadist causes by fundraising for the Chechens and was repeatedly arrested by the Saudi authorities. In the end, Uyayree simply refused to be taken away by the police and was killed in a subsequent shootout.

What makes Uyayree significant is that he wrote one of the most important jihadist texts of the modern era known as Thawaabit Ala’ Darb Al-Jihad – which means ‘The Constants of Jihad’. Awlaki delivered a lecture series based on the book which was then transcribed and edited by a man called ‘Mujahid Fe Sabeelilah’ (meaning: holy warrior in the path of Allah) – hardly the kind of man you’d take home to meet your mother. You can download it here.

In the editor’s preface we are told:

Thawaabit ‘ala darb al Jihad is one of the best contemporary books on the subject of Jihad. It was written by Shaykh Yusuf al ‘Uyayree.

[…]

Imam Anwar al Awlaki brings this book back to life in his lecture series on the book. It is a very detailed lecture series which is extremely relevant to our time since there is no Khilafah [Caliphate] and many Muslims are claiming, "It is not the time for Jihad."

It seems pretty clear to me what this book is all about, and Awalki’s reasons for wanting to propagate Uyayree’s views. But, for the avoidance of any doubt, here’s what the editor’s note tells us:

I ask Allah to bless Imam Anwar al Awlaki with Jannah [paradise] for his efforts in explaining and bringing the words of this Shaykh alive into a time where Jihad is looked down upon. Finally, I ask Allah to make this book a book of practice and not just a book of knowledge.

Remember, this lecture series was delivered at least as early as 2005, long before Awlaki’s arrest in 2006. If you think it’s unfair to stop here without telling you what’s actually in the book here’s a quick glance of the chapter headings:

First Constant: Jihad will continue until the Day of Judgment

Second Constant: Jihad does not depend on an individual or individuals

Third Constant: Jihad is not dependent on a particular land (of which one sub-heading is: Jihad must be part of your life)

Fourth Constant: Jihad is not dependent on a battle

Fifth Constant: Victory is not limited to military victory

Sixth Constant: The definition of defeat

Similarly, in 2003, Awlaki released a lecture series called ‘The Story of Ibn al Akwa’ based on a book -called the Book of Jihad – written by a 14th Century jihadist, Ibn Nuhaas. It is regarded as a classical work on jihad and is endorsed by countless militants today. Abdullah Azzam, who led the ‘Arab Muhajideen’, during the Afghan campaign against the Soviet Union described it as ‘the best book on Jihad’. Awlaki’s lecture is full of praise for Ibn Nuhaas and his ideas. You can watch it here:

The Book on Jihad on which his lecture is based is available here, and its table of contents reveals the following (indeed, Awlaki even reads out this table of contents to his audience):

CHAPTER 1: ON THE COMMAND OF JIHAD AGAINST THE NON BELIEVERS AND ITS MANDATE, AND THE STERN WARNING AGAINST THOSE WHO DON’T PRACTICE JIHAD

[Sub-headings include] The command to fight; the punishment of those who don’t participate in Jihad; But I fear death!

CHAPTER 2: THE VIRTUES OF JIHAD AND MUJAHIDEEN

[Sub-headings include] The virtues of Jihad; Jihad is the greatest deed after believing in Allah; Jihad is the most beloved deed to Allah; The mujahid is the greatest of all people; The pinnacle of Islam is jihad; The virtues of encouraging jihad; The virtue of racing towards jihad;

CHAPTER 3: THE VIRTUES OF SPENDING IN THE CAUSE OF ALLAH

[Sub-headings include] The virtues of providing for the fighters in Allah’s path and taking care of their families

[…]

CHAPTER 7: THE VIRTUES OF KILLING A NON-BELIEVER FOR THE SAKE OF ALLAH

CHAPTER 8: THE VIRTUE OF AN INDIVIDUAL OR A SMALL GROUP IMMERSING THEMSELVES WITHIN A LARGE ARMY OF NONBELIEVERS IN SEARCH OF MARTYRDOM AND CAUSING DAMAGE TO THE ENEMY

[…]

CHAPTER 10: THE SEVERE PUNISHMENT FOR THE ONE WHO TURNS HIS BACK DURING BATTLE

[…]

CHAPTER 12: MARTYRDOM

[Sub-headings include] The virtues of martyrdom; The earth does not consume the bodies of the martyrs; Desire to die again for the sake of Allah; Forgives all sins; The angels provide shade for the Shaheed with their wings; Martyrdom guarantees Paradise; They are not punished in their graves; The Shaheed intercedes for seventy of his family members; The angels continuously visit the martyrs and deliver their salaams to them

This lecture series was first produced back in 2003, almost three years before Awlaki was arrested.

Indeed, in 2003 Awlaki was busy touring the UK and spoke at the East London Mosque at an event hosted by the now defunct group ‘Stop Police Terror’. He focused on anti-terror arrests in the UK, urging Muslims not report fellow Muslims, under any circumstances:

A Muslim is a brother of a Muslim, he does not oppress him, he does not betray him and he does not hand him over…You don’t hand over a Muslim to the enemies…

You can hear his speech here:

‘Stop Police Terror’ later became ‘Stop Political Terror’ (now also defunct). It will come as no surprise to those who follow this issue that Asim Qureshi was involved with the latter of those two groups. To make matters worse ‘Stop Political Terror’ listed Anwar al-Awlaki as one of their supporters. And here’s Qureshi giving a speaking at a rally organised by Hizb ut Tahrir:

So when we see the examples of our brothers and sisters, fighting in Chechnya, Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan, then we know where the example lies. When we see Hezbollah defeating the armies of Israel, we know what the solution is, and where the victory lies. We know that it is incumbent upon all of us to support the jihad of our brothers and sisters in these countries when they are facing the oppression of the West. Allahu Akbar!

Another lecture delivered by Anwar al-Awlaki before his incarceration is called ‘Allah is preparing us for Victory’, which you can watch here:

Awlaki’s ends his lecture by telling the audience:

…the solution for the Ummah is Jihad fe Sabeelillah [Jihad in the path of God]. When the Ummah revives this Ibaadah [worship], it becomes ironical; Jihad fe Sabeelillah becomes an irony. People run away from it because they see that is it a loss of money and it’s also a loss of self; you could loose [sic] life and you could loose [sic] your wealth in Jihad fe Sabeelillah. The irony is that when the Ummah fights Jihad fe Sabeelillah, the Ummah becomes the wealthiest and when the Ummah is fighting Jihad fe Sabeelillah, the least of this Ummah die.

Are these really ‘middle of the road’ opinions according to the SNP’s prospective parliamentary candidate Osama Saeed? Did Moazzam Begg not spot this during his ‘cursory look’ at Awlaki’s lectures? Are these the ‘far more sensible’ views that Inayat’s friends were telling him about?

In truth, Awalki was never moderate. He’s been an extremist for years.

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