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REFLECTIONS FROM KUNAR 1990 AND HELMAND 2010 – THE TRAGEDY OF AFGHANISTAN’S WARS

November 10, 2017

With the Name of God, All-Merciful, Most Merciful

REFLECTIONS FROM KUNAR 1990 & HELMAND 2010

– THE TRAGEDY OF AFGHANISTAN’S WARS

Introduction

I am publishing this partly because I am tired of telling the same story about Kunar to dozens of journalists and academic researchers, partly because I am fed up of questions about my one-minute video message in support of British troops (2010), and partly because I hope that people may benefit and learn from the story.

I began writing this on the last day of Ramadan 1433/2012, and completed the bulk of it shortly after Eid.  The recent death of two British soldiers in Nad Ali in Helmand (Matthew Smith http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19228325 and Robert Chesterman http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19227317 ) brought back vivid memories of our FCO-sponsored four-man delegation’s “Projecting British Muslims” trip to Helmand during Ramadan in August 2010, a visit that included ISAF’s Forward Operating Base at Nad Ali.  As I finalise it, I’m reading about the 2,000th US soldier to die in Afghanistan since 2001.

*Update: I am finalising and publishing this on 10th November 2017 – it has been sitting in my draft folder for five years.*

 

Memories from the Jihad in Kunar, 1990-1

This was my second 10-day visit to Afghanistan: the first had been in December-January 1990-1991, during my second-year Cambridge University holidays, as part of a three-man fact-finding mission of senior JIMAS (www.jimas.org ) figures to Kunar.  The other two people were up to a decade older than me: Abu Muntasir and Abu Aaliyah.  I was fortunate to have the strongest Arabic at the time, and served as interpreter for much of the trip, although of course other mujahideen helped also.

We drove to Afghanistan from Islamabad via Peshawar and Bajaur, and spent a week at a training camp near Asadabad, Kunar, for Arab fighters run by Jama’ah al-Da’wah ila l-Qur’an wa l-Sunnah (JDSQ, “Group of Calling to the Qur’an and Sunnah”), the major Salafi organisation that controlled large parts of Kunar province as well as of neighbouring Nuristan.  There were separate training camps for Arab, Afghan and Pakistani fighters – we chose the Arab one, for access to more Arabic-speaking scholars.  The camp rules stated that disagreements would be solved in a last resort by referring to the fatwas of Sheikhs Ibn Baz and Albani. On our introduction to the camp, I introduced myself with my first name, upon which I was immediately corrected by a Kuwaiti mujahid: “In Jihad, we only use aliases.” Specifically, he meant aliases of the kunya type that take the form of “Abu X” meaning “Father of X.”  My colleagues were fathers and already had kunyas, so I used, for the first time, my middle name that my grandfather had given me when he named me upon birth: Abu Dharr, after an austere, ascetic Companion of the Prophet.  The emir of the training camp was a tall, well-built, muscular, fair-skinned, charismatic and learned Palestinian fighter called Abu Asim.  In appearance and character, he reminded me of Abdur-Raheem Green, then also a senior JIMAS figure.  I shed many tears upon hearing about Abu Asim’s reported death in a training accident some years later, when a weapon exploded accidentally.

Upon joining the training camp, we had to fill in a registration form, giving personal details and skills that might be useful for the jihad. The three of us all put down our computer/IT skills, and I also mentioned my mathematics and physics knowledge. A quarter of a century later, ISIS, who had turned defensive, liberating jihad into bloodthirsty terrorism, had similar registration forms, with one striking addition: asking registrants whether they wanted to be regular fighters, suicide-bombers or suicidal attackers (inghimasi).

This was Abu Muntasir’s second trip to the same region: he had trained and fought at the front line in 1989 or early 1990 also, with a close companion known as Brother Mushtaq.  JIMAS’ contacts with the Afghan mujahideen had come about via salafi scholars in Holland and meetings in London that had involved Dawood Burbank (d. during Hajj 2011, may Allah have mercy on his soul) and Brother Mushtaq.  Abu Muntasir later fought in Kashmir and even in Burma with Rohingya militia in the early 1990s.

Note that JIMAS (Jamiat Ihyaa’ Minhaaj al-Sunnah: The Society for the Revival of the Way of the Messenger) had earlier been called HISAM (Harakatu Islahish Shabab al-Muslim: The Movement to Reform the Muslim Youth) but had recently had a name-change after an offshoot insisted on retaining the name HISAM.  During this episode, one of the suggestions for the name of JIMAS was in fact JDQS – this was directly copied from the Afghan group.  The current Pakistani salafi/Ahl-e-Hadith jihadi group Jama’at-ud-Da’wah, linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba, may also have based its name on the Afghan one.

We also met and interviewed Sheikh Jameel-ur-Rahman, an Afghan salafi/Ahle-e-Hadith muhaddith-mujahid (scholar of Hadith and warrior), founder and emir of JDQS.  Sheikh Jameel was an elderly, learned man with a long beard, dyed with henna.  He was accompanied by elders who constituted his shura and by a group of younger, heavily-armed men who served as his bodyguards.  Abu Muntasir conducted the interview in English: Sheikh Jameel replied in Arabic.  One of the questions was whether or not the Jihad in Afghanistan was fard ‘ayn or fard kifaya, i.e. an individual or collective obligation: his reply was the former.  The interview was recorded and it was many months before Dawood Burbank translated it into English for the benefit of other JIMAS members.  Abu Muntasir may still have this material in his possession.

The Arab mujahidin credit Sheikh Jameel with having begun the “Jihad against the communists” in 1973, way before the Soviet invasion.  Sheikh Jameel gave a talk after dawn prayers on one occasion whilst we were at the training camp, during which the camp generator failed, leaving the prayer tent in darkness.  At the end of that talk, he took questions.  One of the questions was about whether or not there was any dhikr to be recited during the prostration of gratitude (sajdah al-shukr) – this was related to the story of The Prophet’s disciples Ka’b bin Malik, Murara bin Rabi’ah and Hilal bin Umayyah and their missing a military expedition followed by their subsequent ostracism and eventual repentance recounted in the long hadith of Bukhari and Muslim in reference to Qur’an 9:118 (Surah al-Tawbah or Chapter: Repentance).  In this heart-rending story that had been recounted by one of the younger scholar-warriors at the camp after dawn prayers the day before, Ka’b performs such a prostration of gratitude.  Sheikh Jameel replied that no specific dhikr had been narrated about this prostration, and therefore any dhikr would suffice, but a young Saudi mujahid argued vehemently with him that there was no dhikr in this prostration for the same reason.  Salafism in a nutshell!

Sheikh Jameel had announced an “Islamic emirate” (imarat-e-Islami) in Kunar. One day at the training camp, one of the commanders gave us the “good news” of the full establishment of Sharia in the emirate: predictably, this involved the hudud, with which islamists are obsessed: a thief’s hand had been amputated as corporal punishment for his crime.

We were holy warriors: ascetic monks and soldiers, simultaneously. With regular congregational prayer, scriptural study, physical exercise and weapons training. Being halfway up a valley, there wasn’t much food: on one day, the camp had run out of food and all we had for 24 hours was a glass of milk and an orange. Soldiers know all about the rationing of supplies. At the firing range, Abu Muntasir embarrassed our instructor by being the only one to hit the target during a sniping contest. (This reminds me of a story about Caliph Omar: he came across some people practising archery and found that they weren’t very good at hitting their target. When he enquired as to why this was the case, they replied in ungrammatical Arabic that they were learners. “Your Arabic is even worse than your archery,” the Caliph quipped!)

Around 1993/94 we heard the awful news that Sheikh Jameel had been assassinated by an Arab fighter – many salafis blamed this on forces loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (Hizb-e-Islami), who was backed by the Jamat-e-Islami of Pakistan and the Arab Muslim Brotherhood.  Hekmatyar denied these accusations, but the incident was one of the many causes of tension between salafis and the Brotherhood, a tension that continues all over the world until today.  A few years later at Imperial College London, I asked the Riyadh-based Syrian salafi Sheikh Adnan Arour, who had taken part in Saudi-sponsored mediation amongst the warring mujahidin groups after the fall of Kabul in 1992, about Hekmatyar’s denial of being behind Sheikh Jameel’s assassination.  He replied, “Who killed him then, Ibn Baz and Albani??!”

With hindsight, it was probably for the best that the Kunar emirate had fizzled out with the death of Sheikh Jameel, otherwise the obsession with hudud might have led to a situation similar to ISIS.

Around 2004, I briefly met one of Sheikh Jameel’s sons who was studying at the Islamic University of Madinah during my only visit there, facilitated by Yasir Qadhi.

Back to Kunar: we spent a day and night at the front line, taking part in the Jihad against forces loyal to President Najibullah.  The Soviets had of course withdrawn in early 1990, but most mujahideen groups fought on, firstly against Najib’s communists, and then against each other during the vicious civil war of 1992-6.  The latter war helped me realise the emptiness of the Islamist dream that the mujahideen were going to establish the ideal “Islamic state” after taking Kabul in 1992.

The Saudis subsidised half the cost of mujahidin’s flights to Pakistan, but kept a record of all names. There was, of course, close co-operation amongst the US, Saudis and Pakistanis during the anti-USSR Jihad.  We met a couple of Libyans at the front line who had burnt their passports, since returning mujahideen were not too welcome in Gaddafi’s police-state.

The training camp’s courtyard had a disused Soviet tank in the centre and was covered in snow: many of the Arabs, religious scholars and committed warriors, had never seen snow before and thoroughly enjoyed their first snowball fights whilst we, the British trio, looked on bemused.  The Arabs were from various countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Libya, Egypt and Palestine.  There was also a trio of Indonesian or Filipino fighters who kept to themselves since they didn’t know Arabic.  At the camp, we received basic weapons training: Kalashnikov/M16 and also studied scripture after regular, congregational prayers.  In between the prayer rows would be lines of AK-47s belonging to the warrior-worshippers. At the front line, we exchanged artillery fire with invisible communist forces, as several mountain ridges separated us.  Our guns were 76mm cannon.  One enemy shell, fired from several miles away, landed a hundred feet from us but we were quite safe: this taught me about the fragility of life, but not to be afraid of the ever-present danger of death.  A disturbing scene throughout Kunar was the sight of large cemeteries in place of villages.

At the front line, I had hoped to use my expert Further Mathematics A-level knowledge of precise mathematical calculations of projectile motion to help with the accuracy of our shelling. (18 months earlier, I had been the only one to score 100% in our Lower Sixth Form mathematics examination at the City of London School for Boys, where I held the John Carpenter Scholarship, 1987-9, and been awarded the Mathematics Prize in the Upper Sixth Form, although a couple of Jewish friends were better mathematicians than me.) But we were only there for a day, and there were no PCs or calculators. The mujahideen’s method to ensure shelling accuracy was simple: it was piety – we were encouraged to mention and remember God in dhikr every time we fired a shell!

There were many funny incidents during our stay: a sense of humour helps in tough situations.  The Kuwaiti who stopped the jeep to pick up snow for the first time: “This is not like the snow in our freezer!” (Snow and ice are synonyms in Arabic: thalj.)  The young Saudi who had studied English “whilst he wasn’t religious” in Cambridge some years ago and knew the Pakistani-run Nasreen Dar store there, famous amongst Fitzwilliam and Churchill College students for selling cheap, out-of-date biscuits.  This was a surreal moment for me: I had travelled thousands of miles from Cambridge to meet an Arab mujahid in the mountains of Afghanistan and talk about a shop back home.  (Partly due to our salafist influence in Cambridge, Nasreen Dar eventually stopped selling alcohol. And it finally closed recently.)  Abu Muntasir nicknaming the Indonesian or Filipino mujahid, “Brother One-Bullet” since he could only afford one bullet for his M16 gun (these bullets were much more scarce and therefore expensive, compared to AK-47 bullets). Abu Muntasir saying to Abul Qa’qa’ (named after a Companion of the Prophet), “They’re calling you,” when a flock of crows crowed loudly: caw! caw! The 007-style “pen gun,” disguised as a heavy ink pen that housed a bullet instead of an ink cartridge, with the pen clip as the trigger, and used for close-range assassinations.  The Arabs called it the “ben gun” since there is no “p” in Arabic, and this made me think of my primary-school days spent reading Treasure Island.  At the front line, I described the “man in the moon” that I could see in the full moon through binoculars.  Our Arab guide there, unfamiliar with the nuances of the English language, rebuked me gently although unfairly with the teaching of the Prophet (pbuh), “Tell the truth, even if you are joking.”

My parents, siblings and extended family, plus the JIMAS group in the UK, were very supportive of our jihad trip and very proud of us. My grandfather, Sheikh Abdul Ghaffar Hasan, a very senior salafi scholar of India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, quoted to me the hadith of the Prophet, peace be upon him, upon my return, “There are two eyes that will not be touched by the Fire: an eye that watches guard at night in the path of God [esp. holy war], and an eye that weeps from the awe of God.” My grandfather added, “I hope that you will qualify on both counts.” It was a quarter of a century later, prompted by a journalist’s question, that I asked my dear mother how she felt whilst I was away for a fortnight – I had remembered her tears upon both my departure and return. She told me that there were some days when she couldn’t eat, out of worry. The FATE video showing a family of a jihadi fighter at a dinner table gives some idea of how she must have felt.

JIMAS and other UK groups later sent dozens of fighters to Afghanistan and hundreds to Bosnia (1992-5).  One young man from Southall spent months in Afghanistan and described fishing in the river by use of hand-grenades: the explosion would blast the fish onto the banks.  One Londoner I know, currently a primary schoolteacher, spent a year or so in Afghanistan in the mid-90s, having gone there with the intention of a “sacred migration to the Islamic state” (hijrah), but became disillusioned when he heard talk of plans to attack western countries: some of the mujahideen were of course building Al-Qaeda.

So, fast-forward 20 years to 2010, almost a decade after 9/11 and the whole idea of Jihad had become utterly confused, including in the UK after the 7/7 attacks.  British involvement in the war in Afghanistan was deeply unpopular amongst UK Muslims, so when the FCO offered me a trip to the country to project British Muslims, I jumped at the chance, deciding that I would also treat it as a fact-finding mission again as to what was going on there.

 

Ex-Taliban Mullahs at the UK Embassy in Kabul, August 2010

We flew from London to Kabul via Dubai, after having undergone two days of “Hostile Environment Training” in Shropshire provided by ex-army people.  The training included practice in wearing the body armour (with ceramic plates) and helmet that we would need everywhere in Afghanistan, a simulated roadside bomb attack on the armoured jeeps in which we would travel and advice on what to do if we got kidnapped (co-operate with your kidnappers, don’t try anything silly, and hope to get rescued).  Whenever I wore the body armour, I thought of the Qur’anic story of Prophet Sulayman, or King Solomon, manufacturing iron armour under divine inspiration for protection in war: modern body armour, with its light but strong material that is ever-improving due to science and technology, is the latest manifestation of the Solomonic Sunnah.

At the heavily-fortified UK embassy in Kabul, we had iftar with a couple of ex-Taliban, including Mullah Ishaq Nizami, who had once served as a junior communications minister for Mullah Omar.  Nizami spoke of the need for human rights and corruption-free institution-building in Muslim-majority countries, something much stronger in western ones. He was also working with other, higher-profile ex-Taliban, including Mullah Mutawakkil and Mullah Zaeef (author of My Life With The Taliban, http://www.hurstpublishers.com/book/my-life-with-the-taliban/), in negotiations between Karzai’s government and Taliban leaders.  The iftar was hosted by Ambassador Sir William Patey and his staff.

 

Lashkar Gah ISAF Base, Helmand

The next day we flew to Lashkar Gah (“Lash”) via the formidable Kandahar Air Base.  At Lash we met the Commander of Task Force Helmand, Brigadier Felton.  (He had the England v Pakistan cricket test match from Lord’s on TV in the background via satellite: Sky Sports, but switched it off when we entered. This was the test match when Mohammed Amir bowled “those no-balls.”) I led the delegation in that meeting and my first question to him was about civilian casualties: his reply was that the Taliban were now killing more civilians than ISAF were, and that the new strategy under US General Petraeus was to minimise civilian casualties.

The head of the civilian mission here was Arthur Snell, formerly head of UK Prevent and now (2012) our High Commissioner in Barbados.  At the Lash command centre, one poster showed a big gun with the caption: “One size fits all: Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Haqqanis and HIGs” – the latter referring to Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, i.e. the fighters still loyal to our old friend-or-foe Hekmatyar.  (Hekmatyar finally laid down his arms in 2017, after almost 40 years of fighting.) Another striking recruitment poster read, “Who is fighting in place of your son?”

One striking feature at Lash was the presence of a handful of young, female soldiers. I saw a couple of male soldiers pumping iron whilst staring lustfully at a young female who was jogging in her shorts, and looking quite scared. I felt an air of fear and tension, as these young, British men and women had been transplanted into the midst of a war against a ferocious enemy: they were thousands of miles from home, and millions of miles away from any understanding of the surrounding Afghan Muslim culture. I asked the base chaplain about sexual ethics in the camp. His reply was that the soldiers were advised “not to have sex” but that if a female soldier became pregnant, she could return home immediately.

We also met the local mullahs at Lash’s rebuilt Central Mosque, including the Chief Mullah. A few years ago, a suicide-bomber had destroyed the mosque and killed the previous Chief Mullah: his shrine was next door.  There was a long queue of local men waiting to apply for the Hajj programme.  All of the mullahs were anti-Taliban; most were vehemently anti-Pakistan also, blaming the country for supporting insurgents.  The day before we eventually left Helmand, the Chief Mullah was arrested on charges of corruption relating to the embezzlement of Hajj application fees.


Nad Ali and the death of a young, British soldier

We also spent a few days in Nad Ali, where facilities were much more primitive compared to the relative luxuries of Lash (nicknamed “Lash Vegas” by soldiers).  We flew there and back by helicopter (RAF Merlin and Chinook, respectively): my first rides in a chopper.

We again met local mullahs in the main Nad Ali mosque.  There was almost a riot outside because two ISAF soldiers, both Muslim (one British male, one American female), had entered the mosque: a mob became very angry at the fact that foreign soldiers and a woman had “desecrated” their place of worship: they found it very difficult to comprehend that NATO soldiers could be Muslim.  Some of the mullahs accompanied us back to the base to show the public that NATO were not anti-Islam.

A Scottish army major here told me that many of the young Taliban recruits were clearly very devoted and brave fighters who believed in their Jihad, attacking NATO posts in their flip-flops, armed only with AK-47s: they stood no earthly chance against NATO’s superior firepower.

During our stay in Nad Ali, Lance Corporal Jordan Bancroft (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-11068103 ) was killed.  All private communications by troops were disabled whilst the MoD officially informed the family, rather than them receiving the news via friends.  Back at Lash, almost everyone turned out for a moving memorial service.  Bancroft’s commanding officer read a tribute to him and the chaplain read from Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer.  The service happened to occur at the time of the late afternoon Muslim prayer, so throughout the ceremony, the Islamic call to prayer rang out from the speakers of local mosques.  The total effect was something like:

The Lord is my shepherd

God is Greatest! God is Greatest!

I shall not be in want

He makes me lie down in green pastures

I bear witness that there is no god but God

He leads me beside quiet waters

He restores my soul.

I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Come to life-giving prayer!

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil

Come to life-giving success!

For you are with me; your rod and staff they comfort me.

God is Greatest! God is Greatest!

There is no god but God.

God is Greatest! God is Greatest!

Our Father, who art in heaven

Hallowed be thy name

I bear witness that there is no god but God

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done

On earth as it is in heaven

I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God

Give us this day our daily bread

And forgive us our trespasses

Come to life-giving prayer!

As we forgive those who trespass against us

And lead us not into temptation

Come to life-giving success!

But deliver us from evil

God is Greatest! God is Greatest!

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory

For ever and ever, amen!

There is no god but God!

 

A friend commented that many of Bancroft’s comrades would have been offended by the Islamic prayers, that they associated with the Taliban, throughout his memorial service, but this was a poignant moment for me: here we had thousands of western soldiers and Jihadist insurgents fighting each other, with no understanding at all of their shared, Abrahamic, religious heritage that is utterly devoted to the Glory of God.  As a Muslim believer in the divine origin of the Torah, Psalms, Gospel and Qur’an, the futility of the war was summed up for me in this scriptural and liturgical encounter: when will the Children of Abraham ever stop killing each other, I wondered?


Visit to a British-run training camp for Afghan police recruits

 We visited a British-run camp training Afghan police to take over security roles.  Helmand has a very high illiteracy rate, and the literacy levels of these police officers after training was that of 5-year-old children.  As may be expected, “unlettered” nations like this rely heavily on oral tradition and word-of-mouth means of communication and education.

 

Visit to the British-built Lashkar Gah Prison, and the would-be suicide-bomber aged 16

We also visited a relatively state-of-the-art British-built prison, where a significant minority of the inmates were Taliban or Pakistani and there was a separate wing for women, who were probably in the safest place for them.  Here we met 18-year-old Umar, a madrasa graduate from Pakistan who had served two years of his sentence ever since being intercepted before he could carry out a suicide-bombing attack.  “I came for Jihad,” he told me, “… The people who sent me are not good.  I won’t return to them when I’m released.”  I also asked him whether or not he got to exchange letters with his parents in Pakistan.  (Twenty years earlier, I had met a Pakistani fighter at the front line of the Jihad whose family home happened to be near my parents’ one in Karachi.  He had given me a letter and message to convey to his family, since he hadn’t seen them for years: my mother had accompanied me when I did so, feeling the pain of another woman whose son was at war in a far-off land.)  But Umar’s reply was a sign of the times: “I speak to them via mobile phone, two or three times a week.”

Another tragic story at the prison was that of the child imprisoned, mainly for his own safety, after he shot dead his own father in a fit of rage after the latter had shot dead the family’s pet goat in a fit of anger.  The authorities said that there was no drug problem in the prison, but we noticed a discarded hypodermic needle lying in the yard.  They also told us that they had procured TVs for the prisoners, and that all of the Taliban had gratefully accepted these, despite Mullah Omar’s fatwa banning television.

 

Other visits in Lashkar Gah

We met officials dealing with the problem of poppy-farming and opium-production: most of the world’s heroin supply originates in Helmand.  We were shown official UN figures to this effect, which also recorded the remarkable anomaly of near-zero poppy production in summer 2001 after Mullah Omar’s decree prohibiting it: 9/11 followed soon afterwards and narcotics production resumed.  Instability and war are clearly in the interests of the drug-traffickers, and the drugs trade is of course a massive source of income for warlords and insurgents.

We met a senior local judge whose work was supported by British officials: a traditional version of Hanafi Sharia law was applied, but the penal code consisted of fines, imprisonment or the death penalty by hanging: there were no floggings, amputations or stonings to death.  The judge maintained that Sharia embodied justice in all matters.

We had iftar at the official residence of the Governor of Helmand, a humble and educated man who served us personally.  Governor Mangal has come to the UK several times on FCO-sponsored trips.  He was himself not from Helmand but from one of the other 33 provinces: bringing outsiders to govern provinces is a common practice in Afghanistan due to the tribal rivalries everywhere.  I discussed with him the importance of education for the future of Afghanistan, having noticed the fledgling Helmand University in Lash, occupying two floors of a multi-storey building and reminding me of universities similarly-housed in simple surroundings in Pakistan.

We also had suhur (the pre-dawn meal in preparation for fasting) with the local head of the Afghan National Army, after which I remember seeing the familiar and reassuring sight of the Pleiades, Taurus, Orion and Sirius rising in the eastern sky.  In the middle of war-torn Helmand, it was nice to be reminded that we were actually still on the same planet as our comfortable homes in the UK.

Our scheduled 3-day stay in Helmand was extended to a week due to a large sandstorm that grounded all flights – a common occurrence, during which insurgent attacks are more dangerous since air cover is not available.  Back in the UK, families and civil servants were desperately worried about an official delegation being stranded in a war-zone, but we took the opportunity to benefit as much as possible from the experience.  I even did a half-hour interview by phone for Edinburgh’s Radio Ramadan, discussing lunar visibility, Islamic dates and prayer-times etc.

  

Reflection: three decades of brutal war in Afghanistan

During this trip, talking to many experienced people helped me build up a picture of the tragic story of Afghanistan over the past century, a story of which I had been entirely oblivious when joining the Jihad as a well-intentioned but naïve undergraduate in 1990. Here is a rough timeline:

1919-1973: A monarchy rules Afghanistan.  (In the mid-90s, I saw the copy of the Qur’an used in the early 20th-century initiation ceremony of the King of Afghanistan into Freemasonry on public display at the United Grand Lodge near Holborn – and no, I am not a freemason!)  By the end of this phase of history, the royals are living in obscene luxury whilst most of the people are in abject poverty.  Hence, it is no surprise when …

1973: A coup overthrows King Zahir Shah.  Many of the various political factions and warlords are in touch with the neighbouring Communist superpower USSR, vying for influence and funding.

1979: The USSR invades to support the Marxist-Communist coup of 1978.  Warlords and tribal leaders announce a Jihad against the “atheist, communist enemy.”  The Jihad is backed heavily by the Pakistani, Saudi and US governments.  Thousands of Jihad fighters (mujahideen) flock to Afghanistan from all over the Muslim-majority world.  The Soviets commit many massacres: between 600,000 and 2 million Afghans, mainly civilians, die in the war.

1989: The Soviets withdraw, defeated by a combination of mujahideen operations and US-supplied Stinger anti-aircraft missiles that erase Soviet mastery of Afghan airspace; the Jihad continues against Afghan communist forces.

1992: Kabul falls to the mujahideen.

1992-6: A vicious civil war ensues, as the various Afghan mujahideen warlords fight for power: Hekmatyar (backed by Pakistan’s Jamat-e-Islami), Massoud, Mujaddedi, Rabbani, Sayyaf, Dostum, etc.  The Saudis attempt to broker peace, with limited success.  The warlords commit many massacres, notably including the regular, heavy shelling of Kabul by Hekmatyar’s forces, said to be far worse than any Soviet bombardment.

1996-2001: The Taliban emerge and rapidly take over most of the country, disarming the warlords.  Civil war continues as the Northern Alliance fights the Taliban.  Both sides commit atrocities.  Massacres of Afghan Shias almost lead to war between the Taliban and Iran. (Religious sectarianism is a serious problem in Afghanistan, as in many countries: in the Lash prayer-room, I found a polemical Shia text deeply offensive to Sunnis; no doubt, reverse cases are in abundance too.)

2001-12: The US-led invasion force removes the Taliban from power after 9/11 and  continues fighting Al-Qaeda.  NATO and the Taliban (the latter allied with Al-Qaeda, the Haqqani Network and remnants of Hekmatyar’s fighters) commit many atrocities in over a decade of fighting.

 

Conclusion: hope from Helmand?

Back in the UK, I was asked by a video-wall company to record a short message of support for British troops in Afghanistan who were obviously missing their families back home.  I obliged, wording it carefully with the hope that we could help end the war, leave the Afghans with the peace and freedom to rebuild their devastated country, and bring our troops home as soon as possible.  With UK combat troops set to withdraw by 2014, that hope is closer to fruition.  And with it being an open secret that NATO is negotiating with the Taliban and GIROA (Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan), the talks being hosted in Qatar, the seeds of peace and mediation efforts that we saw in 2010 seem to have also borne some fruit.

But what next for the Afghans?  I had asked many people this question whilst in the country, and of course everyone was very uncertain.  One thing they generally agreed upon was that the country was caught between brutal, religious extremists and corrupt, secular politicians, with most people simply wishing to get on with their lives in peace: sadly, a familiar story in Muslim-majority nations.

Wherever we had driven in Helmand, children had mostly waved at our prominent, armoured jeeps but a few boys would always hurl pebbles at the convoys.  During one of our excursions in Lash, I had watched a very old woman slowly cross a busy road. (She reminded me of my Indian-Pakistani grandmothers and great-grandmothers).  It struck me that this woman had probably been in Helmand all her life, and would have lived through most of the history described above, including three decades of near-constant war.  What’s more, there were probably millions of men and women like her in Afghanistan: all touched by war and death, yet determined to achieve the best for themselves and their families.  The old woman’s enduring, wrinkled face was a tribute to humanity’s courage, faith and perseverance in the midst of constant tragedy: a message of hope from Helmand.

© Usama Hasan

London, UK

30th September 2012 (minor edits & publication: 10th November 2017)

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JESUS & MUHAMMAD, PEACE BE UPON THEM – NOTES ON THEIR REALITY IN ISLAMIC TEACHING

December 25, 2016

With the Name of God, All-Merciful, Most Merciful

 

 

JESUS & MUHAMMAD, PEACE BE UPON THEM

 

 

– NOTES ON THEIR REALITY IN ISLAMIC TEACHING

 

 

in the hope of helping to increase Christian-Muslim mutual understanding, an absolute necessity for our times

 

 

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Birthplace of the Virgin Mary according to Christian tradition, on the edge of Temple Mount (al-Masjid al-Aqsa / al-Haram al-Sharif) in Jerusalem. The story of her birth is also in the Qur’an, Family of Imran, 3:33-37. Photo (c) Usama Hasan, May 2015

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Chapel inside the birthplace of the Virgin Mary according to Christian tradition, on the edge of Temple Mount (al-Masjid al-Aqsa / al-Haram al-Sharif) in Jerusalem. The story of her birth is also in the Qur’an, Family of Imran, 3:33-37. Note that this site was largely preserved as a place of pilgrimage and prayer for Christians throughout Islamic rule over Jerusalem since c. 640 CE / 17 AH. Photo (c) Usama Hasan, May 2015

Dome of the Rock mosque atop Temple Mount (al-Masjid al-Aqsa), where Mary, Jesus & Muhammad all worshipped God, according to Islamic tradition.

Dome of the Rock mosque atop Temple Mount (al-Masjid al-Aqsa), where Mary, Jesus & Muhammad all worshipped God, according to Islamic tradition. Muhammad was brought here by Gabriel, in one of the many magnificent meetings between these two great Spirits. Photo (c) Usama Hasan, May 2015

With the Name of God, All-Merciful, Most Merciful

 

JESUS & MUHAMMAD, PEACE BE UPON THEM

 

– NOTES ON THEIR REALITY IN ISLAMIC TEACHING

 

in the hope of helping to increase Christian-Muslim mutual understanding, an absolute necessity for our times

 

 

  1. WORD (LOGOS)

 

1.1 JESUS CHRIST: A WORD OF GOD & THE WORD OF GOD

Jesus Christ is “the Word of God” cast unto Mary (Q. Women 4:171), “a Word from God” (Q. The Family of ‘Imran 3:45) as well as being a Prophet and Messenger of God. In Christian Greek scriptures and theology, the Word of God is the Logos.

 

1.2 THE QUR’AN: THE WORD OF GOD

The Qur’an is also the Word of God. Hence, there is a parallel between Jesus and the Qur’an, both being Logos.

 

1.3 LOGOS, CREATION & COMMAND

This Word or Logos is specifically associated with the Divine Word and Command, “Be!” (Kun) that Creates all Being (Kawn), and thus there is a parallel between Jesus and Adam (Q. The Family of ‘Imran 3:59). Islamic views on philosophical discussions about “being” all derive from this Qur’anic teaching about the Divine Command, “Be!”

To God belong the Creation and the Command (Khalq and Amr: Q. The Heights 7:54). Everything besides God is outwardly Creation, inwardly a Divine Command (Sufi teaching, based on the above Qur’anic verse). Adam and Jesus are prime reminders of this reality.

It is for this reason that theologians who later wrote Islamic creeds often included the phrase “… the Word of God: it originated from, and returns to, Him” (kalam Allah, minhu bada’a wa ilayhi ya’ud).

And just as the “Christological controversies” exercised early Christians about the nature of Christ: human, divine or both, the “Qur’anological controversies” exercised early Muslims about the nature of the Qur’an: created, divine or both. For example, both traditions produced the identical phrase “not made” or “uncreated” in attempts to resolve this theological paradox between Creation and Command. The Christian formulation about Jesus being “begotten, not made” (mawlud, ghayr makhluq in Arabic) is identical in its second half to the Islamic formulation about the Qur’an being “the word of God, uncreated” (kalam Allah, ghayr makhluq).

 

  1. SPIRIT

 

2.1 JESUS CHRIST: A SPIRIT FROM GOD & THE SPIRIT OF GOD

Jesus Christ is also a “Spirit from God” (Q. Women 4:171), and in several hadiths, the “Spirit of God” (Ruh Allah).

When Christians accepted his message, Prophet Muhammad would often ask them to affirm in addition, after the basic declaration of faith, “There is no god but God; Muhammad is the Messenger of God,” that “Jesus Christ is the Messenger of God and His Word, cast unto Mary, and a Spirit from Him,” echoing the Qur’an.

 

2.2 ARCHANGEL GABRIEL: A SPIRIT OF GOD & THE SPIRIT OF GOD

The Archangel Gabriel is also the “Spirit of God” (Q. Mary 19:17), sent to Mary in human form to cast the Word of God into her, resulting in “the effusion of the Spirit of God” into Mary and into her womb (Q. The Prophets 21:91, Prohibition 66:12).

Specifically, Gabriel in the Qur’an is the Holy Spirit (Ruh al-Quds or “Spirit of Holiness” – Q. The Heifer 2:87, 2:253). According to some commentators, Gabriel is also the all-embracing “Universal/Cosmic Spirit” or “Spirit of the Universe/Cosmos” or simply, “The Spirit” (Al-Ruh), i.e. the Spirit that encompasses all created beings, which is why it is called the “Spirit of God.” (cf. commentaries, including Tafsir Ibn Kathir, on Q. The News 78:38, Destiny 97:4)

The Qur’anic Arabic for Gabriel is Jibril or Jibra’il, the meaning of which is variously given as “servant of God” (‘Abdullah) or “higher realms of the Kingdom of God” (Jabarut Allah), which resonates with Gabriel’s title of being “The Spirit” – cf. e.g. Fath al-Bari of Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani.

Note also that it is not only Christians who believe in the Holy Spirit being with them: some Muslims also had this honour; when Prophet Muhammad encouraged his poets such as Hassan bin Thabit during war, he urged them, “Attack them (with your poetry): the Holy Spirit (Ruh al-Quds) is with you!” (Sahih Muslim)

 

2.3 ADAM & HUMANITY: RECIPIENTS OF GOD’s SPIRIT

Adam, the first full human, received the effusion of God’s Spirit (Q. Rock 15:29, S 38:72), as did all human beings in turn, since they share in his Adam-ness or humanity (Q. Prostration 32:9; hadiths about foetal development in the womb). This is another parallel between Jesus and Adam.

Adam was created in the image of God (authentic hadith), and was taught all the beautiful Names of God, thus surpassing even the angels (Q. The Heifer 2:31-33).

 

2.4 THE QUR’AN: A SPIRIT FROM GOD

The Qur’an is “a Spirit, from God’s Command” inspired to Prophet Muhammad (Q. Consultation 42:52). Note that the early Islamic controversy over whether the Qur’an was created or uncreated is related to the aspects of Creation and Command mentioned above (section 1.3).

The Qur’an is a Light and Guidance, just as were the Torah and Gospel before it (Q. The Last Supper 5:44,46). Prophet Muhammad is also a Light and Guidance (Q. The Last Supper 5:15-16).

 

2.5 PROPHET MUHAMMAD’S SPIRIT

In a famous hadith (Sahih Muslim), Aisha described the character (khuluq) of the Prophet as being the Qur’an. The character is the inner aspect of creation (khalq). Therefore, the Prophet’s inner reality (haqiqa Muhammadiyya) or spirit is also Logos, being the Qur’an, which is itself a “Spirit from the Divine Command.”

 

2.6 INTERACTION OF THE SPIRITS:

GABRIEL — JESUS (LOGOS) — MARY:

Already mentioned above. Note that Mary was chosen “over all the women of the worlds” (Q. The Family of ‘Imran 3:42), and was a female Prophet (nabiyya or Prophetess) according to some leading Muslim theologians such as Ibn Hazm and Ibn Hajar, based on the fact that God sent His Archangel Gabriel directly to her.

GABRIEL — QUR’AN (LOGOS) – -MUHAMMAD:

The Qur’an was revealed from God to Prophet Muhammad by Archangel Gabriel as the Holy Spirit (Ruh al-Quds, Q. The Honey Bee 16:102) and the Faithful or Trustworthy Spirit (al-Ruh al-Amin), directly to the Heart (qalb) of the Prophet (Q. The Poets 26:193-4)

These interactions or relationships show that not only are there parallels between Jesus and the Qur’an, but also between Mary and Muhammad, another aspect of interest for Christian-Muslim dialogue and mutual understanding.

 

  1. MERCY

Where there is Spirit, there is Mercy. (And Love: the Islamic scholar William Chittick states that the Biblical “Love” and the Qur’anic “Mercy” are very close in meaning: we might say that they are Merciful Love and Loving Mercy.)

 

3.1 When Adam was created in the image of God, this was especially true of the Divine Names of Mercy. (hadith: disputed authenticity, sound meaning)

3.2 The Qur’anic chapter named “Mary” (19) uses the Divine names “All-Merciful” (al-Rahman) 16 times, “God” (Allah) 7 times and “Lord” (Rabb) 23 times. “Mercy” (rahma) is mentioned a further 4 times, all with regard to Abrahamic Israelite prophets, including a description of Jesus as “a mercy from God” (Q. 19:21). The Qur’anic “mercy” is derived from “the womb” (rahm), thus further resonating with the story of Mary, the only woman mentioned by name in the entire Qur’an; all others are described as mothers, sisters or wives with regard to men.

3.3 All but one of the 114 chapters of the Qur’an begin with the formula, “In the Name of God, All-Merciful, Most Merciful”: the Qur’an is thus inextricably linked with the two foremost Divine Names, being those of Mercy.

3.4 Prophet Muhammad is nothing but a “mercy for the worlds” (Q. The Prophets 21:107) and “most kind and merciful to people of faith.” (Q. Repentance 9:128)

 

  1. DISCUSSION / CONCLUSIONS

4.1. Although Islam rejects a trinitarian or tri-theistic formulation of God as One (Q. The Last Supper 5:73), the above discussions show how much reverence is accorded to the holy personalities of Jesus Christ and Mary in the Qur’an: Jesus is not “just a prophet”!

4.2. In Islamic teaching, Jesus Christ is one of the manifestations par excellence of spirituality, being a spirit of, or from, God: others are Archangel Gabriel, the Cosmic Spirit, Mary, the Qur’an, Adam and Prophet Muhammad.

4.3 Thus, although Muslims do not believe that God is a trinity of “Father, Son and Holy Ghost/Spirit”, Muslims certainly believe, directly from the Qur’an, that God is “Lord Most Merciful”, that Jesus is a Word and Spirit of God, and that Gabriel is the Holy Spirit and a Spirit of God. Furthermore, the Qur’an is also a Word and Spirit of God, and constitutes the inner reality of the Prophet Muhammad. The Spirit of God was also effused into Adam, and hence into all of humanity.

4.4. All human beings have the potential to be illumined by some of the above divine spirituality and mercy by virtue of sharing in the humanity of the above holy persons, and of being created in imago Dei (the image of God).

4.5. In the Islamic tradition, Jesus and Muhammad are regarded as extremely close, being respectively the last (and “Seals”) of the Israelite and Ishmaelite branches of prophethood deriving from their common Abrahamic ancestry. All prophets are regarded as brothers, and Prophet Muhammad regularly referred to other Abrahamic and Israelite prophets as “my brothers.” He also once joined his index and middle fingers together and declared, “Jesus, son of Mary, and I are this close in this world and the hereafter: there is no prophet between us.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

4.6. A striking example of the common love and mercy for humanity manifested by both Jesus and Muhammad in the Islamic tradition is as follows:

Prophet Muhammad once spent an entire night awake in worship (in addition to his worship and public duties by day), repeating the following prayer of Jesus Christ for sinners countless times, whilst standing, bowing and in prostration,

“If You (dear God) punish them, they are indeed Your servants;
but if You forgive them, truly You Yourself are the Mighty, Wise!”

(Q. The Last Supper 5:118 – this incident is reported in an authentic hadith widely transmitted by Islamic scholars, from the Sunan-collectors to Ibn Arabi in his Fusus al-Hikam or “Bezels of Wisdom” to Albani in his Sifah Salah al-Nabi or “The Prophet’s Prayer Described”)

4.7 This universal Christian and Muhammadan compassion is a metaphysical reality, and one that Christians and Muslims worldwide need to continue to manifest and enhance, especially in our troubled times. May God bless Prophets Abraham, Moses, Mary, Jesus and Muhammad, peace be upon them and all their followers, and grant us the courage to follow in some of their noble examples.

 

Usama Hasan

London, 25th December 2016 / 26th Rabi’ al-Awwal 1438 (updated 27/12/2016 // 28/03/1438)

 

Bin Ladin: From Hero to Villain

May 22, 2011

Bismillah.

BIN LADIN: FROM HERO TO VILLAIN?

Usama bin Muhammad bin ‘Awad bin Ladin (1957-2011) was originally a hero of the Afghan Jihad against the decade-long Soviet occupation, leading Arab and other fighters in numerous, successful operations. He was a colleague and deputy of the Palestinian Jihad leader Abdullah Azzam.  Once upon a time, the US was indebted to him for helping to inflict a major defeat on their superpower rival, as he was to them for their support of that Jihad.  But the plain truth is that his “Jihad” later evolved into international terrorism and consistently violated basic Islamic and human ethics.

Whether it’s the barbarity of the modern warfare waged by nation-states or international terrorism, it is all inhuman.  Let’s not forget that the twentieth century was the bloodiest in history, with governments all over the world guilty of collectively killing millions of people using increasingly-destructive weapons technology.  To illustrate the irony, when President Clinton reacted to Ibn Ladin’s assassination by referring to a long series of murderous attacks, he could have easily been talking about the ongoing US drone strikes in Pakistan that have killed hundreds of civilians.

Those interested in Ibn Ladin the man may wish to refer especially to two detailed interviews that he gave to ABC News and Al-Jazeera before 9/11.  In the ABC news interview, he condemned unprovoked terrorism but justified terrorism “against tyrants and oppressors in retaliation for their killing of innocent people.”  He also referred to the influential “younger” Saudi clerics, then in prison, as his mentors: the two leading ones, Salman al-‘Awdah and Safar al-Hawali, distanced themselves from him after 9/11 and criticised Al-Qaidah’s tactics.

To Al-Jazeera, Ibn Ladin spoke of his father’s civil engineering work and mentioned that his father was sometimes able to offer prayers in the three holiest mosques in a single day, i.e. in Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, since his father’s company, the Saudi Bin Ladin Group (not to be confused with an Al-Qaidah cell) had the maintenance and renovation contracts at all three sites.  He also said, in a clear recruitment appeal, that the optimum age for Jihad fighters was from adulthood to about 35, but appeared to dodge the question as to whether or not he was involved in the 1989 assassination of Abdullah Azzam, in which other suspects include the KGB, KHAD, Hekmatyar, Zawahiri and Mossad.

Since his death, the praise for Ibn Ladin from some Islamists around the world may be largely based on those early days, since tens of thousands took part in that anti-Communist Jihad. (I did so briefly, Dec 1990 – Jan 1991 during Cambridge University’s undergraduate winter holidays, along with two other senior colleagues from the UK.) Unfortunately, his supporters seem to have forgotten, or ignored, what came next.

The Afghan mujahideen were largely religious and/or nationalist, and bitterly-divided, as the vicious civil war amongst them illustrated, 1992-6 after the fall of Kabul, until the Taliban disarmed the warlords and took power, heralding merely the latest in a long line of brutally violent phases that the Afghan people have endured over the last 30-40 years.

The Arab fighters tended to be pan-Islamist, and many were not able to return to their countries of origin, mainly ruled by Western-backed dictators and tyrants. The Islamists’ anti-Westernism was compounded by western support for Israel in its numerous conflicts with the Arabs. Their influence has been huge.  (Many Muslims today, even Western ones, still speak of “Islam and the West” instead of “Islam in the West.”)

After the fall of Kabul, many Arab mujahideen fought in Bosnia and later Chechnya.  A widespread idea in mujahideen circles was that these wars in Europe confirmed the teaching attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), that “Jihad will continue until the Day of Resurrection” – Bosnia erupted soon after the fall of Kabul, and Chechnya followed closely.  Unfortunately, the Jihadists seemed unable to conceptualise non-violent, peaceful Jihads or struggles, e.g. those against colonial occupation, racism, apartheid, gender- or caste-discrimination, social injustice and poverty, that many peoples around the world have waged over the last century or so.

Once the Soviets, Serbs and Russians were no longer the leading targets in this “Jihad against all non-believers,” it was the turn of the western nations, led by the US.  Ibn Ladin issued a nonsensical Fatwa at the end of the 1990’s, as he launched Al-Qaidah or the International Islamic Front Against the Alliance of Crusaders and Zionists, or whatever he called it.  The fatwa said that all western taxpayers, and especially Americans, were legitimate targets due to western support for Israel, and thus sought to justify international terrorism.  The core part of the fatwa was read out on live, national UK television (BBC Newsnight) by a hate-preaching, extremist cleric who has since been banned from Britain.

Then came a string of atrocities against the US and people of many other nations: the embassy bombings in East Africa, and 9/11.  There is now clearly-overwhelming evidence that Al-Qaidah carried out the 9/11 attacks, although there remain a number of unanswered questions, including whether or not some people outside Al-Qaidah knew of the plots and could have done more to foil them.

The 9/11 attacks were, regrettably, celebrated across parts of the Muslim world and Latin America, exposing the level of anti-US sentiment.  Arab media reported a spike in baby boys being named “Usama” and there was a surge in Al-Qaidah’s popularity that dissipated over the years as the organisation murdered more and more innocent people, most of them Muslims, in many countries.  A notable exception to the initial celebration was in Iran, where there was no love for the fanatically anti-Shi’ite Al-Qaidah and Taliban.  Protestors in Tehran chanted, “Condolences to America,” instead of the usual chant of “Death to America” that has become regular since the 1979 revolution.

Many people wonder how someone likened to Hitler in some parts of the world could have been so popular elsewhere.  They forget that a certain US President is similarly hated in parts of the Muslim world:  the award-winning journalist Robert Fisk is a witness to that, having been beaten up and left for dead in December 2001 by an Afghan mob that mistook him for President Bush Jnr.  Similarly, others wonder how the Israelis once voted in General Ariel Sharon as their leader, despite an official Israeli inquiry finding him to be complicit in the 1982 massacre of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.

The unfortunate western policy over the last few decades of supporting tyrants and dictators, whether military figures or absolute monarchs, as well as corrupt secular politicians, across the Arab and Muslim world, was partly to blame for Bin Ladin’s popularity there, as was the failure of those societies themselves to democratise. Of course the masses would choose a charismatic military hero, an eloquent warrior-poet, an ascetic from a billionaire family who renounced luxurious living and talked tough against Israel and America, backing his words with action, over utterly-corrupt kings, presidents and other dictators.  (Similarly, supporters of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and Mullah Omar point to their simple and ascetic lifestyles.  The Muslim world seems to have too many leaders who are either ungodly and corrupt or are religious fanatics.)  God bless the brave youth who have inspired the Arab spring, offering the hope of an escape from the madness on all sides over the last few generations, and forced western powers to admit the failure of their previous strategies.  The leaders of the Arab spring have engaged successfully in a peaceful Jihad, for the Prophet, peace be upon him, is said to have taught that “the best Jihad is to speak a word of truth to a tyrant ruler.”

Celebrating the misfortune of others, especially an enemy, is an unfortunately-common, but negative, human trait.  In Arabic, it is known as shamatat al-a’da’.  In the Qur’an, Prophet Aaron (Harun) begs Prophet Moses (Musa), peace be upon them, not to expose him to the rejoicing of enemies by criticising him publicly and the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, would pray for God’s protection from being the object of this vice.

But unfortunately, some Muslims celebrated 9/11 as a military victory, just as British tabloids had celebrated the bombing of Libya in 1986, some Israelis the Gaza offensive of 2008-9, and some New Yorkers the assassination of Bin Ladin earlier this month.

Such celebrations may also be attributable to a sense of justice and/or revenge, of course.  One of those celebrating in Times Square had lost his wife on 9/11 and declared to the cameras that he knew for sure that his wife would watch from heaven whilst God would throw Bin Ladin’s soul into the depths of hell.  This was a totally understandable reaction from the still-grieving widower, whilst some Jews and Christians, amongst many believers, were surely asking that difficult question, “Can God forgive Hitler or Bin Ladin?”  Later today, the congregation of a church in Florida will be praying for Bin Ladin’s forgiveness.

Meanwhile, the latter’s former sister-in-law, Carmen bin Ladin, told CNN that Saudi society would be grieving the death of their brother, whom they regarded as a good Muslim, since he upheld the five pillars of Islam.  A problem in Muslim society is that too often, a “good Muslim” man or woman is limited to someone who observes the five pillars and dresses in a certain way, whereas the five pillars are supposed to be the springboard that launch people into oceans of loving spirituality, humanity and generosity rather than reducing them to hate-filled fanaticism.  A “good Muslim” is one who, inspired by the love and worship of God, helps to transform society for the better, standing up for the dispossessed and downtrodden against their oppressors.  Muslim societies need internal Jihads against racism, inequality and religious fanaticism, amongst other things.

One or two Muslim theologians, whose attitudes can only be described as mediaevalist, have quickly pronounced that Ibn Ladin is in heaven, since for them, “any Muslim, no matter what his deeds, is better than any non-Muslim.”  This is reminiscent of the rhetoric of the extremist Jews who glorified Baruch Goldstein, the Israeli settler who massacred 29 Palestinians in 1994 as they worshipped at dawn at the Hebron mosque and Cave of the Patriarchs.  For example, one extremist rabbi declared that “a million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail.”  Other extremists praised Goldstein for “living the Torah,” just as plenty of Muslim fanatics claim to be “following the Shariah.”  A wider irony is that Islamism and Zionism are mirror images of each other, united only in mutual hatred, since they both represent over-politicisations of their faiths.

The simple answer is that heaven and hell (or the Garden and the Fire, in Qur’anic language) manifest people’s nearness to God in this life: those in the Garden are near God and vice-versa, and those in the Fire are distant from God, and vice-versa.  Those insisting that Ibn Ladin is in the Garden should at least reflect on the possibility that many, if not all, of the innocent victims of terrorism are closer to God.

We face a stark choice today: in many ways, one that is as old as humanity itself.  We can either continue in cycles of violence and vengeance, or we can choose to break those cycles and embrace hope, forgiveness and peace.  Al-Qaidah are partly motivated by revenge for Muslim suffering over many years.  According to their stupid, clichéd and almost-meaningless slogan, “Americans will not taste security until the Palestinians do.” After 9/11, the US was partly motivated by revenge: “Who cares if we over-react!” as one TV pundit put it.  Ten years later, there are thousands of Al-Qaeda, Taliban, US and ISAF soldiers, plus Afghan, Pakistani and Iraqi civilians dead as part of the “war on terror.”  Furthermore, terrorists have left hundreds dead from Bali to London, Morocco to Jordan, Madrid to Mumbai.  How much more “revenge” do people want?

Zamakhshari, a classical commentator on the Qur’an, pointed out an oft-forgotten, basic aspect of Islam: the word itself means, as well as submission, “to enter into peace (after war)” – to put it another way, it means peace-making and renouncing war in favour of peace.  A true Muslim is thus a committed peace-maker and, as Prophet Jesus Christ, peace be upon him, is reported to have taught, “Blessed are the peace-makers.”

Fourteen centuries ago, Islam put an end to the vicious blood-feuds amongst the warring tribes of Arabia, cycles of violence that continued for generations.  Today, the South Africans, Northern Irish and the Rwandans, amongst others have chosen national reconciliation over continuing similar blood-feuds.  We need to encourage and help the Afghans, Pakistanis and Kashmiris to do the same.

President Obama’s efforts for a new chapter in US-Muslim relations must be welcomed, and we can all play a part in building bridges amongst people locked in conflict.  Crucially, the Israelis and Palestinians must be encouraged to end their mutual distrust and hatred.  The work of Ali Abu Awwad and Robi Damelin, showcased in the film, Encounter Point, must especially be commended.  Jews and Muslims living together peacefully in democratic western countries can help set an example to their fellow-believers in the Holy Land, traumatised by the decades of conflict, many of whom are not even aware that they worship the same God, revere the same Prophets, and share many aspects of language and religious practice.  Efforts towards Palestinian unity and democratisation must be welcomed, although militant religious extremism, both Muslim and Jewish, must be marginalised and exposed for what it is: a perversion of faith and an immense obstacle to Middle-Eastern and world peace.  Muslim and Jewish leaders and religious authorities around the world must especially make it a priority to help their colleagues in Palestine and Israel make the right choices on the path to peace and justice for all.  Influential religious authorities in places like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria must be given the independence and freedom to criticise their governments constructively and thus reclaim their role as reflecting the spiritual will of the people, rather than being forced and intimidated into always toeing the official line.

One of Ibn Ladin’s gravest mistakes, regrettably, was to pervert the nobility of Jihad, including his own earlier sacrifices, and to recast it in purely violent forms with the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians.  It is time for Muslims to reclaim the wider and deeper aspects of Jihad, for as Ibrahim bin Abi ‘Ablah, an ascetic Successor to the Companions of the Prophet, peace be upon him, observed on his way back from a military expedition, “We have returned from a lesser Jihad to the Greater Jihad: the struggle against the vices of our own souls.”  Let us put the last ten years behind us, and move on.

© Usama Hasan

London, UK

22nd May, 2011

Husam Kaikati of Cambridge returns to Allah

March 25, 2010

29/3/10: Bismillah.  We buried Husam on Saturday, rahimahullah. Omar Mahroo, jazahullahu khayran, drove me and our elder boys up to Cambridge. At the funeral prayer and/or burial, amongst several hundred mourners, were: Sheikh Sejad, the young Bosnian imam (behind whom I used to say the Friday prayers at Hendon mosque) who led the Zuhr prayer; Abdul Jalil Mirza, who flew all the way from Saudi the day before, just for the funeral; Abdul Qayyum Arrain; Abdul Lateef Rajput; Aahmer, his dad and many of their clan; Dr. Abdul Ma’bud of the Islamic Academy in Cambridge and student of the late Prof. Syed Ali Ashraf rahimahullah; Ellis Karim; the sons of Abdul Shakoor Chilwan, who was abroad; Yusuf, teenage son of Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad (also abroad).  Husam’s younger brother Yasir and three sons were there, of course: Muhammad, Abdullah & Umar.  They are all handsome young men now, masha’Allah, but are obviously devastated at the moment.  The last time I saw the elder two, they were toddlers running around their house, 18 years ago.  Their mum Julie and younger sister Safiyyah were presumably in the women’s section of the mosque; there were no women at the burial.

It was good to see several children, all boys aged 7-12 roughly, at the funeral and burial: children above an appropriate age are not traumatised or emotionally scarred by witnessing a funeral; rather, they are strengthened emotionally and begin to learn that most valuable of lessons: that death often punctuates life unexpectedly.  The more materialistic our lives and societies are, the more we become in a state of denial about death, and the harder it becomes for us to face up to the reality of the death of a loved one.  And, as far as I know, it is perfectly acceptable in Islamic tradition for women to attend burials if they so wish, and perhaps this should be encouraged, especially since it may help a grieving mother, wife, sister or daughter etc. come to terms with their loss.

There were many old friends there: a very emotional reunion in obviously sad circumstances.  Husam was buried next to Abdul Majid Arain, Abdul Qayyum’s father who died last year, rahimahullah.  Here are some tributes to Husam.

Yasir Kaikati: “My brother was an imam and khatib who wasn’t afraid to speak the truth based on what Allah and His Messenger said.  He visited prisoners to help them and also made many trips to talk to students at universities in London.  He would often be the first to literally jump into graves to help bury deceased people.  People would ask him to lead the funeral prayers for their relatives.  It’s almost unbelievable that it’s now his turn to be buried. Rahimahullah.”

Aahmer: “A great loss to Cambridge.”

Mujahid Khalid: “inna lillahi wa inna elaihi raajioon – I’m devastated to hear this news. I loved this brother for the sake of Allah. We last met in Riyadh 2 years ago with our brother Muhammad an-Najjar. May Allah have mercy on him and his family.”

Ziyad Abubacker: “Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajioon. IA may Allah grant him peace and rahmah. He was Alhamdulillah, a kind man and brings back many fond memories of our early days in Cambridge. He was the khateeb in the masjid and used to run the Friday study circle.”

Ibn Abdil Shakoor Chilwan: “My father moved with us, the entire family, from Haverhill to Cambridge to be closer to Husam and Mustafa.” [Mustafa is a Libyan brother, another regular at the Friday circle during my time, now settled abroad.]

Which reminds me, that at the Friday circle 1989-92, we would all introduce ourselves briefly at the end of the circle, before the tea & biscuits.  Dr. Ahmad Ibrahim insisted on this: it was a good practice he seemed to have learnt from his al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun training, although it seemed a bit pointless on the days when there were no newcomers, since we all knew each other pretty well by then. Br Abdul Shakoor would always say, “… I live in Haverhill, about 20 miles from here.” After hearing this weekly for months, Husam finally teased him once, asking, “Why do you always say: about 20 miles from here ?!”

I’ve just remembered another anecdote: Husam once took me and another student friend to visit a middle-aged Turkish friend of his, originally from Adana. (Syria & Turkey share a border, of course, and there is much friendship between the peoples of the two countries.)  This chap was well-educated and a wise man.  During our conversation he mentioned the story of Sayyidina Umar b. al-Khattab, whilst in Madinah, having a waking vision of his commander Sariyah in trouble battle in Syria or Persia.  Sayyiduna Umar called out, “Sariyah! [Move towards] the mountain!”  Sariyah heard a voice exclaiming the same advice hundreds of miles away and somehow knew that it was from Umar.  He obeyed the advice and the tactic proved successful.  Anyway, this was the first time I had heard this story (which I finally read over a decade later in Suyuti’s Tarikh al-Khulafa’ or History of the Caliphs) and my initial reaction was that it was a weak hadith or some Sufi nonsense, and said so. (Remember, I was a radical young salafi at this time.) Husam corrected me, and the two of them seemed to be surprised that I didn’t know the story.  One lesson I’ve learnt from this and countless other incidents is that many Western Muslims, converts and others, travel to the East with wide-eyed wonder and learn many things which we then give lectures, sermons or talks based on, when many Eastern Muslims learnt those things as children and often scratch their heads in amusement at their Western friends’ wearing of a very childish Islam on their sleeves.

To reiterate: I knew Husam 1989-92 and got to know him very well, and loved him a lot.  He was roughly 25-28 years old during this period: a young man with a young wife and children.  He recited the Qur’an beautifully, although he didn’t lead the Friday prayers etc. until the mid-90’s, although he was always an active member of the community.  Unfortunately, I largely lost touch with the Cambridge mosque community over the last 18 years although I maintained intermittent contact with the university Isoc.  Husam spent much of those 18 years abroad, pursuing his business interests, but his family were now resettled in Cambridge and he was hoping to move back there himself, although he obviously paid regular visits.  I hope that other people will share their memories of Husam, especially those who kept his company for longer, such as his close family and friends, since my recollections are for a relatively short period and long ago.  Imam Sakhawi said, “Whoever biographs a believer, it is as though s/he has brought him/her back to life.”

Husam’s mum and his wife had requested that someone who knew him personally should lead his funeral prayer: his sons were the obvious choice but had no experience of doing so.  So the family asked br. Abdul Qayyum to lead, but he asked me to lead.  Sheikh Sejad was kind and understanding in this regard.  I thank Allah and then the Kaikati family & friends for the immense honour and privilege of leading the janazah prayer of a long-lost, dear friend, although I was trembling internally at the time, as I am know whilst writing about it.  And I’ve never buried a dearer friend, so it was difficult to leave the graveside.  I can’t imagine what it must be like for those who have to bury close family members.  I thought of my father leading his own father’s funeral prayer, three years ago.

It was a beautiful, sunny day in Cambridge during the burial on Saturday afternoon, just like the sunny Eid al-Adha day many years ago when I last saw Husam alive.  Allah’s decree is most mysterious: Husam had invited me to lead the Eid prayer, and I didn’t see him again until I led another prayer that has no adhan or iqamah, his funeral prayer 18 years later.  The two Eids are themselves symbolic of the believer’s joy at meeting God, coming as they do after the month of fasting, which symbolises the tribulations of life, or the Day of ‘Arafah, which is a symbol of the Day of Resurrection.  I therefore pray that Husamuddin Kaikati’s funeral prayer was indeed like the Eid prayers, a prelude to the Ultimate Happiness.

27/3/10: Bismillah. The funeral prayer of our dear, departed friend, Husam Uddin Kaikati, will be held after the afternoon prayer (1.15pm) today, Saturday 27th March 2010 at Abu Bakr Siddiq Mosque on Mawson Road, Cambridge CB1 2DZ. Burial at the crematorium, Huntingdon Road, Cambridge CB3 0JJ, God-willing.

Husam, originally from Syria, died on Thursday 25th March at the age of 46 of some kind of heart attack, it seems – he had been fitted with a pacemaker many years ago.  He was in Austria, attending to some business interests, when he died.  He leaves behind his English wife Julie, and four children: three sons and a daughter, the youngest.  I’m told that the two elder children are in their twenties whilst the younger two are teenagers.  Condolences to them all.

I first met Husam at the Cambridge Mosque in 1989 when I began at university.  He was a regular at the daily prayers and at the Friday night tafsir circle where Dr. Ahmad Ibrahim (the mosque khatib at the time), Hisham Quwaidir, Abdul Jalil Mirza, Abdul Shakoor Chilwan and others were also active. The other regular students at the circle included Mujahid Khalid (Girton), Ridzuan Abdul Rahim (Churchill), Wan Ahmed Saifuddin (St. Catherine’s), Elyas Patel and Samir Siksek.  In later years, there were Taqi Hashmi, Mahbub Gani, Ziyad Abubacker, Tawqeer Rashid and others.  All of these people will be heartbroken at Husam’s departure, as I am.  Condolences to them also.

Husam recited the Qur’an beautifully – he had a lovely voice.  His recitation was probably the best at the tafsir circle during my time there. And I’m told he led the Friday prayers at the mosque in the years after I left Cambridge.

But he wasn’t a scholarly type: rather, an active businessman.  Always wheeling and dealing, buying and selling cars from auctions etc, a kind of “Del Boy” with the joviality and sense of humour to match.  He opened a grocery shop around the corner from the mosque around 1990 and we would often have lunch there.  I remember he once stopped me from buying a £2 sandwich from his own shop, saying that it was a rip-off and would be taken back by the sandwich company in the evening, since it was on a sale-or-return basis.  “For £1, you can buy a loaf of bread and cheese: you can eat, I can eat, everyone here can eat!”  On another occasion in the same shop, he was speaking to Abu Muntasir on the phone and before passing the phone to me, pretended to put me through on a switchboard with a Fonejacker-esque crackling sound.

All my memories of him involve his smiling face and his constant humour.  Like many of the Arab brothers in Cambridge, he was very keen on football: playing and watching.  I remember he took me to a friend’s flat after our final exams in 1992 for dinner etc. and an England match was on during the European championships.  Husam had nicknamed England’s midfielder Carlton Palmer, “the chicken-man,” because of the way he ran with his long legs and noticed that Palmer would often fall over whilst in possession of the ball.  He kept saying during that match, “Weyn [colloquial Arabic for “where is”] chicken-man?  He’s gonna fall over!” and chuckling away.

Husam used to pray at Sheikh Albani’s mosque in Damascus as a young man. He once told me that Albani would usually say his dhikr after the fard prayers whilst walking home, where he would pray the sunnah rak’at.  I had come to Cambridge as an ardent Albani-fan (all of us at JIMAS were, at the time, of course, except that JIMAS was called HISAM at the time, a word essentially the same as Husam, meaning “Sword” [of Islam]). It was Husam who, upon discovering that I was a fan of his Sheikh, immediately gave me a brand-new paperback copy of the Sheikh’s book on prayer which I translated into English by the grace of Allah, 1989-90, eventually published by JIMAS in 1993 as The Prophet’s Prayer Described.  That book has had an official print-run since then of about 50,000 plus unauthorised prints, so alhamdulillah, tens of thousands of people have benefited from it, especially from the full range of exquisite Prophetic supplications for every posture in prayer, a feature that I have not seen in any other book, in any language.  Certainly not in such an accessible manner.  The book also raised the ijtihad/taqlid issue and eventually helped to provoke a furious, though erroneous, madhhabist reaction.  The madhhabist/anti-madhhabist debate is still ongoing in English-speaking circles although more and more people are realising how anachronistic it is, as we appreciate the significance of Maqasid theory.  Thus, I hope that the reward for every person who has benefited from that translation, or still does or will benefit from it in the future: the reward will accrue to Husam’s account in the presence of the Almighty.  I don’t think Husam knew that it was his gift to a young student that would become a best-selling book in translation, since we never met after it was published.

Husam always reminded me of the Companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him) who would laugh and joke a lot.  When some of the more austere Companions complained about this to the Prophet, he replied, “da’hu fa innahu yuhibbu’Llaha wa rasulahu – Let him be, for he loves Allah and His Messenger.”

عَنْ أَبِي سَعِيدٍ، عَنْ النَّبِيِّ ﷺ، قَالَ: التَّاجِرُ الصَّدُوقُ الْأَمِينُ مَعَ النَّبِيِّينَ وَالصِّدِّيقِينَ وَالشُّهَدَاءِ. سنن الترمذي، مشكواة، باب المسائلة.

Imam Tirmidhi transmitted the hadith on the authority of Abu Sa’id, who said: The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “The honest trader will be (raised) with the Prophets, the truthful ones and martyrs.”

(Mishkat, Chapter on Mutual Flexibility, hadith nos. 2796-7).

Although Tirmidhi and Albani declared the isnad to be weak, the meaning of the hadith is acceptable: my grandfather included it in his Intikhab-e-Hadith (no. 283) / Way of the Prophet (Islamic Foundation, no. 276) and Yusuf al-Qaradawi quoted it in his Al-Halal wa l-Haram fi l-Islam (The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam).  My grandfather commented thus:

This Hadith makes it clear that Islam is not merely a few rituals of worship; rather, honesty and integrity in trade are also important parts of the religion, without which the performance of worship rituals have no weight with Allah.

Husam certainly loved God and His Messenger and was a scrupulously-honest trader in our estimation, and only Allah knows everyone’s true state.

I’m pretty sure that the last time I met Husam was on Eid day in 1992: he had invited me up to Cambridge from London to lead the Eid prayer, so I spent Eid night at his house and he drove me to the community centre for prayer in the morning.  There had been some confusion as to whether or not there was anyone available in Cambridge to lead the prayer, and someone else led in the end.  But it means that the last time I saw my dear friend alive in this world, it was a day of immense happiness for both of us and our families and communities.  I pray that we meet in the next life, also in a state of overflowing joy.

May Allah accept Husam Kaikati’s lifetime of love, worship and hard work, forgive his mistakes and draw him near to His Presence in the Gardens of Paradise.  May He bless Sister Julie and the rest of Husam’s family and grant them peace, strength and fortitude.

Usama Hasan, London.  Completed at the breaking of dawn, Saturday 27th March 2010 / 11th Rabi’ II 1431

The original 20-year-old copy of Albani's prayer-book that Husam Kaikati gave to Usama Hasan

The first English edition of Albani's prayer-book, 1993

Bismillah. Sad news received this morning (Thurs 25th March 2010).

Verily to Allah belongs what He took and to Him belongs what he gave, and everything with Him has an appointed time.

Assalaam alaykum wrwb. It is with great sadness that we announce on behalf of Sister Julie and the Kaikati family that their beloved husband and father, Husam Uddin Kaikati, passed away in Austria early this morning. We will forward on details of the funeral arrangements for those of you who would like to attend as soon as they are received Insha’Allah. Wasalaam.

The Office of Cambridge Muslim Trust
office@cambridgemuslimtrust.org
Website: http://www.cambridgemuslims.co.uk
Registered United Kingdom Charity
Registration Number: 1125964

“O Allah, guide me among those you have guided. Grant me safety among those you have granted safety. Take care of me among those whom you have taken care of. Bless me in what you have given. Protect me from the evil you have decreed, for you decree and nothing is decreed upon you. No one who is in your care is humiliated and there is no honour for the one you take as enemy. Blessed and Exalted are you. O our Lord may you bless the Prophet Mohammed.”

Hasan Charles Le Gai Eaton departs this world

February 27, 2010

Photo, clockwise from left: Charles Le Gai Eaton, Fuad Nahdi, Martin Lings, Hamza Yusuf, Peter Sanders.  (Photo courtesy of Fareena Alam’s and Abdul-Rehman Malik’s Facebooks.)

Bismillah.  Shaykh Hasan Charles Le Gai Eaton, author of the excellent books King of the Castle and Islam & The Destiny of Man, returned to Allah this morning. His burial is at 1pm later today (Saturday 27th February 2010 / 12th Rabi’ al-Awwal 1431) at the Brockwood Cemetery in Woking, God-willing.  To Allah we belong, and to Him we are returning.

A brief biography can be found here on Wikipedia.

I read his Islam & The Destiny of Man as a teenager.  Imran Khan (the cricket legend) once mentioned this book as the most influential upon a certain phase of his life, and it seems to have also inspired Jemima Khan.

The only time I heard him lecture was in 1989/90 at a Muslim students’ event at Cambridge University, organised by Inam Siddiqui, Massoud Shadjareh, Arzu Merali, Najmuddin Hasan & others.  Eaton was joined on the panel by a Christian priest.  Elyas Patel, the lawyer from Dewsbury, asked him a question relating to the hadith qudsi narrated by Abu Hurayrah from the Prophet S that God says, Ana ‘inda zanni ‘abdi bi or “I am according to My slave-servant’s conception of Me …” (Bukhari).  Eaton’s reply, I think, was about being detached from the world, yet part of it.  I must confess, that is the only thing I remember him saying the whole evening, and even that is blurred, although come to think of it, he did mention “Remembrance of God” as well of course, and that is the title of his third major book.  The problem is that everything he said went way over my head at the time, since I was young and an utter salafi.  But his presence was amazing, and the way he spoke old-fashioned English was lovely.

The only other time I saw him was when he was seated in the front row of Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s or Martin Lings’ lecture at The Globe Theatre in London during its Shakespeare & Islam season a few years ago (2003 or 2004), organised jointly with the Q-News team, for which alone, may Allah give them all Jannah.  He may have been at both lectures, actually. (Shaykh Hamza lectured on Othello & the Iago Factor – drama, melodrama, etc., whilst Martin Lings lectured for two hours at the age of 96 on Hamlet and themes from his Secret of Shakespeare, with even more lovely English than Eaton’s.)  Fuad Nahdi referred to Eaton in his introduction as his main shaykh in the UK.

I finally read Eaton’s King of the Castle last year – another brilliant book, full of insights.  It was once recommended-reading for Christian priests wanting arguments against atheism and agnosticism.  I made some mental notes of things I wanted to ask Eaton when I would finally have an audience with him, but that will have to wait until the Hereafter iA.  He recently also published his autobiography, entitled A Bad Beginning.

As friends have already said, Eaton is irreplaceable and his death marks the end of what might be called “his era,” which is a massive compliment in itself.  He was an enormous source of inspiration for several generations of people, tens of thousands if not millions.

May Allah shower him with His Mercy.

Nubians in Kenya

October 25, 2009

Bismillah.  I was born in Nairobi, hence the interest when a friend told me about his people there, the Nubians who live in the Kibera district of the Kenyan capital.

He says, “This is the link to our website Nubians in Kenya. In this page are pictures of my father (Councillor Ali Ramathan el-Ali) in the 50’s.”

Biography of the Qur’an-commentator Shaykh al-Shanqiti

June 10, 2009

This is incomplete, but still of benefit insha’Allah (15 pages).  My father was honoured to learn tafsir (commentary on the Qur’an) from Shaykh al-Shanqiti at Madinah University over 40 years ago.

Biography of Shaykh Shanqiti (incomplete draft)

Biography of Shaykh ‘Abdul Ghaffar Hasan

June 8, 2009

Biography and Isnad of Shaykh ‘Abdul Ghaffar Hasan (1330-1427 / 1913-2007), updated from 2007 with a section of my own “Treasured Memories of the Shaykh” at the end.  Btw My father has completed a 100-page biography of his father in Urdu, which is due to go to print soon in Pakistan.  The intention is to translate it into Arabic and English also, insha’Allah.  My translation of the Shaykh’s “Intikhab-e-Hadith” has gone to print as “Way of the Prophet” (publishers: Kube).  Insha’Allah, we hope that it will be available before Ramadan this year.

Biography of Shaykh Abdul Ghaffar Hasan

Obituary – Shaykh Muhammad b. Salih b. ‘Uthaymin

June 8, 2009

Obituary of Shaykh Ibn Uthaymin