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Guest Post: On al-Awlaki: Constants on the Path of Jihad

Charles Cameron has been guest blogging here in a series on radical Islamism and terrorism. A former researcher with the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, his most recent essay, an analysis of the powerpoint presentation of Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan, appeared in the Small Wars Journal.

al-Awlaki: Constants on the Path of Jihad.

by Charles Cameron


Jarret Brachman, formerly Director of Research at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, spoke on CNN today about Anwar al-Awlaki, the Imam of a mosque in Falls Church, VA, where Major Nidal Hasan apparently prayed in 2001 (as, it seems, did several of the 9-11 hijackers at some point), with whom Hasan later had an extensive email correspondence.

The program referred in particular to a volume of al-Awlaki’s lectures titled Constants on the Path of Jihad, and Brachman commented:

 I refer to what Awlaki puts out as “Radical Islam for Dummies”. … From the Yemen, Awlaki is able to put out these “how-to” manuals, and the jihadis on the internet right now are referring to the Fort Hood shooter as al-Qaeda’s version of a predator drone — and you can say that Awlaki is perhaps the guy at the end of the remote control, at least ideologically.

I got hold of a copy of the Constants on the Path to Jihad and even given my strong sense that jihadism is in some sort of apocalyptic mode, was surprised to note that the “First Constant” in that document is “Jihad will continue until the Day of Judgment”.

That’s an eschatological statement on the face of it, and one that Awlaki links with both Jewish and Christian expectations of the Messiah in his first paragraph in that section:

The entire world is standing against one ritual of Islam and that is Jihad. Many nations, especially the powerful ones, are mobilizing on various fronts (i.e., religious, political, social, economical, media, popular mass etc.) to fight against Jihad fe Sabeelillah. In terms of religious strength, we see that the USA and Israel are working for the State of Israel for a religious purpose: the descent of the Messiah. In terms of political strength, diplomacy around the world is concerned with fighting “Islamic terrorism”. Every single government in the world, both Muslim and non-Muslim, is united at the political level to fight against Islam (specifically, Jihad). On the media front, they are doing an excellent job of deceiving the masses on what Islam really is. They are giving Islam a face in this Country which is a very deceptive one.

While linking it in his last paragraph with the return of ‘Isa / Jesus, together with an event that follows Jesus’ subsequent death, and strangely echoes the Christian dispensationalist notion of the pre-tribulation Rapture:

On a side note, Jihad will end when ‘Isa rules the world. Why’s that? Because ‘Isa will fight kufr and there will be no more disbelief whatsoever. And after ‘Isa’s death, there will be no more Jihad because Allah will take away the souls of the believers and leave all the kuffar left on earth to go through the Last Hour. In addition, there is no Jihad against Ya’juj and Ma’juj because there is no capability of fighting them; they will be destroyed by a miracle.

I am not suggesting the apocalypse is imminent here, just that it is prominently placed in al-Awlaki’s work.


A further note: It appears that al-Awlaki’s lectures were posted in the form of a group of .mp3 files on the Islamic Awakening forums on 27th December 2005:


[Zen  – Note: As this is an Islamist site, some readers might not want to casually click through on a work computer for cybersecurity reasons, so I have not embedded the link in the text.]

I do not have access to the .mp3s, but the .pdf version carries an epigraph that includes the phrase, “The shaheed is granted seven gifts from Allah: 1) He is forgiven at the first drop of his blood…” This is the same hadith which I noted in my commentary might in part explain Hasan’s willingness to attend lapdancing clubs, shortly before the shootings at Fort Hood.

Hasan might therefore been aware of this hadith at any point after 2005 via this web posting (someone would need to find, download and play the .mp3s to be sure) or from whenever the text version first became available — the point being that these lectures, in English, were in circulation by the end of 2005.

13 Responses to “Guest Post: On al-Awlaki: Constants on the Path of Jihad”

  1. zen Says:

    Nice post Charles, very timely, as usual.
    Is al-Awlaki essentially a Qutbist or is he developing some kind of idiosyncratic, "eucumenical" Islamist doctrine?

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    Heh.  I really just downloaded the book, and it runs about 65 pp.  But a search is quicker than reading, so I can tell you that he does mention Qutb, very favorably.     .     
    On p. 50, he begins to discuss what he terms the "Seventh meaning of victory: victory of your idea".  He says, "In the world of ideas, your idea is superior. Your principles and ideas will end up winning. Sometimes, it truly wins when you pay the price with your own blood" — and after a while he gives Qutb as an example, saying "We see that in our contemporary times with people like Syed Qutb. He wrote with ink and his own blood. People like Shaykh Abdullah Azzam and Shaykh Yusuf al ‘Uyayree. They wrote amazing books, and after they died it was as if Allah made their soul enter their words to make it alive; it gives their words a new life" (pp.50-51).    .     
    The book al-Awlaki is commenting on in these lectures is Shaykh Yusuf al ‘Uyayree’s book, and the Editor’s Preface contains these words:     .     

    Shaykh Yusuf had left at an early age to fight in Afghanistan against the Russians. People who knew him described him as a very intelligent individual who was well-versed in all of the weaponry in all fields and was able to train with them very well. Later, he returned to the Arabian Peninsula where he continued serving the Mujahideen in Sheeshan and fundraised for them. As time passed, he was arrested and put in jail for a few years. In jail he memorized al Bukhari and Muslim. When he came out, he wrote a few books; each one of them is a masterpiece. One can see the depth of his textual references to Qur’an and Sunnah as well as references to present day occurrences. He was later killed and died shaheed by the security forces in the Arabian Peninsula; we ask Allah for that to be the case. Ameen.

  3. Charles Cameron Says:

    Ahem:  I should also add, since it seems to have gotten lost in my revising and editing process, that Al-Awlaki has been in the Yemen since 2002, and it was there that Hasan emailed him. Jihadica had a fascinating post about him today titled "Anwar al-Awlaki, the Infidel" — I’ll leave you to find out what that means.

  4. Charles Cameron Says:

    … and perhaps we can detect and echo of the hadith narrated by Abu Huraira and recorded in Bukhari (1.2.35), according to which the Prophet said, "I would have loved to be martyred in Allah’s cause and then made alive, and then martyred and then made alive, and then again martyred in His cause," in that phrase of al-Awlaki’s, "They wrote amazing books, and after they died it was as if Allah made their soul enter their words to make it alive; it gives their words a new life."     .     I don’t think I have mentioned it before, but there’s a poetics of jihad, another aspect of jihadist texts which would repay careful study, and at first glance I’d say this appears to be one of its recurring motifs.  

  5. John Byrnes Says:

    LEARN HOW TO PREVENT FUTURE NIDAL HASANS The dilemma caused by the shooting at Fort Hood by Major Hasan exemplifies how each of our programs have failed us. When supervisors, counselors and task forces members rely on subjective references of culture and mental illness, observers miss the signs specific to aggression referenced in post analysis.  When observers focus specifically on aggressive behavior, the objective and culturally neutral signs of “aggression” standout, providing the opportunity to prevent these violent encounters. Major Hasan was under surveillance by two Terrorist Task Forces, one with Department of Defense oversight and the other with FBI oversight.  So why wasn’t he stopped?  The use of subjective/qualitative indicators, prone to stereotype individuals by culture or religion; versus quantitative indicators and the use of mental health references know to mislead and misconstrue, fails us repeatedly in our attempts to prevent acts of violence. Only when we use the specificity of “aggression” and its objective, culturally neutral indicators can we get-out-in-front of these acts of aggression and prevent them. Why are current systems uses on campus failing us? The answer is quite simple – The military does not have an objective and culturally neutral system that collects information and evaluates it to determine the degree (or level) of aggression an individual is displaying, nor has it people who have a clear responsibility to observe and report this information. Learn more about the problem and the solution by reading our Blog: http://Blog.AggressionManagement.com

  6. Charles Cameron Says:

    Dr Byrnes:     .     Your ideas appear to be of interest.  Cutting and pasting the same exact comment onto fifteen or so different sites, however, is generally considered rude.  You do yourself no service by giving yourself the reputation of someone who does not suit his words to the conversations in place, preferring self-advertisement to dialog.  

  7. zen Says:

    The comment by Byrnes would normally be deleted as spam but this one will remain at Charles’ request.
    If the guy comes and engages in discussion, great. Otherwise, in the future, any further "cut and paste" commenting  from this blogger will result in his being banned from ZP. Charles is right, it is rude to whore your site for free advertising and it is generally not tolerated.

  8. david ronfeldt Says:

    charles, apropos your mention in comment #4 about a "poetics of jihad," i’m reminded of a notion i saw recently in a different context (h/t jay taber of skookum blog) from a writing by f.s.c. northrop: 
    "Unless we are protected by poetry … the mind of man becomes overstimulated while his spirit dies." 
    it’s an interesting notion.  maybe it applies quite broadly.  i know i’d like to be protected by poetry. 

  9. Charles Cameron Says:

    Looks like we should both find ourselves copies of Dying for Faith: Religiously Motivated Violence in the Contemporary World by Madawi al-Rasheed and Marat Shterin, which — in addition to a raft of scholars of new religious movements (NRMs) including J. Gordon Melton, Eileen Barker, David G. Bromley, Stuart Wright, Massimo Introvigne, and Ian Reader — features a piece by John Hall (who commented recently on this blog and at SWJ) on "Apocalypse, history, and the empire of modernity", as well as a piece by Madawi Al-Rasheed titled "Rituals of life and death: the politics and poetics of jihad in Saudi Arabia".  All in all, it looks to be a very impressive volume (from IB Tauris).    
    .     And (taking a deep breath) there’s that passage in A Defence of Poetry where Shelley declares, "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world."  But that’s taking us far afield from the poetics of jihad, and in counterpoint to that theme, I do think it bears repeating that "the best-selling poet in America today" was born near Balkh, a town near Mazaar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan.  My own preferred translations (I have old fashioned, scholarly tastes) are those in two slim volumes by A.J. Arberry

  10. Jean E. Rosenfeld Says:


    Thank-you for cinching the timeline within which Hasan could have accessed al-Awlaki’s ideas.  He had attended his mosque, so we can assume he knew about him.

    Reference to poetics is also extremely helpful.  There is oddly, a sort of "romance" to the epic framework of apocalyptic in which a warrior accepts the role of defender of the faith, witness to truth, and sacrificial hero.  (One sees it also in the acts of Christians who are "left behind" in the Jenkins-La Haye rendering of dispensationalism.) Adopting the epic framework of apocalyptic jihad-in-the-path-of-Allah, allows someone who is both lonely and disrespected to attain a heroic status in the new world that his creed ultimately promises him.

    The use of I-technology to effect a metanoia in a liminal American like Hasan also warns us of the ability of the enemy to adapt most creatively to our offensive successes.  There is a pattern in this case of turning a person into a threat that we need to grasp, and this discussion really helps in discerning what may have happened.

    Al-Qaida has gradually used Americans to entice Westerners, first by using Adam Gadahn as a spokesman to the West, and now by the surfacing of an American Muslim cleric on the Web.  As they say, when one cannot engage in jihad, engage in Dawa, which is a necessary concommitant and/or subsitute means of jihad.

  11. Ibn Siqilli Says:

    Hi Charles,

    Just a quick, possibly interesting-to-you addendum to your comment about the hadith attributed to Abu Hurayra: Usama bin Laden paraphrases this hadith in the introductory segment to "Winds of Paradise," the major al-Qa’ida Central video series about Afghanistan and Pakistan (and specifically about its martyrs).  The introductory segment is the same for all four installments of the series.  I have found a copy of the English subtitled version on YouTube:

    <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijaOJ_gOKDo">Winds of Paradise I (English)</a>

    The intro also includes what I think is one of the best examples of the "jihadi nasheed," one which encompasses the popular folklore among jihadis about martyrdom.

  12. Ibn Siqilli Says:

    Winds of Paradise I (English)

  13. Charles Cameron Says:

    Thanks!  Indeed, the "echo" of the hadith about dying and coming back to life that I thought I heard in the reference to Allah putting a shaheed-author’s soul into his books so he can live again is pretty explicit in that video, in the transition between bin Laden saying:

    The Seal of the Prophets and Messengers (on whom be peace and prayers) wishes for this status. So be aware of and comprehend just what this status is which the best of all creation (on whom be peace and prayers) wishes for. He wishes to be a Shaheed [martyr]: By He in whose Hand s Muhammad’s soul, I wish that I could attack, then be killed, then attack, then be killed, then attack, then be killed." So this long and wide life is summarized by the one upon whom revelation is sent down from the Lord of the heavens and earth (Glorious and Exalted is He). This Noble Prophet to whom revelation is sent down summarizes this life with these words, and wishes for this status. So happy is the one who Allah takes as a Shaheed.

    and Azzam saying:

    Our words remain dead, like waxen dolls, unmoving and frozen, until when we die for them, they rise up, alive, to live among the living.

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