Abdullah Azzam

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Abdullah Azzam (1941-1989) was an influential Salafist and jihadist thinker, born in Palestine and assassinated, by unknown parties, in Pakistan in 1989. Assisted by Osama bin Laden, he formed the Services Office, Maktab al-Khidamat, to assist fighters in Afghanistan; it was one of the direct ancestors of al-Qaeda.

Azzam interpreted the first priority of jihad as restoring traditional Muslim lands such as Palestine and southern Spain. He was strongly influenced by Sayyid Qutb. While he strongly advocated Islamist rule, he put a lesser priority on the overthrow of Muslim governments that did not follow strict law, the "near enemy", and did not put a high priority on worldwide jihad. More radical supporters of bin Laden, such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, stressed a much more radical approach, the violent overthrow across the Middle East of governments they claimed were “apostate” and repressive.,[1] His most detailed written work was Join the Caravan. It includes the observation that Islam was in trouble due to "abandonment of Jihad due to their ...love of this World and hatred of death... . Because of that, the tyrants have gained dominance over the Muslims in every aspect and in every land..." Citing "And fight them until fitnah (polytheism) is no more, and the Religion is entirely for Allah. But if they desist, Allah sees what they do. " [2] So, if the fighting stops, the disbelievers will dominate, and fitnah, which is shirk (polytheism), will spread." [3] The title refers to joining a caravan of martyrs who died in Afghanistan.

His pamphlet In Defense of Muslim Lands, which stated "With reference to the Russians, it is not permitted to negotiate with them until they retreat from every hand span of Muslim territory. With the Jews in Palestine, likewise." This doctrine roused Bin Laden to issue his 1998 fatwa declaring that Muslims must kill Americans in order to expel the United States from Saudi Arabia's holy sites. [4]

Early life

Born in Jordan-Palestine, he earned a diploma from Khadorri College, and became a teacher in the village of Adder, Jordan. He then received a bachelor's degree in sharia from Damascus University (1966). After Israel captured the West Bank in 1967, he moved to Jordan. Becoming active in jihadist movements and the Palestine Liberation Organization, he earned a master's degree, also in sharia, from the University of Al-Azhar.

In the late 1960's he joined the Jihad against the Israeli occupation of Palestine from Jordan. During that time he received a Masters Degree in sharia from the University of AI Azhar. In 1970 when the Jihad came to a halt, and the PLO was forced out of Jordan, he assumed a teaching position in the Jordanian University in Amman. In 1971 he was awarded a scholarship to the AI Azhar University in Cairo, where he earned a doctorate in Islamic jurisprudence.[5]


In 1970, he broke with Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization because he believed the PLO was too secular. He accused the PLO of trying to overthrow Jordan's King Hussein rather than focusing on the true goal, the destruction of Israel. He had been teaching at the Jordanian University in Amman, and was granted a scholarship to Al Azhar University in Cairo, where he obtained a Ph.D. Degree in Ussul al Fiqh in 1973. During his stay in Egypt he came to know the family of Sayyid Qutb. In 1979, when he was expelled from the University, he moved to Pakistan to be close to the Afghan Jihad.


Much as he regarded the PLO as too secular and moderate, and insufficiently focused on regaining Israel, he disagreed with Bin Laden about the next step after defeating the Soviets. He saw Afghanistan as a training ground against Israel; Bin Laden saw it as a base for worldwide jihad.


He was killed by a car bomb. There are many suspects, although no proof. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is often mentioned.


  1. Brian M. Drinkwine. (January 26, 2009), "The Serpent in Our Garden: Al-Qa'ida and the Long War", Carlisle Papers, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, pp. 5-6
  2. Qur'an 8:39
  3. Sheikh Abdullah Azzam (2001), Part I: Reasons for Jihad, Join the Caravan (Second English Edition ed.), Azzam Publications
  4. Chris Suellentrop (April 16, 2002), "Abdullah Azzam: The godfather of jihad.", Slate
  5. Biography of Sheikh Abdullah Azzam (Shaheed)