City of Brass

City of Brass

an interview with Anwar al Awlaki, Imam of the Sith

Anwar al-Awlaki is a radical islamist who today espouses violence against civilians in the name of Islam. But it is interesting to note that he was not always thus; during his tenure as one of the imams at the Dar al Hijrah center in Virginia he was actually a respected, mainstream and moderate imam. In fact, he was interviewed by National Geographic a couple of weeks after the 9-11 attacks and it makes for fascinating reading. Here are some excerpts, with my emphasis:

How have the events of September 11 affected the Arab-American community?

For us it has been a very dramatic change. First of all, many of us, as soon as we saw what happened, hoped that the ones doing this were not Muslim or Arab because we had already experienced a backlash in the Oklahoma City bombing and the earlier attack on the World Trade Center. There is still this guilt by association. We are viewed as guilty even though we might not have anything to do with [a bombing]. There is an expectation that Muslims should apologize for something that they never did. That was something I heard echoed by a few Muslims.


As a religious leader, what are you saying to the community about the climate created by these events?

First of all, we stated our position clearly, and I even feel that it’s unfortunate that we have to state this position because no religion would condone this, so it should be common knowledge. But we were in a position where we had to say that Islam does not approve of this. There is no way that the people who did this could be Muslim, and if they claim to be Muslim, then they have perverted their religion.

What is a “jihad” and what is its role in Islam?

The linguistic meaning of the word is “struggle.” The jihad of the individual would be to struggle against the evils of oneself. Therefore, it’s a continuous process of improvement. It is striving to become closer to God. That’s jihad for the individual.


Jihad for the community is to protect the religion from any inside or outside enemy. So the jihad of the community would mean that if there is any internal corruption, we would struggle to get rid of it.

So why the attacks on the United States?

I’ll tell you the way that [the perpetrators] justify them. That does not mean that scholars of the Muslim world approve, but this is where they are coming from. They say that Muslim land is now invaded by the U.S., there are U.S. soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia and in the Gulf. And then, the state of Israel is an occupying force which is supported by the U.S. Fighting an invading force, they justify attacking the U.S. because the U.S. population are the taxpayers, and are the ones who are financing the war against them. Now the reason why this is not accepted at all by Muslim scholars, is, first of all, that civilian people most of the time have nothing to do with what their governments are doing. Second, many of the scholars don’t really see America as a direct enemy, but only as supporting enemies in the area. So why carry the struggle further than it needs to go? For a lot of people in the Muslim world, the first enemy is their governments. It’s not really Israel or the United States, it’s their own governments, and they see the U.S. as the strengthening power of these governments. Without the U.S., these repressive governments would topple.


My worry is that because of this conflict, the views of Osama bin Laden will become appealing to some of the population of the Muslim world.

I have only excerpted part of his answers to these questions and there are other questions i have not included; the full interview is an absolute must-read. It’s chilling how Al Awlaki in essence describes his own future – and seeing how the Awlaki of today would be judged by the Awlaki of the past. It’s like a window into the corruption of something good by something evil, like watching Anakin Skywalker go from Jedi to Sith in small baby steps.

From all accounts, Major Hasan also underwent a similar journey from the center of faith to the extremist margins. For Awlaki, it seems the Iraq War was the psychological radicalizing event (much as 9-11 itself was a radicalizing event for many Americans about Islam). For Hasan, it was a mix of personal emotional issues and psychological trauma. In both cases, their “religious immune system” became weakened and the memetic virus of violent, radical jihad gained a foothold.

(stay tuned to Talk Islam for more about Anwar al Awlaki, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, and the Fort Hood attacks).

  • Amina Ali

    Asalaamo Alikym Sisters and Brothers
    I was happy to see this article, that this Anwar Al Awlaki told the truth. that Islam does not condone violence. So many people lie on Islam and try to convince both Muslims and Non-Muslims that murder is justifiable. Insha’Allah I will like to see the interview in its entirety. How did he make the transition from the clear path of Islam and logical thinking to where he is now.
    Insha’Allah those born Muslim and Muslim reverts will hear the peace in the word Islam, they will learn the love of Islam and understand that Islam is passed on with peace, love and harmony. You don’t need any weapon other then Al’Quran and a smile to show a person the love of being a Muslim and the comfort and kindness of following the teachings of the Prophets may Allahs blessing be upon them can be.
    It is when we shoult and demand that people get turned off and that is for anyissue not just Religion.
    Indonessia was converted to Islam without any War. The Muslims who settled there just lived there daily lives and the natives wanted to know how they can be so peaceful and trusting.
    When you say Islam, when you say I am Muslim, when you mention the name of Allah swt, when you give Salaams remember your heart should be at peace. Sisters and Brothers I see many of you don’t look at the person giving you Salaams and whats worse you either don’t return Salaams or you mumble it under your breath. You speak loudly when you want something speak with selfpride and respect your Sisters and Brothers you pass by in life and offer them Salaams, you never know if that person will testify against you on judgement day. Also you gain Hasana so where is the harm?
    Many smiles for all the believers in this world. May Allah swt always guide and protect us from anything or anyone that would cause us harm. Amin
    JazakAllah Khayrun
    Asalaamo Alikym WaRahmatullahi WaBaraaaktuh

  • Historyscoper

    It’s sad that the West is full of history ignoramuses when it comes to Islam, whose radical fundamentalists have their heads in the 7th century. You can now learn all the key facts fast accurate and free online without buying a book by going to the Historyscoper’s site, click the url.

  • Your Name

    If Saudi Arabia was funding dictators in America and Europe, and Muslim armies from asia and the arab lands invading Spain, then Britian then America – pushing for regime change. the people in America and Europe would also begin to be radically opposed to the East. Its Illogical to expect that when you declare war on a country kill its citizens that they do not harbour hatred. this in no way condones killing of innocent civilians – I would gather the leaders of the west and the east and put them in a gladiator bout.

  • norumba

    salaam aleikum brother Aziz, this was some vital information and context you’ve brought out, thank you!
    i was reading with horror and fascination all the comments on the infamous Awlaki post; that so many people sided with such views is alarming, but it mainly saddened me to see the community so fractiously divided. Maybe Im overreacting. There is a balance and value to diversity of opinion and freedom of expression, but to see an undercurrent of militant Islam in this country is a bit frightening.
    thank you for putting this in perspective. BTW, i’m in news media as a profession, and we’re looking into some context of his background here in NM. I’ll post a link or send you a private email if we find anything to pass on.

  • John McGrath

    An ancient Latin Poet once said: “I am human and nothing human is alien to me.” Any human being taught to examine his/her conscience can see how someone would become alienated and bitter, as did this Imam, in distress over the suffering of his fellow Muslims and the overwhelming dependence on military force by the US in its actions in the word.
    I can particularly understand since both my Christian parents fought in a war of independence against the Christian British Empire. But my parents knew that bitterness and hatred against the British was the wrong way to go. They often said, and meant, “We were forced to be rebels, but we chose to be nation builders.”
    Malcolm X here in the US also came to the realization that hatred and violence were not the answer, but building up the self-reliance and mutual respect of his people (of all faiths and none) and of his Muslim co-religionists. I hope that this Imam can see his way back to spiritual wisdom and religious practice that is based on a love of humanity that reflects God’s love of humanity, despite all our faults and errors.

  • Ben

    Ah yes….more backbiting and slander against the Muslims. What religion do you follow again? Have you ever met Major Hasan personally to get his version of the story, or are you just blindly commenting again? How can you claim to know his intentions when he has yet to speak to law enforcement. Maybe you are utilizing “The Force” via a Jedi mind trick….because your words certainly are not based in truth and fact.
    Just a reminder: Who are the bankrupt on the Day of Judgment? I am absolutely positive that Anwar is smiling with a huge grin, knowing that you have assumed all of his bad deeds and given him all of your good deeds.
    Control what is between your lips and what is between your legs….or taste the fire.

  • virginia ramey

    Funny you are putting his past views, which i think are his present. If he has different views now, why didnt you interview him and write about more current???? there arent any. I was in his classes, and he was very against Osama Bin Laden, as for following him. He said , dont follow someone just becasue he has a beard, a goat has a beard.” Alwaki is not AlQuaida…at all. He seemed the opposite. In fact he seemed unconcerned of the plight of palestinians, and i asked how he could sit there talking about some dumb detail of islamic teaching instead of try to stop the wars. War upsets me and I have tried to find and reason with them, but a lot of information is being suppressed. If you listen to fox news, which i cant stand any longer, it is warped, not fair, not balanced,,,, those are lies. I think everybody except people who have other motives, than justice…and integrity. It is totally illogical to say go kill people in Afghanastan because maybe they will give haven to alquaida. Where are you going after that??? Yemen?? Syria?? Iran??? Iran would open their doors, …you wnat to mess with them???? We have so much blood on our hands that this country will never be forgiven by God. His wrath is all that is coming. And is come. Chaos is coming soon. Prepare for cold, hunger, lack of electricity,,,,, but this has been preached for years. The end is not near, the end is here. No one can just go on business as usual, and be saved. Prepare what you can. search sites. rooms. Above all, what visions of Mary has said for years, Pray. Pray. Pray. Both Bible and Quran say to keep the Sabbath. but Christians worship on Sunday, and muslims on Friday. This makes sense??? Not a whole lot makes sense now days.

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