Mohammad Amin - Orient Express
Special to Albawaba.com - Cairo
Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric and leader of the Islamic Group, is currently serving a life sentence in US prisons. The controversy surrounding the leader started with his travel to the US and conviction for involvement in the World Trade Center bombing attack in the early 1990s, in addition to two his two sons’ visits to Afghanistan.
The son of the jailed cleric, Sheikh Abdullah, granted Albawaba.com an exclusive interview.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
Q. How did your two brothers come to travel to Afghanistan?
A. They traveled to take part in the jihad (holy war) in Afghanistan in 1989 after getting permission from our father, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, in accordance with a fatwa (religious edict) he issued. He urged them to take part in jihad as long as there is one inch or piece of land of a Muslim country exposed to invasion, occupation, violations or similar actions. Jihad, in such cases, is a must for every Muslim and cannot be dropped until he goes to the front or dies. Afghanistan during that time was under the Soviet occupation and so it opened the doors for jihad and accepted the mujahedeen (Muslim fighters) on its soil.
Q. Why didn’t they return home after the Soviet invasion was over?
A. They preferred to stay there by themselves. My brother Mohammed got married and had his eldest son Omar. When the American troops entered Afghanistan after the September attacks and their declaration of war against it, my brothers joined the Taliban mujahedin forces in view of the fact that it was a continuation of the jihad. But one of my brothers was taken prisoner.
Q. Why didn’t you join them?
A. I was hoping so but I couldn’t due to my circumstances, as I was the only supporter of my family in view of my father’s imprisonment in the US and my two brothers being in Afghanistan. When they left for Afghanistan in 1989, I was only 15. I have been hoping to join the Palestinian forces to liberate the Islamic sacred sites from the Israeli occupation.
Q. Why didn’t your two brothers join the mujahedin in Palestine to counter Israel?
A. Conditions in the two countries are different. Certainly, they had the same desire, but the Taliban movement called for jihad and opened training camps and received mujahedin in its cities. It also permitted entry into the country, in contrast with what was going on in Palestine, as the situation there did not permit all that.
Q. Did your brothers interfere in the struggle between the Taliban and their foes from the Northern Alliance throughout the past 10 years?
A. No, they did not play any role. My father’s advice for them was not to interfere in the internal conflict between the Taliban and the other factions, which they abided by completely despite the shortcomings of Rabbani, Hekmatyar and Abdel Rasoul. My father’s vision was that after the Soviets had left the country, the conflict which took place was a power conflict between Muslims as there were rebels, a Shiite minority and communists, in addition to the majority Sunni Muslims in Afghanistan. The opposition was different from the Sunni Muslims.
The Taliban made great efforts to impose Shariah (Islamic law) in 90 percent of Afghanistan’s territory, despite the fact that they were originally a religious movement, which chose to study the principle of jurisprudence and the sunnah (traditions of the Prophet Mohammad). They taught these subjects in schools and universities, since science is the base for establishing the Islamic foundation and peoples’ civilization. But the internal conflicts spurred the Taliban to interfere in the struggle between other factions over the past few years, particularly in view of the fact that the other camps spurred the Taliban to get involved in a doctrinal and survival struggle.
I would like to deny the idea of fundamentalism among the Taliban. They are committed to Islamic rules, but there are some issues which scholars, Islamic clerics and Al Azhar differ in opinion about. However, despite all these differences, the base to which everyone can refer, the Koran and the sunnah, are always there, which the Taliban attempted to commit itself to.
Q. What is your opinion on the news reports that your brother has been captured by the American forces and made a prisoner of war?
A. So far, this seems completely unlikely, since my brother said he was trapped by a Northern Alliance ambush. There have been movements and contacts to find out his place and probe the possibility for him to be released.
Q. Do you think that the Northern Alliance forces will hand him over to the Americans?
A. No, that’s unlikely.
Q. Was Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman consulted before Asad and Saif joined the Taliban in confronting the American forces?
A. Unfortunately, contact with him has been disrupted since the September 11 attacks, and our last contact with him was before these attacks. He was permitted to talk to my mother on the phone once every month but prohibited to talk to any of his sons. The telephone call was subjected to censorship and used to last 10-15 minutes. This practice is a contrast with [accepted standards for human rights] and is not applied to other prisoners.
In the aftermath of the attacks in the US, my father’s lawyer, former US attorney general Ramsey Clark, tried to inquire about the disruption of communications, but the response did not include any reasons. When my two brothers decided to join the Taliban, they based their decision on a previous fatwa by our father that jihad is obligatory for every Muslim, who must confront any attack or invasion of any Muslim country.
Q. How did you learn about the capture of your brother and his status as a prisoner of war? What was your mother’s reaction when she learned the news?
A. My other brother in Afghanistan contacted us and told us the news and confirmed that he was making every effort to learn the place of his detention. We tried not to disclose the news to our mother, but in the end we told her. She was brave and said, “We are for God and to him we will return,” and considers my brother a mujahed for the sake of God.
Q. Has the treatment of your father in his jail cell changed since the September 11 attacks?
A. Indeed, the bad treatment has changed for the worse, since he was banned from making any contacts and his lawyers were barred from visiting him. He has been jailed in an isolated cell for the past five years and he faces harassment when he wants to pray, in addition to preventing him from wearing his turban. So he puts a handkerchief on his head. They have forced him to wear the prison clothes and throw away his clothes, which he likes. This is in addition to his poor health conditions, which require him to take medicines for many diseases including diabetes, heart problems and hypertension. When he starts praying, they call for him to take his medicine, although they know he will not leave his prayers. After the prayers, he asks for his medicine, but they refuse to give them to him claiming that that they called him to take the medicine but he refused.
In addition, they flood his cell with sewage water to prevent him from praying, but he doesn’t care about that. Also, they provide him with pork, which is banned in Islam, instead of providing him with the meat of animals slaughtered according to the Islamic Sharia. So my father refuses to eat pork and satisfies himself just with cheese.
My father, unlike other prisoners, is forbidden to take any break or do any exercises. Violating his human rights, they put him in a cell near the cells of insane people, claiming that insanity is not an infectious disease.
I would like to say that America is the creator of terrorism in our world due to its attitudes and practices. If anything happens to my father in the prisons of the US due to their maltreatment, America will face more violent attacks than those which took place last September because Sheikh Abdel Rahman has his advocates worldwide who cannot be controlled. These advocates may drown America into a sea of blood due to its bad ongoing treatment, which all Islamic groups reject.
Therefore, I warn the US against the continuation of its ill-treatment of my father and its backing of Israel. This issue alone may expose the US to a more violent wave of retaliatary actions in view of the fact that Sheikh Abdel Rahman is a symbol for the Islamic groups.
Q. What is the opinion of Sheikh Abdel Rahman on September attacks?
A. Although contacts with my father have been completely disrupted, the Islamic groups denounced the attacks and killing of innocent people. But America is accountable for what happened and the Islamic groups have nothing to do with the attacks at all. We, of course, condemn violence, killing, devastation and assassinations. Sheikh Abdel Rahman used to oppose any actions involving killing and terrorism committed in the name of religion and Islam in Egypt. He stood up and denounced such operations. He was responsible for a unilateral initiative by the Islamic Group that stopped violence four years ago.
Q. What are your comments on accusations that Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman is the mastermind and mufti of terrorism?
A. This is false and unacceptable. The sheikh has been a man of religious doctrine for a long time. His book Word of Right suggests the need for applying the Islamic Sharia and following God’s instructions and avoiding sin. He was proved innocent in all the cases against him except the case related to the assassination attempt against Atef Sudki, the former Egyptian premier, which he won after the former premier had contested the court’s verdict. The trial was repeated and my father received a seven-year jail term in absentia. This sentence will be dropped after he returns and he will be tried again. The only accusation, which was constantly against him, was incitement - but he was innocent.
Q. What are your comments on the fact that all the operations of terrorism, violence and assassinations were carried out by members of the Islamic Group and Jihad who follow your father’s thoughts and fatwa, as investigations revealed?
A. The sheikh is against terrorism and has always been against carrying out any terrorism or assassination operations targeting innocents.
Q. But weren’t the series of assassinations of ministers in Egypt in the early 1990s according to a fatwa by Sheikh Omar?
A. I don’t know.
Q. Was there any American initiative to release Sheikh Abdel Rahman and extradite him to Egypt three years ago, but turned down by Egypt?
A. No, that never happened, and when I heard of it I contacted the Islamic Group’s lawyer, Muntaser Al Zayyat, who in turn contacted the concerned officials, who completely denied the alleged offer.
Q. Has the settlement or deal to exchange the release of the sheikh for the eight missionaries held by the Taliban [in the works] before September 11 failed?
A. Nearly all attempts at a settlement have failed now in view of the success of the Northern Alliance forces in freeing the eight detainees. Therefore, there is nothing to negotiate about. The proposals were that America would release my father in exchange for the release of the eight detainees who were supposed to be tried. These detainees faced verdicts ranging from imprisonment to death. Because there were American nationals among them, the US had its own interest in having them released. The proposal was made by my mother, who wrote one letter to Mullah Mohammed Omar and another to George Bush about the deal. Mullah Omar welcomed the idea through his foreign minister, Wakil Ahmed Mutawakkel, who said that he was ready to make any efforts needed to obtain the release of Sheikh Abdel Rahman. Ramsey Clark requested the postponement of sending the second letter to George Bush until the second trial and after the eight western detainees were tried so that the position of the sheikh’s case would be stronger in the negotiations. But the September attacks preceded all these attempts.
Q. What about future attempts?
A. The Taliban may manage to capture some American soldiers during the fierce battles or restore its power in Afghanistan, or a miracle may take place. But the American administration should know that Sheikh Abdel Rahman is the spiritual leader of the Islamic groups who has his advocates and followers, who won’t keep silent if he is harmed or dies in the American prisons.
Q. As an Egyptian family, do you anticipate any family reunion?
A. I hope this will be achieved with my father’s return to Egypt and the return of my two brothers from Afghanistan after the crisis is over. Certainly, we miss them but also believe in God, destiny and martyrdom for the sake of God.
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