AL-QA’IDA AL-SUBAH: THE SOLID BASE
By Michael S. Smith II
In April 1988, Afghan Jihad leader Abdallah Azzam, a mentor to a rising star in jihadi spheres named Usama bin Laden (aka Abu Abdallah), published a brief article in al-Jihad magazine titled “al-Qa’ida al-Subah” (“The Solid Base”). Consisting of a mere three pages of Arabic text, two-and-a-half decades later this material continues to shape the global security environment: Echoing the guidance for an Islamist “vanguard” proffered in 1964 by Sayyed Qutb within his Salafist-Jihadi manifesto titled Ma’alim fi al-Tariq (Signposts On the Road; alternatively, Milestones), and asserting the United States was intent upon robbing jihadis of their victory over the Soviets by imposing its secularist interests on Afghanistan, Azzam furnished a mandate for the creation of an enterprise we now call al-Qa’ida.
As with the vanguard envisioned by Qutb, a prominent Islamist activist who served as editor-in-chief of the Muslim Brotherhood’s weekly al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin publication in Egypt and was quite vocal with his anti-Americanism, al-Qa’ida would launch a violent conquest — a “Global Jihad.”
According to the writings of its second emir, an Egyptian-born jihadist named Ayman al-Zawahiri, for al-Qa’ida, a key objective is the restoration of a caliphate that once spanned from North Africa to Indonesia and was ruled by Sharia.
The chief impediment to efforts focused on attaining this prize is the “anti-Islamic” and “Zionist” influence of the West — particularly that of the United States — on governments in control of territories once part of that caliphate. So great is this impediment that a “holy war” must be waged to overcome it. So focused must those leading this struggle be that, according to its charter, al-Qa’ida’s “only mission” is to wage jihad.
To this end, al-Qa’ida’s operatives endeavor to “defend” Islam by exposing and expunging the influence of unIslamic elements within Muslim societies. Their jihad targets these elements and their constituencies within the Muslim world and beyond.
For audiences in the West, their intentions to match words with deeds would become most pronounced on September 11, 2001, the day following the thirteenth anniversary of the date upon which al-Qa’ida’s founding members pledged bayat to al-Qa’ida’s first emir, Usama bin Laden.
Although the 9/11 attacks took many by surprise, al-Qa’ida leaders’ aspirations to kill Americans had been evident in their militant enterprise’s official policies for nearly a decade. In 1992, a fatwa devolved from al-Qa’ida’s Shura to members of its “Islamic Army” sanctioned attacks against the US military, which is viewed as “the head of the snake.” While the public proclamation that, for all Muslims, it is a duty to kill Americans and their allies would not be issued by its founding emir for several more years, bin Laden’s hand was apparently detected in a plot targeting the US homeland during the early 1990s.
Indeed, the profound impact of Azzam’s clarion call to battle in the pages of a seemingly obscure publication distributed not just in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Middle Eastern states, but also in Europe and America has been paralleled by few such incitements in the history of the world.
Today, the modus operandi adopted by al-Qa’ida and its “fellow travelers” constitutes a foremost challenge to the interests of even the world’s most technologically-advanced states.
Since September 11, 2001, the United States has spent previously unimaginable sums defending its interests from threats posed by a phenomenon that is now synonymous with this modus operandi — terrorism. And with America’s top intelligence officials acknowledging in 2014 that al-Qa’ida poses no less a threat to the United States than it did a decade ago, al-Qa’ida’s potential “staying power” has never before been so apparent.
Oddly, to this day, debate persists over the matter of how best to define the term that remains at the forefront of concerns for policymakers tasked with protecting their countries’ interests from threats posed by al-Qa’ida and its affiliates: Terrorism. Of course, as experts in the field of terrorism studies have been unable to put forth a formal, universally-acceptable definition for the term terrorism, it may not be surprising to find key features of what terrorism experts and analysts “know” about al-Qa’ida — thus how national security managers define it — are too a matter of debate. Indeed, this expert knowledge is at times the stuff of “guestimate” wrapped in opinion shaped by assumptions, some of which are based on evidence that may be notable by virtue of its absence.
While achieving consensus on a definition for the term terrorism is unlikely to serve to enhance field activities focused on diminishing threats posed by al-Qa’ida, a more informed understanding of al-Qa’ida will.
Indeed, the elusiveness of an empirically-grounded understanding of al-Qa’ida, from its structure to its capabilities to assert influence in places like Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Somalia, Nigeria, and Bangladesh, suggests the resiliency of the Global Jihad movement — as a measure of the probable (in)efficacies of ongoing efforts targeting disruption and dismantlement of its torchbearer — may remain high for decades to come. For, and as one of history’s wisest military strategists observed two millennia ago, if you do not know your enemies, you probably have but only an even chance of defeating them.
The following is a translation of Abdallah Azzam’s April 1988 article titled “al-Qa’ida al-Subah” (original text available here):
By Dr. Abdallah Azzam
Praise be to Allah alone, and prayer and peace be upon him, there is no prophet save for him.
For every invention there must be a vanguard (tali’a) to carry it forward and, while forcing its way into society, endure enormous expenses and costly sacrifices. There is no ideology, neither earthly nor heavenly, that does not require such a vanguard that gives everything it possesses in order to achieve victory for this ideology. It carries the flag all along the sheer endless and difficult path until it reaches its destination in the reality of life, since Allah has destined that it should make it and manifest itself.
This vanguard constitutes the solid base (al-Qa’ida al-Subah) for the expected society.
As long as the ideology — even if it originates from the Master of the Worlds — does not find this self-sacrificing vanguard that spends everything in his possession for the sake of making its ideology prevail, this ideology will be stillborn, perishing before it sees light and life.
The motto of he who carries this ideology forward must be, “…Say: ‘call your god-partners, scheme (your worst) against me, and give me no respite! For my protector is Allah, who revealed the book (from time to time), and He will choose and supports the righteous.” [Surat Al-a’araf 195-196]
I had not understood the full dimensions of what the training concentrated upon throughout the duration of the Meccan education as I do now — so clear, plain and unambiguous, only after immersing myself into the Afghan Jihad that, by now, is in its seventh year, praise Allah.
I have probed the roots of this issue and discovered the long ideological training: It is the basis of the Islamic society and the fundament on which it rests, without it there is no chance for a religious society to rise, and if it came about without it (without that understanding) it would be like a house on sand, blown away by a passing tempest or even a gust of wind.
Therefore I arrived at the idea of an essential base for the construction of the Islamic society:
The Islamic society cannot rise without an Islamic movement that would grow up on the fire of tribulations. Its men need to mature in the heat of trials. This movement will represent the spark that ignites the energies of the umma (nation), and a long jihad shall rise, in which the Islamic movement will provide the leadership, and the spiritual guidance. The long jihad will bring people’s qualities to the fore and highlight their energies. It will define their positions and determine if their leaders have assumed their roles, to direct the march and channel it. After all the long suffering, Allah will install them in the land and make them the outer manifestation of His might and the means to the victory of His religion.
Carrying weapons before the long education of the faithful group is considered a dangerous matter, for the weapons’ carriers will turn into bands that would threaten the security of the people and deprive them of sleep.
The principal guidelines for training the pious group and the pioneering vanguard are:
1. It must jump into the fire of the toughest tests and into the waves of fierce trials.
2. The educating leadership should share with them the march through tribulation, the sweat and the blood. The leadership must be like the motherly warmth of a hen whose chicks grow up under its wings, throughout the long period of hatching and training.
3. This vanguard ought to abstain from cheap worldly pleasures and must bear its distinct stamp of asceticism and frugality.
4. Furthermore, it must be endowed with firm belief and certainty about the ideology, along with hope, whose bosom would be filled with victory.
5. There must be a strong determination and persistence to continue on this road, no matter how long it takes.
6. The provisions for this journey are among the most important items on this march, and these are supererogation, patience and prayer.
7. Loyalty and devotion.
8. [This vanguard] must grasp anti-Islamic machinations all over the world.
There are several principal reasons for this long training:
1. The long duration of the sacrifice and enormity of the costs encountered during this long period of time would all cause frustration and despair, had it not been for the profound training that provides a secure foundation for this march.
2. All along the way there will be temptations and attempts to make the troop give up. But when victory draws near, such offers and attempts at steering the combatants off their course will intensify. Therefore the leaders must be incorruptible.
3. If therefore Allah establishes this leadership firmly upon the earth, it will help us on to treasures, and it will watch over the wealth of the Muslim nation, its honor and inviolability. If this leadership is not trustworthy, then may Allah have mercy on the nation.
The prophet’s training for the first generation
The aforementioned eight elements were clearly evident in the Prophet’s training of the first generation, and therefore, when the entire [Arabian] Peninsula deserted the faith (following Muhammad’s death), the solid base rose to the occasion and returned it back to Islam.
1. No mission can be divested of the element of testing: “We sent messengers before thee. They bore patiently all the rejection and lies, until Our aid did reach them. Allah’s words cannot be changed. You got this from the legacy of the previous messengers.” (Surat al-An’am) These words of Allah almighty, to wit, that “Allah’s words cannot be changed” mean that this is an established norm from among the divine patterns that do not change in life. Al-Shafi’i, may Allah bless his memory, was asked: Which of the two is better, that man be put in control or that he be oppressed? He replied: He will not be put in control unless he has been oppressed.
Then there is the “Sahih” of Khabab ibn al-Aratt in Bukhari and other sources, to wit: “When I went to see the Prophet I found him stretched out on a coat in the shade of the Ka’aba. I asked him, You Allah’s Messenger, you do not pray for us, you do not implore Allah to grant us victory? He sat up, with a red face, and said, ‘There was a time before you, where a hole would be dug, and a man would be placed in it and a saw would be placed on his head and it would be cut in two, and this would not make him leave his religion; he would be brushed with brushes of steel, which would tear through his meat and bone, and not even this would make him leave his religion. Now things have improved so much that a traveler is able to ride from Sanaa to Hadhramaut without having to fear anyone but Allah and the wolf for his sheep. But you people, you want everything at once.’” Tribulations refine the spirit, cleanse the soul and purify the hearts of their filth and dirt, and this is what the authentic Hadith conveys: “The believer who suffers pain or a fever is like the piece of iron. If you put it into the fire the nonessential ingredients will burn, leaving the steal pure.”
The closer victory gets, the harsher the tribulations will grow. “And know that victory comes with patience, and freedom comes after affliction, and after trouble there will be ease.”
Truly, the length of tribulation of the Afghan people through the long jihad refined its people and brought its soldiers to maturity and made its leaders firmer.
In Bukhari we read: “The prophets are the people most subjected to the trials, next are those who are like them, who resemble them most. A man will be tested according to his faith. If his faith is strong, he will undergo a tougher test, and if he is not quite so solid in his faith, he will be tested according to the degree of his faith. Allah’s servant will remain in tribulations until they will leave him to walk upon the earth without a sin.”
2. As for the leader’s participation in the soldiers’ march and his suffering like theirs — this increases the love of the commander in the hearts of the army. Therefore we saw Allah’s blessed messenger move with his companions from Arqam’s house (Dar al-Arqam — the house where the Prophet started his mission with the first believers) to the siege of the people for three years in hunger, then to Taif, then to Medina, and Badr, and Uhud and the al-Khandaq … Until Allah established him and the pious troop in the land.
For this reason we witness how the Afghan mujahidin sacrifice themselves for their leader, who lives amongst them, with body and soul.
3. As for worldly abstinence, that comes from the condition of the world in its true setting, and its disregard for the life to come: “Compared to the Hereafter this life is like one of you putting his finger into the sea. What is left on it when he takes it out is this life here.” — an authentic Hadith.
“If in the eyes of Allah this world were worth the wing of a moth, He would not have given a drink of water to an infidel.”
Abstinence is produced by the worthlessness of this world: “Renounce pleasure in worldly things and Allah will love you, and renounce pleasure in what is found in the hands of other people, and other people will love you” — an authentic Hadith.
Abstinence from the world will result in you not needing to ask favors from people. It leads to honor and self-sufficiency.
In the Sahih we find: “And know that the believer’s dignity lies in getting up [for prayer] in the night. Not needing people gives him dignity.”
The Prophet recommended to his followers all the time to be independent of people, not to rely on other people. I is said in the Sahih: “have no need for people, even in cleaning and polishing your teeth.”
In line with this principle the Prophet made some of his companions swear that they would never ask anybody for anything. This went so far that when the whip dropped from the hand of one of them while on his horse, he got off his horse rather than ask anyone to pick it up for him.
Asceticism is the very foundation of the jihad. Affluence is the biggest weakness that befalls nations, spoils their children and undermines their existence.
A life of simplicity and limited means is an essential impulse for the jihad. We find that most of the companions of the prophets were from among the poor.
What breaks men’s necks more than the pursuit of luxuries and wealth?! That is why one is constantly afraid for his salary, his job and his pleasures. Every time there is a rise in salary, the officer gets all the more attached to his job and becomes even more afraid of other people.
Therefore, we can clearly see that asceticism was adopted deliberately by Allah’s prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him salvation, and his honorable companions, may Allah be pleased with them, despite the fact that the world was at their disposal: “The family of Muhammad did not eat their fill of barley-bread for two days” — an authentic [Hadith].
4. Provisions for the journey are: the Koran, the Dhikr [literally invocation of Allah], rising at night [for prayer], secret charity, supererogatory fast, the company of righteous, the positive and negative precepts, and the Jihad — and the latter is the apex of it all.
The supererogatory works must take place so that the bonds between the servant and his Lord will grow stronger. The supererogatory works are the basis of success from Allah, and slackness in worshipping is a sign of forsaking [the religion] — “My servant continues to come near to me by piety beyond what is required, so that I would love him; and if I love him, I become the ear by which he hears…” and the supererogatory works are the provisions of the Jihad and its spirit and life.
5. Loyalty and devotion. One of the most important basic pillars in the life of the nations is the presence of the inalienable exemplary patterns that cannot be bought and sold. When the Hindu Gandhi presented Nehru to the Indian people, he said full of pride, “I am presenting a man to you who cannot be bought.”
So many people sold their country, their religion, and their people for a cheap price. For example, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who concluded an agreement with the British, allowing them to beat the four Turkish armies in Palestine, who abolished the caliphate and fought Islam for the sake of a presidential chair.
There are so many Kemalists in our nation who sold it for a piece of bread or a word of recognition or a glass or a prostitute. The lack of sense of loyalty and devotion in the minds of many led them to those following them into the abyss of hell.
In Afghanistan, for instance, we saw how, at the beginning of the jihad, some people rallied around some prominent personalities who were members of parliament during the ancient regime or who belonged to the nobility and upper class. Those people, in their moments of weakness, give statements to the effect that the Kabul regime is a government of Muslims. They abandon the jihad and join the government.
The importance of the solid base in the Afghan Jihad
We have now understood the importance of this base, which has been trained in Islam, from its earliest infancy on, brought up in the Islamic mission. We have looked around and seen how the whole world denigrates this jihad, and we see global conspiracies wishing to deprive it of its fruits and extinguish its fires, and we can see international alliances seeking to smash this jihad and deny its true leadership from continuing to hold authority over these Muslim people.
We have looked around and we found nothing save for the sons of the Da’awa and the sons of the solid base, who stood before the entire world, saying: “No. We are here.”
And when Allah’s enemies showed their claws and friends withdrew their support or stood as spectators, at that moment the extraordinary leaders of jihad took charge: Sayyaf, Hekmatyar, Rabbani, Khalis, and said: “We trust in Allah, our best support.”
These four got up and tore the veil from the face of the conspirators, with the words: “Our Lord is stronger than all the powers of the world; ‘…Nor is Allah to be frustrated by anything whatever in the heavens or on earth: for He is All-Knowing, All-Powerful.’” [Surat Fatir 44]
We saw in all the experiences of the Islamic peoples that the fruits of jihad are mostly picked by the industries of the West and the daughters of the USA, and formerly by the seculars in Afghanistan and in Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt.
Now America is trying to steal the fruits of this marvelous jihad and to prevent the book of Allah from serving as the source of legislation; the solid base has faced international pressures and temptations but they refused to bow their heads before the storm and decided to continue the exhausting march on the road of sweat and tears and blood.
The duty of the Islamic world
As for the sons of the Islamic world, it is their duty to stand firmly by this solid base, with their wealth and their lives: “The Unbelievers are protectors, one of another: Unless ye do this, (protect each other), there would be tumult and oppression on earth, and great mischief” [Surat Al-anfal 73].
And the final decision: To continue the jihad no matter how long the road is, until the last breath will be taken, or the last vein will throb, or until we will see the state of Islam standing on its feet.
Praised be thou, O Allah, and I testify that there is no god save for yourself and I beg for your forgiveness and to you I repent.