January 10, 2022 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 352

'Irrelevant Religious Stuff'? No, All Terrorism Is Faith Based, Whether Religious, Political, Social, Or Other – Part I

January 10, 2022 | By Yigal Carmon and M. Reiter*
MEMRI Daily Brief No. 352


February 26, 1993 was my last day in service as Advisor on Countering Terrorism to two Israeli prime ministers, first Yitzhak Shamir and then Yitzhak Rabin. On that day, I gave a final briefing at the Pentagon to the office of Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (SOLIC).

My 45-minute briefing was about the threat of Islamic fundamentalism. I cited a series of Muslim religious leaders in various countries urging their followers to attack the U.S., and I concluded: "Islamic fundamentalism is an imminent threat to the United States today."

My American counterparts, with whom I had been liaising for five years, thought that my briefing was exaggerated. One colleague said to me: "You may be more aware of the threat because you are from Israel." What he meant was: "Don't confuse your situation with ours – this threat is not here in the U.S."

Two hours and 24 minutes later, as I was on my way to JFK to fly home to Jerusalem, a truck bomb was detonated by radical Islamists below the North Tower of the World Trade Center, in what would become known as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Aftermath of the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing. (Source: A

The West's Denial of Terrorists' Islamic Motivation

Everyone would agree that people's actions are led by their beliefs. But in the case of Islamically-motivated terrorism, the West reflexively pretends that the terrorists aren't motivated by their beliefs.[1]

Perhaps the most prominent example of this denial is former U.S. President Barack Obama's refusal to use the term "Islamic terrorism," opting instead to refer to it as "violent extremism" to create the impression that the attacks are not religiously motivated, but rather a thoughtless phenomenon. President Obama said: "There's no religious rationale that would justify in any way any of the things that they do."[2]

Here are three additional examples, though there are many other cases.

Less than three weeks after the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, in which U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan shouted "Allahu Akbar!" as he shot and killed 13 fellow U.S. servicemembers, European and U.S. editions of Time magazine featured a cover photo of Hasan with the title "Terrorist?" over his eyes.[3] The U.S. Department of Defense's 2010 report "Protecting the Force: Lessons from Fort Hood" would later classify the attack as "workplace violence," and makes no mention of Hasan's religious beliefs.[4] In 2013, a U.S. Army judge would even limit prosecutors from introducing evidence that would establish Hasan's motives as "jihadi."[5]

After the 2015 San Bernardino, California attack, in which married couple Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people and wounded 24 at a Christmas party held for county officials, investigators hesitated to refer to the attack as an act of terrorism even after it was known that the attackers had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State on social media on the day of the shooting.[6]

San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik (Source: From The MEMRI Archives: Reports On Pakistani School, Radical Mosque That Played A Role In CA Jihadi Tashfeen Malik's Radicalization,, December 6, 2015).

Yet another example is the May 22, 2017 attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, in which a Muslim suicide bomber named Salman Abedi killed 22 people and wounded over 1,000. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack almost immediately, but in her statement the following day, British Prime Minister Theresa May referred to the attack only as an act of "sickening cowardice."[7] Some media outlets even reduced the Manchester attack to a misogynistic attack on women and did not mention the bomber's religious motives at all.[8] U.S. President Donald Trump, who had bucked political correctness by using the term "radical Islamic terrorism" during his campaign, referred to the people behind the Manchester attack as "evil losers."[9]

Part I of this article will focus on this phenomenon of the West's denial of the fact that Islamic terrorism is an act of faith, will address the reasons for this phenomenon, and will substantiate the fact that Islamic terrorism really is religiously motivated.

Only a Minuscule Number of Muslims Are Terrorists, But Their Motivation Arises From the Core Values of Early Formative Islam

Understanding the religious roots of Islamic terrorism, and the way radical beliefs motivate terrorists in general, is critical to thwarting terrorism and to protecting lives.

But first, it is important to clearly state that only a minuscule number of Muslims carry out acts of terrorism, and that these terrorists do not represent most of the Muslims in the world, who are not inclined towards terrorism. Indeed, Muslims are often the victims of Islamic terrorism.

However, while Muslim terrorists do not represent most Muslims, they do represent some of the core values of early formative Islam. Consequently, should any historic event impact the majority of the Muslim world and push it closer to fundamentalist interpretations of their faith, the risk of Islamic terrorism will increase significantly. This has already happened in the recent past with the explosive emergence of ISIS in the Middle East and the West.

As the recently deceased Gaber Asfour, who had served as Egypt's Minister of Culture, said: "Unless the religious discourse is renewed and undergoes reform, have no doubt that [there will be] people like ISIS in every neighborhood."

To view Gaber Asfour's warning about the importance of religious reform, click here or below:

It is this revival of early Islam's core values that we are referring to when we use the term "Islamic terrorism" – we are not saying that the terrorists represent the majority of Muslims.

Moreover, even as a minority, terrorists have the ability to carry out mass murder, thanks to modern technology. This, too, has happened in the past, as was the case with 9/11 and with foiled terrorist plots to use biological weapons. Even in recent months, Iranian-backed hackers carried out a cyberattack aimed at poisoning Israel's water supply.[10]

Furthermore, social media enables relatively small radical groups to spread their ideas far and wide, influencing many people. It also enables them to distribute instruction manuals on how to plan and carry out advanced terror attacks.

Poster released by pro-ISIS group inciting Muslims to carry out attacks in France. (Source: Pro-ISIS Posters Incite Muslims To Carry Out Lone Wolf Attacks In France,, November 16, 2021)

Therefore, recognition of the faith-based nature of Islamic terrorism, and a deep familiarity with the specific religious tenets that motivate it, are vital to the ability to save lives.

Once we have examined this issue, it will be easier to address the broader question: What are the Islamic principles that motivate terrorism, and how can they be addressed by believers, since only they can do so? Part II of this article, which will be published at a later time, will be dedicated to these questions.

The Roots Of The West's Denial Of The Religious Roots Of Islamic Terrorism

At the root of the denial lie three factors:

First, Western governments are not allowed to deal with the religious beliefs of individuals.

Second, most Western leaders and media are wary of being labeled as Islamophobic if they call out Islamic terrorism for what it is. In addition, some governments that do have a history with Islam and are aware of the religious nature of Islamic terrorism, like France and Britain, are guided by the need to avoid clashing with their large Muslim populations[11] or with Muslim countries.

Third, there is a deep lack of knowledge in the West – to the point of near total ignorance – about the world's religions and their adherents. As a result, the West is unable to identify and understand religious terrorism, even when the earliest evidence, like shouts of "Allahu Akbar" during the attack, clearly shows the attackers' religious motivation. In addition, there is a large cultural gap between Western society, which is becoming increasingly secular, and non-Western cultures, and as a result, Westerners have great difficulty understanding the phenomenon of religiously motivated violence.

Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of Rolling Stone (Source:, July 18, 2013.)

In Modern Western Democracy, Individuals' Religious Beliefs Are None Of The Government's Business, And Government Is Not Allowed To Intervene In Any Way

In the West, freedom of belief is sacred. People's spiritual and ideological convictions have usually been considered off limits for government authorities, which can only concern themselves with people's actions.

I have encountered this reluctance firsthand. I recall a lecture I gave shortly after 9/11 to a group of senior police officers gathered in New York City. In the lecture, I asked the officers if they read sermons given in mosques in order to examine if any of them include incitement to violence. They were astonished by the question – to look for signs of potential violence in religious texts? Even in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the police officers considered my suggestion to be absurd. What could religious texts have to do with potential violence?

A colleague of mine, a colonel in Israeli intelligence, had a similar experience at the Pentagon. When he briefed his American colleagues on the violent implications of Islamic radicalism, the U.S. general in charge of the meeting asked him to stop the briefing. He said to him: "We do not talk about Islam here."

Western figures have said themselves that they do not deal with people's religious beliefs.

For example, on July 23, 2019, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee: "The FBI [doesn't] investigate ideology, no matter how repugnant. We investigate violence."[12]

Even when the religious motivation behind the attack is recognized, Western authorities deliberately avoid taking actions that address religion. In late 2018, Algerian-born Toulouse Imam Mohamed Tatai was indicted for incitement to racial hatred in France after delivering a sermon about Muslims killing Jews on Judgement Day.[13] However, he was acquitted by the courts in September 2021 because "it is not the magistrate's role to assess the legitimacy of a religious text [because this] would be contrary [to] the principles of religious freedom and secularism."[14] [15]

Toulouse's Grand Mosque, where Imam Tatai preached. (Source:, June 29, 2021)

This reluctance to approach religious matters sometimes overrides proper investigative practices.

For example, in 1990, authorities seized 47 boxes of radical Islamist materials from the apartment of El Sayyid Nosair, an Egyptian-born terrorist who had just murdered far-right American-Israeli rabbi Meir Kahane.

Among Nosair's documents were sermons by Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the Egyptian Islamist leader behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. In these sermons, Sheikh Abdel-Rahman called for the toppling of the "pillars of [Western] civilization," and particularly "the towers that serve for tourism in New York." In addition, the boxes contained images of the World Trade Center towers. Yet, as was relayed to me by colleagues familiar with the case, this valuable intelligence was shelved by the investigators and labeled "irrelevant religious stuff." This material was examined only after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing when the terrorists listed among their demands the release of Nosair from prison.

Sheikh Omar Abd Al-Rahman (Source:

Another example was the 2009 Fort Hood shooting mentioned above. Months prior to the attack, FBI agents had reviewed Hasan's computer and were aware of a series of emails he had sent to U.S.-born Al-Qaeda cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki six months before the attack.[16] In one of the more disturbing emails, Hasan expressed support for suicide bombings. Nonetheless, the FBI concluded that his correspondence was merely for research purposes.[17]

Sheikh Anwar Al-Awlaki. (Source: The New York Times, May 9, 2010)

This creates a situation in which Islamically-motivated terrorists are a privileged class since their motives are intentionally disregarded. In contrast, it is hard to imagine law enforcement agencies ignoring pre-attack indicators with regard to other terrorists.

The West Is Wary of Being Perceived as Islamophobic, But Religious Terrorism Is Not Exclusive to Islam

In recent decades, faith-based terrorism in the West has been disproportionately Islamic, and many Western figures and media are wary of being perceived and labeled as Islamophobic if they confront the phenomenon as faith based.

President Obama said in 2015 at the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism: "No religion is responsible for terrorism."[18] But in truth, both historically and today, all faiths have motivated people to commit acts of violence, even though in recent decades, terrorist attacks have been disproportionately carried out by Muslims.

In 2012, then-FBI director Robert Mueller ordered the removal of bureau training material that was deemed "offensive" to Islam.[19]

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey ordered the U.S. military to similarly "review" its training materials to ensure there was no material "disrespectful" to Islam.[20]

The cover story of the issue of Time magazine that featured Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan on the cover stated: "Hasan's motives were mixed enough [that] everyone with an agenda could find markers in the trail he left."[21] That is to say, only people with an Islamophobic "agenda" would blame the shooting on Hasan's radical Islamism.

Time Magazine cover featuring Nidal Hasan. (Source:,16641,20091123,00.html, November 23, 2009.)

In November 2021, a Danish convert to Islam who had previously been flagged as a possible extremist killed five people, but the Norwegian security service said that his motives would only be firmly established after a full investigation.[22] The police inspector even said that the terrorist did not take his conversion to Islam seriously,[23] which is to mean that the attackers' obvious religious motivation should also not be taken seriously.

In the same vein, Western leaders dismiss attackers' Islamic motivation by calling it a perversion of true Islam.

In a shocking example, just six days after 9/11, President George W. Bush declared: "The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace."[24]

When former U.S. President Barack Obama said why he refused to use the term "Islamic terrorism," he tried to explain how the violence of Islamic terrorists really has nothing to do with Islam: "We [shouldn't] grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek... We are at war with people who have perverted Islam."[25]

The day after the June 3, 2017 London Bridge attack in which eight civilians were killed by Muslim terrorists, not two weeks after the Manchester concert bombing, British Prime Minister Theresa May called the extremism of the Manchester and London attackers "a perversion of Islam."[26]

In a June 2015 shooting in Sousse, Tunisia, 38 people, including 30 British citizens, were killed by Muslim terrorists. Theresa May's predecessor, David Cameron, said in a speech following the attack that the terrorists only "claim" that their attacks are in the name of Islam. Explaining the attackers' motives for them, Prime Minister Cameron insisted that Islam is a religion of peace and that the attackers had a "twisted," "perverted," and un-Islamic ideology of their own.[27]

In an attempt to blur the relationship between terrorism and Islam in recent decades, Western leaders and media have also loosely termed many Islamist attacks as "lone wolf" attacks. This includes the 2012 Toulouse and Montauban shootings, the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the 2014 Quebec ramming attack, the 2015 San Bernardino shooting, the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, the 2016 Nice truck attacks, and many more.

The characterization of these attacks as "lone wolf attacks" was meant to attribute a distinct lack of group or ideological identity to the attackers. However, the attackers' religions are necessarily communal, and religious terrorists relate to their acts as a communal duty. The community may not be involved in the details of the attacks and may not feel represented by the attackers, but the attackers nonetheless believe they are acting on behalf of their faith group.[28]

Religious Terrorism Is Not Exclusive to Islam

Western leaders and media should not be wary of being perceived as Islamophobic, because violent elements exist also in other religions and in non-religious ideologies. Even though terrorism today is disproportionately carried out by Muslims, terrorist acts carried out by Jews, Christians, and adherents of other faiths and ideologies do exist, not only in ancient history, but also in recent decades. For example, around the turn of the 20th century, most terrorism was motivated by anarchist ideologies. All forms of terrorism should be equally called out for the ideological motivation behind them – terrorists never take the wallets of their dead victims.

Let us look at some examples of religiously motivated terrorism:

On November 29, 1979, Greek Orthodox Archimandrite Philoumenos was murdered in the Church of Jacob's Well in Nablus by Jewish extremist Asher Raby. Raby was convinced that God had spoken to him personally, and that he was carrying out God's will.

Between 1980 and 1984, a Jewish terrorist organization known as the Jewish Underground carried out several attacks, including bombings against Palestinian officials. The Jewish Underground also plotted to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and to bomb Arab buses, but the plans were foiled by Israeli security services and the terrorists were tried. They believed that their acts were religiously justified.

Separately, in 1983, Jewish terrorists carried out a shooting at the Islamic College in Hebron that left three students dead and 33 wounded.

On February 25, 1994, Jewish religious extremist Dr. Baruch Goldstein gunned down 29 Ramadhan worshipers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Dr. Goldstein had chosen to perpetrate the massacre on the Jewish holiday of Purim, which is based on the Book of Esther, because he believed that on this day, God allows Jews to seek revenge against their enemies.

Baruch Goldstein (Source: Falafel Cafè, March 2, 2010)

In 1995, Jewish ultranationalist Yigal Amir shot and killed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Amir interpreted the Oslo Accords as a threat to the lives of Jews, and he said that he was basing his acts on a concept in Jewish law called din rodef, which allows one to kill a Jew who poses a threat to the lives of other Jews. Interestingly, in December 2021, Israel's domestic security agency increased the level of security provided to Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahane after receiving reports that extremist groups had declared a din rodef on him.[29] The threats come on the backdrop of his efforts to reform government procedures regarding kashrut dietary laws and conversion to Judaism. Kahane's proposed reforms are perceived in certain religious circles as an affront to Judaism.

On August 21, 1969, Denis Michael Rohan, an Australian member of the Worldwide Church of God, tried to burn down the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Rohan was motivated by his reading of the Old Testament Book of Zachariah and the New Testament Book of Revelations, and he sought to advance the end of days by clearing the Temple Mount of the "abomination" (i.e. the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock) in order to facilitate the descent of the City of God upon it.

In the U.S., there was the 1993 Waco siege, which began just two days after the World Trade Center bombing. During a 51-day siege, David Koresh, the leader of an 86-member cult called the Branch Davidians, claimed that the Day of Judgement was at hand. Koresh's compound was even named Mount Carmel after the site where the Biblical prophet Elijah slaughtered the prophets of Baal and Asherah.

In 2015, Robert Lewis Dear Jr. shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, killing three and wounding nine. Dear had previously posted messages on social media and made statements to people who knew him that reflected radical Christian views.

Although it wasn't a terrorist attack, the Jonestown mass suicide, in which over 900 people (a third of whom where children) drank poisoned punch at the behest of pastor Jim Jones, is another example of deaths caused by radical beliefs.

Jim Jones (Source:

There also are radical Buddhist groups, such as the Buddhist Power Force, and radical Hindutva "Saffron terror" groups. In addition, violent doomsday cults and other fringe religious groups have carried out terrorist attacks throughout the world in recent decades.

In addition, there are many recent examples of non-religious, ideologically motivated terrorism:

For example, Brenton Tarrant, who killed 51 Muslim worshippers during the 2019 Christchurch, New Zealand mosque shootings, described himself as an "ethno-nationalist" and an "eco-fascist."

White supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine black worshippers in the Charleston church shooting in 2015.

The victims of the Charleston church shooting. (Source:, August 21, 2017)

Norwegian far-right terrorist and self-professed pagan "Odinist" Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in the 2011 Norway attacks.

White supremacist Robert Gregory Bowers killed 11 and wounded seven in his 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, because he believed that the Jews, and particularly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), were behind mass immigration to America.

Ted Kaczynski, the anarchist and anti-industrial radical known as the Unabomber, was behind an 18-year nationwide bombing campaign that left three people dead and wounded 23.

Similarly, anti-government fanatic Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people and wounded over 650 in the Oklahoma City Bombing – the deadliest act of terrorism in the U.S. prior to 9/11.

In addition, the communist Weather Underground terror group carried out several attacks and bombings, including a bombing of the Pentagon in 1972. The Weather Underground was tied to other radical left-wing and racial groups, such as the Black Liberation Army and various Black Power groups.

Groups such as the Irish Republican Army and the Spanish Basque ETA are also examples of groups that perpetrate nationalist terrorism.

Moreover, in recent years we have seen a rise in the numbers and activities of neo-Nazi organizations, which the MEMRI Domestic Terrorism Threat Monitor project has been monitoring. These groups, such as the Atomwaffen Division, have openly called for violence against Jews and other minorities, and have posted online videos of combat and weapons training exercises.

Ignorance About Religions, And Cultural Gaps Between Western And Eastern Societies

To effectively predict and thwart religious terrorism, there is a need to be deeply familiar with the belief systems and ideologies that motivate it. Yet, intelligence and law enforcement agencies don't seem to view the study of religions as relevant to their operations.

As in the case of the Obama administration, as mentioned above, sometimes Western governments deliberately avoid the subject of religious beliefs.

If personnel tasked with countering terrorism are properly informed about terrorists' beliefs and ideologies, far fewer clues and indications would go unnoticed. As mentioned above, the religious texts and sermons found in El Sayyid Nosair's apartment were shelved and dismissed as "irrelevant religious stuff," even though they could have provided crucial intelligence about the planned attacks on the World Trade Center.

Generally speaking, law enforcement agencies do not understand how radical religious convictions are relevant to terrorism. They do not seem to understand the end-times prophecies that motivated Denis Michael Rohan or the Jewish Underground, just as they cannot understand why Islamic terrorists are willing to blow themselves up in crowded areas.

This is illustrated by the events of the 1993 Waco siege. Towards the end of the siege, David Koresh spoke on the phone with the McLellan County sheriff's office. In the recording of the call, Koresh insisted on talking about Bible prophecies. He said: "Theology [is] life and death."

Members of the FBI's negotiation team referred to Koresh's theology as "Bible-babble" and called him a "self-centered liar," "coward," "phony messiah," "child molester," "con-man," "cheap thug who interprets the Bible through the barrel of a gun," "delusional" and "fanatic."

David Koresh (Source: McLennan County Sheriff's Office,

More than anything, this reflects their ignorance of Koresh's ideology. They were unable to deal with him on the basis of his fanatic beliefs. Had the FBI officers been familiar with Koresh's beliefs, they would been able to better predict his next steps or more effectively negotiate with him on the basis of subjects he could relate to.

Such knowledge has been demonstrated to be effective. When Israel was withdrawing from the Sinai Peninsula after the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace agreement, Jewish extremists, led by a man named Yehuda Richter, barricaded themselves in a bomb shelter in the Sinai settlement of Yamit. Richter and those with him, who were followers of the far-right Rabbi Meir Kahane (the same Rabbi Kahane who was murdered by El Sayyid Nosair), had rigged the shelter with improvised bombs in order to prevent Israeli forces from entering the bunker and removing them from the settlement. They believed that an act of self-sacrifice would be justified in an attempt to prevent Israel's withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula. This created a crisis comparable to the Waco siege.

The only person who was able to de-escalate the situation and convince Richter and those with him to leave the bunker was Rabbi Kahane himself, who was brought to the scene by General Haim Erez, the commanding officer of the Israeli forces in the region. Rabbi Kahane could speak to Richter using terms he could relate to and was able to quickly and peacefully resolve the crisis.

Far-right American-Israeli rabbi Meir Kahane. (Source:

The Role of Religious Authorities

Another element that law enforcement and intelligence agencies misunderstand is that religious zealots rarely act without any guidance. This is related to our earlier point that there is no such thing as a "lone wolf" when it comes to faith-based terrorism.

There are always key religious leaders who feed terrorists the religious interpretations and rulings that lead them to carry out attacks. This can take the form of religious rulings, sermons, and other statements, and this guidance is not given behind closed doors. Rather, it is publicly stated and published, and is therefore easy to monitor – especially today, when social media and the internet make them more accessible than ever before.

For the last several years, MEMRI has been systematically monitoring religious rulings and sermons by imams across the West, and in particular in the United States, to help warn governments of potential dangers.

Below are some examples of Islamic scholars and preachers in the West espousing radical views.

On January 26, 2013, Virginia Imam Shaker Elsayed said: "When there is a price to pay, [Muslims] are first in line... They are the first in the Jihad line... They are already calling us terrorists anyway [because we] are Muslim[s]. Well, give them a run for their money. Make it worth it. Make this title worth it. And be a good Muslim." Imam Shaker Elsayed is the imam of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center, which is where former Al-Qaeda cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki had been the imam when 9/11 took place. Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center is also linked to some of the 9/11 terrorists and to other known Jihadis, including Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan. As mentioned above, Nidal Hasan had sent several emails to Al-Awlaki in the months prior to his attack.

To view Imam Shaker Elsayed's statements on jihad, click here or below:

In a video uploaded to his YouTube channel on May 19, 2019, popular New York Islamic scholar Mufti Muhammad Ibn Muneer said: "There is bloodshed in Islam, and you have to be willing to spill some blood for Allah's shari'a."

To view Mufti Ibn Muneer's praise of bloodshed in Islam, click here or below:

On December 5, 2018, Ibn Muneer also emphasized that fighting and dying for the sake of Allah is the greatest form of Jihad that there is, and he said that trying to remove Jihad from the Quran is like "removing sweetness from honey." In addition, he told his listeners that even if they are accused of being terrorists or extremists, they must never apologize for speaking the truth about Jews and Christians.

To view Mufti Ibn Muneer's praise of Jihad, click here or below:

In a sermon in 2014, Italian Islamic scholar Abd Al-Barr Al-Rawdhi prayed to Allah to "count [the Jews] one by one and kill them to the very last one." He also asked Allah to "turn their food to poison and make the air they breathe blazing hot."

To view Imam Abd Al-Barr Al-Rawdhi's statements asking Allah to kill the Jews , click here or below:

Proper knowledge about who key religious and ideological leaders are, and about what they are saying, can also give law enforcement and intelligence agencies important insights into what would-be attackers are thinking or planning. Religiously-motivated terrorists only carry out their attacks if they are convinced that they are permissible according to religious law, and religious leaders are therefore more than just religious scholars – rather, they should be viewed as a valuable source for information about potential future attacks.

For example, senior Al-Qaeda official Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, known as the "Sheikh of the Slaughterers" because he permitted the killing and targeting of Shiites, Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, and other religious denominations in Iraq and Syria, emphasized that the mujahideen acted only with the approval of their sheikhs: "In pursuing [Jihad,] I have never dared to be involved in any matter without first consulting the honest, Jihad-fighting religious scholars." This was in response to criticism leveled at him by his former colleague and mentor Sheikh Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi about the permissibility of Al-Zarqawi's actions.[30]

To ascertain permissibility, would-be attackers ask religious leaders and jurisprudents, and this is precisely what took place before 9/11. In the months before the attack, a debate over the permissibility of hijacking planes and crashing them into strategic targets could be discerned in Arabic-language media and in the Islamic religious discourse. The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz Aal Al-Sheikh, ruled that hijacking planes with the goal of Jihad contravenes shari'a law, while Kuwaiti cleric Hamed Al-Ali ruled otherwise. Al-Ali ruled that a Muslim is allowed to kill himself if doing so would result in killing a large number of enemies or destroying enemy infrastructure. Al-Ali issued three separate fatwas permitting martyrdom operations, including hijacking planes and crashing them into strategic targets.

To someone who knows that fatwas and religious rulings are issued as an answer to a question, this is far more than an unusual religious discussion. If a religious authority answers such a question, this is a clear indication that someone asked for guidance on the matter, and that such an attack may be imminent – but this can only be detected if law enforcement and intelligence personnel are properly educated in religious principles.

Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi (Source: MEMRI TV Clip No. 2731, Leading Sunni Scholar Sheik Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi Supports Suicide Bombings in Palestine and Declares: "I Am Against the Peace Process," December 17, 2021)

As mentioned above, Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan also consulted with Al-Qaeda cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki, who he considered to be a religious authority that can guide him.

Similarly, members of the Jewish Underground sought guidance from rabbinic authorities about the permissibility of their attacks.[31]

These examples serve to emphasize the importance of deep familiarity with all religions, and their respective discourse, debates, developments, and rulings. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies should develop expertise in religions and in religious texts in order to be able to discern from religious discourse the signs of potential attacks.

Cultural Gaps and Attitudes Towards Death, Martyrdom, and the Pursuit of Happiness

It is not just an ignorance about religious beliefs that prevents Western authorities from predicting or thwarting terrorist acts. There are significant cultural gaps, which are manifest in various core principles.

In the West, the dominant understanding is that religion is simply about notions of peace, love, and life.

By contrast, Islam is a goal-oriented religion with a comprehensive system of jurisprudence that covers every aspect of the believers' lives. Central tenets like Jihad and martyrdom empower radicals to perform the religious duty of spreading Islam with however much force is necessary. Radicals aspire towards the utopian goal espoused by early formative Islam, which is a world ruled by their faith.

Islam is a religion of empowerment, and this takes a variety of forms. Islam promises to deliver believers in powerful ways:

  • from weakness to strength;

  • from fear to courage;

  • from sociopolitical marginalization to the sociopolitical center;

  • from insignificance to importance;

  • from vice to virtue;

  • from criminality to righteousness;[32]

  • from exclusion to dictating the agenda;

  • from confusion to conviction and a sense of mission;

  • from backwardness to the status of a superior culture;

  • from isolation and misery to greatness and glory;

  • from loss of identity to a distinct and superior identity;

  • from the provincial level to the global level.

Finally, Islam delivers its believers from the here and now to the historical and eternal, empowering them further.

The history of Islam in itself proves to the believers its ability to bring about the transformations listed above. The victory of Islam is seen as absolute empirical proof of the validity of its principles.

Perhaps the clearest explanation of this was provided by Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, the Sheikh of Al-Azhar University, the world's foremost institution in Sunni Islam. In response to repeated requests by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to reform the nation's religious discourse, Sheikh Al-Tayyeb explained his strict adherence to the values of early formative Islam: "The [Islamic] heritage that is being derided today [is what] took a bunch of Arab tribes that used to fight each other [and] over the course of 80 years, enabled them to place one foot in Al-Andalus [i.e. Spain] and another in China... What set [the advance of the Islamic world] in motion? Wasn't it the shari'a and the [Islamic] heritage?... Describing [our] heritage as something that bequeathed weakness and backwardness is unfair."

Cairo University President Prof. Muhammad Othman Al-Khost ad said to Sheikh Al-Tayyeb: "I love my father's house but I would not like to live there. [Similarly,] I appreciate our ancient heritage but I want to create a new one to live by." Sheikh Al-Tayyeb responded: "That is not renewal but neglect, abandonment, and declaring one's lack of connection to one's father's house."[33]

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb (Source:, January 26, 2017.)

A detailed explanation of the core values that motivate jihad and Islamic violence will come in the second installment of this article.


*Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI; M. Reiter is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.


[1] It is interesting to note that when the terrorists are Christian or Jewish, or when they are motivated by political or social fanaticism, the West usually does not deny the attackers’ motivation.

[2], February 18, 2015.

[3],9263,901091123,00.html, November 23, 2009.

[4], January 13, 2010.

[5], August 19, 2013.

[6], December 4, 2015.

[7], May 23, 2017.

[8], May 23, 2017;, May 26, 2017;, May 22, 2018.

[9], May 23, 2017.

[10], November 29, 2021.

[11] This appears to be the case particularly in France. The French government has taken action against radical Islam by monitoring mosques and deporting radical imams, yet the public approach it has taken reflects hesitance to approach the subject of radical Islam head-on, perhaps in order to avoid upsetting France's large Muslim population.

[12], July 23, 2019.

[13]MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 9437, Following MEMRI's 2018 Exposure Of Toulouse Imam Mohamed Tatai's Antisemitic Sermon, He Receives A Six Months' Suspended Prison Sentence, July 9, 2019.

[14], September 24, 2021.

[15] It should be noted that in recent months, French authorities have begun closing mosques on the grounds of incitement and radicalism. These mosque closures have been done on the basis of a law that was enacted in August 2021, and on the basis of older laws that were not used before and that prohibit incitement to racial discrimination. In the 2002 case of renowned French writer Michel Houellebecq, who had made statements insulting Islam, the French courts established a distinction between incitement against Islam as a religion and incitement against Muslims as group, the latter of which is prohibited by French law.

[16] Al-Awlaki was killed in a U.S. airstrike in September 2011. It is noteworthy that the U.S-born Al-Awlaki had openly incited to terrorism as an imam in the United States, enjoying the American rights to his beliefs. It was only when he moved to Yemen and became a known member of a foreign terrorist organization that the U.S. government took action against him.

[17], July 19, 2012.

[18], February 18, 2015.

[19], February 15, 2021.

[20] Fitton, Tom. “Clean House: Exposing Our Government's Secrets and Lies”, p. 210. Published August 30, 2016.

[21],8599,1938415,00.html, November 11, 2009.

[22], October 14, 2021.

[23], October 19, 2021.

[24], September 17, 2001.

[25], February 18, 2015.

[26], June 4, 2017.

[27], June 26, 2015.

[28] In Islam, Jihad can be performed as an individual duty (fardh ‘ayn), and as a communal duty (fardh jama’a). However, even with regard to fardh ‘ayn, while the responsibility to perform the Jihad lies on the individual, every individual in the community is bound by the obligation – it is therefore still a communal religious duty.

[29], February 12, 2021.

[31] It is unknown what these authorities told them.

[32] This is one of the reasons that Islam is so popular in prisons and in disenfranchised elements in society.

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