May 22, 2018 Special Dispatch No. 7483

Jordanian Liberal Harshly Criticized For Her Condemnation Of University Of Jordan For Naming Prayer Hall After Al-Qaeda Ideologue 'Abdallah 'Azzam

May 22, 2018
Jordan | Special Dispatch No. 7483

Jordanian journalist, writer, and educator Zuleikha Abu Risha, who is known for her fierce opposition to religious extremism in Jordan and who has received death threats because of her views,[1] again drew fire recently for her condemnation of the naming of a prayer hall at the Shari'a Faculty of the University of Jordan after 'Abdallah 'Azzam, Osama bin Laden's mentor.[2]  

On February 25, 2018, on Facebook, Abu Risha commented on a photo of a prayer hall at the university's Shari'a Faculty that was circulating on social media; a sign above the door notes that the hall is named after "the Jihad Fighter and Martyr Dr. 'Abdallah 'Azzam." Abu Risha responded with a post stating: "The Shari'a Faculty is an island belonging to Al-Qaeda and ISIS."[3]

Abu Risha's Facebook post, showing the photo of the prayer hall with the comment: "The Shari'a Faculty is an island belonging to Al-Qaeda and ISIS."

Abu Risha's post evoked a furious response from the Shari'a Faculty and from several current and former Jordanian officials, including calls to prosecute her. She responded with a series of Facebook posts reiterating her position, calling 'Abdallah 'Azzam a terrorist and adding that anyone who expresses support for him is essentially promoting his extremist doctrine.

This report reviews the exchange between Abu Risha and her critics.

Harsh Criticism Of Abu Risha, Including Calls For Her Prosecution

University of Jordan Shari'a Faculty Dean: The Real ISIS Propagandists Are Those Hurling Accusations At Noble Institutions Of Learning

The day Zuleikha Abu Risha posted her initial comment, University of Jordan Shari'a Faculty dean Dr. 'Abd Al-Rahman Ibrahim Al-Kailani responded with an announcement on the faculty's website saying: "As the Shari'a Faculty at the University of Jordan celebrates... its groundbreaking academic achievements and its national and global standing [as a facility] disseminating moderate Islamic discourse and opposing the preachers of extremism and fanaticism, websites report that a [certain] Jordanian writer published a post with a hideous accusation against the faculty, calling it 'an island belonging to the terrorist ISIS organization.'

"It is disgraceful and shameful to hurl accusations at noble institutions of learning which, throughout their long [years of] activity, have produced generations of preachers and scholars who have contributed greatly to the spreading of the values of charity and tolerance, to the building of our dear [kingdom of] Jordan, to the defense of its Islamic culture, to the preservation of its ideological and moral security, to the actualization of its revival and thriving, and to the loyalty and love for the Hashemite leadership. Anyone fighting the righteous institutions of higher shari'a learning are the real ISIS propagandists, and it is they who are creating fitna [i.e. internal strife] and spreading hatred in society... We at the Shari'a Faculty condemn this explicit accusation, and maintain our legal right to respond to this grave insult..."[4]

Additionally, several members of parliament condemned Abu Risha's comment, and joined in on the calls for legal action to be taken against her. MP Mustafa Al-'Assaf said: "The kingdom's shari'a faculties [at its universities] are beacons of Islamic [learning], and it is inconceivable for them to be accused of 'ISISization.'" MPs Abdullah Al-Dayim and Ahmad Al-Raqab called on the Jordanian government to "take steps against Abu Risha to deter her."[5]

Former Jordanian Minister And Ambassador: Abu Risha's Accusations Are Groundless

Shari'a lecturer Bassam Al-'Amoush, former government minister, former Jordanian ambassador to Iran, and former Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan official, wrote an article accusing Abu Risha of, inter alia, disseminating positions that serve foreign countries. He stated: "For over 30 years, she [Abu Risha] has been leveling against us accusations that stem from her own personal problem, of which some are aware... and she does so without providing proof of her statements. Her recent comment concerned the [University of Jordan's] Shari'a Faculty, which she referred to as ISIS and Al-Qaeda headquarters...

"The real problem is that Zuleikha [Abu Risha] and those who support her want a 'different' religion... It is known that the secularists and leftists think that religion is a personal matter that has nothing to do with daily life [in the public arena], and we will in no way agree to this. Accusing the faculty of being ISIS and Al-Qaeda headquarters is an indication of a political game, and of exploitation of the current situation. Either that, or it indicates shameful ignorance about politics, since ISIS was founded not by the Shari'a Faculty but by large international security apparatuses – as Hillary Clinton acknowledged – with the help of some of the countries in the region, under the leadership of global Zionism. Several Arab armies have been destroyed, several rulers have been removed and murdered, and this has been accompanied by the destruction of infrastructure, and the murder and expulsion of millions of people. Oh Zuleikha, has shari'a done all this?!

"The prayer hall was named after Dr. Abdallah Azzam because he was a lecturer at the faculty, and [the faculty] customarily names its facilities that benefit the public after lecturers... Moreover, ISIS did not exist in Dr. Azzam's time, and he participated in the jihad in Palestine even before Al-Qaeda [existed], by means of 'the sheikh bases' [qawa'id al-suyoukh] established [in the Jordan Valley] under an agreement between the Muslim Brotherhood and Yasser Arafat, and with the blessing of Jordan,[6] which at that time saw honor in the fidai [self-sacrifice] activity, to the point where the late King Hussein would say, 'I am the first fidai." When the fidai activity stopped, and Afghanistan was occupied by the Soviets, the friends of the Arab tyrants, Dr. Azzam went to support the Afghans, and the U.S. was not far from supporting them. Moreover, there were also Arab countries that helped [the Afghans] in order to trample the honor of the Soviets.

"Azzam did not believe in explosions [i.e. terror attacks] in Amman, Baghdad, Damascus, Madrid, or any other place – and if that is the case, what crime and what terrorism did he carry out? The alumni of the Shari'a Faculty love their land, and are the purest lovers of their fellow men, who preach for the sake of Allah. They are not thieves, robbers, or traitors. Female alumni of the Shari'a Faculty are women who believe in purity, modesty, and covering [their bodies], women who are in charge of their home and of their children's upbringing. The Shari'a Faculty produces alumni who are decent human beings who do not follow the ideology of anyone who caws like a crow. Is this a crime? Today, the game is transparent: Those who want to toady to well-known elements and to the embassies that buy [people] are selling to [these elements and embassies] what they want to hear... Allah will respond appropriately to all those who caw like crows." [7]

Zuleikha Abu Risha Responds: It Is Shameful That The Faculty Admires The Greatest Terrorist Of All

In response to the attacks on her, Abu Risha, in a series of posts on her Facebook page, reiterated her claim that Abdallah Azzam was a terrorist and that naming a prayer hall after him was inappropriate. On February 26, she wrote: "The question that must be asked is, Who was Abdallah Azzam? Was he a thinker of democracy, civics, civil society and human rights? Was he one of those waging jihad to liberate Palestine? Or was he one of Al-Qaeda's founders? When a prayer room, hall, building, or mosque are named after one of the most dangerous terrorists of the modern world, what can we call the people [who go to] this place?? Are they defenders of nationalism, openness, acceptance of the other, and pluralism? Or do the fans of this terrorist largely share his ideology and [support his] actions, that are hostile to humankind? With regard to the faculty whose administration and lecturers defend this terrorist, we are entitled to draw conclusions that it supports him."[8] She added to this post a link to a YouTube video showing Azzam giving a speech and saying that he is a terrorist.[9]

Abu Risha posted: "When a prayer room, hall, building, or mosque are named after one of the most dangerous terrorists of the modern world, what can we call the people [who go to] this place??"

In a direct response the same day to Shari'a Faculty dean Dr. 'Abd Al-Rahman Ibrahim Al-Kailani's statements, she wrote: "It is shameful that the dean of the Shari'a Faculty at the [University of] Jordan states that his faculty is a shrine of moderation and of reasonable Islam, while some of its teachers see Abdallah Azzam, Al-Qaeda founder and member, as a great jihad fighter and martyr! It is shameful that he retains the right to turn to legal action [against me], while the prayer hall at his faculty continues to bear the name "The Jihad Fighter And Martyr Dr. Abdallah Azzam', who is lauded with all the honorifics of Al-Qaeda! It is shameful that the dean ignores the fundamental criticism of honoring Abdallah Azzam at the heart of [Jordan's] main university! [Likewise] it is bizarre and astounding that the gentleman, the dean of the Shari'a [Faculty], disregards [the reference to] Al-Qaeda in [my] accusation and focuses [only] on ISIS. That is, Al-Qaeda is all right [as far as he is concerned], but ISIS is not!"[10]

Abu Risha posted: "Al-Qaeda is all right [as far as Dean Ibrahim Al-Kailani is concerned], but ISIS is not!"

Two days later, on February 28, Abu Risha posted a link to a video of Osama bin Laden praising Abdallah Azzam for his vital role in establishing Al-Qaeda.[11]

Abu Risha's post of video in which bin Laden praises Azzam

In an interview with the Jordanian Akhbar Al-Balad website, Abu Risha reiterated her claim that Abdallah Azzam described himself as a terrorist and that she had not made it up. She said: "What does the naming of the prayer hall after this extremist mean? Wasn't it Al-Qaeda that blew up the hotel in Amman [in 2005]?" She added that if the Shari'a Faculty wanted to sue her, it was entitled to do so, but before that it should remove any reference in its campus to this "ideological terrorist."[12]


[2] About 'Azzam's influence on the Salafis in Jordan, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 848, Al-Hayat Inquiry: The City of Al-Zarqaa in Jordan – Breeding Ground of Jordan's Salafi Jihad Movement, January 17, 2005.

[3], February 25, 2018.

[4], February 25, 2018.

[5], February 27, 2018.

[6] The "sheikh bases" were established by the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan after 1967, with the aim of joining Fatah's military activity against Israel. Abdallah Azzam commanded one of them; it was dismantled during Jordan's Black September in 1970.

[7], February 26, 2018.

[8], February 26, 2018.

[9], February 26, 2018.

[10], February 26, 2018.

[11], February 28, 2018.

[12], February 26, 2018.

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