Tawfik Hamid was born in Egypt to what he describes as a secular family. Islam was always part of life, but as he grew up he became increasingly involved with the Salafi movement. Reading the Koran regularly made him want to do Jihad and conquer infidels. He was well on his way to Shahida (martyrdom), but pulled back in the nick of time. He tells about his journey in a must read article republished in The Jerusalem Post. Selected paragraphs, dealing with the impact of the Koran on Hamid’s young mind, appear below. Koran quotes are in red.
When I was nine, I learned the following Koranic verse during one of our Arabic lessons: “But do not think of those that have been slain in God’s cause as dead. Nay, they are alive! With their sustainer have they their sustenance. They are very happy with the reward they received from Allah [for dying as a shahid] and they rejoice for the sake of those who have not joined them [i.e., have not yet died for Allah]” (Koran 3:169-70).
It was the first time I was exposed to the concept of shahid (martyr), and naturally, I began to dream of becoming one. The thought of entering paradise very much appealed to me. There I could eat all the lollipops and chocolates I wanted, or play all day without anyone telling me to study.
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During my last year of high school, I began to ponder seriously the concept of God while reading about the molecular structure of DNA in a biology book.
These thoughts prompted me to learn more about Islam and to devote myself to serving Allah. I remember one particularly defining moment in an Arabic language class when I was sitting beside a Christian friend named Nagi Anton. I was reading a book entitled Alshaykhan by Taha Hussein that cited the Prophet Muhammad’s words: “I have been ordered by Allah to fight and kill all people [non-Muslims] until they say, ‘No God except Allah.'” Following the reading of this Hadith, I decisively turned toward Nagi and said to him, “If we are to apply Islam correctly, we should apply this Hadith to you.” At that moment I suddenly started to view Nagi as an enemy rather than as a longtime friend.
What further hardened my attitude on this matter was the advice I received from many dedicated Muslim fellow students, who warned me against befriending Christians. They based their counsel on the following verse: “O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends: They are but friends to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them [for friendship] is of them [an infidel]. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust” (Koran 5:51).
[ … ]Our fear of being punished after death was exacerbated by our work in the cadaver room, where we dissected dead bodies. Seeing death regularly during anatomy and physiology courses made us feel that the life of this world was meaningless compared to “real” life after death. Jamaah Islamiyah impressed that idea on us by citing the following Koranic verse: “Those who desire the life of the present and its glitter, to them we shall pay [the price of] their deeds therein, without diminution… [yet] it is they who, in the life to come, shall have nothing but the fire – for in vain shall be all good things that they have done in this [world], and worthless all that they ever did” (Koran 11:15-16). Indeed, the preachers used a range of verses to warn those who did not follow Muhammad and Islam rigorously that they would suffer in hell forever.
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Initially, I thought that I would experience an ordinary prayer session like those in other mosques. But before the prayers began, the participants were required to stand shoulder to shoulder and foot to foot. The leading cleric, Muhammad Omar, personally checked our arrangement for 15 minutes to make sure that there were no gaps between our shoulders or feet. The reason for this exercise became apparent when Omar recited the following verse: “Truly Allah loves those who fight in His cause in battle array, as if they were a solid cemented structure” (Koran 61:4). This militaristic attitude during prayers was the first step in preparing me for the concept of jihad against “the enemies of Allah,” the non-Muslims.
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Salafi teachings expressly forbid acting on sexual desire. They prohibit a man from touching any woman or even looking at one. Speaking to a woman on a personal level is not permitted. To be alone with a woman without relatives present, it is believed, would “invite Satan to be the third person.” Women became for members of Jamaah, therefore, forbidden creatures. But while relations with women were strictly proscribed, the erotic passages in Salafi writings simultaneously aroused in us a powerful sexual desire. This dilemma led us to conclude that dying for Allah provided our only hope for satisfying our lust, because that lust could be satisfied only in paradise. It is not surprising that Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders sent letters to their suicide murderers that described to them the hur, or white ladies awaiting them in paradise.
Unfortunately, I followed Salafi Islam. My hatred toward non-Muslims increased dramatically, and jihadi doctrine became second nature to me. My goal of being a physician and healing the sick grew tainted, infected by my strong wish to subjugate non-Muslims and impose Shari’a.
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One of Zawahiri’s significant achievements was to personalize jihad – that is, to have transformed it from a responsibility of the umma, the Islamic collective, to a duty of Muslim individuals. His goal is to spread the empire of Islam through the actions of individual radical Muslims, each of whom is incited to wage a personal jihad. This allows young Muslims to carry out suicide bombings without the endorsement of the collective body.
Zawahiri and his fellow jihadis base their philosophy on the verse that states, “Then fight in Allah’s cause – you are held responsible only for yourself – and rouse the believers [to fight]” (Koran 4:84).
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We viewed both the Soviets and the Americans as enemies. The Soviets were considered infidels because they did not believe in the existence of God, while the Americans did not follow Islam. Although we planned to fight the Soviets first, our ultimate objective was to destroy the United States – the greatest symbol of the infidel’s freedom. My personal dream was to be an Islamic warrior, to kill the enemies of Islam, to smite their necks in accordance with the Koranic verse that read, “When ye meet the unbelievers smite at their necks” (Koran 47:4).
We considered the Prophet Muhammad to be our role model. The Koran commanded us to follow in his footsteps: “Ye have indeed in the messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern [of conduct] for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the final day, and who engages much in the praise of Allah” (Koran 33:21).
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Jihad against non-Muslims seemed to me to be a win-win situation. The following verse, commonly cited by Jamaah members, validated my duty to die for Allah: “Allah has purchased the believers, their lives and their goods. For them [in return] is the garden [of paradise]. They fight in Allah’s cause, and they slay and are slain; they kill and are killed… it [paradise] is the promise of Allah to them” (Koran 9:111).
Salafi writings also helped me to suppress my conscience by holding that many activities I had considered to be immoral were, instead, halal – that is, allowed by Allah and the prophet. My conscience would normally reject polygamy, for example, because of the severe psychological pain it would cause my future wife. Salafi teaching encourages polygamy, however, permitting up to four wives as halal: “Marry women of your choice, two or three or four” (Koran 4:3). I accepted such ideas – ideas that contradicted my moral outlook – because I came to believe that we cannot negotiate with God about his commandments: “He cannot be questioned for His acts, but they will be questioned [for theirs]” (Koran 21:23).
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Salafi indoctrination operates through written words and careful coaching. It is enormously seductive. It rapidly changed me into a jihadi. Salafi sacred texts exert a powerful influence on millions of Muslim followers throughout the world, and terrorism is only one symptom of the Salafi disease. Salafi doctrine, which is at the root of the West’s confrontation with Islamism, poses an existential threat to us all – including Muslims.