Anwar al-Awlaki: trauma and extremism

Recently we heard that the Yemeni-American Muslim preacher, Anwar al-Awlaki, may have died in air strikes in Yemen, although other reports said he was miles away from where the strikes happened and was safe. Some people said “good riddance”, including some commenters on the “Muhajideen Ryder” blog. This provoked a predictable flurry of acrimony. (More: Ginny.)

For my part, I’ve never listened to Awlaki’s lectures, since I’ve maintained a strict policy of taking knowledge only from reputable Sunni scholars whose own teachers are well-known, i.e. not those with dubious scholarly credentials. I don’t want a repeat of my experience of repeating things I heard from a certain London-based preacher and finding out that they were nonsense. Still, he was known as a moderate even after 9/11, but since his imprisonment in Yemen from 2006 to 2007, his pronouncements have taken on a rather extreme quality, as typified in his “Nidal Hasan is a hero” blog post last month.

I don’t think we should be celebrating even if Awlaki has died. This is not, after all, a mass murderer. We should not be falling over ourselves to excuse his positions on grounds of al-wala w’al-bara or anything else when he embarrasses us with a stupid diatribe at a sensitive time, i.e. after a Muslim has sprayed bullets around an army base. His change in position may well be the result of his experiences in prison, in which case we might have a little understanding, but his words should in no way be taken as guidance and we should not be struggling to defend them in public.

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