Q&A: Osama bin Laden’s ten commandments

Both loved and loathed, he was one of the few men to change the course of history. What were the ideals that drove this fanatical leader?

Q: What sort of a man was he?

A: This is what his son Omar said: 'I have mainly known my father to be composed, no matter what might be happening. That's because he believes that everything of earthly life is in the hands of God.'

Q: He's known in the west as a religious fanatic. But what did Osama bin Laden want?

A: Bin Laden believed that the restoration of God's law – Sharia Law - would set things right in the Muslim world. 'When we used to follow Mohammed's revelation we were in great happiness and in great dignity, to Allah belongs the credit and praise.

Q: He wanted to bring Muslims together?

A: Yes. Around this law he would 'unite all Muslims and establish a government which follows the rule of the Caliphs.'

Q: 'Caliphs'? Who are they?

A: Caliphs are simply rulers of an Islamic community that is ruled by Sharia Law.

Q: Does that mean cutting off the hands and heads of thieves and murderers – and the stoning of women caught in adultery?

A: 'If a man is a real Muslim and commits a crime,' said bin Laden, 'he can only be happy if he is justly punished. This is not cruelty. The origin of these punishments comes from God through the Prophet Mohamed, peace be upon him.'

Q: Sounds a bit 7th century.

A: Maybe, but his use of technology for propaganda wasn't. He quickly understood the potential of satellite TV to make his point and would give interviews to select journalists.

Q: And he wanted Americans out of Saudi Arabia?

A: Yes. He compared his intolerance of Americans in Saudi Arabia to the European opposition to Hitler in World War 2. But there are differences. Hitler was the aggressor and killed six million Jews. The Americans were invited into Saudi Arabia – and killed no one.

Q: So what did bin Laden think of the Jews?

A: Bin Laden was profoundly anti-semitic. 'These Jews are masters of usury and leaders in treachery,' he said. 'They will leave you nothing, either in this world or the next.'

Q: And Christians?

A: Again, not good. 'Every Muslim,' said bin Laden, 'from the moment they realize the distinction in their hearts, hates Americans, hates Jews and hates Christians. This is a part of our belief and our religion.' He was also against 'homosexuality, intoxicants and gambling.'

Q: How did he justify killing innocent civilians?

A: 'Killing children and other civilians may be done in vengeance,' he said. Bin Laden's interpretation of Islamic doctrine allows retaliation against civilians because of perceived indiscriminate US aggression against Muslims.

Q: So what was he for – apart from his version of Islam?

A: The environment? Certainly he denounced the United States for damaging the environment on more than one occasion: 'You refuse to sign the Kyoto agreement so that you can secure the profit of your greedy companies and industries.'

Q: What did he achieve?

A: His direct action against America initially won him the quiet respect of those who felt powerless against the USA – and provoked massive and hostile reaction. In that sense, he was one of the few men who changed the course of history. However, most Muslims knew something essential was missing.

Q: How do you mean?

A: Among the 99 names of God in Islam, the most frequent are 'The Compassionate' and 'The Merciful.' But there was not much evidence of these in bin Laden. He once claimed: 'It is our duty to bring light to the world.' But in his hands, it was a light that looked very like darkness.

You Decide

  1. Was there anything to like or admire in Osama bin Laden? Or was he completely evil?
  2. 'Everyone changes the course of history in some way.' Do you agree?


  1. Osama bin Laden claimed to support Sharia law. But what is Sharia really? Write a short article explaining what Sharia is – was bin Laden's interpretation correct?
  2. Which has been the most dangerous ideology in history? Do some research to identify your candidate and then write five reasons why that ideology should be feared.

Some People Say...

“No one is more dangerous than an idealist.”

What do you think?

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