“We don’t know that (bin Laden) was ever exposed to orthodox Islamic teachings,” said Ebrahim Moosa, a professor of religion and Islamic studies at Duke University.
The writing of ideologues in the Muslim Brotherhood influenced bin Laden heavily, Moosa said.
“He takes scriptural imperatives at their face value and believes this is the only instruction and command God has given him – unmediated by history, unmediated by understanding, unmediated by human experience. Now that’s a difference between Muslim orthodoxy and what I would call uber- or hyperscripturalists,” Moosa said.
The vast majority of Islamic scholars and imams say the teaching of the Prophet Mohammed happened in historical context that needs to be understood when reading and interpreting the Quran.
“If the likes of bin Laden, if they had spent one day or maybe one month possibly, in a madrassa (Muslim religious school) and understood how the canonical tradition is interpreted, they would not go onto this kind of destructive path they go on,” Moosa said.
In the entire leadership structure of al Qaeda, “no one has had any sort of formal religious training from any seminary,” said Aftab Malik, a global expert on Muslim affairs at the United Nations Alliance of Civilization. He is researching a Ph.D. on al Qaeda.
“What you had was an engineer and a doctor leading a global jihad against the whole world,” Malik said. “That would never happen in normative Islam. It’s just such an aberration.”
“What bin Laden ends up doing is saying anyone who disagrees with him, any Muslim, is in fact an apostate,” he said. That includes Muslims who would not join his fight, he said. “It’s a distortion of the traditional teaching, and it just extends the parameters and the consequences in order to legitimate how when you’re fighting on the ground you’re fighting against your own people.”
Malik said, “The key issue is of apostasy,” referring to when a person leaves a faith. “One of the things Osama bin Laden deviates from is calling those people who do not implement Sharia, or God’s law, on the planet as apostates. If they did not implement Sharia, they deserved death. This is a major departure from normative Islam.”
“The second major deviation is the targeting of noncombatants. Even when you read in the Quran there are injunctions for fighting. But before and after the injunctions for fighting are calls for restraint. ‘Do not attack monks, do not attack women, do not attack children.’ And these are numerated heavily in the Hadith, which are uncontested,” Malik said, referring to the sayings of the prophet and his close companions.
“What bin Laden has done is ignored those injunctions,” he said. “The reason he has ignored them, in Osama bin Laden’s theology it’s basically a theology of anarchy.
“Once you let the genie out of the bottle you can’t put it back in, and that’s the big difference between al Qaeda theology and normative Islam. Normative Islam has heavy constraints – very, very heavy.”