Jihadist Salafism, a radical fundamentalist strain espoused by the Islamic State and al-Qaida, is an offshoot of Sunni Islam. Around the same time, Saddam sought to co-opt his devout subjects by founding in —and naming in his own honor—the Saddam University for Islamic Studies. The university was but one of the many ways he attempted to use religion to strengthen his hold on Iraqi society.
As part of what he called his Faith Campaign, which began in , he tried to woo religious conservatives by closing nightclubs, forbidding public consumption of alcohol, and imposing some of the harsh penalties prescribed by Islamic scripture such as severing a hand or foot for theft. In , he confided in a cabinet meeting that his earlier hesitancy about applying Islamic punishments was unwarranted. Such punishments, he observed, could deter crime better than less severe ones.
Left unsaid was the fact that they were also useful for frightening his subjects into submission while burnishing his credentials as defender of the faith. As part of his Faith Campaign, Saddam also promoted the study and recitation of the Quran, promising to use state funds to train 30, Quran instructors. Saddam even donated 28 liters of his own blood to be used as ink for a Quran to be housed in the Mother of All Battles Mosque.
Unable to study law at the University of Baghdad as he wanted because of his middling grades in high school—he nearly failed English—Baghdadi studied the Quran there instead. His task was to reconcile various versions of the manuscript. While tedious, it involved little imagination and no questioning of the content—a perfect project for a dogmatist.
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In most countries the Brotherhood, which has both liberal and conservative members, had adopted a cautious approach to political change, confined to working within the system. But Baghdadi quickly gravitated toward those few Salafis whose strict creed led them to call for the overthrow of rulers they considered betrayers of the faith. They called themselves jihadist Salafis. Baghdadi threw himself into the writings of those Muslim Brothers who had embraced jihadism. Most of what we know about Baghdadi between and pertains to his personal life, and even that is extremely sketchy.
He seems to have had two wives and six children. His first wife, Asma, was the daughter of his maternal uncle.
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He married his second wife, Isra, later, probably after the U. The mosque was also the place that allowed him to indulge his other passion—for the game of soccer. Teammates recall that he often lost his temper when he failed to score. His temper could also be ignited by the sight of what he considered un-Islamic behavior.
Baghdadi forced the revelers to stop.
Baghdadi was arrested during a U. Soon after, in February , Baghdadi was arrested in Fallujah while visiting a friend who was on the American wanted list. He was transferred to a detention facility at Camp Bucca, a sprawling complex in southern Iraq.
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For the ten months he remained in custody, Baghdadi hid his militancy and devoted himself to religious instruction. You could feel that he was someone important. Once again he dazzled his comrades—and, no doubt, his jailers—on the soccer field. And yet again he was compared to an Argentinian great: Baghdadi ingratiated himself with both the Sunni inmates and the Americans, looking for opportunities to negotiate with the camp authorities and mediate between rival groups of prisoners.
He wanted to be the head of the prison—and when I look back now, he was using a policy of conquer and divide to get what he wanted, which was status.
Radical jihadist manifestos circulated freely under the eyes of the watchful but clueless Americans. Detainees pray at Camp Bucca, a U. Many of the ex-Baathists at Bucca, some of whom Baghdadi befriended, would later rise with him through the ranks of the Islamic State.
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It made us all. It built our ideology. Once AQI emerged victorious from the ensuing bloodbath, as he expected it to do, there would be no serious obstacles to establishing the Islamic state he dreamed of. After his release from Bucca, Baghdadi called a relative in al-Qaida, who connected him with a spokesman for the group in Iraq.
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The spokesman convinced Baghdadi to go to Damascus to perform tasks for al-Qaida, assuring him that he could also finish his dissertation while he was working for them. In , al-Qaida in Iraq formed an umbrella organization for jihadist groups resisting the American occupation. When Zarqawi was killed in a U. Masri assumed the title of minister of war although he actually ran the new organization; the titular emir of the group, Abu Umar, an Iraqi, was just a figurehead in the beginning.
The new leaders of the Islamic State pledged private oaths of allegiance to Osama bin Laden, but in public they maintained the fiction that the State was independent of al-Qaida. They hoped outsiders would think of their organization as an independent state or even the beginnings of a restored caliphate, the far-flung empire of early Islam. The ambiguity surrounding their relationship would later lead to conflict between the two organizations. Taking a break from his pastoral duties, Baghdadi showed up in Baghdad on March 13, , to defend his dissertation.
It was yet another critical edition of a medieval book about Quranic recitation—this time a commentary on a poem about how to recite the Quran. Masri also named him to the member Consultative Council. The council ostensibly advised the emir, Abu Umar, but was actually controlled by Masri, whose support came from his fellow foreign jihadists. When Baghdadi joined the council, the Iraqi members were growing restless and had rallied around their countryman Abu Umar, hoping for a greater say in the decision-making.
Much as he had done in Camp Bucca, Baghdadi quickly found a role as a conciliator between the two sides.
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According to one insider account, a mole in the Iraqi security service warned Baghdadi that al-Rawi was in danger, but Baghdadi failed to pass on the warning. Whatever the case, the captured courier led the Iraqi authorities to al-Rawi, who, under interrogation, gave his captors information that enabled a U. The two blew themselves up rather than surrender. With their deaths, the Islamic State faced its first leadership succession. Bin Laden, who still had the allegiance of the Islamic State, issued instructions to the Consultative Council to appoint an interim leader and to send him a list of candidates for emir and their qualifications.
But he reportedly rigged the outcome by writing a letter to each saying that all of the others were in favor of Baghdadi. The council elected the new emir of the Islamic State by a vote of 9 to 2. It was then that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, at the age of 39, took his now-famous nom de guerre, a double homage to his faith and his native land. The Abbasids had swept to power in the eighth century using clever apocalyptic propaganda and clandestine networks to mobilize popular anger against the ruling regime in Damascus.
Baghdadi was clearly hoping to repeat the performance on the same stage. The power had now shifted from the foreign fighters to the Iraqi members of the Islamic State. Such men would prove useful in running a new authoritarian state. Military setbacks had forced the group underground in and subsequent attacks like the one on Abu Umar and Masri had decimated its command structure. Baghdadi and Hajji Bakr were determined to bring the fight out in the open again and seize the territory necessary for establishing a caliphate. The growing unrest in Syria in played directly into their hands.
Presented with an opportunity to inject violence into what had been a peaceful revolt, Baghdadi sent one of his Syrian operatives to set up a secret branch of the Islamic State in the country that year. The hope was that the Islamic State would be able to capitalize on that chaos in order to make its first land grab. Syrian President Assad lumped these attacks on civilians with the actions of those who had been protesting his regime to claim that the peaceful protestors were really nothing but terrorists.
But as Nusra evolved into an insurgent organization, it became more careful about killing Sunni civilians and more dedicated to working with other Sunni rebel factions to oust Assad. Zawahiri believed it was wiser to cultivate popular support before trying to establish an Islamic state, so he called on Nusra to collaborate with the other rebels. Baghdadi disagreed with Zawahiri, to whom he had pledged a private oath of allegiance.
As he saw things, there was already an Islamic State; it just needed to be made real by territorial conquest in Syria. In the spring of , Baghdadi ordered his subordinates in Nusra to comply with his strategy; they refused. Baghdadi wanted control of Syria as well. Zawahiri had no choice but to expel the Islamic State from al-Qaida, which he did in February In the ensuing melee between Nusra and the Islamic State, the latter came out on top: Soon after, reports began to circulate about how the Islamic State governed its new lands.
Baghdadi had previously been able to inflict Islamic punishments only on those who were unlucky enough to be captured by the Islamic State insurgent group, because the group was not yet in control of any territory. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Thanks for telling us about the problem.
Return to Book Page. Preview — Baghdad Believer by Jay Nealson. Baghdad Believer by Jay Nealson. Baghdad Believer really liked it 4. What is there in Baghdad that is worth dying for? When Mahmood, an educated young Sunni Muslim shopkeeper in Baghdad, reads a secret New Testament, amazing dreams and a curiosity about Jesus follow. But threats from his frightened wife and angry father build as relatives are beaten and killed by religious fanatics. Mahmood must choose between pursuing peace or keeping the " What is there in Baghdad that is worth dying for? Mahmood must choose between pursuing peace or keeping the "honor" of his family and cultural traditions.
His choice may surprise you! His story has been endorsed by many Missions Leaders for challenging assumptions about how Muslims come to find faith in Jesus.
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This book gives an insider view of the thought processes of a Sunni Muslim when he comes in contact with the Bible. It will help those who work with Iraqis and those who pray for peace. It will help Americans understand how a Muslim thinks and how to communicate Truth to them. This book is a must read for those who are concerned for the over one billion Muslims in the world and the stranger in your midst.
Respectfully, Jay Nealson "In the context of global evangelization, the Muslim world continues to be a formidable barrier. That does not reflect a deficiency in the gospel but in those who share the gospel lacking a sensitivity and insight into how the good news of God's love through Jesus Christ is filtered through the Muslim worldview. Outsiders seldom comprehend the complexity of family, community, politics and traditional values that inhibit a truth-seeking Muslim from understanding and receiving the gospel.
This personal pilgrimage, as graphically communicated by J. Nealson in Baghdad Believer, comes out of extensive experience and relationships in the Muslim world and will equip others to be more effectives witnesses and disciplers in that context.