FaithWorld

Timeline: Life and Death of Osama bin Laden

(Osama bin Laden speaks in this still image taken from video released on a website September 7, 2007. Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in a mansion outside the Pakistani capital Islamabad, a U.S. source said on May 1, 2011/Reuters TV)

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in a firefight with U.S. forces in Pakistan and his body was recovered, President Barack Obama announced on Monday.

Here is a timeline of major events in bin Laden’s life.

1957 – Osama bin Mohammad bin Awad bin Laden born in Riyadh, one of more than 50 children of millionaire businessman. There are conflicting accounts of his precise date of birth.

1976 – Studies management and economics at university in Jeddah.

Dec 26, 1979 – Soviet Union invades Afghanistan. From 1984, bin Laden is involved in Peshawar-based Services Office to support Arab volunteers arriving to fight Soviet forces.

1986 – Bin Laden moves to Peshawar, begins importing arms and forms his own small brigade of volunteer fighters.

Handouts dash Saudi king’s reformer reputation

saudi king

(Saudi King Abdullah addresses the nation from his office at the Royal Palace in Riyadh March 18, 2011/Saudi Press Agency)

Saudi King Abdullah’s lavish social handouts and a boost to security and religious police, but no political change, leaves his prized reputation as a reformist in tatters, analysts say.

The king, believed to be 87, has carefully crafted an image as a cautious reformer in a country ruled by a single generation of his brothers as absolute monarchs for nearly six decades. But faced with unrest rocking much of the Arab world, he is playing the old game of buying support from key sectors of society to keep family rule as it is.

Bahrain crisis could worsen Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian tensions in the region

beirut bahrain

(Rally organized by Lebanon's Hezbollah in front of the U.N. headquarters in Beirut March 16, 2011, in support of Bahraini protesters. Around 2,000 mostly Shi'ite Lebanese demonstrators rallied in central Beirut on Wednesday in support of an uprising by Bahrain's Shi'ite Muslim majority/Cynthia Karam)

A Bahraini police crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, two days after Saudi Arabia sent in 1,000 troops to bolster its longtime Gulf Arab ally, will heighten Sunni-Shi’ite tensions in Bahrain and beyond. At least five people were killed and hundreds wounded when police cleared demonstrators from Manama’s Pearl Square on Wednesday in an attempt to halt weeks of popular unrest.

The violence, so soon after the Saudi-led intervention, will further embarrass Washington, which had urged dialogue to tackle Bahrain’s problems and says Riyadh did not consult it before moving troops to the island where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based. That may be the case, but U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates visited Bahrain at the weekend. To many Arabs the timing smacks of U.S. complicity in King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa’s decision to invite the Saudis in and declare martial law.

Saudi insists protests not Islamic, Facebook group calls for demos

saudi protest

(Saudi Shi'ites protest for the release of prisoners they say are being held without trial, March 3, 2011/Zaki Ghawas )

Saudi Arabia’s ruling family has mobilised the power of its conservative religious establishment to prevent a wave of uprisings against Arab autocrats from roaring into its kingdom, home to more than a fifth of the world’s known oil reserves. Whether these traditional tactics will work with a young population that grew up in the information revolution age, with the ability to use the internet to organise and spread awareness of ideas of universal rights to political participation, is still to be tested.

The day all eyes are fixed on is Friday. More than 32,000 people have backed a call on Facebook to hold two demonstrations this month, the first on March 11 and then March 20. The theme running through comments from princes, clerics and newspaper editorialists is that protests in the key U.S.-allied state are not Islamic, the subject of a fatwa issued by the Council of Senior Clerics this week.

Saudi clerics condemn protests as un-Islamic

saudi protest

(Supporters of Saudi Shi'ite cleric Tawfiq al-Amir hold his pictures during a demonstration following his release in Al-Ahsa March 6, 2011. Cleric Tawfiq al-Amir was arrested last week after calling for a constitutional monarchy and a fight against corruption/Stringer)

Saudi Arabia’s council of senior clerics has issued a statement forbidding as un-Islamic the public protests, which the rulers of the U.S. ally and key oil exporter fear could spread following demonstrations by minority Shi’ites. The kingdom has escaped major protests like those which toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia, but the wave of unrest has reached its neighbours Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan and Oman.

“The Council of Senior Clerics affirms that demonstrations are forbidden in this country. The correct way in sharia (Islamic law) of realising common interest is by advising, which is what the Prophet Mohammad established,” said the statement by the body headed by the Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al al-Sheikh.

Watching Bahrain, Saudi Shi’ites demand reforms

saudi shi'ite

(Shi'ite Saudi Muslim worshippers during the Ashura festival in Qatif ,December 27, 2009/Zaki Ghawas)

When Saudi Shi’ites mark the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad, meeting at mosques and exchanging sweets is only part of what’s going on. The Shi’ites also are testing the tolerance of Sunni clerics and taking advantage of reforms introduced by King Abdullah that allow them greater freedom to practise their branch of Islamic faith.

For the hundreds of Shi’ites who gathered on Sunday in the rundown eastern town of Awwamiya, near the Gulf coast, this year is special. Just an hour’s drive and a bridge away is the island nation of Bahrain, usually a place where Saudis go for a bit of weekend fun but now the scene of a majority Shi’ite uprising that is challenging the minority Sunnis’ grip on power.

Saudi king, religious police, Islam and donkeys – via WikiLeaks

mutaween 1 (Photo: Religious police perform dusk prayers with Saudi youth outside a Riyadh cafe on June 27, 2010 during half-time of the Germany-England World Cup soccer match. The police ensured that people watching matches in cafes said their prayers during the tournament/Fahad Shadeed)

WikiLeaks has come up with an interesting insight into the way King Abdullah views his own kingdom’s religious police, the mutaween who enforce Islamic behaviour in public. A cable from the Riyadh embassy entitled IDEOLOGICAL AND OWNERSHIP TRENDS IN THE SAUDI MEDIA and dated 11 May 2009 mentions what appears to be a U.S. diplomat’s visit to a Saudi newspaper editor whose name is XXXed out. The Saudi says the king had visited the office and complained about how ignorant the religious police were about Islam and how they  treated people like donkeys:

//Okaz//
18. (S) In a meeting with Jeddah CG and XXXXXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXXXXX was blunt when asked about SAG efforts in countering extremist thinking. “King Abdallah was here,” he said, pointing around his well-appointed office XXXXXXXXXXXX in Jeddah. “He told us that conservative elements in Saudi society do not understand true Islam, and that people needed to be educated” on the subject. King Abdallah, he said, used a metaphor of a donkey to explain how the religious police use the wrong approach. “They take a stick and hit you with it, saying ‘Come donkey, it’s time to pray.’ How does that help people behave like good Muslims?” XXXXXXXXXXXX quoted the king as saying.

The same cable also comments on a new and more moderate tone in religious programming on some television channels:

Beard guide and song ban among Salafist books barred in Algeria

algeria salafi 2

(Photo: Customs officers inspect books purchased at an Islamic book fair in Algiers, searching for Salafist books, October 29, 2010/Zohra Bensemra)

Concerned by the growing influence of the ultra-conservative Salafist branch of Islam, Algeria has this year been cracking down on the import and distribution of Salafist literature. Salafist publications, most printed in Saudi Arabia, are still available in some specialist bookstores. See our feature on this crackdown here.

Following is a selection of titles on sale in a bookshop in Rouiba, an eastern suburb of the Algerian capital.

Haj pilgrims flock to Mount Arafat to beg forgiveness

arafat 1 (Photo: Haj pilgrims at the Plains of Arafat, 15 Nov 2010/Mohammed Salem)

Millions of Muslims gathered around Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Mohammad delivered his last sermon, to beg for God’s forgiveness on Monday, the spiritual climax of the annual haj pilgrimage. Pilgrims flocked mostly on foot to Arafat, a rocky outcrop in a dusty plain a few kilometers away from Mecca, to pray until sunset. They set up tents where they could, squatted on the side of the road in shelters or stayed at the nearby Namira mosque.

A record of at least 2.5 million pilgrims have come to Saudi Arabia to perform this year’s haj, one of the world’s biggest displays of mass religious devotion. So far, the authorities have reported none of the major problems or disasters that marred the event in previous years, such as building collapses and deadly stampedes caused by overcrowding.

But the sheer number of pilgrims was still a worry for the Saudi government. Around 100,000 security forces have been deployed to the oversee the pilgrimage, security officials said.

At least 2.5 million Muslim pilgrims begin haj

haj 1 (Photo: Pilgrims at Mena, near Mecca, November 14, 2010/Mohammed Salem)

At least 2.5 million Muslims began the annual haj pilgrimage on Sunday, heading to an encampment near the holy city of Mecca to retrace the route taken by the Prophet Mohammad 14 centuries ago.

Traveling on foot, by public transport and in private cars, the pilgrims will stream through a mountain pass to a valley at Mina, some three km (two miles) outside Mecca. The path is the same as the Prophet himself took on his last pilgrimage.

The haj, one of the world’s biggest displays of mass religious devotion, lasts for five days. In the past it has been marred by fires, hotel collapses, police clashes with protesters and deadly stampedes.