Science versus religion

Bin Laden Stirs Struggle on Meaning of Jihad


January 27, 2002

AZHAKHEL BALA, Pakistan, Jan. 20 - Little in the manner of Ijaz Khan Hussein betrays the miseries he saw as a volunteer in the war in Afghanistan.

Mr. Khan, a college-trained pharmacist, joined the jihad, or holy war, like thousands of other Pakistanis who crossed over into Afghanistan.

He worked as a medical orderly near Kabul, shuttling to the front lines, picking up bodies and parts of bodies. Of 43 men who traveled with him to Afghanistan by truck in October, he says, 41 were killed.

Now with the Taliban and Al Qaeda routed, have Mr. Khan and other militants finished with holy war?

Mr. Khan, at least, said he had not.

"We went to the jihad filled with joy, and I would go again tomorrow," he said. "If Allah had chosen me to die, I would have been in paradise, eating honey and watermelons and grapes, and resting with beautiful virgins, just as it is promised in the Koran. Instead, my fate was to remain amid the unhappiness here on earth."

Jihad literally means striving. The Prophet Muhammad gave Muslims the task of striving in the path of God. Whether that striving is armed or a personal duty of conscience is a question causing consternation in the world's 1.2 billion Muslims, and that question goes to the heart of President Bush's war on terrorism.

In the Muslim world, it seems that Osama bin Laden is now a fractured idol, and many Muslim scholars criticize him. Yet he also remains appealing to others, almost as a political Robin Hood.

See the full story at New York Times.