Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad is the leader of one of the most controversial Islamist groups in the U.K., Al Muhajiroun (which means "the emigrants" in Arabic). He attracted global media scrutiny on the first anniversary of 9/11 by staging a meeting entitled "A Towering Day in History," and unveiled a poster that depicted the second airplane advancing toward the World Trade Center.

This month in Britain, Scotland Yard officials said they were investigating Sheikh Omar on suspicion of his support for "global jihad," including inciting Muslim youth to join the insurgency in Iraq. Omar, a Syrian, resides in Britain, which granted him political asylum years ago.

Omar is not a stranger to Britain's Christian community. In 1999, apologist Jay Smith of Hyde Park Christian Fellowship debated Sheikh Omar and called on him to "condemn any form of religious violence, whenever and wherever it is perpetrated in the name of God." Though differing with Smith on many issues, Omar nonetheless deeply respects him.

Christianity Today thought readers would want to better understand Omar's radical views on jihad and on his take on the Christian faith. Anthony McRoy, a London-based scholar of Islam, and a religion journalist, recently interviewed Omar Bakri Muhammad. Naturally, we don't defend Omar's views, but only present them to help Christians better understand Omar's brand of Islam, which is so prevalent in the world today.

Since the time Sheikh Omar granted this interview, he has issued a statement officially dissolving Al Muhajiroun. A later report in the Muslim Weekly, emanating from the Luton Council of Mosques (which opposes him), suggested that plans are afoot to re-brand the group as Ahl us-Sunnah wal Jamaah. Other British Muslim groups, such as the Muslim Council of Britain, frequently denounce Sheikh Omar.

Why do you believe hatred toward the United States could lead to the 9/11 attacks?

Islam is the final revelation, therefore those believing in it submit to Allah—the only One worthy of obedience in every sphere of life. To understand 9/11, we must go back to Tawhid— the exclusive worship of God in every sphere—religious, political, social, etc. Every human action must relate to this. 9/11 was undoubtedly an unpleasant moment for its targets or their relatives (Muslims and non-Muslim), but those committing it acted as a result of the predestined divine decree (although God does give man free will).

The "Magnificent 19" or "terrorists" are personally accountable for their actions. If these were based on God's commands, they will be rewarded; if against his commands, they will be punished.

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The 19 referred to a divine text, Surah AL-Baqara 2:190: "Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you … " Muslims believe that non-Muslims are kaffir—those disbelieving in Islam. This is not an insult; it is a description. The God in whom we believe did not come from the womb of a mother. The USA is a kaffir state—and kaffir includes those U.S. Muslims who ally with non-Muslims, e.g. in the U.S. Army, as in Iraq, and are therefore legitimate targets of jihad.

Americans should listen to Muslims who believe in 9/11 and not to those Muslims who do not! "Terrorism" can be either positive or negative—i.e., for or against God. U.S. terrorism in Iraq is anti-God. U.S. voters have joint liability with the government they choose, as do Russian voters in regard to the actions of their government in Chechnya—yet they voted for Putin. Complicity in the acts of one's rulers makes one a legitimate target.

America is hated because they are aggressors against Muslims in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, Palestine, or by supporting corrupt, puppet Muslim regimes such as the Saudis, Egypt, the Gulf states, and the Shah of Iran. After World War II, America effectively declared war on Muslims and Islam—replacing the British and French Empires, controlling ex-British puppet rulers, but especially by giving military, financial, and diplomatic support to the Israelis. America uses its U.N. veto against Muslims. It establishes U.S. bases across the Muslim world—itself an act of aggression.

Do you believe that 9/11 was in any way Islamically justifiable?

Speaking objectively as a Muslim scholar, and not inciting such acts, jihad can be effected outside the battlefield—it is not restricted by time, place, building, event, people, transport food, water (both of which may be legitimately poisoned in jihad), or by clothing—there is no need to wear a uniform.

Any weapons are legitimate in jihad. Even animals may be used as "suicide bombers"! It is not restricted by target—even Muslims or children, if used by the enemy as human shields, can be killed. Only one thing can restrict jihad—a Covenant of Security [Treaty]. Non-combatant women, children, elders, clergy, insane, disabled are restricted, and non-Muslim children go to Paradise. However, if such are killed in crossfire or if used as human shields, they become collateral damage.

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Again, speaking objectively as a Muslim scholar, and not inciting such acts, 9/11 was justifiable because America had no Covenant of Security with the Muslims, although Muslims in the U.S. are under a Covenant of Security whereby they may not act militarily against America. Only qualified scholars in fiqh [Islamic jurisprudence] could have planned this—because the 19 used non-Muslim aliases to enter the country (which legally allowed them to act in jihad).

When I heard about it, I prayed to God that no Muslims in America did it because such is haram [forbidden in Islam]. After Al Qaeda admitted responsibility, it was obvious that qualified ulema [Islamic scholars] were behind it. Thus, Al-Qaeda has revived the culture of terrorism in Islam after 200 years.

What about the hostage-taking and massacre of schoolchildren in Beslan, Russia, in September 2004?

As stated, there is no restriction on place (it could even occur in Mecca)—so schools are legitimate targets of jihad, but it is up to local mujahedeen [those who engage in jihad] to decide the best strategy.

Killing women and children never was and never will be part of the jihad in Islam, whether that be the women or children of the Muslims or non-Muslims. So if Chechen mujahedeen killed women and children in Beslan, I would condemn it. The children of non-Muslims, such as those at Beslan, who die in such circumstances go to Paradise.

Would you characterize Al Qaeda's jihad as being anti-Christian as well as being Anti-American?

Al Qaeda comes from the Ahl-us Sunnah wa Jamaah sect—also known as Salafis or Al-Huruba [strangers], or "People of Tawhid" [Wahhabi branch of Islam], which explains why Zarqawi in Iraq uses the term. The jihad is not specifically anti-American.

In terms of Islamic jurisprudence, only Muslims are innocent—non-Muslims are not. By default, all non-Muslims are rebel criminals against God. Muslims who engage in interfaith [gatherings] are apostate. God discriminates among man on basis of faith. The jihad is not specifically anti-Christian—it is anti-kaffir.

Bin Laden says that his jihad is defensive. Could you explain this?

Salafis do not use these terms, but defensive jihad is the response to when Muslims are attacked. Offensive jihad is when Islam is brought militarily by the Islamic state in conquest, or when Muslims are arrested [for their belief].

9/11 was not an attempt to conquer America, but rather an act of retaliation. Its aim was to force America out of the Muslim world by inflicting the same pain on them as they inflict on Muslims.

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Many Muslim scholars think that all Israelis, as "colonial dispossessors," but not all Americans or Russians, fit this category. What is the position of Islamic law? Is it halal (permitted by shari'ah law) to behead Western hostages in Iraq?

Women and children [i.e. boys under 15] or Muslims are not legitimate targets—nor are any noncombatants [clergy, disabled, insane, elderly, etc.]. Not even Israeli children or women, unless they serve in the military, which most do, or live in properties taken from dispossessed Palestinians (Muslim or Christian), which virtually all do.

However, if children are killed, the fault lies with the adult occupiers who brought them into a battlefield situation. There are two kinds of Jews in Palestine: firstly, the indigenous Palestinian Jews who always lived there with Muslims and Christians, with whom there is no problem unless they support the occupiers, and secondly, the illegitimate European colonists from Poland, Russia, etc., who are legitimate targets in jihad, because they dispossessed Muslims and covenanted [protected, indigenous] Christians.

Regarding beheading, it is halal to behead Muslim criminals! It is halal to kill hostages in a war zone. Regarding what can be done to secure their release, either they or their families could embrace Islam. Or, based on the principle in Islamic jurisprudence that what benefits Islam and the Ummah [global Muslim community] is best—such as when Salah ad-Din [Saladin] after the-recapture of Al-Quds [Jerusalem] said he would only restore the True Cross to the Crusaders if it benefited the Muslims—the relatives of hostages could offer to continually denounce the Crusades, the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement that divided the Middle East between the French and British, the 1917 Balfour Declaration that handed Palestine to the Zionists, U.N. Resolution 181 that established the Zionist entity, and also American government support for what the Zionist regime does to the Palestinians, as well as condemn the situations at Guantanamo Bay, Umm Qasr, Bagran, and Abu Ghraib prisons.

The mujahedeen then might consider that the benefits of releasing the hostages outweigh those in killing them. What happened in Spain demonstrated this: when the government announced withdrawal of troops from Iraq, the mujahedeen responded positively. Muslims appreciate the antiwar marches in the West. Bin Laden called on European peoples to condemn their governments.

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On what basis could America have peace? Could you explain the Hudaibiyya Treaty and its implications? Is it one-off or renewable?

What the U.S. 9/11 Commission Report stated was untrue—it is not necessary for America to convert to Islam to have peace. Muslims fight America because they are aggressors; we fight apostate Muslim governments because they are aggressors against Islamic law.

Peace could come if America withdrew its forces from the Muslim world, stopped exploiting Muslim resources such as oil, have decent relationships with Muslims, and stopped supporting the Zionist aggressors and Muslim puppet governments. In other words, "Hands off Muslim lands!" Muslims did not attack the USA—the reverse is true. 9/11 was an act of retaliation. As Bin Laden said, peace will come when the U.S. withdraws from the Muslim world.

The Hudaibiyya Treaty was a 10-year truce between Muslim Medina and the pagan Meccans, and it is a basis for today. It is also renewable. It establishes a Covenant of Security. However, this is not possible with occupiers—so it could not be established with the Zionists or their supporters.

Could you explain the concepts Bin Laden employs in his statements regarding 9/11 and other events: the House of War versus the House of Faith, and the other sphere, the House of Truce or Pact? Is the latter a basis for the end of hostilities? Can jihad ever end?

Dar al-Harb, which is somewhat misleadingly translated "House of War," refers to the sphere that wars against God or Muslims. The non-Islamic domain is either at war with Muslims or under treaty. Under Dar al-Ahad—the Domain of Security—the area becomes a suspended Dar al-Harb, because treaty prevents conflict, wherein there is freedom of speech, the right of religious propagation and no military aggression.

Today there is no Dar al-Islam—the whole world is Dar al-Harb because it is the sphere of non-shari'ah. There is Dar al-Harb in terms of military aggression and occupation.

The aim of the Khilafah [Caliphate]—the ideal Islamic State, which does not presently exist—is to conquer the world, either militarily or intellectually through people converting to Islam. Under the Islamic State there is no compulsion to convert to Islam, just to have an Islamic political order. If the right of religious propagation is forbidden, the USA becomes Dar al-Fitnah [Domain of Persecution]. There is also Dar al-Amen, where Muslims live in non-Muslim lands under a Covenant of Security. A Covenant of Security can be of two kinds: (1) a visa for sturdy, asylum, etc., and (2) original Shari'ah rules whereby the norm that the lives and property of non-Muslims are lawful for Muslims to take unless they embrace Islam are removed because of a Covenant of Security.

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The Mujahedeen today feel that they are like Abu Basir after the Hudaibiyya Treaty. [The treaty required Muhammad to return any man coming from Mecca. Abu Basir, a new Muslim convert, went to Mecca, but was pursued by two Meccans who successfully demanded that he be handed over. On the way back he slew one of them, but Muhammad, in loyalty to his promise, refused to receive him. Then he fled to live a brigand-like life with others in his situation, killing Meccan pagans and taking their property. Eventually the Meccans asked Muhammad to receive his group into Medina]. Thus, the Mujahedeen, knowing there is no Covenant of Security, believe all lives and property to be halal for them. However, the norm is a treaty situation.

The USA ceases to be Dar al-Amen for Muslims in America if: (1) America declares Islam to be the enemy; (2) it starts arresting or killing Muslims; (3) it bans Islamic preaching. Muslims are not allowed to fight America from within its borders when they normally live there—they must leave and then fight.

There can be no end to jihad—a hadith [narration of Muhammad] states this, but treaties can be a form of jihad. An example is the treaty relationship established between Medina and the Christian state of Najran, or the Jewish entity of Khaybar, where both were self-governing, but within Dar al-Islam.

You have talked about the Islamic flag flying over Downing Street, and I have seen a hadith on your website saying that the end would not come until the White House is captured. How do you envisage these goals being achieved?

"The final hour will not come until the Muslims conquer the White House" is a hadith related by Tabarani, a great Muslim scholar. How?

The Khilafah is necessary for offensive jihad, though it could occur if Muslims warred to liberate captive Muslims. Realistically, it will probably occur through intellectual da'wah [Islamic missionary activity].

How would a Caliphate operate?

Under the Khilafah, authority is centralized, but not administration. The Caliph appoints ministers, judges, governors, army commanders, etc. Constitutionally, although all analogies are imperfect, the Khilafah is closer to the U.S. presidential system than to the U.K. parliamentary system with a Prime Minister, although the major difference is that the Caliph operates under a divine mandate.

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There could be no non-Muslim judges. Effectively, the Qur'an and Sunnah [practice and narrations of Muhammad related in Hadith] are the Constitution, Shari'ah is the law. The Caliph is chosen by Muslims, whether by popular election, or selection by Majlis as-Shura [Consultative Assembly]. Non-Muslims can enter the Majlis to represent their own community.

What would be the rights of Christians in a restored Caliphate?

As citizens, in terms of welfare and security, education, etc., they will be equal. They will be exempt from national service, although they can volunteer. They will pay the Jizya poll-tax for security and signifying that they submit to Islamic law, except if they join the army. This need not be levied with humiliation. Nor is it levied on women, children, clergy, elderly, etc., only on mature, working males.

No private schools will be allowed, and there will be an Islamically influenced national curriculum. No new churches will be permitted, but existing ones will be allowed. Private consumption of alcohol will be permitted, but not its public sale. All state officials must be Muslims, save for the Caliph's assistants to advise him about relations with non-Muslim citizens. Muslims could not convert to Christianity on pain of execution. Evangelistic campaigns would be forbidden, but people would be free to present Christianity on TV, in debates, etc.

You have debated American evangelicals like Jay Smith. Do you only believe in debating or do you see a place for dialogue?

Debate and dialogue is the same. A treaty is dialogue. No inter-faith; religions are not the same. Debate is fine.

Talking of Jay, what do you think of him and other evangelicals that you have met?

I feel very comfortable with Jay—with him, what you see is what you get. He is no hypocrite, and neither are Salafis. His words and actions match his heart. He does not pretend by saying soft words about Islam. The Qur'an calls for debate.

Specifically, what do you think of U.S. evangelicals?

Most U.S. evangelicals refuse to debate Muslims, unlike the courage of Jay who boldly cries "Jesus is Lord!" I am always willing to meet him. However, I have no direct experience of most U.S. evangelicals, and I will not judge on the basis of what I see on TV. I am always skeptical of television.

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You issued a fatwa some years ago sentencing the U.S. author of the "blasphemous" play Corpus Christi to death. What do you think of Christ?

In Islam, Jesus is called Al-Masih 'Isa [the Messiah Jesus]. He is a Messenger of Allah, miraculously born of the Virgin Mary. He spoke in the cradle, defended the message of previous prophets—Noah, Abraham, Moses, etc., preached the oneness of God, predicted the coming of a prophet called Ahmed [i.e., Muhammad], he denied the Trinity and being Son of God.

He will return before the Day of Judgment, and will be a Sign of the Hour. He will judge between Muslims and Christians, abolish jihad because his presence will be the point of conflict with the Dajjal [Antichrist], who will fight, allied with Jews and false Christians, against the Mahdi [Rightly-Guided one expected in Islamic eschatology] and Jesus.

The fatwa against the author of Corpus Christi was because it was an attack on Jesus, which is the same as an attack on Muhammad and God. Muslims have a duty to defend Jesus.

Related Elsewhere:

Jay Smith's papers on Is the Qur'an the Word of God?, The Bible And The Qur'an, Qur'anic Interpretation, The Qur'an, and Uncomfortable Questions for the Qur'an are available from the Muslim/Christian Debate Website.

AnsweringIslam has articles and information about Islam from a Christian perspective. It includes questions about the Bible and the Qur'an, Muhammad, Jesus, and includes conversion stories.

Recent news about Sheikh Omar includes:

Islamic cleric 'incitement' probe | Scotland Yard are investigating alleged remarks by Muslim cleric Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad that could have broken terror or racism legislation. (BBC, January 18, 2005)
UK charity transferred cash to Hamas | British money paid families of Palestinian suicide bombers (WorldNetDaily, January 24, 2005)

More Christianity Today articles on Islam include:

In Perspective: What's the Difference Between Shi'ah and Sunni? | With a history of persecution and belief in martyrdom, the Shi'ite Muslim majority in Iraq may be more receptive to Christianity. (April 30, 2003)
Doors into Islam | September 11 has only intensified the dangers and rewards of Muslim evangelism. (Aug. 19, 2002)
Outpaced by Islam? | The Muslim challenge is growing faster than our Christian outreach. (Feb. 4, 2002)
Is the God of Muhammad the Father of Jesus? | The answer to this question reveals the heart of our faith. (Feb. 1, 2002)
Is Islam a Religion of Peace? | The controversy reveals a struggle for the soul of Islam. (Dec. 28, 2000)
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A Many Splintered Thing | Though Muslims shared allegiance to Muhammad and to the Qur'an, Islam faced division as soon as the prophet died. (Dec. 28, 2000)

In 2000, Christianity Today focused on Muslim-Christian relations in a series by Wendy Murray Zoba. Articles included:

Islam, U.S.A. | Are Christians prepared for Muslims in the mainstream?
Islamic Fundamentals | Christians have a responsibility to understand our Muslim neighbors and their beliefs.
How Muslims See Christianity | Many Muslims don't understand Christianity—especially the idea of salvation by grace through faith.

Our sister publication, Christian History & Biography, dedicated an issue to Islam.