Religious Scene from Sam'al

Religious Scene from Sam'al - History

Before 1450, Renaissance humanism had little influence outside Italy after 1450, these ideas began to spread throughout Europe.

Learning Objectives

Describe how the Northern Renaissance differed from the Italian Renaissance

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Humanism influenced the Renaissance periods in Germany, France, England, the Netherlands, and Poland. There were also other national and localized movements, each with different characteristics and strengths.
  • Northern painters in the 16th century increasingly looked to Rome for influence, and became known as the Romanists . The High Renaissance art of Michelangelo and Raphael and the stylistic tendencies of Mannerism also had a great impact on their work.
  • Although Renaissance humanism and the large number of surviving classical artworks and monuments in Italy encouraged many Italian painters to explore Greco-Roman themes, Northern Renaissance painters developed other subject matters, such as landscape and genre painting.

Key Terms

  • Romanists: A group of artists in the late 15th and early 16th century from the Netherlands who began to visit Italy and started to incorporate Renaissance influences in their work.
  • Northern Renaissance: The Northern Renaissance describes the Renaissance as it occurred in northern Europe.

The Northern Renaissance describes the Renaissance in northern Europe. Before 1450, Renaissance humanism had little influence outside Italy however, after 1450 these ideas began to spread across Europe. This influenced the Renaissance periods in Germany, France, England, the Netherlands, and Poland. There were also other national and localized movements. Each of these regional expressions of the Renaissance evolved with different characteristics and strengths. In some areas, the Northern Renaissance was distinct from the Italian Renaissance in its centralization of political power. While Italy and Germany were dominated by independent city-states , parts of central and western Europe began emerging as nation-states. The Northern Renaissance was also closely linked to the Protestant Reformation , and the long series of internal and external conflicts between various Protestant groups and the Roman Catholic Church had lasting effects.

As in Italy, the decline of feudalism opened the way for the cultural, social, and economic changes associated with the Renaissance in northern Europe. Northern painters in the 16th century increasingly looked to Rome for influence, and became known as the Romanists. The High Renaissance art of Michelangelo and Raphael and the stylistic tendencies of Mannerism had a significant impact on their work. Although Renaissance humanism and the large number of surviving classical artworks and monuments in Italy encouraged many Italian painters to explore Greco-Roman themes, Northern Renaissance painters developed other subject matters, such as landscape and genre painting.

Danae by Jan Mabuse: One of the most well-known Romanists was Jan Mabuse. The influence of Michelangelo and Raphael showed in the use of mythology and nudity in this particular piece.

As Renaissance art styles moved through northern Europe, they were adapted to local customs. For example, in England and the northern Netherlands, the Reformation nearly ended the tradition of religious painting. In France, the School of Fontainebleau, which was originally founded by Italians such as Rosso Fiorentino, succeeded in establishing a durable national style. Finally, by the end of the 16th century, artists such as Karel van Mander and Hendrik Goltzius collected in Haarlem in a brief but intense phase of Northern Mannerism that also spread to Flanders .

Famous Religious Paintings

1. The Last Supper – Leonardo da Vinci

Considered to be one of the most famous paintings of all time, Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper is a work that captivated viewers with what might be one of the most emotional moments in history.

Da Vinci brings to life the tense dynamic that is said to have gripped the last meal that Jesus enjoyed with his disciples.

There are many famous paintings of Jesus, The Last Supper stands above them all.

Hailed as one of the most intelligent people to ever live, Leonardo da Vinci’s work spans across fields of art, engineering, and many other intriguing areas that prove the man himself was nothing short of a genius.

Many critics and art enthusiasts argue that his work featuring Christ’s last supper is more esteemed than the famed Mona Lisa. Completed in 1498, the painting is set with a central view of the entire table that seats Jesus and his twelve disciples.

The painting captures the moment following Jesus announcing that one of his loyal followers would betray him, sparking outcry from his most devoted friends.

The painting is famous not only for its incredible amount of detail and realism, but the range of emotion featured on each one of the apostles, which is said to perfectly portray characteristics that is known about each one from scripture and historical records.

2. The Creation of Adam – Michelangelo Buonarroti

Among the most famous works of the Renaissance is Michelangelo Buonarroti’s work titled The Creation of Adam, which is featured on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, Italy in 1512.

The painting is one of the most recognizable works in human history and portrays the moment that God created the first man, Adam, according to the Biblical account of Genesis.

The painting is remarkably well-preserved and was done using fresco, which was widely popular among artists in that time who worked on murals.

The rest of Michaelangelo’s work on the chapel ceiling features other instances from Biblical accounts, but the central feature of the entire masterpiece is The Creation of Adam.

The bodily figures of both Adam and God are anatomically correct and proportional to the point of perfection. Many who have analyzed the work have noted that the shapes of the flowing red cloth outlining God are anatomically correct to that of a human brain, as well as the uterus, which is said to indicate the original miracle of life.

The image has remained one of the most iconic scenes in existence.

3. The Last Judgment – Michelangelo Buonarroti

Later in the life of Michelangelo, he would paint what has become one of the most famous murals of all time. The Last Judgement is a fresco painting that was done in 1541 on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, Italy.

The painting features a litany of religious figures who are portrayed as all being present during the last and final act of God’s judgement on mankind at the return of Jesus Christ.

While the painting has inspired much adoration from art lovers and critics alike, many religious figures accused Michelangelo of painting pagan symbols and items that are cleverly incorporated into the painting.

Jesus is the central figure of the masterpiece and is encircled by saints and prominent figures in Christian and Judaic theology.

The painting has remained surprisingly well-preserved and is considered one of Michelangelo’s greatest works, although he viewed painting as an inferior form of artistic expression to that of sculpture.

Regardless of the artist’s views on his work or the opinion of religious scholars, The Last Judgement is an awe-inspiring work that is arguably one of the best religious paintings in history.

4. Sistine Madonna – Raphael

The Renaissance period was full of some of the most gifted painters in history and the realism and level of detail of Raphael is nearly unable to be replicated.

His work titled Sistine Madonna was painted in 1512 and was commissioned by Pope Julius II as a gift to a monastery near Milan known as San Sisto in Piacenza.

The painting depicts the Virgin Mary, known as the Madonna, in the center of the painting holding the infant Jesus. On either side of the Virgin Mary are Saint Sixtus and Saint Barbara who are intently gazing upon the child Christ.

The painting has long been praised for its beauty and the gentle, caring nature while each figure in the painting was done. Perhaps two of the most easily-recognizable figures in the painting are the two cherubs featured staring innocently at Mary holding Jesus from beneath her feet.

5. Christ of Saint John of the Cross – Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali was known as one of the greatest surrealist painters in history, but his work titled Christ of Saint John of the Cross was one that features a thought provoking pose of Christ upon the cross.

Instead of his usual technique of warped figures and irregular objects, Dali painted the work from the view that God must have had as Christ hung upon the cross—which was based on a drawing from a 16th century friar named John of the Cross.

The work was an instant sensation in 1951 and has since been praised for its detail, as well as the truly unique point of view that it offers.

The painting has been recognized for the lack of blood and gore that is so often associated with crucifixion scenes of Christ. Dali said that he was inspired by a dream not to include the elements of blood or other details as it might ruin the work.

6. The Return of the Prodigal Son– Rembrandt van Rijn

Rembrandt van Rijn was widely known for the elements of realism in his paintings, especially those accentuated by light and darkness. His painting titled The Return of the Prodigal Son features one of the most famous parables of Jesus in which a father and son are reunited.

Rembrandt finished the work in 1669 and has been praised by art enthusiasts and critics for the emotional moment that is captured in the scene, as well as the extreme level of detail.

According to the Biblical account, the Prodigal Son leaves his father’s house with his early inheritance in hand only to return years later destitute and begging to be accepted back into the family’s home as a servant, as he no longer felt deserving of his father’s honor.

To his astonishment, his father welcomes the son back with open arms and rejoices while another son is undoubtedly scorned by such a reaction from his father.

The painting perfectly captures the moment of the Prodigal Son’s return to his father as he lovingly begs for forgiveness at his feet. The father is seen consoling his son as the brother looks on angrily.

7. The Burial of the Count of Orgaz – El Greco

The most famous painter in the Spanish Renaissance is known as El Greco, who bore the name Doménikos Theotokópoulos during his life. His work titled The Burial of the Count of Orgaz was commissioned in 1586 by the parish priest of Santo Tomé.

The painting was done to commemorate the life and miraculous funeral scene of Don Gonzalo Ruíz, who was dubbed the Count of Orgaz, and was widely known for his piety and philanthropy.

The painting is one that features both the real and unseen as the lower portion contains the clergy and leaders in Toledo, Spain at that time while the upper portion depicts angelic beings waiting to take the Count of Orgaz to heaven.

The work was easily the most famous of El Greco and is considered the most famous piece of the Spanish Renaissance.

8. The Calling of St Matthew – Caravaggio

Few artists are as well known for their ability to portray extreme levels of light and dark in the same way that Caravaggio could. His work titled The Calling of St. Matthew was completed in 1600 and features a powerful Biblical scene in which Jesus calls for Matthew to follow him.

The painting has gathered much acclaim for its remarkable realism as well as the emotions that are clearly portrayed in the figures in the work.

Jesus is seen beckoning to Matthew, who sits at the table of Roman tax collection, which was an occupation that garnered much shame among Jews at this time. Matthew is shown with a great deal of a shocked expression at the request of Jesus as tax collectors were often viewed as traitors to the Jewish faith.

9. The Angelus – Jean-François Millet

One of the most prominent figures in the French Realism Movement was Jean-François Millet, who was renowned for the uncanny realistic nature of his work.

The painting that is known as The Angelus was done in 1859 under the original title Prayer for the Potato Crop. Painted as a series featuring the lives of French peasants, Millet’s work is a testament to the harsh life that hardworking farmers had to endure during this era.

The painting shows two peasants, a man and woman, standing in the field after a long day’s work. With the sun fading on the horizon, the couple pray over their crop, which was undoubtedly connected to their survival at this difficult period in history.

The work has been praised for its realism, as well as the surprising amount of detail in the fading light.

10. The Immaculate Conception – Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo completed his most famous work in 1680 titled The Immaculate Conception. Many religious clerics and leaders of the day balked at the idea of a painting depicting this moment in religious history as the Virgin Mary is said to have miraculously conceived the Christ in her womb due to God’s intervention.

The painting features an angelic scene with Mary as the central figure, enveloped in clouds and a glowing light in the presence of God.

It is one of many famous angel paintings that were they are featured along side the Virgin Mary.

She is seen with small cherubs surrounding her legs as she stands upon a crescent moon, which is a reference to a famous verse in the book of Revelations.

Architecture of the Early Christian Church

After their persecution ended, Christians began to build larger buildings for worship than the meeting places they had been using.

Learning Objectives

Explain what replaced the Classical temple in Early Christian architecture and why

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Architectural formulas for temples were unsuitable, so the Christians used the model of the basilica , which had a central nave with one aisle at each side and an apse at one end. The transept was added to give the building a cruciform shape.
  • A Christian basilica of the fourth or fifth century that stood behind an entirely enclosed forecourt that was ringed with a colonnade or arcade . This forecourt was entered from the outside through a range of buildings that ran along the public street.
  • In the Eastern ( Byzantine ) Empire, churches tended to be centrally planned, with a central dome surrounded by at least one ambulatory .
  • The church of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy is a prime example of an Eastern, centrally planned church.

Key Terms

  • lunette: A half-moon shaped space, usually above a door or window, either filled with recessed masonry or void.
  • presbytery: A section of the church reserved for the clergy.
  • theophany: A manifestation of a deity to a human.
  • prothesis: The place in the sanctuary in which the Liturgy of Preparation takes place in the Eastern Orthodox churches.
  • fascia: A wide band of material that covers the ends of roof rafters, and sometimes supports a gutter in steep-slope roofing typically it is a border or trim in low-slope roofing.
  • basilica: A Christian church building that has a nave with a semicircular apse, side aisles, a narthex and a clerestory.
  • cloister: A covered walk, especially in a monastery, with an open colonnade on one side that runs along the walls of the buildings that face a quadrangle.
  • mullion: A vertical element that forms a division between the units of a window, door, or screen, or that is used decoratively.
  • triforium: A shallow, arched gallery within the thickness of an inner wall, above the nave of a church or cathedral.
  • diaconicon: In Eastern Orthodox churches, the name given to a chamber on the south side of the central apse of the church, where the vestments, books, and so on that are used in the Divine Services of the church are kept.
  • clerestory: The upper part of a wall that contains windows that let in natural light to a building, especially in the nave, transept, and choir of a church or cathedral.

Early Christian Architecture

After their persecution ended in the fourth century, Christians began to erect buildings that were larger and more elaborate than the house churches where they used to worship. However, what emerged was an architectural style distinct from classical pagan forms .

Architectural formulas for temples were deemed unsuitable. This was not simply for their pagan associations, but because pagan cult and sacrifices occurred outdoors under the open sky in the sight of the gods. The temple, housing the cult figures and the treasury , served as a backdrop. Therefore, Christians began using the model of the basilica, which had a central nave with one aisle at each side and an apse at one end.

Old St. Peter’s and the Western Basilica

The basilica model was adopted in the construction of Old St. Peter’s church in Rome . What stands today is New St. Peter’s church, which replaced the original during the Italian Renaissance.

Whereas the original Roman basilica was rectangular with at least one apse, usually facing North, the Christian builders made several symbolic modifications. Between the nave and the apse, they added a transept, which ran perpendicular to the nave. This addition gave the building a cruciform shape to memorialize the Crucifixion.

The apse, which held the altar and the Eucharist, now faced East, in the direction of the rising sun. However, the apse of Old St. Peter’s faced West to commemorate the church’s namesake, who, according to the popular narrative, was crucified upside down.

Plan of Old St. Peter’s Basilica: One of the first Christian churches in Rome, Old St. Peter’s followed the plan of the Roman basilica and added a transept (labeled Bema in this diagram) to give the church a cruciform shape.

Exterior reconstruction of Old St. Peter’s: This reconstruction depicts an idea of how the church appeared in the fourth century.

A Christian basilica of the fourth or fifth century stood behind its entirely enclosed forecourt. It was ringed with a colonnade or arcade, like the stoa or peristyle that was its ancestor, or like the cloister that was its descendant. This forecourt was entered from outside through a range of buildings along the public street.

In basilicas of the former Western Roman Empire, the central nave is taller than the aisles and forms a row of windows called a clerestory . In the Eastern Empire (also known as the Byzantine Empire, which continued until the fifteenth century), churches were centrally planned. The Church of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy is prime example of an Eastern church.

San Vitale

The church of San Vitale is highly significant in Byzantine art, as it is the only major church from the period of the Eastern Emperor Justinian I to survive virtually intact to the present day. While much of Italy was under the rule of the Western Emperor, Ravenna came under the rule of Justinian I in 540.

San Vitale: Unlike Western churches like St. Peter’s, San Vitale consists of a central dome surrounded by two ambulatories. This is known as a centrally planned church.

The church was begun by Bishop Ecclesius in 527, when Ravenna was under the rule of the Ostrogoths, and completed by the twenty-seventh Bishop of Ravenna, Maximian, in 546 during the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna. The architect or architects of the church is unknown.

The construction of the church was sponsored by a Greek banker, Julius Argentarius, and the final cost amounted to 26,000 solidi (gold pieces). The church has an octagonal plan and combines Roman elements (the dome, shape of doorways, and stepped towers) with Byzantine elements (a polygonal apse, capitals , and narrow bricks). The church is most famous for its wealth of Byzantine mosaics —they are the largest and best preserved mosaics outside of Constantinople.

The central section is surrounded by two superposed ambulatories, or covered passages around a cloister. The upper one, the matrimoneum, was reserved for married women. A series of mosaics in the lunettes above the triforia depict sacrifices from the Old Testament.

On the side walls, the corners, next to the mullioned windows, are mosaics of the Four Evangelists, who are dressed in white under their symbols (angel, lion, ox and eagle). The cross-ribbed vault in the presbytery is richly ornamented with mosaic festoons of leaves, fruit, and flowers that converge on a crown that encircles the Lamb of God.

The crown is supported by four angels, and every surface is covered with a profusion of flowers, stars, birds, and animals, specifically many peacocks. Above the arch , on both sides, two angels hold a disc. Beside them are representations of the cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. These two cities symbolize the human race.

The presbytery at San Vitale: The cross-ribbed vault in the presbytery is richly ornamented with mosaic festoons of leaves, fruit and flowers that converge on a crown encircling the Lamb of God.

Religious Displays and the Courts

In a new series of occasional reports, “Religion and the Courts: The Pillars of Church-State Law,” the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life explores the complex, fluid relationship between government and religion. Among the issues to be examined are religion in public schools, displays of religious symbols on public property, conflicts concerning the free exercise of religion, and government funding of faith-based organizations.

Over the last three decades, government displays of religious symbols have sparked fierce battles, both in the courtroom and in the court of public opinion. Indeed, disputes over seasonal religious displays have themselves become an annual holiday tradition. Each year as the winter holidays approach, Americans across the country debate the appropriateness of the government sponsoring, or even permitting, the display of Christmas nativity scenes, Hanukkah menorahs and other religious holiday symbols on public property.

The Pillars of Church-State Law

The Legal Status of Religious Organizations in Civil Lawsuits
March 2011
Are legal disputes involving churches and other religious institutions constitutionally different from those involving their secular counterparts, and if so, how?

Government Funding of Faith-Based Organizations
May 2009
The debate over the meaning of the Establishment Clause.

Free Exercise and the Legislative and Executive Branches
October 2008
A look at state and federal statutes that protect religious freedom.

Free Exercise and the Courts
October 2007
The courts have grappled with the meaning of the Free Exercise Clause.

Religious Displays and the Courts
June 2007
Government displays of religious symbols have sparked fierce battles.

Religion in the Public Schools
October 2019
Americans continue to fight over the place of religion in public schools.

Polls show that a large majority of Americans support this type of government acknowledgment of religion. In a 2005 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 83 percent of Americans said displays of Christmas symbols should be allowed on government property. In another 2005 Pew Research Center poll, 74 percent of Americans said they believe it is proper to display the Ten Commandments in government buildings.

The Supreme Court first addressed the constitutionality of public religious displays in 1980 when it reviewed a Kentucky law requiring public schools to display the Ten Commandments in classrooms. The court determined that the Kentucky measure amounted to government sponsorship of religion and was therefore unconstitutional. According to the court, the law violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which prohibits government from establishing a religion and from favoring one religion over another, or from favoring religion generally over nonreligious beliefs.

Four years later, the court took up its first case that specifically involved holiday displays. In that case, the court ruled that a Christmas nativity scene that the city of Pawtucket, R.I., had placed in a municipal square was constitutionally acceptable. The court stated that the nativity scene simply recognized the historical origins of the holiday, one that has secular as well as religious significance. In those circumstances, the justices concluded, the nativity scene did not reflect an effort by the government to promote Christianity.

Since these two decisions in the 1980s, the Supreme Court and lower federal courts have issued somewhat unpredictable rulings, approving some religious displays while ordering others to be removed. For instance, five years after approving the Pawtucket nativity scene, the Supreme Court ruled that a nativity scene on the staircase of a Pittsburgh, Pa., courthouse was unconstitutional. In that instance, the court concluded that, unlike the situation in Pawtucket where the crèche was shown together with more secular symbols, the Pittsburgh crèche was prominently displayed on its own and thus amounted to a government endorsement of religion.

In 2005, the court ruled divergently in two cases involving permanent displays of the Ten Commandments. In one instance, the court decided that the relatively recent placement of the Ten Commandments in courthouses in two Kentucky counties violated the Establishment Clause because a “reasonable observer” would conclude that the counties intended to highlight the religious nature of the document. In the other case, however, the court ruled that a display of the Ten Commandments that had stood for more than 40 years on the grounds of the Texas state Capitol did not violate the Establishment Clause because a reasonable observer would not see the display as predominantly religious.

In reaching these decisions, the Supreme Court has relied heavily on a close examination of the particular history and context of each display and has largely sidestepped setting clear rules that would assist lower courts in deciding future cases. One result is a great deal of uncertainty about whether and how communities can commemorate religious holidays or acknowledge religious sentiments.

The lack of clear guidelines reflects deep divisions within the Supreme Court itself. Some justices are more committed to strict church-state separation and tend to rule that any government-sponsored religious display violates the Establishment Clause. These same justices also believe that, in some circumstances, the Establishment Clause may forbid private citizens from placing religious displays on public property.

Other members of the court read the Establishment Clause far more narrowly, arguing that it leaves ample room for religion in the public square. In recognition of the role that religion has played in U.S. history, these justices have been willing to allow government to sponsor a wide variety of religious displays. In addition, they have ruled that the Establishment Clause never bars private citizens from placing religious displays in publicly owned spaces that are generally open to everyone.

A third set of justices has held the middle and, so far, controlling ground. This group takes the view that a religious display placed in a public space violates the Establishment Clause only when it conveys the message that the government is endorsing a religious truth, such as the divinity of Jesus. For these justices, this same principle applies whether the display is sponsored by the government or by private citizens.

These divisions and occasional shifts have led to what many observers say are conflicting or inconsistent decisions on displays that are strikingly similar. Whether the appointments to the Supreme Court of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito will clarify the picture remains to be seen. Regardless, the struggles over public religious displays have confirmed Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ observation in 1890: “We live by symbols.” He might have added that we fight over them too.


Al-Qaeda only indirectly controls its day-to-day operations. Its philosophy calls for the centralization of decision making, while allowing for the decentralization of execution. [50] Al-Qaeda's top leaders have defined the organization's ideology and guiding strategy, and they have also articulated simple and easy-to-receive messages. At the same time, mid-level organizations were given autonomy, but they had to consult with top management before large-scale attacks and assassinations. Top management included the shura council as well as committees on military operations, finance, and information sharing. Through al-Qaeda's information committees, he placed special emphasis on communicating with his groups. [51] However, after the War on Terror, al-Qaeda's leadership has become isolated. As a result, the leadership has become decentralized, and the organization has become regionalized into several al-Qaeda groups. [52] [53]

Many terrorism experts do not believe that the global jihadist movement is driven at every level by al-Qaeda's leadership. However, bin Laden held considerable ideological sway over some Muslim extremists before his death. Experts argue that al-Qaeda has fragmented into a number of disparate regional movements, and that these groups bear little connection with one another. [54]

This view mirrors the account given by Osama bin Laden in his October 2001 interview with Tayseer Allouni:

this matter isn't about any specific person and . is not about the al-Qa'idah Organization. We are the children of an Islamic Nation, with Prophet Muhammad as its leader, our Lord is one . and all the true believers [mu'mineen] are brothers. So the situation isn't like the West portrays it, that there is an 'organization' with a specific name (such as 'al-Qa'idah') and so on. That particular name is very old. It was born without any intention from us. Brother Abu Ubaida . created a military base to train the young men to fight against the vicious, arrogant, brutal, terrorizing Soviet empire . So this place was called 'The Base' ['Al-Qa'idah'], as in a training base, so this name grew and became. We aren't separated from this nation. We are the children of a nation, and we are an inseparable part of it, and from those public demonstrations which spread from the far east, from the Philippines to Indonesia, to Malaysia, to India, to Pakistan, reaching Mauritania . and so we discuss the conscience of this nation. [55]

Bruce Hoffman, however, sees al-Qaeda as a cohesive network that is strongly led from the Pakistani tribal areas. [54]


Al-Qaeda has the following direct affiliates:

The following are presently believed to be indirect affiliates of al-Qaeda:

Al-Qaeda's former affiliates include the following:

    (pledged allegiance to ISIL in 2014 [64] ) (joined JNIM in 2017 [65] ) (became the Islamic State of Iraq, which later seceded from al-Qaeda and became ISIL) (inactive since 2015 [66] ) (majority merged with ISIL in 2014) (joined JNIM in 2017 [65] ) (became AQAP) (defunct) (merged with Al-Mulathameen to form Al-Mourabitoun in 2013) [citation needed] (defunct) (became Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and split ties in 2017, disputed) (pledged alliance to ISIL and adopted the name Sinai Province)


Osama bin Laden (1988 – May 2011)

Osama bin Laden served as the emir of al-Qaeda from the organization's founding in 1988 until his assassination by US forces on May 1, 2011. [67] Atiyah Abd al-Rahman was alleged to be second in command prior to his death on August 22, 2011. [68]

Bin Laden was advised by a Shura Council, which consists of senior al-Qaeda members. [69] The group was estimated to consist of 20–30 people.

After May 2011

Ayman al-Zawahiri had been al-Qaeda's deputy emir and assumed the role of emir following bin Laden's death. Al-Zawahiri replaced Saif al-Adel, who had served as interim commander. [70]

On June 5, 2012, Pakistani intelligence officials announced that al-Rahman's alleged successor as second in command, Abu Yahya al-Libi, had been killed in Pakistan. [71]

Nasir al-Wuhayshi was alleged to have become al-Qaeda's overall second in command and general manager in 2013. He was concurrently the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) until he was killed by a US airstrike in Yemen in June 2015. [72]

Abu Khayr al-Masri, Wuhayshi's alleged successor as the deputy to Ayman al-Zawahiri, was killed by a US airstrike in Syria in February 2017. [73]

Al-Qaeda's network was built from scratch as a conspiratorial network which drew upon the leadership of a number of regional nodes. [74] The organization divided itself into several committees, which include:

  • The Military Committee, which is responsible for training operatives, acquiring weapons, and planning attacks.
  • The Money/Business Committee, which funds the recruitment and training of operatives through the hawala banking system. US-led efforts to eradicate the sources of "terrorist financing" [75] were most successful in the year immediately following the September 11 attacks. [76] Al-Qaeda continues to operate through unregulated banks, such as the 1,000 or so hawaladars in Pakistan, some of which can handle deals of up to US$10 million. [77] The committee also procures false passports, pays al-Qaeda members, and oversees profit-driven businesses. [78] In the 9/11 Commission Report, it was estimated that al-Qaeda required $30 million per year to conduct its operations.
  • The Law Committee reviews Sharia law, and decides upon courses of action conform to it.
  • The Islamic Study/Fatwah Committee issues religious edicts, such as an edict in 1998 telling Muslims to kill Americans.
  • The Media Committee ran the now-defunct newspaper Nashrat al Akhbar (English: Newscast ) and handled public relations.
  • In 2005, al-Qaeda formed As-Sahab, a media production house, to supply its video and audio materials.

Command structure

Most of Al Qaeda's top leaders and operational directors were veterans who fought against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, were the leaders who were considered the operational commanders of the organization. [79] Nevertheless, Al-Qaeda is not operationally managed by Ayman al-Zawahiri. Several operational groups exist, which consult with the leadership in situations where attacks are in preparation. [80]

When asked in 2005 about the possibility of al-Qaeda's connection to the July 7, 2005 London bombings, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair said: "Al-Qaeda is not an organization. Al-Qaeda is a way of working . but this has the hallmark of that approach . al-Qaeda clearly has the ability to provide training . to provide expertise . and I think that is what has occurred here." [81] On August 13, 2005, The Independent newspaper, reported that the July 7 bombers had acted independently of an al-Qaeda mastermind. [82]

Nasser al-Bahri, who was Osama bin Laden's bodyguard for four years in the run-up to 9/11 wrote in his memoir a highly detailed description of how the group functioned at that time. Al-Bahri described al-Qaeda's formal administrative structure and vast arsenal. [83] However, the author Adam Curtis argued that the idea of al-Qaeda as a formal organization is primarily an American invention. Curtis contended the name "al-Qaeda" was first brought to the attention of the public in the 2001 trial of bin Laden and the four men accused of the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa. Curtis wrote:

The reality was that bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri had become the focus of a loose association of disillusioned Islamist militants who were attracted by the new strategy. But there was no organization. These were militants who mostly planned their own operations and looked to bin Laden for funding and assistance. He was not their commander. There is also no evidence that bin Laden used the term "al-Qaeda" to refer to the name of a group until after September 11 attacks, when he realized that this was the term the Americans had given it. [84]

During the 2001 trial, the US Department of Justice needed to show that bin Laden was the leader of a criminal organization in order to charge him in absentia under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The name of the organization and details of its structure were provided in the testimony of Jamal al-Fadl, who said he was a founding member of the group and a former employee of bin Laden. [85] Questions about the reliability of al-Fadl's testimony have been raised by a number of sources because of his history of dishonesty, and because he was delivering it as part of a plea bargain agreement after being convicted of conspiring to attack US military establishments. [86] [87] Sam Schmidt, a defense attorney who defended al-Fadl said:

There were selective portions of al-Fadl's testimony that I believe was false, to help support the picture that he helped the Americans join together. I think he lied in a number of specific testimony about a unified image of what this organization was. It made al-Qaeda the new Mafia or the new Communists. It made them identifiable as a group and therefore made it easier to prosecute any person associated with al-Qaeda for any acts or statements made by bin Laden. [84]

Field operatives

The number of individuals in the group who have undergone proper military training, and are capable of commanding insurgent forces, is largely unknown. Documents captured in the raid on bin Laden's compound in 2011 show that the core al-Qaeda membership in 2002 was 170. [88] In 2006, it was estimated that al-Qaeda had several thousand commanders embedded in 40 different countries. [89] As of 2009 [update] , it was believed that no more than 200–300 members were still active commanders. [90]

According to the 2004 BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares, al-Qaeda was so weakly linked together that it was hard to say it existed apart from bin Laden and a small clique of close associates. The lack of any significant numbers of convicted al-Qaeda members, despite a large number of arrests on terrorism charges, was cited by the documentary as a reason to doubt whether a widespread entity that met the description of al-Qaeda existed. [91] Al-Qaeda's commanders, as well as its sleeping agents, are hiding in different parts of the world to this day. They are mainly hunted by the American and Israeli secret services. Al Qaeda's number two leader, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, was killed by Israeli agents. His pseudonym was Abu Muhammad al-Masri, who was killed in November 2020 in Iran. He was involved in the 1988 assassination attempt on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. [92]

Insurgent forces

According to author Robert Cassidy, al-Qaeda maintains two separate forces which are deployed alongside insurgents in Iraq and Pakistan. The first, numbering in the tens of thousands, was "organized, trained, and equipped as insurgent combat forces" in the Soviet–Afghan war. [89] The force was composed primarily of foreign mujahideen from Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Many of these fighters went on to fight in Bosnia and Somalia for global jihad. Another group, which numbered 10,000 in 2006, live in the West and have received rudimentary combat training. [89]

Other analysts have described al-Qaeda's rank and file as being "predominantly Arab" in its first years of operation, but that the organization also includes "other peoples" as of 2007 [update] . [93] It has been estimated that 62 percent of al-Qaeda members have a university education. [94] In 2011 and the following year, the Americans successfully settled accounts with Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki, the organization's chief propagandist, and Abu Yahya al-Libi's deputy commander. The optimistic voices were already saying it was over for al-Qaeda. Nevertheless, it was around this time that the Arab Spring greeted the region, the turmoil of which came great to al-Qaeda's regional forces. Seven years later, Ayman al-Zawahiri became arguably the number one leader in the organization, implementing his strategy with systematic consistency. Tens of thousands loyal to al-Qaeda and related organizations were able to challenge local and regional stability and ruthlessly attack their enemies in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe and Russia alike. In fact, from Northwest Africa to South Asia, al-Qaeda had more than two dozen “franchise-based” allies. The number of al-Qaeda militants was set at 20,000 in Syria alone, and they had 4,000 members in Yemen and about 7,000 in Somalia. The war was not over. [95]


Al-Qaeda usually does not disburse funds for attacks, and very rarely makes wire transfers. [96] In the 1990s, financing came partly from the personal wealth of Osama bin Laden. [97] Other sources of income included the heroin trade and donations from supporters in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Islamic Gulf states. [97] A WikiLeaks-released 2009 internal US government cable stated that "terrorist funding emanating from Saudi Arabia remains a serious concern." [98]

Among the first pieces of evidence regarding Saudi Arabia's support for al-Qaeda was the so-called "Golden Chain", a list of early al-Qaeda funders seized during a 2002 raid in Sarajevo by Bosnian police. [99] The hand-written list was validated by al-Qaeda defector Jamal al-Fadl, and included the names of both donors and beneficiaries. [99] [100] Osama bin-Laden's name appeared seven times among the beneficiaries, while 20 Saudi and Gulf-based businessmen and politicians were listed among the donors. [99] Notable donors included Adel Batterjee, and Wael Hamza Julaidan. Batterjee was designated as a terror financier by the US Department of the Treasury in 2004, and Julaidan is recognized as one of al-Qaeda's founders. [99]

Documents seized during the 2002 Bosnia raid showed that al-Qaeda widely exploited charities to channel financial and material support to its operatives across the globe. [101] Notably, this activity exploited the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and the Muslim World League (MWL). The IIRO had ties with al-Qaeda associates worldwide, including al-Qaeda's deputy Ayman al Zawahiri. Zawahiri's brother worked for the IIRO in Albania and had actively recruited on behalf of al-Qaeda. [102] The MWL was openly identified by al-Qaeda's leader as one of the three charities al-Qaeda primarily relied upon for funding sources. [102]

Allegations of Qatari support

Several Qatari citizens have been accused of funding al-Qaeda. This includes Abd Al-Rahman al-Nuaimi, a Qatari citizen and a human-rights activist who founded the Swiss-based non-governmental organization (NGO) Alkarama. On December 18, 2013, the US Treasury designated Nuaimi as a terrorist for his activities supporting al-Qaeda. [103] The US Treasury has said Nuaimi "has facilitated significant financial support to al-Qaeda in Iraq, and served as an interlocutor between al-Qaeda in Iraq and Qatar-based donors". [103]

Nuaimi was accused of overseeing a $2 million monthly transfer to al-Qaeda in Iraq as part of his role as mediator between Iraq-based al-Qaeda senior officers and Qatari citizens. [103] [104] Nuaimi allegedly entertained relationships with Abu-Khalid al-Suri, al-Qaeda's top envoy in Syria, who processed a $600,000 transfer to al-Qaeda in 2013. [103] [104] Nuaimi is also known to be associated with Abd al-Wahhab Muhammad 'Abd al-Rahman al-Humayqani, a Yemeni politician and founding member of Alkarama, who was listed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) by the US Treasury in 2013. [105] The US authorities claimed that Humayqani exploited his role in Alkarama to fundraise on behalf of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). [103] [105] A prominent figure in AQAP, Nuaimi was also reported to have facilitated the flow of funding to AQAP affiliates based in Yemen. Nuaimi was also accused of investing funds in the charity directed by Humayqani to ultimately fund AQAP. [103] About ten months after being sanctioned by the US Treasury, Nuaimi was also restrained from doing business in the UK. [106]

Another Qatari citizen, Kalifa Mohammed Turki Subayi, was sanctioned by the US Treasury on June 5, 2008, for his activities as a "Gulf-based al-Qaeda financier". Subayi's name was added to the UN Security Council's Sanctions List in 2008 on charges of providing financial and material support to al-Qaeda senior leadership. [104] [107] Subayi allegedly moved al-Qaeda recruits to South Asia-based training camps. [104] [107] He also financially supported Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a Pakistani national and senior al-Qaeda officer who is believed to be the mastermind behind the September 11 attack according to the September 11 Commission report. [108]

Qataris provided support to al-Qaeda through the country's largest NGO, the Qatar Charity. Al-Qaeda defector al-Fadl, who was a former member of Qatar Charity, testified in court that Abdullah Mohammed Yusef, who served as Qatar Charity's director, was affiliated to al-Qaeda and simultaneously to the National Islamic Front, a political group that gave al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden harbor in Sudan in the early 1990s. [100]

Legal proceedings from the trial United States vs. Enaam M. Arnaout revealed that Qatar Charity was cited by Bin Laden in 1993 as one of the charities used to channel financial support to al-Qaeda operatives overseas. The same documents also report Bin Laden's complaint that the failed assassination attempt of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had compromised the ability of al-Qaeda to exploit charities to support its operatives to the extent it was capable of before 1995. [ citation needed ]

It is alleged [ who? ] that the Qatar Charity gave financial support to members of al-Qaeda in Chechnya. This accusation was publicly denied by Hamad bin Nasser al-Thani. [109] Qatar Charity is among the NGOs allegedly channelling funds to Ansar Dine in North Mali, according to French military intelligence reports from France's intervention in the country in early 2013. [109] [110]

Qatar financed al-Qaeda's enterprises through al-Qaeda's former affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra. The funding was primarily channeled through kidnapping for ransom. [111] The Consortium Against Terrorist Finance (CATF) reported that the Gulf country has funded al-Nusra since 2013. [111] In 2017, Asharq Al-Awsat estimated that Qatar had disbursed $25 million in support of al-Nusra through kidnapping for ransom. [112] In addition, Qatar has launched fundraising campaigns on behalf of al-Nusra. Al-Nusra acknowledged a Qatar-sponsored campaign "as one of the preferred conduits for donations intended for the group". [113] [114]

In the disagreement over whether Al-Qaeda's objectives are religious or political, Mark Sedgwick describes Al-Qaeda's strategy as political in the immediate term but with ultimate aims that are religious. [115] On March 11, 2005, Al-Quds Al-Arabi published extracts from Saif al-Adel's document "Al Qaeda's Strategy to the Year 2020". [116] [117] Abdel Bari Atwan summarizes this strategy as comprising five stages to rid the Ummah from all forms of oppression:

  1. Provoke the United States and the West into invading a Muslim country by staging a massive attack or string of attacks on US soil that results in massive civilian casualties.
  2. Incite local resistance to occupying forces.
  3. Expand the conflict to neighboring countries and engage the US and its allies in a long war of attrition.
  4. Convert al-Qaeda into an ideology and set of operating principles that can be loosely franchised in other countries without requiring direct command and control, and via these franchises incite attacks against the US and countries allied with the US until they withdraw from the conflict, as happened with the 2004 Madrid train bombings, but which did not have the same effect with the July 7, 2005 London bombings.
  5. The US economy will finally collapse by the year 2020, under the strain of multiple engagements in numerous places. This will lead to a collapse in the worldwide economic system, and lead to global political instability. This will lead to a global jihad led by al-Qaeda, and a WahhabiCaliphate will then be installed across the world.

Atwan noted that, while the plan is unrealistic, "it is sobering to consider that this virtually describes the downfall of the Soviet Union." [116]

According to Fouad Hussein, a Jordanian journalist and author who has spent time in prison with Al-Zarqawi, Al Qaeda's strategy consists of seven phases and is similar to the plan described in Al Qaeda's Strategy to the year 2020. These phases include: [118]

  1. "The Awakening." This phase was supposed to last from 2001 to 2003. The goal of the phase is to provoke the United States to attack a Muslim country by executing an attack that kills many civilians on US soil.
  2. "Opening Eyes." This phase was supposed to last from 2003 to 2006. The goal of this phase was to recruit young men to the cause and to transform the al-Qaeda group into a movement. Iraq was supposed to become the center of all operations with financial and military support for bases in other states.
  3. "Arising and Standing up", was supposed to last from 2007 to 2010. In this phase, al-Qaeda wanted to execute additional attacks and focus their attention on Syria. Hussein believed other countries in the Arabian Peninsula were also in danger.
  4. Al-Qaeda expected a steady growth among their ranks and territories due to the declining power of the regimes in the Arabian Peninsula. The main focus of attack in this phase was supposed to be on oil suppliers and cyberterrorism, targeting the US economy and military infrastructure.
  5. The declaration of an Islamic Caliphate, which was projected between 2013 and 2016. In this phase, al-Qaeda expected the resistance from Israel to be heavily reduced.
  6. The declaration of an "Islamic Army" and a "fight between believers and non-believers", also called "total confrontation".
  7. "Definitive Victory", projected to be completed by 2020.

According to the seven-phase strategy, the war is projected to last less than two years.

According to Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute and Katherine Zimmerman of the American Enterprise Institute, the new model of al-Qaeda is to "socialize communities" and build a broad territorial base of operations with the support of local communities, also gaining income independent of the funding of sheiks. [119]

The English name of the organization is a simplified transliteration of the Arabic noun al-qāʿidah (‏ القاعدة ‎), which means "the foundation" or "the base". The initial al- is the Arabic definite article "the", hence "the base". [120]

In Arabic, al-Qaeda has four syllables ( /alˈqaː.ʕi.da/ ). However, since two of the Arabic consonants in the name are not phones found in the English language, the common naturalized English pronunciations include / æ l ˈ k aɪ d ə / , / æ l ˈ k eɪ d ə / and / ˌ æ l k ɑː ˈ iː d ə / . Al-Qaeda's name can also be transliterated as al-Qaida, al-Qa'ida, or el-Qaida. [121]

Bin Laden explained the origin of the term in a videotaped interview with Al Jazeera journalist Tayseer Alouni in October 2001:

The name 'al-Qaeda' was established a long time ago by mere chance. The late Abu Ebeida El-Banashiri established the training camps for our mujahedeen against Russia's terrorism. We used to call the training camp al-Qaeda. The name stayed. [122]

It has been argued that two documents seized from the Sarajevo office of the Benevolence International Foundation prove the name was not simply adopted by the mujahideen movement and that a group called al-Qaeda was established in August 1988. Both of these documents contain minutes of meetings held to establish a new military group, and contain the term "al-Qaeda". [123]

Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook wrote that the word al-Qaeda should be translated as "the database", because it originally referred to the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen militants who were recruited and trained with CIA help to defeat the Russians. [124] In April 2002, the group assumed the name Qa'idat al-Jihad ( قاعدة الجهاد qāʿidat al-jihād), which means "the base of Jihad". According to Diaa Rashwan, this was "apparently as a result of the merger of the overseas branch of Egypt's al-Jihad, which was led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, with the groups Bin Laden brought under his control after his return to Afghanistan in the mid-1990s." [125]

The radical Islamist movement developed during the Islamic revival and the rise of the Islamist movement after the Iranian Revolution (1978-1979).

Some have argued that the writings of Islamic author and thinker Sayyid Qutb inspired the al-Qaeda organization. [126] In the 1950s and 1960s, Qutb preached that because of the lack of sharia law, the Muslim world was no longer Muslim, and had reverted to the pre-Islamic ignorance known as jahiliyyah. To restore Islam, Qutb argued that a vanguard of righteous Muslims was needed in order to establish "true Islamic states", implement sharia, and rid the Muslim world of any non-Muslim influences. In Qutb's view, the enemies of Islam included "world Jewry", which "plotted conspiracies" and opposed Islam. [127]

In the words of Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, a close college friend of bin Laden:

Islam is different from any other religion it's a way of life. We [Khalifa and bin Laden] were trying to understand what Islam has to say about how we eat, who we marry, how we talk. We read Sayyid Qutb. He was the one who most affected our generation. [128]

Qutb also influenced bin Laden's mentor, Ayman al-Zawahiri. [129] Zawahiri's uncle and maternal family patriarch, Mafouz Azzam, was Qutb's student, protégé, personal lawyer, and an executor of his estate. Azzam was one of the last people to see Qutb alive before his execution. [130] Zawahiri paid homage to Qutb in his work Knights under the Prophet's Banner. [131]

Qutb argued that many Muslims were not true Muslims. Some Muslims, Qutb argued, were apostates. These alleged apostates included leaders of Muslim countries, since they failed to enforce sharia law. [132]

The Afghan jihad against the pro-Soviet government further developed the Salafist Jihadist movement which inspired Al-Qaeda. [133]

While the leadership's own theological platform is essentially Salafi, the organization's umbrella is sufficiently wide to encompass various schools of thought and political leanings. Al-Qaeda counts among its members and supporters people associated with Wahhabism, Shafi'ism, Malikism, and Hanafism. There are even some Al-Qaeda members whose beliefs and practices are directly at odds with Salafism, such as Yunis Khalis, one of the leaders of the Afghan mujahedin. He was a mystic who visited the tombs of saints and sought their blessings – practices inimical to bin Laden's Wahhabi-Salafi school of thought. The only exception to this pan-Islamic policy is Shi'ism. Al-Qaeda seems implacably opposed to it, as it holds Shi'ism to be heresy. In Iraq it has openly declared war on the Badr Brigades, who have fully cooperated with the US, and now considers even Shi'i civilians to be legitimate targets for acts of violence. [134]

Attacks on civilians

Following its 9/11 attack and in response to its condemnation by Islamic scholars, Al-Qaeda provided a justification for the killing of non-combatants/civilians, entitled, "A Statement from Qaidat al-Jihad Regarding the Mandates of the Heroes and the Legality of the Operations in New York and Washington". According to a couple of critics, Quintan Wiktorowicz and John Kaltner, it provides "ample theological justification for killing civilians in almost any imaginable situation." [135]

Among these justifications are that America is leading the west in waging a War on Islam so that attacks on America are a defense of Islam and any treaties and agreements between Muslim majority states and Western countries that would be violated by attacks are null and void. According to the tract, several conditions allow for the killing of civilians including:

  • retaliation for the American war on Islam which al-Qaeda alleges has targeted "Muslim women, children and elderly"
  • when it is too difficult to distinguish between non-combatants and combatants when attacking an enemy "stronghold" (hist) and/or non-combatants remain in enemy territory, killing them is allowed
  • those who assist the enemy "in deed, word, mind" are eligible for killing, and this includes the general population in democratic countries because civilians can vote in elections that bring enemies of Islam to power
  • the necessity of killing in the war to protect Islam and Muslims
  • the prophet Muhammad, when asked whether the Muslim fighters could use the catapult against the village of Taif, replied affirmatively, even though the enemy fighters were mixed with a civilian population
  • if the women, children and other protected groups serve as human shields for the enemy
  • if the enemy has broken a treaty, killing of civilians is permitted. [135]

The Guardian in 2009 described five distinct phases in the development of al-Qaeda: its beginnings in the late 1980s, a "wilderness" period in 1990–1996, its "heyday" in 1996–2001, a network period from 2001 to 2005, and a period of fragmentation from 2005 to 2009. [136]

Jihad in Afghanistan

The origins of al-Qaeda can be traced to the Soviet War in Afghanistan (December 1979 – February 1989). [9] The United States viewed the conflict in Afghanistan in terms of the Cold War, with Marxists on one side and the native Afghan mujahideen on the other. This view led to a CIA program called Operation Cyclone, which channeled funds through Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency to the Afghan Mujahideen. [137] The US government provided substantial financial support to the Afghan Islamic militants. Aid to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Afghan mujahideen leader and founder of the Hezb-e Islami, amounted to more than $600 million. In addition to American aid, Hekmatyar was the recipient of Saudi aid. [138] In the early 1990s, after the US had withdrawn support, Hekmatyar "worked closely" with bin Laden. [139]

At the same time, a growing number of Arab mujahideen joined the jihad against the Afghan Marxist regime, which was facilitated by international Muslim organizations, particularly the Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK). [140] In 1984, MAK was established in Peshawar, Pakistan, by bin Laden and Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, a Palestinian Islamic scholar and member of the Muslim Brotherhood. MAK organized guest houses in Peshawar, near the Afghan border, and gathered supplies for the construction of paramilitary training camps to prepare foreign recruits for the Afghan war front. MAK was funded by the Saudi government as well as by individual Muslims including Saudi businessmen. [141] [ page needed ] Bin Laden also became a major financier of the mujahideen, spending his own money and using his connections to influence public opinion about the war. [142]

From 1986, MAK began to set up a network of recruiting offices in the US, the hub of which was the Al Kifah Refugee Center at the Farouq Mosque on Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue. Among notable figures at the Brooklyn center were "double agent" Ali Mohamed, whom FBI special agent Jack Cloonan called "bin Laden's first trainer", [143] and "Blind Sheikh" Omar Abdel-Rahman, a leading recruiter of mujahideen for Afghanistan. Azzam and bin Laden began to establish camps in Afghanistan in 1987. [144]

MAK and foreign mujahideen volunteers, or "Afghan Arabs", did not play a major role in the war. While over 250,000 Afghan mujahideen fought the Soviets and the communist Afghan government, it is estimated that there were never more than two thousand foreign mujahideen on the field at any one time. [145] Nonetheless, foreign mujahideen volunteers came from 43 countries, and the total number who participated in the Afghan movement between 1982 and 1992 is reported to have been 35,000. [146] Bin Laden played a central role in organizing training camps for the foreign Muslim volunteers. [147] [148]

The Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. Mohammad Najibullah's Communist Afghan government lasted for three more years, before it was overrun by elements of the mujahideen.

Expanding operations

Toward the end of the Soviet military mission in Afghanistan, some foreign mujahideen wanted to expand their operations to include Islamist struggles in other parts of the world, such as Palestine and Kashmir. A number of overlapping and interrelated organizations were formed, to further those aspirations. One of these was the organization that would eventually be called al-Qaeda.

Research suggests that al-Qaeda was formed on August 11, 1988, when a meeting in Afghanistan between leaders of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Abdullah Azzam, and bin Laden took place. [149] An agreement was reached to link bin Laden's money with the expertise of the Islamic Jihad organization and take up the jihadist cause elsewhere after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan. [150]

Notes indicate al-Qaeda was a formal group by August 20, 1988. A list of requirements for membership itemized the following: listening ability, good manners, obedience, and making a pledge (bayat ) to follow one's superiors. [151] In his memoir, bin Laden's former bodyguard, Nasser al-Bahri, gives the only publicly available description of the ritual of giving bayat when he swore his allegiance to the al-Qaeda chief. [152] According to Wright, the group's real name was not used in public pronouncements because "its existence was still a closely held secret." [153]

After Azzam was assassinated in 1989 and MAK broke up, significant numbers of MAK followers joined bin Laden's new organization. [ citation needed ]

In November 1989, Ali Mohamed, a former special forces sergeant stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, left military service and moved to California. He traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan and became "deeply involved with bin Laden's plans." [154] In 1991, Ali Mohammed is said to have helped orchestrate bin Laden's relocation to Sudan. [155]

Gulf War and the start of US enmity

Following the Soviet Union's withdrawal from Afghanistan in February 1989, bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 had put the Kingdom and its ruling House of Saud at risk. The world's most valuable oil fields were within striking distance of Iraqi forces in Kuwait, and Saddam's call to pan-Arab/Islamism could potentially rally internal dissent.

In the face of a seemingly massive Iraqi military presence, Saudi Arabia's own forces were outnumbered. Bin Laden offered the services of his mujahideen to King Fahd to protect Saudi Arabia from the Iraqi army. The Saudi monarch refused bin Laden's offer, opting instead to allow US and allied forces to deploy troops into Saudi territory. [156]

The deployment angered bin Laden, as he believed the presence of foreign troops in the "land of the two mosques" (Mecca and Medina) profaned sacred soil. After speaking publicly against the Saudi government for harboring American troops, he was banished and forced to live in exile in Sudan.


From around 1992 to 1996, al-Qaeda and bin Laden based themselves in Sudan at the invitation of Islamist theoretician Hassan al-Turabi. The move followed an Islamist coup d'état in Sudan, led by Colonel Omar al-Bashir, who professed a commitment to reordering Muslim political values. During this time, bin Laden assisted the Sudanese government, bought or set up various business enterprises, and established training camps.

A key turning point for bin Laden occurred in 1993 when Saudi Arabia gave support for the Oslo Accords, which set a path for peace between Israel and Palestinians. [157] Due to bin Laden's continuous verbal assault on King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, Fahd sent an emissary to Sudan on March 5, 1994 demanding bin Laden's passport. Bin Laden's Saudi citizenship was also revoked. His family was persuaded to cut off his stipend, $7 million a year, and his Saudi assets were frozen. [158] [159] His family publicly disowned him. There is controversy as to what extent bin Laden continued to garner support from members afterwards. [160]

In 1993, a young schoolgirl was killed in an unsuccessful attempt on the life of the Egyptian prime minister, Atef Sedki. Egyptian public opinion turned against Islamist bombings, and the police arrested 280 of al-Jihad's members and executed 6. [161] In June 1995, an attempt to assassinate Egyptian president Mubarak led to the expulsion of Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), and in May 1996, of bin Laden from Sudan. [ citation needed ]

According to Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz, the Sudanese government offered the Clinton Administration numerous opportunities to arrest bin Laden. Ijaz's claims appeared in numerous op-ed pieces, including one in the Los Angeles Times [162] and one in The Washington Post co-written with former Ambassador to Sudan Timothy M. Carney. [163] Similar allegations have been made by Vanity Fair contributing editor David Rose, [164] and Richard Miniter, author of Losing bin Laden, in a November 2003 interview with World. [165]

Several sources dispute Ijaz's claim, including the 9/11 Commission, which concluded in part:

Sudan's minister of defense, Fatih Erwa, has claimed that Sudan offered to hand Bin Ladin over to the US. The Commission has found no credible evidence that this was so. Ambassador Carney had instructions only to push the Sudanese to expel Bin Ladin. Ambassador Carney had no legal basis to ask for more from the Sudanese since, at the time, there was no indictment out-standing. [166]

Refuge in Afghanistan

After the fall of the Afghan communist regime in 1992, Afghanistan was effectively ungoverned for four years and plagued by constant infighting between various mujahideen groups. [ citation needed ] This situation allowed the Taliban to organize. The Taliban also garnered support from graduates of Islamic schools, which are called madrassa. According to Ahmed Rashid, five leaders of the Taliban were graduates of Darul Uloom Haqqania, a madrassa in the small town of Akora Khattak. [167] The town is situated near Peshawar in Pakistan, but the school is largely attended by Afghan refugees. [167] This institution reflected Salafi beliefs in its teachings, and much of its funding came from private donations from wealthy Arabs. Four of the Taliban's leaders attended a similarly funded and influenced madrassa in Kandahar. Bin Laden's contacts were laundering donations to these schools, and Islamic banks were used to transfer money to an "array" of charities which served as front groups for al-Qaeda. [168]

Many of the mujahideen who later joined the Taliban fought alongside Afghan warlord Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi's Harkat i Inqilabi group at the time of the Russian invasion. This group also enjoyed the loyalty of most Afghan Arab fighters.

The continuing lawlessness enabled the growing and well-disciplined Taliban to expand their control over territory in Afghanistan, and it came to establish an enclave which it called the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. In 1994, it captured the regional center of Kandahar, and after making rapid territorial gains thereafter, the Taliban captured the capital city Kabul in September 1996.

In 1996, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan provided a perfect staging ground for al-Qaeda. [169] While not officially working together, Al-Qaeda enjoyed the Taliban's protection and supported the regime in such a strong symbiotic relationship that many Western observers dubbed the Taliban's Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan as, "the world's first terrorist-sponsored state." [170] However, at this time, only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

While in Afghanistan, the Taliban government tasked al-Qaeda with the training of Brigade 055, an elite element of the Taliban's army. The Brigade mostly consisted of foreign fighters, veterans from the Soviet Invasion, and adherents to the ideology of the mujahideen. In November 2001, as Operation Enduring Freedom had toppled the Taliban government, many Brigade 055 fighters were captured or killed, and those who survived were thought to have escaped into Pakistan along with bin Laden. [171]

By the end of 2008, some sources reported that the Taliban had severed any remaining ties with al-Qaeda, [172] however, there is reason to doubt this. [173] According to senior US military intelligence officials, there were fewer than 100 members of al-Qaeda remaining in Afghanistan in 2009. [174]

Al Qaeda chief, Asim Omar was killed in Afghanistan's Musa Qala district after a joint US–Afghanistan commando airstrike on September 23, Afghan's National Directorate of Security (NDS) confirmed in October 2019. [175]

In a report released May 27, 2020, the United Nations' Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team stated that the Taliban-Al Qaeda relations remain strong to this day and additionally, Al Qaeda itself has admitted that it operates inside Afghanistan. [176]

On July 26, 2020, a United Nations report stated that the Al Qaeda group is still active in twelve provinces in Afghanistan and its leader al-Zawahiri is still based in the country. [177] and that the UN Monitoring Team estimated that the total number of Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan were "between 400 and 600". [177]

Call for global Salafi jihadism

In 1994, the Salafi groups waging Salafi jihadism in Bosnia entered into decline, and groups such as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad began to drift away from the Salafi cause in Europe. Al-Qaeda stepped in and assumed control of around 80% of non-state armed cells in Bosnia in late 1995. At the same time, al-Qaeda ideologues instructed the network's recruiters to look for Jihadi international Muslims who believed that extremist-jihad must be fought on a global level. Al-Qaeda also sought to open the "offensive phase" of the global Salafi jihad. [178] Bosnian Islamists in 2006 called for "solidarity with Islamic causes around the world", supporting the insurgents in Kashmir and Iraq as well as the groups fighting for a Palestinian state. [179]


In 1996, al-Qaeda announced its jihad to expel foreign troops and interests from what they considered Islamic lands. Bin Laden issued a fatwa, [180] which amounted to a public declaration of war against the US and its allies, and began to refocus al-Qaeda's resources on large-scale, propagandist strikes.

On February 23, 1998, bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, a leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, along with three other Islamist leaders, co-signed and issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to kill Americans and their allies. [181] Under the banner of the World Islamic Front for Combat Against the Jews and Crusaders, they declared:

[T]he ruling to kill the Americans and their allies – civilians and military – is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque [in Jerusalem] and the holy mosque [in Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty Allah, 'and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together [and] fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah.' [182]

Neither bin Laden nor al-Zawahiri possessed the traditional Islamic scholarly qualifications to issue a fatwa. However, they rejected the authority of the contemporary ulema (which they saw as the paid servants of jahiliyya rulers), and took it upon themselves. [183] [ unreliable source? ]

Al-Qaeda has launched attacks against the Iraqi Shia majority in an attempt to incite sectarian violence. [184] Al-Zarqawi purportedly declared an all-out war on Shiites [185] while claiming responsibility for Shiite mosque bombings. [186] The same month, a statement claiming to be from Al-Qaeda in Iraq was rejected as a "fake". [187] In a December 2007 video, al-Zawahiri defended the Islamic State in Iraq, but distanced himself from the attacks against civilians, which he deemed to be perpetrated by "hypocrites and traitors existing among the ranks". [188]

US and Iraqi officials accused Al-Qaeda in Iraq of trying to slide Iraq into a full-scale civil war between Iraq's Shiite population and Sunni Arabs. This was done through an orchestrated campaign of civilian massacres and a number of provocative attacks against high-profile religious targets. [189] With attacks including the 2003 Imam Ali Mosque bombing, the 2004 Day of Ashura and Karbala and Najaf bombings, the 2006 first al-Askari Mosque bombing in Samarra, the deadly single-day series of bombings in which at least 215 people were killed in Baghdad's Shiite district of Sadr City, and the second al-Askari bombing in 2007, Al-Qaeda in Iraq provoked Shiite militias to unleash a wave of retaliatory attacks, resulting in death squad-style killings and further sectarian violence which escalated in 2006. [190] In 2008, sectarian bombings blamed on al-Qaeda in Iraq killed at least 42 people at the Imam Husayn Shrine in Karbala in March, and at least 51 people at a bus stop in Baghdad in June.

In February 2014, after a prolonged dispute with al-Qaeda in Iraq's successor organisation, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), al-Qaeda publicly announced it was cutting all ties with the group, reportedly for its brutality and "notorious intractability". [191]

Somalia and Yemen

In Somalia, al-Qaeda agents had been collaborating closely with its Somali wing, which was created from the al-Shabaab group. In February 2012, al-Shabaab officially joined al-Qaeda, declaring loyalty in a video. [192] Somalian al-Qaeda recruited children for suicide-bomber training and recruited young people to participate in militant actions against Americans. [193]

The percentage of attacks in the First World originating from the Afghanistan–Pakistan (AfPak) border declined starting in 2007, as al-Qaeda shifted to Somalia and Yemen. [194] While al-Qaeda leaders were hiding in the tribal areas along the AfPak border, middle-tier leaders heightened activity in Somalia and Yemen.

In January 2009, al-Qaeda's division in Saudi Arabia merged with its Yemeni wing to form al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). [195] Centered in Yemen, the group takes advantage of the country's poor economy, demography and domestic security. In August 2009, the group made an assassination attempt against a member of the Saudi royal family. President Obama asked Ali Abdullah Saleh to ensure closer cooperation with the US in the struggle against the growing activity of al-Qaeda in Yemen, and promised to send additional aid. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drew US attention from Somalia and Yemen. [196] In December 2011, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said the US operations against al-Qaeda "are now concentrating on key groups in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa." [197] Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the 2009 bombing attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. [198] The AQAP declared the Al-Qaeda Emirate in Yemen on March 31, 2011, after capturing the most of the Abyan Governorate. [199]

As the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen escalated in July 2015, fifty civilians had been killed and twenty million needed aid. [200] In February 2016, al-Qaeda forces and Saudi Arabian-led coalition forces were both seen fighting Houthi rebels in the same battle. [201] In August 2018, Al Jazeera reported that "A military coalition battling Houthi rebels secured secret deals with al-Qaeda in Yemen and recruited hundreds of the group's fighters. . Key figures in the deal-making said the United States was aware of the arrangements and held off on drone attacks against the armed group, which was created by Osama bin Laden in 1988." [202]

United States operations

In December 1998, the Director of the CIA Counterterrorism Center reported to President Bill Clinton that al-Qaeda was preparing to launch attacks in the United States, and the group was training personnel to hijack aircraft. [203] On September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda attacked the United States, hijacking four airliners within the country and deliberately crashing two into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. The third plane crashed into the western side of the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. The fourth plane was crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. [204] In total, the attackers killed 2,977 victims and injured more than 6,000 others. [205]

US officials noted that Anwar al-Awlaki had considerable reach within the US. A former FBI agent identified Awlaki as a known "senior recruiter for al-Qaeda", and a spiritual motivator. [206] Awlaki's sermons in the US were attended by three of the 9/11 hijackers, and accused Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan. US intelligence intercepted emails from Hasan to Awlaki between December 2008 and early 2009. On his website, Awlaki has praised Hasan's actions in the Fort Hood shooting. [207]

An unnamed official claimed there was good reason to believe Awlaki "has been involved in very serious terrorist activities since leaving the US [in 2002], including plotting attacks against America and our allies." [208] US President Barack Obama approved the targeted killing of al-Awlaki by April 2010, making al-Awlaki the first US citizen ever placed on the CIA target list. That required the consent of the US National Security Council, and officials argued that the attack was appropriate because the individual posed an imminent danger to national security. [209] [210] [211] In May 2010, Faisal Shahzad, who pleaded guilty to the 2010 Times Square car bombing attempt, told interrogators he was "inspired by" al-Awlaki, and sources said Shahzad had made contact with al-Awlaki over the Internet. [212] [213] [214] Representative Jane Harman called him "terrorist number one", and Investor's Business Daily called him "the world's most dangerous man". [215] [216] In July 2010, the US Treasury Department added him to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists, and the UN added him to its list of individuals associated with al-Qaeda. [217] In August 2010, al-Awlaki's father initiated a lawsuit against the US government with the American Civil Liberties Union, challenging its order to kill al-Awlaki. [218] In October 2010, US and UK officials linked al-Awlaki to the 2010 cargo plane bomb plot. [219] In September 2011, al-Awlaki was killed in a targeted killing drone attack in Yemen. [220] On March 16, 2012, it was reported that Osama bin Laden plotted to kill US President Barack Obama. [221]

Death of Osama bin Laden

On May 1, 2011, US President Barack Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed by "a small team of Americans" acting under direct orders, in a covert operation in Abbottabad, Pakistan. [222] [223] The action took place 50 km (31 mi) north of Islamabad. [224] According to US officials, a team of 20–25 US Navy SEALs under the command of the Joint Special Operations Command stormed bin Laden's compound with two helicopters. Bin Laden and those with him were killed during a firefight in which US forces experienced no casualties. [225] According to one US official the attack was carried out without the knowledge or consent of the Pakistani authorities. [226] In Pakistan some people were reported to be shocked at the unauthorized incursion by US armed forces. [227] The site is a few miles from the Pakistan Military Academy in Kakul. [228] In his broadcast announcement President Obama said that US forces "took care to avoid civilian casualties". [229] Details soon emerged that three men and a woman were killed along with bin Laden, the woman being killed when she was "used as a shield by a male combatant". [226] DNA from bin Laden's body, compared with DNA samples on record from his dead sister, [230] confirmed bin Laden's identity. [231] The body was recovered by the US military and was in its custody [223] until, according to one US official, his body was buried at sea according to Islamic traditions. [224] [232] One US official said that "finding a country willing to accept the remains of the world's most wanted terrorist would have been difficult." [233] US State Department issued a "Worldwide caution" for Americans following bin Laden's death and US diplomatic facilities everywhere were placed on high alert, a senior US official said. [234] Crowds gathered outside the White House and in New York City's Times Square to celebrate bin Laden's death. [235]


In 2003, President Bashar al-Assad revealed in an interview with a Kuwaiti newspaper that he doubted al-Qaeda even existed. He was quoted as saying, "Is there really an entity called al-Qaeda? Was it in Afghanistan? Does it exist now?" He went on further to remark about bin Laden, commenting "[he] cannot talk on the phone or use the Internet, but he can direct communications to the four corners of the world? This is illogical." [237]

Following the mass protests that took place in 2011, which demanded the resignation of al-Assad, al-Qaeda-affiliated groups and Sunni sympathizers soon began to constitute an effective fighting force against al-Assad. [238] Before the Syrian Civil War, al-Qaeda's presence in Syria was negligible, but its growth thereafter was rapid. [239] Groups such as the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have recruited many foreign Mujahideen to train and fight in what has gradually become a highly sectarian war. [240] [241] Ideologically, the Syrian Civil War has served the interests of al-Qaeda as it pits a mainly Sunni opposition against a secular government. Al-Qaeda and other fundamentalist Sunni militant groups have invested heavily in the civil conflict, at times actively backing and supporting the mainstream Syrian Opposition. [242] [243]

On February 2, 2014, al-Qaeda distanced itself from ISIS and its actions in Syria [244] however, during 2014–15, ISIS and the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front [245] were still able to occasionally cooperate in their fight against the Syrian government. [246] [247] [248] Al-Nusra (backed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey as part of the Army of Conquest during 2015–2017 [249] ) launched many attacks and bombings, mostly against targets affiliated with or supportive of the Syrian government. [250] From October 2015, Russian air strikes targeted positions held by al-Nusra Front, as well as other Islamist and non-Islamist rebels, [251] [252] [253] while the US also targeted al-Nusra with airstrikes. [253] [254] [255] In early 2016, a leading ISIL ideologue described al-Qaeda as the "Jews of jihad". [256]


In September 2014 al-Zawahiri announced al-Qaeda was establishing a front in India to "wage jihad against its enemies, to liberate its land, to restore its sovereignty, and to revive its Caliphate." Al-Zawahiri nominated India as a beachhead for regional jihad taking in neighboring countries such as Myanmar and Bangladesh. The motivation for the video was questioned, as it appeared the militant group was struggling to remain relevant in light of the emerging prominence of ISIS. [257] The new wing was to be known as "Qaedat al-Jihad fi'shibhi al-qarrat al-Hindiya" or al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). Leaders of several Indian Muslim organizations rejected al-Zawahiri's pronouncement, saying they could see no good coming from it, and viewed it as a threat to Muslim youth in the country. [258]

In 2014 Zee News reported that Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and National Security Council official for South Asia, had accused the Pakistani military intelligence and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of organising and assisting Al-Qaeda to organise in India, that Pakistan ought to be warned that it will be placed on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, and that "Zawahiri made the tape in his hideout in Pakistan, no doubt, and many Indians suspect the ISI is helping to protect him." [259] [260] [261]

Al-Qaeda has carried out a total of six major attacks, four of them in its jihad against America. In each case the leadership planned the attack years in advance, arranging for the shipment of weapons and explosives and using its businesses to provide operatives with safehouses and false identities. [262]

On December 29, 1992, al-Qaeda launched its first attack, the 1992 Yemen hotel bombings. Two bombs were detonated in Aden, Yemen. The first target was the Movenpick Hotel and the second was the parking lot of the Goldmohur Hotel. [263]

The bombings were an attempt to eliminate American soldiers on their way to Somalia to take part in the international famine relief effort, Operation Restore Hope. Internally, al-Qaeda considered the bombing a victory that frightened the Americans away, but in the US, the attack was barely noticed. No American soldiers were killed because no soldiers were staying in the hotel which was bombed. However, an Australian tourist and a Yemeni hotel worker were killed in the bombing. Seven others, mostly Yemenis, were severely injured. [263] Two fatwas are said to have been appointed by al-Qaeda's members, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, to justify the killings according to Islamic law. Salim referred to a famous fatwa appointed by Ibn Taymiyyah, a 13th-century scholar much admired by Wahhabis, which sanctioned resistance by any means during the Mongol invasions. [264] [ unreliable source? ]

Late 1990s

In 1996, bin Laden personally engineered a plot to assassinate United States President Bill Clinton while the president was in Manila for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. However, intelligence agents intercepted a message before the motorcade was to leave, and alerted the US Secret Service. Agents later discovered a bomb planted under a bridge. [265]

On August 7, 1998, al-Qaeda bombed the US embassies in East Africa, killing 224 people, including 12 Americans. In retaliation, a barrage of cruise missiles launched by the US military devastated an al-Qaeda base in Khost, Afghanistan. The network's capacity was unharmed. In late 1999 and 2000, Al-Qaeda planned attacks to coincide with the millennium, masterminded by Abu Zubaydah and involving Abu Qatada, which would include the bombing of Christian holy sites in Jordan, the bombing of Los Angeles International Airport by Ahmed Ressam, and the bombing of the USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) .

On October 12, 2000, al-Qaeda militants in Yemen bombed the missile destroyer USS Cole in a suicide attack, killing 17 US servicemen and damaging the vessel while it lay offshore. Inspired by the success of such a brazen attack, al-Qaeda's command core began to prepare for an attack on the US itself.

September 11 attacks

The September 11 attacks on America by al-Qaeda killed 2,977 people – 2,507 civilians, 343 firefighters, 72 law enforcement officers, and 55 military personnel. Two commercial airliners were deliberately flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, a third into the Pentagon, and a fourth, originally intended to target either the United States Capitol or the White House, crashed in a field in Stonycreek Township near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It was also the deadliest foreign attack on American soil since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

The attacks were conducted by al-Qaeda, acting in accord with the 1998 fatwa issued against the US and its allies by persons under the command of bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, and others. [266] Evidence points to suicide squads led by al-Qaeda military commander Mohamed Atta as the culprits of the attacks, with bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and Hambali as the key planners and part of the political and military command.

Messages issued by bin Laden after September 11, 2001 praised the attacks, and explained their motivation while denying any involvement. [267] Bin Laden legitimized the attacks by identifying grievances felt by both mainstream and Islamist Muslims, such as the general perception that the US was actively oppressing Muslims. [268]

Bin Laden asserted that America was massacring Muslims in "Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir and Iraq" and Muslims should retain the "right to attack in reprisal". He also claimed the 9/11 attacks were not targeted at people, but "America's icons of military and economic power", despite the fact he planned to attack in the morning when most of the people in the intended targets were present and thus generating the maximum number of human casualties. [269]

Evidence has since come to light that the original targets for the attack may have been nuclear power stations on the US East Coast. The targets were later altered by al-Qaeda, as it was feared that such an attack "might get out of hand". [270] [271]

Al-Qaeda is deemed a designated terrorist group by the following countries and international organizations:

  • Australia[272]
  • Azerbaijan[273]
  • Bahrain[274]
  • Belarus[275]
  • Brazil[276]
  • Canada[277]
  • China[37][278]
  • European Union[279]
  • France[280]
  • India[281]
  • Indonesia[282]
  • Iran[283]
  • Ireland[284]
  • Israel[285][286]
  • Japan[287]
  • Kazakhstan[288]
  • Kyrgyzstan[289]
  • NATO[290][291]
  • Malaysia[292]
  • Netherlands[293]
  • New Zealand[294]
  • Pakistan[295]
  • Philippines[296]
  • Russian Federation[297]
  • Saudi Arabia[298]
  • South Korea[299]
  • Sweden[300]
  • Switzerland[301]
  • Tajikistan[302][303]
  • Turkey designated Al-Qaeda's Turkish branch [304]
  • United Arab Emirates[305]
  • United Kingdom[306]
  • United Nations Security Council[307]
  • United States[308]
  • Uzbekistan[309][310]
  • Vietnam[311]

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the US government responded, and began to prepare its armed forces to overthrow the Taliban, which it believed was harboring al-Qaeda. The US offered Taliban leader Mullah Omar a chance to surrender bin Laden and his top associates. The first forces to be inserted into Afghanistan were paramilitary officers from the CIA's elite Special Activities Division (SAD).

The Taliban offered to turn over bin Laden to a neutral country for trial if the US would provide evidence of bin Laden's complicity in the attacks. US President George W. Bush responded by saying: "We know he's guilty. Turn him over", [312] and British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned the Taliban regime: "Surrender bin Laden, or surrender power." [313]

Soon thereafter the US and its allies invaded Afghanistan, and together with the Afghan Northern Alliance removed the Taliban government as part of the war in Afghanistan. As a result of the US special forces and air support for the Northern Alliance ground forces, a number of Taliban and al-Qaeda training camps were destroyed, and much of the operating structure of al-Qaeda is believed to have been disrupted. After being driven from their key positions in the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan, many al-Qaeda fighters tried to regroup in the rugged Gardez region of the nation.

By early 2002, al-Qaeda had been dealt a serious blow to its operational capacity, and the Afghan invasion appeared to be a success. Nevertheless, a significant Taliban insurgency remained in Afghanistan.

Debate continued regarding the nature of al-Qaeda's role in the 9/11 attacks. The US State Department released a videotape showing bin Laden speaking with a small group of associates somewhere in Afghanistan shortly before the Taliban was removed from power. [314] Although its authenticity has been questioned by a couple of people, [315] the tape definitively implicates bin Laden and al-Qaeda in the September 11 attacks. The tape was aired on many television channels, with an accompanying English translation provided by the US Defense Department. [316]

In September 2004, the 9/11 Commission officially concluded that the attacks were conceived and implemented by al-Qaeda operatives. [317] In October 2004, bin Laden appeared to claim responsibility for the attacks in a videotape released through Al Jazeera, saying he was inspired by Israeli attacks on high-rises in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon: "As I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon, it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressor in kind and that we should destroy towers in America in order that they taste some of what we tasted and so that they be deterred from killing our women and children." [318]

By the end of 2004, the US government proclaimed that two-thirds of the most senior al-Qaeda figures from 2001 had been captured and interrogated by the CIA: Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri in 2002 [319] Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in 2003 [320] and Saif al Islam el Masry in 2004. [321] Mohammed Atef and several others were killed. The West was criticized for not being able to handle Al-Qaida despite a decade of the war. [322]


Al-Qaeda involvement in Africa has included a number of bombing attacks in North Africa, while supporting parties in civil wars in Eritrea and Somalia. From 1991 to 1996, bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders were based in Sudan.

Islamist rebels in the Sahara calling themselves al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have stepped up their violence in recent years. [324] [325] [326] French officials say the rebels have no real links to the al-Qaeda leadership, but this has been disputed. It seems likely that bin Laden approved the group's name in late 2006, and the rebels "took on the al Qaeda franchise label", almost a year before the violence began to escalate. [327]

In Mali, the Ansar Dine faction was also reported as an ally of al-Qaeda in 2013. [328] The Ansar al Dine faction aligned themselves with the AQIM. [329]

In 2011, Al-Qaeda's North African wing condemned Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and declared support for the Anti-Gaddafi rebels. [330] [331]

Following the Libyan Civil War, the removal of Gaddafi and the ensuing period of post-civil war violence in Libya, various Islamist militant groups affiliated with al-Qaeda were able to expand their operations in the region. [332] The 2012 Benghazi attack, which resulted in the death of US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, is suspected of having been carried out by various Jihadist networks, such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar al-Sharia and several other Al-Qaeda affiliated groups. [333] [334] The capture of Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, a senior al-Qaeda operative wanted by the United States for his involvement in the 1998 United States embassy bombings, on October 5, 2013, by US Navy Seals, FBI and CIA agents illustrates the importance the US and other Western allies have placed on North Africa. [335]


Prior to the September 11 attacks, al-Qaeda was present in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and its members were mostly veterans of the El Mudžahid detachment of the Bosnian Muslim Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Three al-Qaeda operatives carried out the Mostar car bombing in 1997. The operatives were closely linked to and financed by the Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia and Herzegovina founded by then-prince King Salman of Saudi Arabia. [ citation needed ]

Before the 9/11 attacks and the US invasion of Afghanistan, westerners who had been recruits at al-Qaeda training camps were sought after by al-Qaeda's military wing. Language skills and knowledge of Western culture were generally found among recruits from Europe, such was the case with Mohamed Atta, an Egyptian national studying in Germany at the time of his training, and other members of the Hamburg Cell. Osama bin Laden and Mohammed Atef would later designate Atta as the ringleader of the 9/11 hijackers. Following the attacks, Western intelligence agencies determined that al-Qaeda cells operating in Europe had aided the hijackers with financing and communications with the central leadership based in Afghanistan. [108] [336]

In 2003, Islamists carried out a series of bombings in Istanbul killing fifty-seven people and injuring seven hundred. Seventy-four people were charged by the Turkish authorities. Some had previously met bin Laden, and though they specifically declined to pledge allegiance to al-Qaeda they asked for its blessing and help. [337] [338]

In 2009, three Londoners, Tanvir Hussain, Assad Sarwar and Ahmed Abdullah Ali, were convicted of conspiring to detonate bombs disguised as soft drinks on seven airplanes bound for Canada and the US The MI5 investigation regarding the plot involved more than a year of surveillance work conducted by over two hundred officers. [339] [340] [341] British and US officials said the plot – unlike many similar homegrown European Islamic militant plots – was directly linked to al-Qaeda and guided by senior al-Qaeda members in Pakistan. [342] [343]

In 2012, Russian Intelligence indicated that al-Qaeda had given a call for "forest jihad" and has been starting massive forest fires as part of a strategy of "thousand cuts". [344]

Arab world

Following Yemeni unification in 1990, Wahhabi networks began moving missionaries into the country. Although it is unlikely bin Laden or Saudi al-Qaeda were directly involved, the personal connections they made would be established over the next decade and used in the USS Cole bombing. [345] Concerns grew over Al Qaeda's group in Yemen. [346]

In Iraq, al-Qaeda forces loosely associated with the leadership were embedded in the Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad group commanded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Specializing in suicide operations, they have been a "key driver" of the Sunni insurgency. [347] Although they played a small part in the overall insurgency, between 30% and 42% of all suicide bombings which took place in the early years were claimed by Zarqawi's group. [348] [349] Reports have indicated that oversights such as the failure to control access to the Qa'qaa munitions factory in Yusufiyah have allowed large quantities of munitions to fall into the hands of al-Qaida. [350] In November 2010, the militant group Islamic State of Iraq, which is linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq, threatened to "exterminate all Iraqi Christians". [351] [352]

Al-Qaeda did not begin training Palestinians until the late 1990s. [353] Large groups such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have rejected an alliance with al-Qaeda, fearing that al-Qaeda will co-opt their cells. This may have changed recently. The Israeli security and intelligence services believe al-Qaeda has managed to infiltrate operatives from the Occupied Territories into Israel, and is waiting for an opportunity to attack. [353]

As of 2015 [update] , Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are openly supporting the Army of Conquest, [245] [354] an umbrella rebel group fighting in the Syrian Civil War against the Syrian government that reportedly includes an al-Qaeda linked al-Nusra Front and another Salafi coalition known as Ahrar al-Sham. [249]


Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri consider India to be a part of an alleged Crusader-Zionist-Hindu conspiracy against the Islamic world. [355] According to a 2005 report by the Congressional Research Service, bin Laden was involved in training militants for Jihad in Kashmir while living in Sudan in the early 1990s. By 2001, Kashmiri militant group Harkat-ul-Mujahideen had become a part of the al-Qaeda coalition. [356] According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), al-Qaeda was thought to have established bases in Pakistan administered Kashmir (in Azad Kashmir, and to some extent in Gilgit–Baltistan) during the 1999 Kargil War and continued to operate there with tacit approval of Pakistan's Intelligence services. [357]

Many of the militants active in Kashmir were trained in the same madrasahs as Taliban and al-Qaeda. Fazlur Rehman Khalil of Kashmiri militant group Harkat-ul-Mujahideen was a signatory of al-Qaeda's 1998 declaration of Jihad against America and its allies. [358] In a 'Letter to American People' (2002), bin Laden wrote that one of the reasons he was fighting America was because of its support to India on the Kashmir issue. [359] [360] In November 2001, Kathmandu airport went on high alert after threats that bin Laden planned to hijack a plane and crash it into a target in New Delhi. [361] In 2002, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, on a trip to Delhi, suggested that al-Qaeda was active in Kashmir though he did not have any evidence. [362] [363] Rumsfeld proposed hi-tech ground sensors along the Line of Control to prevent militants from infiltrating into Indian-administered Kashmir. [363] An investigation in 2002 found evidence that al-Qaeda and its affiliates were prospering in Pakistan-administered Kashmir with tacit approval of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence. [364] In 2002, a special team of Special Air Service and Delta Force was sent into Indian-Administered Kashmir to hunt for bin Laden after receiving reports that he was being sheltered by Kashmiri militant group Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, which had been responsible for kidnapping western tourists in Kashmir in 1995. [365] Britain's highest-ranking al-Qaeda operative Rangzieb Ahmed had previously fought in Kashmir with the group Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and spent time in Indian prison after being captured in Kashmir. [366]

US officials believe al-Qaeda was helping organize attacks in Kashmir in order to provoke conflict between India and Pakistan. [367] Their strategy was to force Pakistan to move its troops to the border with India, thereby relieving pressure on al-Qaeda elements hiding in northwestern Pakistan. [368] In 2006 al-Qaeda claimed they had established a wing in Kashmir. [358] [369] However Indian Army General H. S. Panag argued that the army had ruled out the presence of al-Qaeda in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. Panag also said al-Qaeda had strong ties with Kashmiri militant groups Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed based in Pakistan. [370] It has been noted that Waziristan has become a battlefield for Kashmiri militants fighting NATO in support of al-Qaeda and Taliban. [371] [372] [373] Dhiren Barot, who wrote the Army of Madinah in Kashmir [374] and was an al-Qaeda operative convicted for involvement in the 2004 financial buildings plot, had received training in weapons and explosives at a militant training camp in Kashmir. [375]

Maulana Masood Azhar, the founder of Kashmiri group Jaish-e-Mohammed, is believed to have met bin Laden several times and received funding from him. [358] In 2002, Jaish-e-Mohammed organized the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl in an operation run in conjunction with al-Qaeda and funded by bin Laden. [376] According to American counter-terrorism expert Bruce Riedel, al-Qaeda and Taliban were closely involved in the 1999 hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 to Kandahar which led to the release of Maulana Masood Azhar and Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh from an Indian prison. This hijacking, Riedel said, was rightly described by then Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh as a 'dress rehearsal' for September 11 attacks. [377] Bin Laden personally welcomed Azhar and threw a lavish party in his honor after his release. [378] [379] Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who had been in prison for his role in the 1994 kidnappings of Western tourists in India, went on to murder Daniel Pearl and was sentenced to death in Pakistan. Al-Qaeda operative Rashid Rauf, who was one of the accused in 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot, was related to Maulana Masood Azhar by marriage. [380]

Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Kashmiri militant group which is thought to be behind 2008 Mumbai attacks, is also known to have strong ties to senior al-Qaeda leaders living in Pakistan. [381] In late 2002, top al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah was arrested while being sheltered by Lashkar-e-Taiba in a safe house in Faisalabad. [382] The FBI believes al-Qaeda and Lashkar have been 'intertwined' for a long time while the CIA has said that al-Qaeda funds Lashkar-e-Taiba. [382] Jean-Louis Bruguière told Reuters in 2009 that "Lashkar-e-Taiba is no longer a Pakistani movement with only a Kashmir political or military agenda. Lashkar-e-Taiba is a member of al-Qaeda." [383] [384]

In a video released in 2008, American-born senior al-Qaeda operative Adam Yahiye Gadahn said that "victory in Kashmir has been delayed for years it is the liberation of the jihad there from this interference which, Allah willing, will be the first step towards victory over the Hindu occupiers of that Islam land." [385]

In September 2009, a US drone strike reportedly killed Ilyas Kashmiri who was the chief of Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, a Kashmiri militant group associated with al-Qaeda. [386] Kashmiri was described by Bruce Riedel as a 'prominent' al-Qaeda member [387] while others have described him as head of military operations for al-Qaeda. [388] [389] Kashmiri was also charged by the US in a plot against Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper which was at the center of Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy. [390] US officials also believe that Kashmiri was involved in the Camp Chapman attack against the CIA. [391] In January 2010, Indian authorities notified Britain of an al-Qaeda plot to hijack an Indian airlines or Air India plane and crash it into a British city. This information was uncovered from interrogation of Amjad Khwaja, an operative of Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, who had been arrested in India. [392]

In January 2010, US Defense secretary Robert Gates, while on a visit to Pakistan, said that al-Qaeda was seeking to destabilize the region and planning to provoke a nuclear war between India and Pakistan. [393]


Al-Qaeda and its successors have migrated online to escape detection in an atmosphere of increased international vigilance. The group's use of the Internet has grown more sophisticated, with online activities that include financing, recruitment, networking, mobilization, publicity, and information dissemination, gathering and sharing. [394]

Abu Ayyub al-Masri's al-Qaeda movement in Iraq regularly releases short videos glorifying the activity of jihadist suicide bombers. In addition, both before and after the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (the former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq), the umbrella organization to which al-Qaeda in Iraq belongs, the Mujahideen Shura Council, has a regular presence on the Web.

The range of multimedia content includes guerrilla training clips, stills of victims about to be murdered, testimonials of suicide bombers, and videos that show participation in jihad through stylized portraits of mosques and musical scores. A website associated with al-Qaeda posted a video of captured American entrepreneur Nick Berg being decapitated in Iraq. Other decapitation videos and pictures, including those of Paul Johnson, Kim Sun-il, and Daniel Pearl, were first posted on jihadist websites. [ citation needed ]

In December 2004 an audio message claiming to be from bin Laden was posted directly to a website, rather than sending a copy to al Jazeera as he had done in the past. Al-Qaeda turned to the Internet for release of its videos in order to be certain they would be available unedited, rather than risk the possibility of al Jazeera editing out anything critical of the Saudi royal family. [395] and were perhaps the most significant al-Qaeda websites. Alneda was initially taken down by American Jon Messner, but the operators resisted by shifting the site to various servers and strategically shifting content. [ citation needed ]

The US government charged a British information technology specialist, Babar Ahmad, with terrorist offences related to his operating a network of English-language al-Qaeda websites, such as He was convicted and sentenced to 12-and-a-half years in prison. [396] [397] [398]

Online communications

In 2007, al-Qaeda released Mujahedeen Secrets, encryption software used for online and cellular communications. A later version, Mujahideen Secrets 2, was released in 2008. [399]

Aviation network

Al-Qaeda is believed to be operating a clandestine aviation network including "several Boeing 727 aircraft", turboprops and executive jets, according to a 2010 Reuters story. Based on a US Department of Homeland Security report, the story said al-Qaeda is possibly using aircraft to transport drugs and weapons from South America to various unstable countries in West Africa. A Boeing 727 can carry up to ten tons of cargo. The drugs eventually are smuggled to Europe for distribution and sale, and the weapons are used in conflicts in Africa and possibly elsewhere. Gunmen with links to al-Qaeda have been increasingly kidnapping Europeans for ransom. The profits from the drug and weapon sales, and kidnappings can, in turn, fund more militant activities. [400]

Involvement in military conflicts

The following is a list of military conflicts in which Al-Qaeda and its direct affiliates have taken part militarily.

Experts debate the notion al-Qaeda attacks were an indirect result from the American CIA's Operation Cyclone program to help the Afghan mujahideen. Robin Cook, British Foreign Secretary from 1997 to 2001, has written that al-Qaeda and bin Laden were "a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies", and that "Al-Qaida, literally 'the database', was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians." [403]

Munir Akram, Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations from 2002 to 2008, wrote in a letter published in The New York Times on January 19, 2008:

The strategy to support the Afghans against Soviet military intervention was evolved by several intelligence agencies, including the C.I.A. and Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. After the Soviet withdrawal, the Western powers walked away from the region, leaving behind 40,000 militants imported from several countries to wage the anti-Soviet jihad. Pakistan was left to face the blowback of extremism, drugs and guns. [404]

A variety of sources, including CNN journalist Peter Bergen, Pakistani ISI Brigadier Mohammad Yousaf, and CIA operatives involved in the Afghan program, such as Vincent Cannistraro, deny that the CIA or other American officials had contact with the foreign mujahideen or bin Laden, let alone armed, trained, coached or indoctrinated them.

Bergen and others argue that there was no need to recruit foreigners unfamiliar with the local language, customs or lay of the land since there were a quarter of a million local Afghans willing to fight. [405] Bergen further argues that foreign mujahideen had no need for American funds since they received several million dollars per year from internal sources. Lastly, he argues that Americans could not have trained the mujahideen because Pakistani officials would not allow more than a handful of them to operate in Pakistan and none in Afghanistan, and the Afghan Arabs were almost invariably militant Islamists reflexively hostile to Westerners whether or not the Westerners were helping the Muslim Afghans.

According to Bergen, who conducted the first television interview with bin Laden in 1997: the idea that "the CIA funded bin Laden or trained bin Laden . [is] a folk myth. There's no evidence of this . Bin Laden had his own money, he was anti-American and he was operating secretly and independently . The real story here is the CIA didn't really have a clue about who this guy was until 1996 when they set up a unit to really start tracking him." [406]

Some of the $500 million the CIA poured into Afghanistan reached [Al-Zawahiri's] group. Al-Zawahiri has become a close aide of bin Laden . Bin Laden was only loosely connected with the [Hezb-i-Islami faction of the mujahideen led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar], serving under another Hezb-i-Islami commander known as Engineer Machmud. However, bin Laden's Office of Services, set up to recruit overseas for the war, received some US cash. [407]

A CNN report has revealed that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been handing out sophisticated American-made weapons to al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Yemen. [408]

In October 2014, US Vice President Joe Biden said Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had "poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Al-Assad, except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra, and al Qaeda, and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world." [409]

Anders Behring Breivik, the perpetrator of the 2011 Norway attacks, was inspired by Al-Qaeda, calling it "the most successful revolutionary movement in the world." While admitting different aims, he sought to "create a European version of Al-Qaida." [410] [411]

The appropriate response to offshoots is a subject of debate. A journalist reported in 2012 that a senior US military planner had asked: "Should we resort to drones and Special Operations raids every time some group raises the black banner of al Qaeda? How long can we continue to chase offshoots of offshoots around the world?" [412]

Islamic extremism dates back to the Kharijites of the 7th century. From their essentially political position, the Kharijites developed extreme doctrines that set them apart from both mainstream Sunni and Shiʿa Muslims. The Kharijites were particularly noted for adopting a radical approach to Takfir, whereby they declared other Muslims to be unbelievers and therefore deemed them worthy of death. [413] [414] [415]

According to a number of sources, a "wave of revulsion" has been expressed against al-Qaeda and its affiliates by "religious scholars, former fighters and militants" who are alarmed by al-Qaeda's takfir and its killing of Muslims in Muslim countries, especially in Iraq. [416]

Noman Benotman, a former militant member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), went public with an open letter of criticism to Ayman al-Zawahiri in November 2007, after persuading the imprisoned senior leaders of his former group to enter into peace negotiations with the Libyan regime. While Ayman al-Zawahiri announced the affiliation of the group with al-Qaeda in November 2007, the Libyan government released 90 members of the group from prison several months after "they were said to have renounced violence." [417]

In 2007, on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, [150] the Saudi sheikh Salman al-Ouda delivered a personal rebuke to bin Laden. Al-Ouda, a religious scholar and one of the fathers of the Sahwa, the fundamentalist awakening movement that swept through Saudi Arabia in the 1980s, is a widely respected critic of jihadism. [ citation needed ] Al-Ouda addressed al-Qaeda's leader on television asking him:

My brother Osama, how much blood has been spilt? How many innocent people, children, elderly, and women have been killed . in the name of al-Qaeda? Will you be happy to meet God Almighty carrying the burden of these hundreds of thousands or millions [of victims] on your back? [418]

According to Pew polls, support for al-Qaeda had dropped in the Muslim world in the years before 2008. [419] Support of suicide bombings in Indonesia, Lebanon, and Bangladesh, dropped by half or more in the last five years. [ when? ] In Saudi Arabia, only ten percent had a favorable view of al-Qaeda, according to a December 2017 poll by Terror Free Tomorrow, a Washington-based think tank. [420]

In 2007, the imprisoned Sayyed Imam Al-Sharif, an influential Afghan Arab, "ideological godfather of al-Qaeda", and former supporter of takfir, withdrew his support from al-Qaeda with a book Wathiqat Tarshid Al-'Aml Al-Jihadi fi Misr w'Al-'Alam (English: Rationalizing Jihad in Egypt and the World ).

Although once associated with al-Qaeda, in September 2009 LIFG completed a new "code" for jihad, a 417-page religious document entitled "Corrective Studies". Given its credibility and the fact that several other prominent Jihadists in the Middle East have turned against al-Qaeda, the LIFG's reversal may be an important step toward staunching al-Qaeda's recruitment. [421]

Other criticisms

Bilal Abdul Kareem, an American journalist based in Syria created a documentary about al-Shabab, al-Qaeda's affiliate in Somalia. The documentary included interviews with former members of the group who stated their reasons for leaving al-Shabab. The members made accusations of segregation, lack of religious awareness and internal corruption and favoritism. In response to Kareem, the Global Islamic Media Front condemned Kareem, called him a liar, and denied the accusations from the former fighters. [422]

In mid-2014 after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant declared that they had restored the Caliphate, an audio statement was released by the then-spokesman of the group Abu Muhammad al-Adnani claiming that "the legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations, becomes null by the expansion of the Caliphate's authority." The speech included a religious refutation of Al-Qaeda for being too lenient regarding Shiites and their refusal to recognize the authority Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, al-Adnani specifically noting: "It is not suitable for a state to give allegiance to an organization." He also recalled a past instance in which Osama bin Laden called on al-Qaeda members and supporters to give allegiance to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi when the group was still solely operating in Iraq, as the Islamic State of Iraq, and condemned Ayman al-Zawahiri for not making this same claim for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Zawahiri was encouraging factionalism and division between former allies of ISIL such as the al-Nusra Front. [423] [424]

Heaven’s Gate cult members found dead

Following an anonymous tip, police enter a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, an exclusive suburb of San Diego, California, and discover 39 victims of a mass suicide. The deceased� women and 18 men of varying ages—were all found lying peaceably in matching dark clothes and Nike sneakers and had no noticeable signs of blood or trauma. It was later revealed that the men and women were members of the “Heaven’s Gate” religious cult, whose leaders preached that suicide would allow them to leave their bodily 𠇌ontainers” and enter an alien spacecraft hidden behind the Hale-Bopp comet.

The cult was led by Marshall Applewhite, a music professor who, after surviving a near-death experience in 1972, was recruited into the cult by one of his nurses, Bonnie Lu Nettles. In 1975, Applewhite and Nettles persuaded a group of 20 people from Oregon to abandon their families and possessions and move to eastern Colorado, where they promised that an extraterrestrial spacecraft would take them to the “kingdom of heaven.” Nettles, who called herself “Ti,” and Applewhite, who took the name of 𠇍o,” explained that human bodies were merely containers that could be abandoned in favor of a higher physical existence. As the spacecraft never arrived, membership in Heaven’s Gate diminished, and in 1985 Bonnie Lu Nettles, Applewhite’s “sexless partner,” died.

During the early 1990s, the cult resurfaced as Applewhite began recruiting new members. Soon after the 1995 discovery of the comet Hale-Bopp, the Heaven’s Gate members became convinced that an alien spacecraft was on its way to earth, hidden from human detection behind the comet. In October 1996, Applewhite rented a large home in Rancho Santa Fe, explaining to the owner that his group was made up of Christian-based angels. Applewhite advocated sexual abstinence, and several male cult members followed his example by undergoing castration operations.

Festive Nativities

The first-ever Nativity scene recorded in history was created by St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis was concerned that the meaning of Christmas was becoming lost. To him, people appeared focused on ritual of gift giving instead of the true message of Christmas.

Determined to remind people what Christmas is really about, he set about creating the world’s first known Nativity scene to help tell his people of The Nativity Story. Created in a cave and near Greccio, Italy, it involved real people and animals, making it a living Nativity scene.

Today, nearly 800 years later, we still hear religious leaders echoing St. Francis’s words. The true message of Christmas is becoming lost buried underneath layers of secular traditions. Yet at the same time, we also still see nativities everywhere come Christmas time.

While living Nativity scenes still exist today, much more popular are static versions that require no real people or animals. Nativity scenes on display at the Vatican, the White House, and in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania are three of the most widely-known in the world.

How Nativity Scenes Came to our Homes

Nativity scenes and sets as we know them today found their roots in the 1300’s. Originally crafted from terracotta, Italian churches displayed these large pieces year-round.

In the mid-1500’s, Nativity sets began to appear not only in churches, but in the homes of wealthier citizens, even though some prominent religious groups in Italy at the time were attempting to move away from nativities altogether.

Nativities crafted for display in homes were much smaller than the large statues found in churches. Artisans used wax, wood as well as terracotta and dressed the little figurines in beautiful clothes.

Over the years, the nativities spread to practically all Christian countries, each region adding its own influence and unique style. Traditions unique to their culture developed in some countries, most notably in Central American and Mediterranean countries.

Nativity Scenes of Germany, Credit

The home Nativity is celebrated in Germany more than anywhere else in the world. Catholic and Protestant families alike display them in their homes. It is still tradition in Germany to display all parts of the Nativity set with the exception of baby Jesus, who is only displayed after Christmas Eve, as before that time he is not yet been born. Most other regions, including America, do not follow this tradition.

Today’s Nativity Sets

Modern materials make today’s Nativity sets. Porcelain, ceramic, resin, and sometimes china are all popular materials. Some sets are still carved out of wood, or even a more expensive and traditional olive wood.

The basic nativity set should consist of at least five pieces. The stable is the setting, and the manger where Baby Jesus will rest is place in front. The most significant piece in the Nativity set is Baby Jesus, and focal point of the scene is his manger. Mary and Joseph are also prominent, but not as prominent. Placed beside the manger is Mary, looking fondly at her son. Joseph has two possible positions. Place him opposite Mary on the other side of the manger to look down on Jesus. He can also look away from the manger. Together, these five pieces, stable, manger, Christ child, Mary and Joseph, make a complete yet basic set.

In addition to the basic set, it is not uncommon to add the star of Bethlehem, the Angel Gabriel, the shepherds, the Wisemen, and various barn animals. Some nativity set creators, such as Fontanini, have hundreds of sets and figurines available, giving you endless opportunities to make your nativity scene truly unique.

Many people consider keeping a Nativity on display over the Christmas holidays is a great way to remind us all of the true message of Christmas. Nativity scenes often become hobbies for families. Adding new pieces each year can attribute to heirloom collections.

Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe

Roughly a quarter of a century after the fall of the Iron Curtain and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, a major new Pew Research Center survey finds that religion has reasserted itself as an important part of individual and national identity in many of the Central and Eastern European countries where communist regimes once repressed religious worship and promoted atheism.

Today, solid majorities of adults across much of the region say they believe in God, and most identify with a religion. Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism are the most prevalent religious affiliations, much as they were more than 100 years ago in the twilight years of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires.

In many Central and Eastern European countries, religion and national identity are closely entwined. This is true in former communist states, such as the Russian Federation and Poland, where majorities say that being Orthodox or Catholic is important to being “truly Russian” or “truly Polish.” It is also the case in Greece, where the church played a central role in Greece’s successful struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire and where today three-quarters of the public (76%) says that being Orthodox is important to being “truly Greek.”

Many people in the region embrace religion as an element of national belonging even though they are not highly observant. Relatively few Orthodox or Catholic adults in Central and Eastern Europe say they regularly attend worship services, pray often or consider religion central to their lives. For example, a median of just 10% of Orthodox Christians across the region say they go to church on a weekly basis.

Indeed, compared with many populations Pew Research Center previously has surveyed – from the United States to Latin America to sub-Saharan Africa to Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa – Central and Eastern Europeans display relatively low levels of religious observance.

Around the world, different ways of being religious

Believing. Behaving. Belonging.

Three words, three distinct ways in which people connect (or don’t) to religion: Do they believe in a higher power? Do they pray and perform rituals? Do they feel part of a congregation, spiritual community or religious group?

Research suggests that many people around the world engage with religion in at least one of these ways, but not necessarily all three.

Christians in Western Europe, for example, have been described as “believing without belonging,” a phrase coined by sociologist Grace Davie in her 1994 religious profile of Great Britain, where, she noted, widespread belief in God coexists with largely empty churches and low participation in religious institutions. 1

In East Asia, there is a different paradigm, one that might be called “behaving without believing or belonging.” According to a major ethnography conducted last decade, for example, many people in China neither believe in a higher power nor identify with any particular religious faith, yet nevertheless go to Buddhist or Confucian temples to make offerings and partake in religious rituals. 2

Many Central and Eastern Europeans, on the other hand, might be described as “believing and belonging, without behaving.” While Pew Research Center’s survey shows that majorities of adults across the region believe in God and identify with Orthodox Christianity, conventional measures of Christian religious behavior – such as levels of daily prayer and weekly worship attendance – are relatively low.

Nonetheless, the comeback of religion in a region once dominated by atheist regimes is striking – particularly in some historically Orthodox countries, where levels of religious affiliation have risen substantially in recent decades.

Whether the return to religion in Orthodox-majority countries began before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 remains an open question. Reliable, verifiable data about religious beliefs and practices in the region’s then-communist regimes is difficult, if not impossible, to find. 3 But Pew Research Center’s predecessor organization did ask about religion when it surveyed several countries in the region in 1991, during the waning months of the USSR. In Russia, Ukraine and Bulgaria, far more people said they were religiously unaffiliated in 1991 than describe themselves that way in the new survey. In all three countries, the share of the population that identifies with Orthodox Christianity is up significantly since the collapse of the Soviet Union. 4

Catholicism in Central and Eastern Europe, meanwhile, has not experienced the same upsurge as Orthodox Christianity. In part, this may be because much of the population in countries such as Poland and Hungary retained a Catholic identity during the communist era, leaving less of a religious vacuum to be filled when the USSR fell.

To the extent that there has been measurable religious change in recent decades in Central and Eastern European countries with large Catholic populations, it has been in the direction of greater secularization. The most dramatic shift in this regard has occurred in the Czech Republic, where the share of the public identifying as Catholic dropped from 44% in 1991 to 21% in the current survey. Today, the Czech Republic is one of the most secular countries in Europe, with nearly three-quarters of adults (72%) describing their religion as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.”

The differing trends in predominantly Orthodox and Catholic countries may be, at least in part, a reflection of political geography. The Orthodox countries in the region are further toward the east, and many were part of the Soviet Union. The Catholic countries are further toward the west, and only Lithuania was part of the USSR.

This political divide is seen in responses to two separate survey questions: How religious do you think your country was in the 1970s and 1980s (when all but Greece among the surveyed countries were ruled by communist regimes), and how religious is it today? With few exceptions, in former Soviet republics the more common view is that those countries are more religious now than a few decades ago. Only 15% of Russians, for example, say their country was either “very religious” (3%) or “somewhat religious” (12%) in the 1970s and 1980s, while 55% say Russia is either very (8%) or somewhat (47%) religious today.

There is more variation in the answers to these questions in countries that were beyond the borders of the former USSR. In contrast with most of the former Soviet republics, respondents in Poland, Romania and Greece say their countries have become considerably less religious in recent decades.

But these perceptions do not tell the entire story. Despite declining shares in some countries, Catholics in Central and Eastern Europe generally are more religiously observant than Orthodox Christians in the region, at least by conventional measures. For instance, 45% of Catholics in Poland say they attend worship services at least weekly – more than double the share of Orthodox Christians in any country surveyed who say they go to church that often.

In addition, Catholics in Central and Eastern Europe are much more likely than Orthodox Christians to say they engage in religious practices such as taking communion and fasting during Lent. Catholics also are somewhat more likely than Orthodox Christians to say they frequently share their views on God with others, and to say they read or listen to scripture outside of religious services. 5

Although Catholics overall are more religiously observant than Orthodox Christians in the region, however, the association between religious identity and national identity is stronger in Orthodox-majority countries than in Catholic ones.

Across the countries where Orthodox Christians make up a majority, a median of 70% say it is important to be Orthodox to truly share the national identity of their country (e.g., that one must be Russian Orthodox to be “truly Russian,” or Greek Orthodox to be “truly Greek”). By comparison, a median of 57% in the four Catholic-majority countries say this about being Catholic. (Fewer people in Western Europe – for example, 23% in France and 30% in Germany – say being Christian is very or somewhat important to their national identity.)

These nationalist sentiments are especially common among members of the majority religious group in each country. But, in some cases, even members of religious minority groups take this position. For example, about a quarter of both Muslims and religiously unaffiliated people in Russia say it is important to be Russian Orthodox in order to be “truly Russian.”

In addition, people living in predominantly Orthodox countries are more inclined than others in the region to say their culture “is superior to others” and to describe themselves as “very proud” of their national identity.

Many of the predominantly Orthodox countries surveyed have centuries-old national churches, such as the Greek Orthodox Church, Russian Orthodox Church and Armenian Apostolic Church, and there is popular support for these institutions to play a large role in public life. 6 Across all the Orthodox-majority countries surveyed, a median of 56% favor state funding for their national churches. And a median of 42% say their governments should promote religious values and beliefs. In Catholic-majority countries, there is greater support for separation of religion from the state, with a median of just 41% who back state funding of churches and 28% in favor of governments promoting religious values and beliefs.

The political – and sometimes religious – map of Central and Eastern Europe has been redrawn numerous times over the centuries. Russia, whether as a synonym for the czarist empire or the USSR, has played a pivotal role in defining the political and cultural boundaries of the region.

Today, many Orthodox Christians – and not only Russian Orthodox Christians – express pro-Russia views. Most see Russia as an important buffer against the influence of the West, and many say Russia has a special obligation to protect not only ethnic Russians, but also Orthodox Christians in other countries. 7 In Catholic-majority and religiously mixed countries across the region, there is much less public support for a strong Russia as a counterweight to the West and a protector of either ethnic Russians or Orthodox Christians outside Russia’s borders.

In many ways, then, the return of religion since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union has played out differently in the predominantly Orthodox countries of Eastern Europe than it has among the heavily Catholic or mixed-religious populations further to the West. In the Orthodox countries, there has been an upsurge of religious identity, but levels of religious practice are comparatively low. And Orthodox identity is tightly bound up with national identity, feelings of pride and cultural superiority, support for linkages between national churches and governments, and views of Russia as a bulwark against the West.

Meanwhile, in such historically Catholic countries as Poland, Hungary, Lithuania and the Czech Republic, there has not been a marked rise in religious identification since the fall of the USSR on the contrary, the share of adults in these countries who identify as Catholic has declined. But levels of church attendance and other measures of religious observance in the region’s Catholic-majority countries are generally higher than in their Orthodox neighbors (although still low in comparison with many other parts of the world). The link between religious identity and national identity is present across the region but somewhat weaker in the Catholic-majority countries. And politically, the Catholic countries tend to look West rather than East: Far more people in Poland, Hungary, Lithuania and Croatia say it is in their country’s interest to work closely with the U.S. and other Western powers than take the position that a strong Russia is necessary to balance the West.

What is a median?

On some questions throughout this report, median percentages are reported to help readers see overall patterns. The median is the middle number in a list of figures sorted in ascending or descending order. In a survey of 18 countries, the median result is the average of the ninth and 10th on a list of country-level findings ranked in order.

In addition to looking at medians based on all of the survey’s respondents across 18 countries, this report sometimes refers to the median among a specific subset of respondents and/or countries. For example, in 13 countries, the number of Orthodox Christians surveyed is large enough to be analyzed and broken out separately. The regional median for Orthodox Christians is the seventh-highest result when the findings solely among Orthodox respondents in those 13 countries are listed from highest to lowest.

These are among the key findings of the Pew Research Center survey, which was conducted from June 2015 to July 2016 through face-to-face interviews in 17 languages with more than 25,000 adults ages 18 and older in 18 countries. The study, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation, is part of a larger effort by Pew Research Center to understand religious change and its impact on societies around the world. The Center previously has conducted religion-focused surveys across sub-Saharan Africa the Middle East-North Africa region and many other countries with large Muslim populations Latin America and the Caribbean Israel and the United States.

While there is no consensus over the exact boundaries of Central and Eastern Europe, the new survey spans a vast area running eastward from the Czech Republic and Poland to Russia, Georgia and Armenia, and southward from the Baltic States to the Balkans and Greece. (See related map.) Over the centuries, nationhood, politics and religion have converged and diverged in the region as empires have risen and crumbled and independence has been lost and regained.

Most of the countries surveyed were once ruled by communist regimes, either aligned or not aligned with Moscow. But Greece remained outside the Iron Curtain and became allied with Western Europe after World War II. In this respect, Greece offers a useful point of comparison with other Orthodox-majority countries in the region. It is both of the West and of the East. For example, Greeks report relatively low levels of religious practice, while expressing strong feelings of cultural superiority and national pride – similar to respondents in other Orthodox-majority countries surveyed. But Greeks also differ: For instance, they are more supportive of democracy and less socially conservative than neighbors in majority-Orthodox countries.

Central and Eastern Europe includes a few Muslim-majority countries. Pew Research Center previously surveyed them as part of a study of Muslims around the world. For more on these countries, see the related sidebar.

The survey does not include several Christian-majority countries in Central and Eastern Europe: Macedonia, Montenegro and Cyprus, which have Orthodox majorities, and Slovakia and Slovenia, which are predominantly Catholic.

In addition to asking questions about religious identity, beliefs and practices and national identity, the survey probed respondents’ views on social issues, democracy, the economy, religious and ethnic pluralism and more.

Orthodox Christians make up majority in the region

Overall, an estimated 57% of people living in the region surveyed identify as Orthodox. 8 This includes large majorities in 10 countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Greece, Romania and several others. Orthodox Christians also form significant minorities in Bosnia (35%), Latvia (31%) and Estonia (25%).

Catholics make up about 18% of the region’s population, including majorities of adults in Poland, Croatia, Lithuania and Hungary.

The next largest group, at 14% of the region’s population, is the religiously unaffiliated – people who identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” The religiously unaffiliated make up a solid majority (72%) of adults in the Czech Republic and a plurality (45%) in Estonia.

Protestants are a smaller presence in the region, though in some countries they are sizable minorities. In Estonia and Latvia, for example, roughly one-in-five adults identify as Lutheran. And 13% of Hungarians identify with the Presbyterian/Reformed Church.

What other surveys have shown about religion in Central and Eastern Europe

Since the early 1990s, several survey organizations have sought to measure religious affiliation in parts of Central and Eastern Europe, among them the International Social Survey Program (ISSP), New Russia Barometer, New Europe Barometer, New Baltic Barometer and the Center for the Study of Public Policy at the University of Strathclyde. Some of these polls also have asked about belief in God and frequency of church attendance.

While most of these surveys cover Russia, data showing trends over time in other Orthodox countries since the 1990s are scarce. And because of major differences in question wording, as well as widely differing methodological approaches to sampling minority populations, the surveys arrive at varying estimates of the size of different religious groups, including Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Muslims and people with no religious affiliation. 9 On the whole, though, they point to a sharp revival of religious identity in Russia beginning in the early 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union. For example, ISSP surveys conducted in Russia in 1991, 1998 and 2008 show the share of Orthodox Christians more than doubling from 31% to 72%, while at the same time, the share of religiously unaffiliated adults declined from a majority in 1991 (61%) to 18% in 2008.

Some of the more recent surveys suggest that this Orthodox revival has slowed or leveled off in the last decade or so. For example, European Social Survey (ESS) polls show a relatively stable share of Orthodox Christians in Russia, Bulgaria and Ukraine since about 2006, as illustrated in the accompanying chart, and Pew Research Center polls show a similar trend.

At the same time, surveys indicate that the shares of adults engaging in religious practices have remained largely stable since the fall of the Soviet Union. In Russia, according to New Russia Barometer surveys, approximately as many religiously affiliated adults said they attended church monthly in 2007 (12%) as in 1993 (11%).

In Catholic-majority countries, church attendance rates may even have declined, according to some surveys. For instance, in New Baltic Barometer surveys conducted in Lithuania, 25% of adults said they attended church at least once a month in 2004, down from 35% in 1993.

Few people attend church, but most believe in God

Even though relatively few people in many countries across Central and Eastern Europe say they attend church weekly, a median of 86% across the 18 countries surveyed say they believe in God. This includes more than nine-in-ten in Georgia (99%), Armenia (95%), Moldova (95%), Romania (95%) and Bosnia (94%). The Czech Republic and Estonia are the two biggest exceptions to this pattern in both places, fewer than half (29% and 44%, respectively) say they believe in God.

Overall, people in Central and Eastern Europe are somewhat less likely to say they believe in God than adults previously surveyed in Africa and Latin America, among whom belief is almost universal. Still, across this region – with its unique history of state-supported atheism and separation of religion from public life – it is striking that the vast majority of adults express belief in God.

Lower percentages across Central and Eastern Europe – though still majorities in about half the countries – believe in heaven (median of 59%) and hell (median of 54%). Across the countries surveyed, Catholics tend to express higher levels of belief in heaven and hell than do Orthodox Christians.

Belief in fate (i.e., that the course of one’s life is largely or wholly preordained) and the existence of the soul also are fairly common – at least half of adults express these beliefs in nearly every country surveyed. Even among people who do not identify with a religion, substantial shares say they believe in fate and the soul. In the Czech Republic, where just three-in-ten people (29%) say they believe in God, higher shares express belief in fate (43%) and the existence of the soul (44%).

Religion in the Czech Republic, Central and Eastern Europe’s most secular country

The Czech Republic stands out in this report as the only country surveyed where most adults are religiously unaffiliated. When asked about their religion, 72% of Czech respondents identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” and roughly two-thirds (66%) say they do not believe in God. Given that other countries in Central and Eastern Europe emerged from communist rule with much higher levels of religious affiliation, this raises the question: Why aren’t Czechs more religious?

For clues, scholars have looked to the past, identifying a pattern of Czech distaste for the pressures emanating from religious and secular authorities. This goes back as far as 1415, when followers of Jan Hus, a priest in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic), separated from the Roman Catholic Church after Hus was burned at the stake for heresy.

Throughout the 15th century, in a precursor of sorts to the Protestant Reformation, these so-called “Hussites” gained enough influence that the vast majority of the Czech population no longer identified as Catholic. 10 But after the Thirty Years’ War (1618 to 1648), this break from Catholicism reversed itself when the Catholic Austro-Hungarian Empire fiercely repressed the Hussites and other Protestants and forcibly re-Catholicized the area. While the region would become overwhelmingly Catholic, historians argue that the repression of this period reverberates to the present day in the collective Czech memory, casting the Catholic Church as an overly privileged partner of foreign occupiers.

Anticlericalism surged in the years of Czech independence after World War I, with the country’s Catholic population declining by an estimated 1.5 million people, half of whom did not join another denomination. 11 After World War II, the Soviet-influenced regime, which was officially atheist, furthered this disaffiliation.

Openness to religion briefly spiked after the fall of communism, though evidence suggests this may have been mostly a political statement against the communist regime, and since the early 1990s, the share of Czechs who say they have a religious affiliation has declined. 12

Relatively few people in the region pray daily

Despite the high levels of belief in God throughout most of the region, daily prayer is not the norm in Central and Eastern Europe. For instance, just 17% of Russians and 27% of both Poles and Serbians say they pray at least once a day. By comparison, more than half of U.S. adults (55%) say they pray every day.

People in the region are much more likely to take part in other religious practices, such as having icons or other holy figures in their homes or wearing religious symbols (such as a cross). And very high shares of both Catholics and Orthodox Christians in virtually every country surveyed say they have been baptized.

For more on religious practices, see Chapter 2.

Conservative views on sexuality and gender

Opposition to homosexuality throughout the region

In the U.S. and many other countries, people who are more religious generally have more conservative views on social issues such as homosexuality and abortion. While this pattern is also seen within individual countries in Central and Eastern Europe, the most religious countries in the region (by conventional measures such as overall rates of church attendance) are not necessarily the most socially conservative.

For example, although levels of church attendance and prayer are relatively low in Orthodox-majority Russia, 85% of Russians overall say homosexual behavior is morally wrong. Even among religiously unaffiliated Russians, three-quarters say homosexuality is morally wrong and 79% say society should not accept it.

By contrast, in Catholic-majority Poland, where the population as a whole is more religiously observant, only about half of adults (48%) say homosexuality is morally wrong. Roughly four-in-ten Catholic Poles (41%) say society should accept homosexuality.

This pattern, in which Orthodox countries are more socially conservative even though they may be less religious, is seen throughout the region.

Young adults somewhat more liberal on homosexuality, same-sex marriage

Across the region, younger people (that is, adults under 35) are less opposed to homosexuality and more inclined than their elders to favor legal gay marriage.

But even among younger people, the prevailing view is that homosexuality is morally wrong, and relatively few young adults (except in the Czech Republic) favor gay marriage. In some countries, there is little or no difference between the views of younger and older adults on these issues. For example, in Ukraine, younger people are about as likely as their elders to favor legal gay marriage (11% vs. 7%).

Many in Orthodox countries associate women with traditional roles

People in Orthodox-majority countries are more likely than those elsewhere in the region to hold traditional views of gender roles – such as women having a social responsibility to bear children and wives being obligated to obey their husbands.

Along these same lines, roughly four-in-ten or more adults in most Orthodox-majority countries say that when unemployment is high, men should have more rights to a job. In the eight non-Orthodox countries surveyed, the share that holds this view ranges from 19% in Estonia to 39% in Bosnia.

Russia’s regional influence

Many see Moscow patriarch as highest authority of Orthodoxy

Many Orthodox Christians across the region look toward Russian religious leadership. While there is no central authority in Orthodox Christianity akin to the pope in Catholicism, Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople is often referred to as the “first among equals” (in Latin, “primus inter pares”) in his spiritual leadership of the Greek Orthodox and other Orthodox Christians around the world. 13 But Greece is the only country surveyed where a majority of Orthodox Christians say they view the patriarch of Constantinople as the highest authority in Orthodoxy.

Substantial shares of Orthodox Christians – even outside Russia – see the patriarch of Moscow (currently Kirill) as the highest authority in the Orthodox Church, including roughly half or more not only in Estonia and Latvia, where about three-in-four Orthodox Christians identify as ethnic Russians, but also in Belarus and Moldova, where the vast majority of Orthodox Christians are not ethnic Russians.

In countries such as Armenia, Serbia and Ukraine, many people regard the national patriarchs as the main religious authorities. But even in these three nations, roughly one-in-six or more Orthodox Christians say the patriarch of Moscow is the highest authority in Orthodoxy – despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Orthodox Christians in these countries do not self-identify as ethnic Russians or with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Should Russia protect Orthodox Christians outside its borders?

In addition to having the largest Orthodox Christian population in the world (more than 100 million), Russia plays central cultural and geopolitical roles in the region. In all but one Orthodox-majority country surveyed, most adults agree with the notion that Russia has an obligation to protect Orthodox Christians outside its borders.

The lone exception is Ukraine, which lost effective control over Crimea to Russia in 2014 and is still engaged in a conflict with pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country. Yet, even outside the territories in conflict, more than a third of Ukrainian adults (38%) say Russia has an obligation to protect Orthodox Christians in other countries. (For a more detailed explanation of ethnic and religious divides in Ukraine, see the sidebar later in this chapter.)

Russians generally accept this role 72% of Russians agree that their country has an obligation to protect Orthodox Christians in other countries. But this sense of national responsibility or bond with Orthodox Christians outside Russia’s borders does not necessarily extend to a personal level. Just 44% of Orthodox Christians in Russia say they feel a strong bond with other Orthodox Christians around the world, and 54% say they personally feel a special responsibility to support other Orthodox Christians.

Ethnic Russians say Russia has an obligation to protect them

The survey also asked respondents whether Russia has an obligation to protect ethnic Russians living outside its borders. 14

Several former Soviet republics have ethnic Russian minority populations. For example, 31% of adults surveyed in Latvia describe themselves as ethnically Russian, as do 25% in Estonia and 8% of those surveyed in Ukraine. 15 Most ethnic Russians in these countries identify as Orthodox Christians. And in all three of these countries, clear majorities of ethnic Russians agree that Russia has a responsibility to protect them.

Russians generally accept this responsibility, with 77% agreeing that Russia has an obligation to protect ethnic Russians living in other countries.
In the other Orthodox-majority countries surveyed, no more than 6% of all respondents identify as ethnic Russians. But still, in some of these places, solid majorities agree Russia has an obligation to protect people of Russian ethnicity living outside its borders, including 86% in Serbia and 62% in Georgia. Once again, fewer Ukrainians (38%) agree with this view.

Ukraine divided between east and west

The survey results highlight an east-west divide within Ukraine. In the new survey, about seven-in-ten adults (69%) in western Ukraine say it is in their country’s interest to work closely with the United States and other Western powers, compared with 53% in eastern Ukraine. And adults in the western region are less likely than easterners to see a conflict between Ukraine’s “traditional values” and those of the West.

Eastern Ukrainians, meanwhile, are more likely to favor a strong Russia on the world stage. Eastern Ukrainians are more likely than Ukrainians in the western part of the country to agree that “a strong Russia is necessary to balance the influence of the West” (29% vs. 17%). And more than half of adults (54%) in eastern Ukraine say Russia has an obligation to protect ethnic Russians outside its borders, while just a quarter of adults in western Ukraine say this

The survey also finds significant religious differences between residents of the two parts of the country. For example, people living in western Ukraine are more likely than those in the east to attend church on a weekly basis, to say religion is very important in their lives and to believe in God. In addition, nearly all Catholics in Ukraine live in the western part of the country, and western Ukraine has a somewhat higher concentration of Orthodox Christians who identify with the Kiev patriarchate than does eastern Ukraine. Even accounting for these religious differences, statistical analysis of the survey results suggests that where Ukrainians live (east or west) is a strong determinant of their attitudes toward Russia and the West – stronger than their religious affiliation, ethnicity, age, gender or level of education.

A similar political divide was found by Pew Research Center in a 2015 poll in Ukraine, which revealed that 56% of Ukrainians living in the country’s western region blamed Russia for the violence in eastern Ukraine, compared with only 33% of those living in the east.

Because of the security situation in eastern Ukraine, both the 2015 poll and the current poll exclude the contested regions of Luhansk, Donetsk and Crimea. The surveys cover approximately 80% of Ukraine’s total population, allowing for an analysis of east-west differences.

Most people across the region say it is in their country’s interest to work with the U.S. and the West

People in Orthodox-majority countries tend to see Russia as an important buffer against the West, with most in these nations (with the notable exception of Ukraine) saying that “a strong Russia is necessary to balance the influence of the West.” Even in Greece, a country that is part of the European Union, 70% agree a strong Russia is needed to balance the West.

This sentiment is shared by considerably fewer people in Catholic and religiously mixed countries in the region.

At the same time, majorities in most countries surveyed – Orthodox and non-Orthodox – also say it is in their country’s interest to work closely with the U.S. and other Western powers.

People in Orthodox-majority countries tend to look more favorably toward Russian economic influence in the region. Larger shares of the public in Orthodox countries than elsewhere say Russian companies are having a good influence over the way things are going in their country. And across roughly half the Orthodox countries surveyed, smaller shares say American companies have a good influence within their borders than say the same about Russian companies. Only in two Orthodox countries (Ukraine and Romania) do more adults give positive assessments of American companies than of Russian ones.

In Estonia and Latvia, most self-identified ethnic Russians agree that a strong Russia is necessary to balance the influence of the West (71% and 64%, respectively). By contrast, among the rest of the populations in those countries, large shares hold the opposite point of view: In Estonia, 70% of respondents who identify with other ethnicities disagree that a strong Russia is needed to balance the influence of the West, as do 51% of Latvians belonging to other ethnicities. (Just 29% of Latvians who are not ethnic Russians agree a strong Russia is necessary to balance the influence of the West, while 20% do not take a clear position on the issue.) In Ukraine, ethnic Russians are about twice as likely as ethnic Ukrainians to say a strong Russia is necessary to counter the West, although ethnic Russians are closely divided on the issue (42% agree vs. 41% disagree).

Ukraine also is the only country surveyed where ethnic Russians are about equally likely to say American companies and Russian companies are having a good influence in their country. In Estonia and Latvia, ethnic Russians are far more likely to rate favorably the influence of Russian than American companies.

In part, the desire for a strong Russia may owe to a perceived values gap with the West. Across the region, people in Orthodox-majority countries are more likely than those in Catholic-majority countries to agree with the statement, “There is a conflict between our country’s traditional values and those of the West.” And respondents who agree with that statement also are more likely than those who disagree to say a strong Russia is necessary to balance the influence of the West. 16

Many in former Soviet republics regret the Soviet Union’s demise

In former Soviet republics outside the Baltics, there is a robust strain of nostalgia for the USSR. In Moldova and Armenia, for example, majorities say the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 was bad for their country. Even in Ukraine, where an armed conflict with pro-Russian separatists continues, about one-third (34%) of the public feels this way.

By contrast, in the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania the more widespread view is that the USSR’s dissolution was a good thing. (This question was asked only in countries that were once a part of the Soviet Union.)

In nearly every country, adults over the age of 5o (i.e., those who came of age during the Soviet era) are more likely than younger adults to say the dissolution of the Soviet Union has been a bad thing for their country. Ethnicity makes a difference as well: Ethnic Russians in Ukraine, Latvia and Estonia are more likely than people of other ethnicities in these countries to say the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a bad thing. In Latvia, for example, 53% of ethnic Russians say the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a bad thing, compared with 20% of all other Latvians.

Nostalgia for the Soviet era also may be reflected in people’s views of two political leaders – Josef Stalin (who ruled from 1924 to 1953) and Mikhail Gorbachev (general secretary of the Communist Party from 1985 to 1991). Neither man is viewed positively across the region as a whole. But in several former Soviet republics, including Russia and his native Georgia, more people view Stalin favorably than view Gorbachev favorably. Meanwhile, Gorbachev receives more favorable ratings than Stalin does in the Baltic countries, as well as in Poland, Hungary, Croatia and the Czech Republic.

Many express doubts about democracy as best form of government

Following the fall of the Iron Curtain and collapse of the USSR, Western models of democratic government and market economies quickly spread across Central and Eastern Europe. Elsewhere, Pew Research Center has documented the wide range of public reactions to political and economic change between 1991 and 2009. Just as in that study, the new survey finds many people across the region harbor doubts about democracy.

While the prevailing view in 11 of the 18 countries surveyed is that democracy is preferable to any other form of government, only in two countries – Greece (77%) and Lithuania (64%) – do clear majorities say this.

In many countries across Central and Eastern Europe, substantial shares of the public – including roughly one-third or more of adults in Bulgaria, Belarus, Russia and Moldova – take the position that under some circumstances, a nondemocratic government is preferable.

This survey question offered a third option as a response: “For someone like me, it doesn’t matter what kind of government we have.” Considerable shares of respondents in many countries also take this position, including a plurality in Serbia (43%), about a third in Armenia (32%) and one-in-five Russians (20%).

In Orthodox countries, more people support a role for the church in public life

People in Orthodox-majority countries are more inclined than those elsewhere in the region to say their governments should support the spread of religious values and beliefs in the country and that governments should provide funding for their dominant, national churches.

Roughly a third or more in Orthodox countries say their governments should support the spread of religious values and beliefs in their countries, including a majority in Armenia (59%) and roughly half in Georgia (52%). Support for government efforts to spread religious values is considerably lower in most Catholic countries – in Poland, Croatia and Hungary, majorities instead take the position that religion should be kept separate from government policies.

In addition, even though relatively few people in Orthodox-majority countries in the region say they personally attend church on a weekly basis, many more say their national Orthodox Church should receive government funding. In Russia, for example, 50% say the Russian Orthodox Church should receive government funding, even though just 7% of Russians say they attend services on a weekly basis. Similarly, 58% of Serbians say the Serbian Orthodox Church should receive funds from their government, while again, 7% say they go to religious services weekly.

By comparison, 28% of Poles and about four-in-ten adults in Croatia, Lithuania and Hungary support government funding of the Catholic Church in these Catholic-majority countries.

Across several Orthodox- and Catholic-majority countries, people who do not identify with the predominant religion (whether Orthodoxy or Catholicism) are less likely than others to support the government spread of religious values as well as public funding for the church. For example, in Hungary, just 19% of religiously unaffiliated adults say the government should fund the Catholic Church, compared with about half of Catholics (51%).

But, in some cases, people in religious minority groups are nearly as likely as those in the majority to say the government should financially support the dominant church. In Russia, for instance, 50% of Muslims – compared to 56% of Orthodox Christians – say the Russian Orthodox Church should receive funding from the state.

Views on diverse vs. homogeneous societies

Mixed opinions on whether a diverse or homogeneous society is better

The survey also probed views on religious and ethnic diversity. Respondents were asked to choose between two statements: “It is better for us if society consists of people from different nationalities, religions and cultures” or “It is better for us if society consists of people from the same nationality, and who have the same religion and culture.”

Answers vary significantly across the region, with large majorities in countries that were part of the former Yugoslavia (Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia), which went through ethnic and religious wars in the 1990s, saying that a multicultural society is preferable.

Muslims tend to be more likely than Orthodox Christians and Catholics in the region to favor a multicultural society.

Varying levels of acceptance among Catholics, Orthodox and other groups

In addition to measuring broad attitudes toward diversity and pluralism, the survey also explored opinions about a number of specific religious and ethnic groups in the region. For example, how do the two largest religious groups in the region – Orthodox Christians and Catholics – view each other?

To begin with, many members of both Christian traditions say that Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy have a lot in common. But the Orthodox-Catholic schism is nearly 1,000 years old (it is conventionally dated to 1054, following a period of growing estrangement between the Eastern patriarchates and the Latin Church of Rome). And some modern Orthodox leaders have condemned the idea of reuniting with the Roman Catholic Church, expressing fears that liberal Western values would supplant traditional Orthodox ones.

Today, few Orthodox Christians in the region say the two churches should be in communion again, including as few as 17% in Russia and 19% in Georgia who favor reuniting with the Catholic Church.

In countries that have significant Catholic and Orthodox populations, Catholics are, on balance, more likely to favor communion between the two churches. In Ukraine, for example, about three-quarters (74%) of Catholics favor reunification of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, a view held by only about one-third (34%) of the country’s Orthodox population. (See the related sidebar for an explanation of Ukraine’s religious and ethnic divides.)

In some cases, the estrangement between the two Christian traditions runs deeper. The survey asked Orthodox Christians and Catholics whether they would be willing to accept each other as fellow citizens of their country, as neighbors or as family members. In most countries, the vast majority of both groups say they would accept each other as citizens and as neighbors. But the survey reveals at least some hesitation on the part of both Orthodox Christians and Catholics to accept the other as family members, with Catholics somewhat more accepting of Orthodox Christians than vice versa. In Ukraine, where Catholics are a minority, there is a particularly large gap on this issue – 92% of Catholics say they would accept Orthodox Christians as family members, while far fewer Orthodox Christians (56%) in Ukraine say they would accept Catholics into their family.

The survey also posed similar questions about three other religious or ethnic groups. Respondents were asked whether they would be willing to accept Jews, Muslims and Roma as citizens of their country, neighbors and family. The results of this battery of “social distance” questions suggest that there is less acceptance, in general, of these minorities in Central and Eastern Europe.

Roma (also known as Romani or Gypsies, a term some consider pejorative) face the lowest overall levels of acceptance. Across all 18 countries surveyed, a median of 57% of respondents say they would be willing to accept Roma as fellow citizens. Even lower shares say they would be willing to accept Roma as neighbors (a median of 37%) or family members (median of 19%). There is little or no difference between Catholics and Orthodox Christians when it comes to views of Roma.

On balance, acceptance of Jews is higher than of Muslims. But there are some differences in the attitudes of the major Christian groups toward these minorities. Overall, Catholics appear more willing than Orthodox Christians to accept Jews as family members.

On the other hand, Orthodox Christians are generally more inclined than Catholics across the region to accept Muslims as fellow citizens and neighbors. This may reflect, at least in part, the sizable Muslim populations in some countries that also have large Orthodox populations. Orthodox-majority Russia has approximately 14 million Muslims, the largest Muslim population in the region (in total number), and Bosnia has substantial populations of both Muslims and Orthodox Christians, but fewer Catholics.

People in Georgia and Armenia consistently show low levels of acceptance of all three groups as family members compared with other countries in the region. Roughly a quarter in Georgia and Armenia say they would be willing to accept Jews as family members. Acceptance of Muslims is even lower in these countries – 16% of Georgian Orthodox Christians say they would be willing to accept a Muslim family member, even though about one-in-ten Georgians (9%) are Muslim, and just 5% of Armenian Orthodox Christians say they would be willing to accept a Muslim in their family.

About one-in-ten people in Georgia and Armenia say they would be willing to accept Roma in their family, compared with, for example, 30% in Moldova and 18% in Russia.

Muslims in the former Soviet bloc

Pew Research Center previously polled Muslims in the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, as well as in the Balkan countries of Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo, as part of a 2012 survey of Muslims in 40 countries around the world. Bosnia and Kazakhstan also were included in the 2016 survey. 17

The 2012 survey found relatively low levels of religious belief and practice among Muslims in the former Soviet bloc countries compared with Muslims elsewhere around the world.

No more than half of Muslims surveyed in Russia, the Balkans and in Central Asia say religion is very important in their lives, compared with the vast majorities of Muslims living in the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa. Following the same pattern, fewer Muslims in most countries of the former Soviet bloc than elsewhere say they practice core tenets of their faith, such as fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, or giving zakat (a portion of their accumulated wealth to the needy). And considerably fewer in most countries favor making sharia the official law of the land in their countries.

The current survey has large enough sample sizes of Muslims for analysis in Bosnia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Russia. Muslims in Kazakhstan and Russia largely show levels of religious belief and observance similar to those highlighted in the 2012 report. A lack of survey data dating back to the early 1990s on the attitudes of Muslim publics makes it difficult to determine the extent to which these populations have experienced religious revival since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Compared with the Christian populations in Russia, Kazakhstan and Bulgaria, Muslims are generally more religiously observant higher shares among Muslims than Christians in these countries say religion is “very important” in their lives, report daily prayer and say they attend religious services at least weekly. But in Georgia, where religious observance is higher among the general population than elsewhere in the region, Muslims are about as likely as Christians to say they attend services weekly or consider religion “very important.” In fact, Muslims in Georgia are less likely than Christians to say they pray daily.

In religiously mixed Bosnia, Muslims are more observant than the country’s Orthodox and Catholic populations, and a higher share of Muslims say religion is “very important” in their lives in 2015 than in 2012.

How Christian Were the Founders?

LAST MONTH, A WEEK before the Senate seat of the liberal icon Edward M. Kennedy fell into Republican hands, his legacy suffered another blow that was perhaps just as damaging, if less noticed. It happened during what has become an annual spectacle in the culture wars.

Over two days, more than a hundred people — Christians, Jews, housewives, naval officers, professors people outfitted in everything from business suits to military fatigues to turbans to baseball caps — streamed through the halls of the William B. Travis Building in Austin, Tex., waiting for a chance to stand before the semicircle of 15 high-backed chairs whose occupants made up the Texas State Board of Education. Each petitioner had three minutes to say his or her piece.

“Please keep César Chávez” was the message of an elderly Hispanic man with a floppy gray mustache.

“Sikhism is the fifth-largest religion in the world and should be included in the curriculum,” a woman declared.

Following the appeals from the public, the members of what is the most influential state board of education in the country, and one of the most politically conservative, submitted their own proposed changes to the new social-studies curriculum guidelines, whose adoption was the subject of all the attention — guidelines that will affect students around the country, from kindergarten to 12th grade, for the next 10 years. Gail Lowe — who publishes a twice-a-week newspaper when she is not grappling with divisive education issues — is the official chairwoman, but the meeting was dominated by another member. Don McLeroy, a small, vigorous man with a shiny pate and bristling mustache, proposed amendment after amendment on social issues to the document that teams of professional educators had drawn up over 12 months, in what would have to be described as a single-handed display of archconservative political strong-arming.

McLeroy moved that Margaret Sanger, the birth-control pioneer, be included because she “and her followers promoted eugenics,” that language be inserted about Ronald Reagan’s “leadership in restoring national confidence” following Jimmy Carter’s presidency and that students be instructed to “describe the causes and key organizations and individuals of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.” The injection of partisan politics into education went so far that at one point another Republican board member burst out in seemingly embarrassed exasperation, “Guys, you’re rewriting history now!” Nevertheless, most of McLeroy’s proposed amendments passed by a show of hands.

Finally, the board considered an amendment to require students to evaluate the contributions of significant Americans. The names proposed included Thurgood Marshall, Billy Graham, Newt Gingrich, William F. Buckley Jr., Hillary Rodham Clinton and Edward Kennedy. All passed muster except Kennedy, who was voted down.

This is how history is made — or rather, how the hue and cry of the present and near past gets lodged into the long-term cultural memory or else is allowed to quietly fade into an inaudible whisper. Public education has always been a battleground between cultural forces one reason that Texas’ school-board members find themselves at the very center of the battlefield is, not surprisingly, money. The state’s $22 billion education fund is among the largest educational endowments in the country. Texas uses some of that money to buy or distribute a staggering 48 million textbooks annually — which rather strongly inclines educational publishers to tailor their products to fit the standards dictated by the Lone Star State. California is the largest textbook market, but besides being bankrupt, it tends to be so specific about what kinds of information its students should learn that few other states follow its lead. Texas, on the other hand, was one of the first states to adopt statewide curriculum guidelines, back in 1998, and the guidelines it came up with (which are referred to as TEKS — pronounced “teaks” — for Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) were clear, broad and inclusive enough that many other states used them as a model in devising their own. And while technology is changing things, textbooks — printed or online —are still the backbone of education.

The cultural roots of the Texas showdown may be said to date to the late 1980s, when, in the wake of his failed presidential effort, the Rev. Pat Robertson founded the Christian Coalition partly on the logic that conservative Christians should focus their energies at the grass-roots level. One strategy was to put candidates forward for state and local school-board elections — Robertson’s protégé, Ralph Reed, once said, “I would rather have a thousand school-board members than one president and no school-board members” — and Texas was a beachhead. Since the election of two Christian conservatives in 2006, there are now seven on the Texas state board who are quite open about the fact that they vote in concert to advance a Christian agenda. “They do vote as a bloc,” Pat Hardy, a board member who considers herself a conservative Republican but who stands apart from the Christian faction, told me. “They work consciously to pull one more vote in with them on an issue so they’ll have a majority.”

This year’s social-studies review has drawn the most attention for the battles over what names should be included in the roll call of history. But while ignoring Kennedy and upgrading Gingrich are significant moves, something more fundamental is on the agenda. The one thing that underlies the entire program of the nation’s Christian conservative activists is, naturally, religion. But it isn’t merely the case that their Christian orientation shapes their opinions on gay marriage, abortion and government spending. More elementally, they hold that the United States was founded by devout Christians and according to biblical precepts. This belief provides what they consider not only a theological but also, ultimately, a judicial grounding to their positions on social questions. When they proclaim that the United States is a “Christian nation,” they are not referring to the percentage of the population that ticks a certain box in a survey or census but to the country’s roots and the intent of the founders.

The Christian “truth” about America’s founding has long been taught in Christian schools, but not beyond. Recently, however — perhaps out of ire at what they see as an aggressive, secular, liberal agenda in Washington and perhaps also because they sense an opening in the battle, a sudden weakness in the lines of the secularists — some activists decided that the time was right to try to reshape the history that children in public schools study. Succeeding at this would help them toward their ultimate goal of reshaping American society. As Cynthia Dunbar, another Christian activist on the Texas board, put it, “The philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.”

Imet Don McLeroy last November in a dental office — that is to say, his dental office — in a professional complex in the Brazos Valley city of Bryan, not far from the sprawling campus of Texas A&M University. The buzz of his hygienist at work sounded through the thin wall separating his office from the rest of the suite. McLeroy makes no bones about the fact that his professional qualifications have nothing to do with education. “I’m a dentist, not a historian,” he said. “But I’m fascinated by history, so I’ve read a lot.”

Indeed, dentistry is only a job for McLeroy his real passions are his faith and the state board of education. He has been a member of the board since 1999 and served as its chairman from 2007 until he was demoted from that role by the State Senate last May because of concerns over his religious views. Until now those views have stood McLeroy in good stead with the constituents of his district, which meanders from Houston to Dallas and beyond, but he is currently in a heated re-election battle in the Republican primary, which takes place March 2.

McLeroy is a robust, cheerful and inexorable man, whose personality is perhaps typified by the framed letter T on the wall of his office, which he earned as a “yell leader” (Texas A&M nomenclature for cheerleader) in his undergraduate days in the late 1960s. “I consider myself a Christian fundamentalist,” he announced almost as soon as we sat down. He also identifies himself as a young-earth creationist who believes that the earth was created in six days, as the book of Genesis has it, less than 10,000 years ago. He went on to explain how his Christian perspective both governs his work on the state board and guides him in the current effort to adjust American-history textbooks to highlight the role of Christianity. “Textbooks are mostly the product of the liberal establishment, and they’re written with the idea that our religion and our liberty are in conflict,” he said. “But Christianity has had a deep impact on our system. The men who wrote the Constitution were Christians who knew the Bible. Our idea of individual rights comes from the Bible. The Western development of the free-market system owes a lot to biblical principles.”

For McLeroy, separation of church and state is a myth perpetrated by secular liberals. “There are two basic facts about man,” he said. “He was created in the image of God, and he is fallen. You can’t appreciate the founding of our country without realizing that the founders understood that. For our kids to not know our history, that could kill a society. That’s why to me this is a huge thing.”

“This” — the Texas board’s moves to bring Jesus into American history — has drawn anger in places far removed from the board members’ constituencies. (Samples of recent blog headlines on the topic: “Don McLeroy Wants Your Children to Be Stupid” and “Can We Please Mess With Texas?”) The issue of Texas’ influence is a touchy one in education circles. With some parents and educators elsewhere leery of a right-wing fifth column invading their schools, people in the multibillion textbook industry try to play down the state’s sway. “It’s not a given that Texas’ curriculum translates into other states,” says Jay Diskey, executive director of the school division for the Association of American Publishers, which represents most of the major companies. But Tom Barber, who worked as the head of social studies at the three biggest textbook publishers before running his own editorial company, says, “Texas was and still is the most important and most influential state in the country.” And James Kracht, a professor at Texas A&M’s college of education and a longtime player in the state’s textbook process, told me flatly, “Texas governs 46 or 47 states.”

Every year for the last few years, Texas has put one subject area in its TEKS up for revision. Each year has brought a different controversy, and Don McLeroy has been at the center of most of them. Last year, in its science re-evaluation, the board lunged into the evolution/creationism/intelligent-design debate. The conservative Christian bloc wanted to require science teachers to cover the “strengths and weaknesses” of the theory of evolution, language they used in the past as a tool to weaken the rationale for teaching evolution. The battle made headlines across the country ultimately, the seven Christian conservatives were unable to pull another vote their way on that specific point, but the finished document nonetheless allows inroads to creationism.

The fallout from that fight cost McLeroy his position as chairman. “It’s the 21st century, and the rest of the known world accepts the teaching of evolution as science and creationism as religion, yet we continue to have this debate here,” Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog group, says. “So the eyes of the nation were on this body, and people saw how ridiculous they appeared.” The State Legislature felt the ridicule. “You have a point of view, and you’re using this bully pulpit to take the rest of the state there,” Eliot Shapleigh, a Democratic state senator, admonished McLeroy during the hearing that led to his ouster. McLeroy remains unbowed and talked cheerfully to me about how, confronted with a statement supporting the validity of evolution that was signed by 800 scientists, he had proudly been able to “stand up to the experts.”

The idea behind standing up to experts is that the scientific establishment has been withholding information from the public that would show flaws in the theory of evolution and that it is guilty of what McLeroy called an “intentional neglect of other scientific possibilities.” Similarly, the Christian bloc’s notion this year to bring Christianity into the coverage of American history is not, from their perspective, revisionism but rather an uncovering of truths that have been suppressed. “I don’t know that what we’re doing is redefining the role of religion in America,” says Gail Lowe, who became chairwoman of the board after McLeroy was ousted and who is one of the seven conservative Christians. “Many of us recognize that Judeo-Christian principles were the basis of our country and that many of our founding documents had a basis in Scripture. As we try to promote a better understanding of the Constitution, federalism, the separation of the branches of government, the basic rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, I think it will become evident to students that the founders had a religious motivation.”

Plenty of people disagree with this characterization of the founders, including some who are close to the process in Texas. “I think the evidence indicates that the founding fathers did not intend this to be a Christian nation,” says James Kracht, who served as an expert adviser to the board in the textbook-review process. “They definitely believed in some form of separation of church and state.”

There is, however, one slightly awkward issue for hard-core secularists who would combat what they see as a Christian whitewashing of American history: the Christian activists have a certain amount of history on their side.

IN 1801, A GROUP of Baptist ministers in Danbury, Conn., wrote a letter to the new president, Thomas Jefferson, congratulating him on his victory. They also had a favor to ask. Baptists were a minority group, and they felt insecure. In the colonial period, there were two major Christian factions, both of which derived from England. The Congregationalists, in New England, had evolved from the Puritan settlers, and in the South and middle colonies, the Anglicans came from the Church of England. Nine colonies developed state churches, which were supported financially by the colonial governments and whose power was woven in with that of the governments. Other Christians — Lutherans, Baptists, Quakers — and, of course, those of other faiths were made unwelcome, if not persecuted outright.

There was a religious element to the American Revolution, which was so pronounced that you could just as well view the event in religious as in political terms. Many of the founders, especially the Southerners, were rebelling simultaneously against state-church oppression and English rule. The Connecticut Baptists saw Jefferson — an anti-Federalist who was bitterly opposed to the idea of establishment churches — as a friend. “Our constitution of government,” they wrote, “is not specific” with regard to a guarantee of religious freedoms that would protect them. Might the president offer some thoughts that, “like the radiant beams of the sun,” would shed light on the intent of the framers? In his reply, Jefferson said it was not the place of the president to involve himself in religion, and he expressed his belief that the First Amendment’s clauses — that the government must not establish a state religion (the so-called establishment clause) but also that it must ensure the free exercise of religion (what became known as the free-exercise clause) — meant, as far as he was concerned, that there was “a wall of separation between Church & State.”

This little episode, culminating in the famous “wall of separation” metaphor, highlights a number of points about teaching religion in American history. For one, it suggests — as the Christian activists maintain — how thoroughly the colonies were shot through with religion and how basic religion was to the cause of the revolutionaries. The period in the early- to mid-1700s, called the Great Awakening, in which populist evangelical preachers challenged the major denominations, is considered a spark for the Revolution. And if religion influenced democracy then, in the Second Great Awakening, decades later, the democratic fervor of the Revolution spread through the two mainline denominations and resulted in a massive growth of the sort of populist churches that typify American Christianity to this day.

Christian activists argue that American-history textbooks basically ignore religion — to the point that they distort history outright — and mainline religious historians tend to agree with them on this. “In American history, religion is all over the place, and wherever it appears, you should tell the story and do it appropriately,” says Martin Marty, emeritus professor at the University of Chicago, past president of the American Academy of Religion and the American Society of Church History and perhaps the unofficial dean of American religious historians. “The goal should be natural inclusion. You couldn’t tell the story of the Pilgrims or the Puritans or the Dutch in New York without religion.” Though conservatives would argue otherwise, James Kracht said the absence of religion is not part of a secularist agenda: “I don’t think religion has been purposely taken out of U.S. history, but I do think textbook companies have been cautious in discussing religious beliefs and possibly getting in trouble with some groups.”

Some conservatives claim that earlier generations of textbooks were frank in promoting America as a Christian nation. It might be more accurate to say that textbooks of previous eras portrayed leaders as generally noble, with strong personal narratives, undergirded by faith and patriotism. As Frances FitzGerald showed in her groundbreaking 1979 book “America Revised,” if there is one thing to be said about American-history textbooks through the ages it is that the narrative of the past is consistently reshaped by present-day forces. Maybe the most striking thing about current history textbooks is that they have lost a controlling narrative. America is no longer portrayed as one thing, one people, but rather a hodgepodge of issues and minorities, forces and struggles. If it were possible to cast the concerns of the Christian conservatives into secular terms, it might be said that they find this lack of a through line and purpose to be disturbing and dangerous. Many others do as well, of course. But the Christians have an answer.

Their answer is rather specific. Merely weaving important religious trends and events into the narrative of American history is not what the Christian bloc on the Texas board has pushed for in revising its guidelines. Many of the points that have been incorporated into the guidelines or that have been advanced by board members and their expert advisers slant toward portraying America as having a divinely preordained mission. In the guidelines — which will be subjected to further amendments in March and then in May — eighth-grade history students are asked to “analyze the importance of the Mayflower Compact, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut and the Virginia House of Burgesses to the growth of representative government.” Such early colonial texts have long been included in survey courses, but why focus on these in particular? The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut declare that the state was founded “to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus.” The language in the Mayflower Compact — a document that McLeroy and several others involved in the Texas process are especially fond of — describes the Pilgrims’ journey as being “for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith” and thus instills the idea that America was founded as a project for the spread of Christianity. In a book she wrote two years ago, Cynthia Dunbar, a board member, could not have been more explicit about this being the reason for the Mayflower Compact’s inclusion in textbooks she quoted the document and then said, “This is undeniably our past, and it clearly delineates us as a nation intended to be emphatically Christian.”

In the new guidelines, students taking classes in U.S. government are asked to identify traditions that informed America’s founding, “including Judeo-Christian (especially biblical law),” and to “identify the individuals whose principles of law and government institutions informed the American founding documents,” among whom they include Moses. The idea that the Bible and Mosaic law provided foundations for American law has taken root in Christian teaching about American history. So when Steven K. Green, director of the Center for Religion, Law and Democracy at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., testified at the board meeting last month in opposition to the board’s approach to bringing religion into history, warning that the Supreme Court has forbidden public schools from “seeking to impress upon students the importance of particular religious values through the curriculum,” and in the process said that the founders “did not draw on Mosaic law, as is mentioned in the standards,” several of the board members seemed dumbstruck. Don McLeroy insisted it was a legitimate claim, since the Enlightenment took place in Europe, in a Christian context. Green countered that the Enlightenment had in fact developed in opposition to reliance on biblical law and said he had done a lengthy study in search of American court cases that referenced Mosaic law. “The record is basically bereft,” he said. Nevertheless, biblical law and Moses remain in the TEKS.

The process in Texas required that writing teams, made up mostly of teachers, do the actual work of revising the curriculum, with the aid of experts who were appointed by the board. Two of the six experts the board chose are well-known advocates for conservative Christian causes. One of them, the Rev. Peter Marshall, says on the Web site of his organization, Peter Marshall Ministries, that his work is “dedicated to helping to restore America to its Bible-based foundations through preaching, teaching and writing on America’s Christian heritage and on Christian discipleship and revival.”

“The guidelines in Texas were seriously deficient in bringing out the role of the Christian faith in the founding of America,” Marshall told me. In a document he prepared for the team that was writing the new guidelines, he urged that new textbooks mold children’s impressions of the founders in particular ways: “The Founding Fathers’ biblical worldview taught them that human beings were by nature self-centered, so they believed that the supernatural influence of the Spirit of God was needed to free us from ourselves so that we can care for our neighbors.”

Marshall also proposed that children be taught that the separation-of-powers notion is “rooted in the Founding Fathers’ clear understanding of the sinfulness of man,” so that it was not safe for one person to exercise unlimited power, and that “the discovery, settling and founding of the colonies happened because of the biblical worldviews of those involved.” Marshall recommended that textbooks present America’s founding and history in terms of motivational stories on themes like the Pilgrims’ zeal to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the natives.

One recurring theme during the process of revising the social-studies guidelines was the desire of the board to stress the concept of American exceptionalism, and the Christian bloc has repeatedly emphasized that Christianity should be portrayed as the driving force behind what makes America great. Peter Marshall is himself the author of a series of books that recount American history with a strong Christian focus and that have been staples in Christian schools since the first one was published in 1977. (He told me that they have sold more than a million copies.) In these history books, he employs a decidedly unhistorical tone in which the guiding hand of Providence shapes America’s story, starting with the voyage of Christopher Columbus. “Columbus’s heart belonged to God,” he assures his readers, and he notes that a particular event in the explorer’s life “marked the turning point of God’s plan to use Columbus to raise the curtain on His new Promised Land.”

The other nonacademic expert, David Barton, is the nationally known leader of WallBuilders, which describes itself as dedicated to “presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on our moral, religious and constitutional heritage.” Barton has written and lectured on the First Amendment and against separation of church and state. He is a controversial figure who has argued that the U.S. income tax and the capital-gains tax should be abolished because they violate Scripture (for the Bible says, in Barton’s reading, “the more profit you make the more you are rewarded”) and who pushes a Christianity-first rhetoric. When the U.S. Senate invited a Hindu leader to open a 2007 session with a prayer, he objected, saying: “In Hindu [sic], you have not one God, but many, many, many, many, many gods. And certainly that was never in the minds of those who did the Constitution, did the Declaration when they talked about Creator.”

In his recommendations to the Texas school board, Barton wrote that students should be taught the following principles which, in his reading, derive directly from the Declaration of Independence: “1. There is a fixed moral law derived from God and nature. 2. There is a Creator. 3. The Creator gives to man certain unalienable rights. 4. Government exists primarily to protect God-given rights to every individual. 5. Below God-given rights and moral laws, government is directed by the consent of the governed.”

A third expert, Daniel L. Dreisbach, a professor of justice, law and society at American University who has written extensively on First Amendment issues, stressed, in his recommendations to the guideline writers about how to frame the revolutionary period for students, that the founders were overwhelmingly Christian that the deistic tendencies of a few — like Jefferson — were an anomaly and that most Americans in the era were not just Christians but that “98 percent or more of Americans of European descent identified with Protestantism.”

If the fight between the “Christian nation” advocates and mainstream thinkers could be focused onto a single element, it would be the “wall of separation” phrase. Christian thinkers like to point out that it does not appear in the Constitution, nor in any other legal document — letters that presidents write to their supporters are not legal decrees. Besides which, after the phrase left Jefferson’s pen it more or less disappeared for a century and a half — until Justice Hugo Black of the Supreme Court dug it out of history’s dustbin in 1947. It then slowly worked its way into the American lexicon and American life, helping to subtly mold the way we think about religion in society. To conservative Christians, there is no separation of church and state, and there never was. The concept, they say, is a modern secular fiction. There is no legal justification, therefore, for disallowing crucifixes in government buildings or school prayer.

David Barton reads the “church and state” letter to mean that Jefferson “believed, along with the other founders, that the First Amendment had been enacted only to prevent the federal establishment of a national denomination.” Barton goes on to claim, “ ‘Separation of church and state’ currently means almost exactly the opposite of what it originally meant.” That is to say, the founders were all Christians who conceived of a nation of Christians, and the purpose of the First Amendment was merely to ensure that no single Christian denomination be elevated to the role of state church.

Mainstream scholars disagree, sometimes vehemently. Randall Balmer, a professor of American religious history at Barnard College and writer of the documentary “Crusade: The Life of Billy Graham,” told me: “David Barton has been out there spreading this lie, frankly, that the founders intended America to be a Christian nation. He’s been very effective. But the logic is utterly screwy. He says the phrase ‘separation of church and state’ is not in the Constitution. He’s right about that. But to make that argument work you would have to argue that the phrase is not an accurate summation of the First Amendment. And Thomas Jefferson, who penned it, thought it was.” (David Barton declined to be interviewed for this article.) In his testimony in Austin, Steven Green was challenged by a board member with the fact that the phrase does not appear in the Constitution. In response, Green pointed out that many constitutional concepts — like judicial review and separation of powers — are not found verbatim in the Constitution.

In what amounts to an in-between perspective, Daniel Dreisbach — who wrote a book called “Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State” — argues that the phrase “wall of separation” has been misapplied in recent decades to unfairly restrict religion from entering the public sphere. Martin Marty, the University of Chicago emeritus professor, agrees. “I think ‘wall’ is too heavy a metaphor,” Marty says. “There’s a trend now away from it, and I go along with that. In textbooks, we’re moving away from an unthinking secularity.” The public seems to agree. Polls on some specific church-state issues — government financing for faith-based organizations and voluntary prayer in public schools — consistently show majorities in favor of those positions.

Then too, the “Christian nation” position tries to trump the whole debate about separation of church and state by portraying the era of the nation’s founding as awash in Christianity. David Barton and others pepper their arguments with quotations, like one in which John Adams, in a letter to Jefferson, refers to American independence as having been achieved on “the general Principles of Christianity.” But others find just as many instances in which one or another of the founders seems clearly wary of religion.

In fact, the founders were rooted in Christianity — they were inheritors of the entire European Christian tradition — and at the same time they were steeped in an Enlightenment rationalism that was, if not opposed to religion, determined to establish separate spheres for faith and reason. “I don’t think the founders would have said they were applying Christian principles to government,” says Richard Brookhiser, the conservative columnist and author of books on Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris and George Washington. “What they said was ‘the laws of nature and nature’s God.’ They didn’t say, ‘We put our faith in Jesus Christ.’ ” Martin Marty says: “They had to invent a new, broad way. Washington, in his writings, makes scores of different references to God, but not one is biblical. He talks instead about a ‘Grand Architect,’ deliberately avoiding the Christian terms, because it had to be a religious language that was accessible to all people.”

Or, as Brookhiser rather succinctly summarizes the point: “The founders were not as Christian as those people would like them to be, though they weren’t as secularist as Christopher Hitchens would like them to be.”

THE TOWN OF Lynchburg, Va., was founded in 1786 at the site of a ferry crossing on what would later be called the James River. During the Civil War, it was a Confederate supply post, and in 1864 it was the site of one of the last Confederate victories. In 1933, Jerry Falwell was born in Lynchburg, the son of a sometime bootlegger. In 1971 — in an era of pot smoking and war protests — the Rev. Jerry Falwell inaugurated Liberty University on one of the city’s seven hills. It was to be a training ground for Christians and a bulwark against moral relativism. In 2004, three years before his death, Falwell completed another dream by founding the Liberty University School of Law, whose objective, in the words of the university’s current chancellor, Jerry Falwell Jr., is “to transform legislatures, courts, commerce and civil government at all levels.”

I visited the law-school building in late fall, with the remnants of Hurricane Ida turning the Blue Ridge Mountains skyline into a series of smudges. The building’s crisp, almost militaristic atmosphere bespeaks a seriousness of purpose and the fact that it houses, as one of its training facilities, the only full-scale replica of the U.S. Supreme Court chamber points to the school’s ambitions.

I had come to sit in on a guest lecture by Cynthia Dunbar, an assistant law professor who commutes to Lynchburg once a week from her home in Richmond, Tex., where she is a practicing lawyer as well as a member of the Texas board of education. Her presence in both worlds — public schools and the courts — suggests the connection between them that Christian activists would like to deepen. The First Amendment class for third-year law students that I watched Dunbar lead neatly merged the two components of the school’s program: “lawyering skills” and “the integration of a Christian worldview.”

Dunbar began the lecture by discussing a national day of thanksgiving that Gen. George Washington called for after the defeat of the British at Saratoga in 1777 — showing, in her reckoning, a religious base in the thinking of the country’s founders. In developing a line of legal reasoning that the future lawyers in her class might use, she wove her way to two Supreme Court cases in the 1960s, in both of which the court ruled that prayer in public schools was unconstitutional. A student questioned the relevance of the 1777 event to the court rulings, because in 1777 the country did not yet have a Constitution. “And what did we have at that time?” Dunbar asked. Answer: “The Declaration of Independence.” She then discussed a legal practice called “incorporation by reference.” “When you have in one legal document reference to another, it pulls them together, so that they can’t be viewed as separate and distinct,” she said. “So you cannot read the Constitution distinct from the Declaration.” And the Declaration famously refers to a Creator and grounds itself in “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” Therefore, she said, the religiosity of the founders is not only established and rooted in a foundational document but linked to the Constitution. From there she moved to “judicial construction and how you should go forward with that,” i.e., how these soon-to-be lawyers might work to overturn rulings like that against prayer in schools by using the founding documents.

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, a Christian legal center, told me that the notion of connecting the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is “part of a strategy to give a clear historical understanding of the role of religion in American public life” that organizations like his have been pursuing for the last 10 or 15 years.

Besides the fact that incorporation by reference is usually used for technical purposes rather than for such grandiose purposes as the reinterpretation of foundational texts, there is an oddity to this tactic. “The founders deliberately left the word ‘God’ out of the Constitution — but not because they were a bunch of atheists and deists,” says Susan Jacoby, author of “Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism.” “To them, mixing religion and government meant trouble.” The curious thing is that in trying to bring God into the Constitution, the activists — who say their goal is to follow the original intent of the founders — are ignoring the fact that the founders explicitly avoided religious language in that document.

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