Over the past year or two, with the death of many senior leaders as well as al-Qa’ida’s longing for religious legitimacy, Khalid bin ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Husaynan (Abū Zayd al-Kūwaytī) has risen in the ranks and has been described by Jarret Brachman as “Zawahiri’s in-house version of Awlaki” and by Christopher Anzalone as part of al-Qa’ida’s “missionary vanguard.” I would simply describe al-Husaynan as al-Qa’ida’s head of da’wah (the call to Islam/proselytization). Surprisingly, little has been written about al-Husaynan.
With the rise of Abu Yahya al-Libi from 2005-2008 many saw al-Libi as a potential Bin Ladin successor or at least al-Qa’ida’s main religious mouthpiece. Indeed, al-Libi has touched upon religious areas and performed al-Qa’ida’s khutabahs for ‘Id al-Fitr and ‘Id al-Adha, but al-Libi has also been a figure that discussed political issues just as much as religious ones. In contrast, al-Husaynan more or less has stuck to purely religious topics, not mixing his lectures with political overtones. This is important to note because many in the Muslim and non-Muslim world have questioned al-Qa’ida’s Islamic character (and not to mention the fact that 9 in 10 individuals al-Qa’ida has killed over the years have been Muslims) and bona fides. As such, one could argue that al-Husaynan is al-Qa’ida’s answer to its critics by showcasing a purely religious side of its media releases. In 2010, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, al-Husaynan released twenty-eight lessons related to religious life that one should ponder during Ramadan. Similarly, in April 2011, al-Husaynan began a series of “Da’wah Lectures” dealing with similar purely religious topics. For instance, the most recent was “Lecture 12: The Virtues of the Night Prayer.”
Besides his lectures though, not much is known about al-Husaynan’s background besides that he is from Kuwait and was a religious teacher employed by Kuwait’s Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs. As such, Issue #7 of Hitin’s Urdu Magazine (translated by Flashpoint Partners into English) that interviewed al-Husaynan sheds more light on his background, religious upbringing, reason for joining al-Qa’ida, and general worldview.
Background and Education
To begin the interview, Hitin Urdu Magazine describes al-Husaynan as “responsible for the religious training and the salvation of the soldiers of the al- Qa’ida network.” This provides a little more knowledge, besides his online media releases, what his actual role is in al-Qa’ida Central. The magazine then asks about al-Husaynan’s background. He was born in 1966 putting al-Husaynan at the age of 45 or 46 depending what month his birthday is in. In terms of key jihadi events, al-Husaynan was in his teens during the anti-Soviet jihad, early twenties during the Gulf war, and in his mid-thirties during 9/11 and the beginning of the Iraq war. Al-Husaynan continued by stating:
[I was] raised in such a household that gave special attention to the knowledge of religion. Our father regularly trained us to pray in a congregation. This was the time when I was admitted into a madrassah that was superior to others when it came to the education of Islamic laws. Then I went to the Arabian Peninsula where I completed my religious studies from a famous institution.
Al-Husaynan does not mention the specific institution, but he later remarks that he started his religious studies in 1986 and focused on Islamic theology and jurisprudence. He mentions he studied under Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Uthaymin for three years. Therefore, al-Husaynan most likely attended Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University, which was where al-Uthaymin was on the faculty of Shari’ah. Al-Uthaymin, along with ‘Abd al ‘Aziz ibn Baz and Muhammad Nasir ad-Din al-Albani, all three of whom passed away between 1999 and 2001, are considered three of the most eminent Salafi scholars of the modern era. Additionally, al-Husaynan stated he also studied for three years under Shaykh Sulayman bin Nasir al ‘Alwan, who is considered a favorite cleric of individuals that sympathize and support al-Qa’ida’s worldview. In the second edition of “A Mujahid’s Bookbag,” a collection of works that are recommended for jihadis to read on the online forums, al ‘Alwan’s works were listed in it 101 times, making him one of the top five ideologues in the “bookbag.” On a side note, al-Husaynan only had three works listed in the second edition (released in December 2009), while he had forty-three in the third and most recent edition (released in June 2011), further illustrating al-Husaynan’s rise in significance over the past few years (in contrast, Abu Yahya al-Libi went from 25 to 32 to 45 works listed in the three editions). As such, al-Husaynan was schooled in the orthodox Salafi school of thought by al-Uthaymin, as endorsed by the Saudi state, but was also exposed to more radical interpretations of Salafism when studying under al ‘Alwan.
Teaching Back in Kuwait
The Hitin Urdu Magazine interview then moves onto questions related to his time back in Kuwait when he begins to teach. Al-Husaynan states his main motivation for calling individuals to Islam is based on this saying from God: “Who else has better words to say than the one who invites people towards God, do good deeds and say, no doubt, I am from amongst the Muslims.” His style in teaching is also touched upon. Some have noticed and described al-Husaynan in his video lectures for al-Qa’ida as cartoonish. Based on the interview, he believes it is a helpful way to grab the attention of the youth (emphasis mine):
The main focus of our proselytizing and training were the youths. And because most of the youngster do not come to masjid (mosque) to offer their prayers, we would go to the colleges and universities to deliver sermons there. We would present to them incentives and deterrents in the style, which Qur’an adopts. To get their attention and in turn change their thinking we would first make them get familiar to us. For this purpose, we would joke and get funny during our speeches. And the truth of the matter is that once a person starts loving someone, he accepts what he is told and is also influenced easily. That’s why we would converse with them in an exciting way. We would make them laugh and kid around with them. Thank God this method was very effective on the youth.
During his time in Kuwait, al-Husaynan also states that he prepared pamphets for da’wah, providing some examples: (1) More than 1000 day-to-day practices of the Prophet; (2) More than 1000 day-to-day prayers; (3) Answers to 1000 problems of the women; (4) How do we get to the destinations of Allah’s people; (5) This is how good and pious are supposed to be; and (6) How are you preparing for your reckoning?
Entering the Fields of Jihad
According to the interview with Hitin Urdu Magazine, al-Husaynan decided to go to Afghanistan to join with the “mujahidin” sometime in 2007 (1427 H). He felt obliged and points to this edict from God that finally pushed him:
Oh Prophet [Muhammad], tell them that if you fear for the loss of your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your families, the goods that you earned and your trade, and if these are the things that are more dear to you that fighting in the way of your God (jihad fi sabil Allah) and His Prophet [Muhammad], then wait until calamity from God arrives on you. And God does not bring unrighteous to the right path.
Al-Husaynan further explains his reasoning for going to Afghanistan: “jihad in the name of God is more important to me than anything else. And these can’t be achieved through talk, sermonizing or listening to sermons, but by illustrating through sacrifices, self-giving, migration and jihad.” Therefore, although he felt his teaching methods were reaching the youth of Kuwait, apparently it was not enough. Moreover, al-Husaynan believes that “jihad is the shortest way of reaching heaven so we give our lives for it, and become martyrs in the path of God. With these thought I opted for the way of jihad and came here.” Thus another aspect for joining the “mujahidin” was to attain martyrdom and securing his spot in heaven.
The Take Away
The Hitin Urdu Magazine interview concludes with more politically oriented questions and boiler plate answers, which if one is interested in reading can be read in the above link to the interview. More importantly, the interview points to al-Husaynan having some legitimate religious bona fides compared to Abu Yahya al-Libi’s, which are still shrouded in some mystery. It is no surprise then that al-Qa’ida is primarily using al-Husaynan in the role of the head of its da’wah (or religious outreach). Whether it will help with recruitment and recapturing its image as well as portraying itself as a truly Islamic movement that remains to be seen. For once in al-Qa’ida’s history, though, it has an individual in al-Husaynan that has the educational experiences and knowledge that could provide it at least nominal religious credibility. The jury is still out on if the damage has already been so excessive that it does not matter anymore. That said, in light of potential openings in Yemen and Syria, as well as the possibility of disappointment from failed expectations in countries like Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, al-Husaynan could provide al-Qa’ida the religious swagger it needs to gain sympathy from some newly or future disillusioned youth.