Al-Ayyam is the first and only Yemeni newspaper to interview Abu Hamza Al-Masri.
“I Paid A lot of Taxes to the ‘Non-Believers’ and Now I Reap the Benefits”
[Published in Al-Ayyam, August 11, 1999]
[CPJ Editor’s Note: This translation has been edited for style].
Aden, Al-Ayyam, special:
On Tuesday afternoon, our colleague Hisham Basharaheel, editor in chief of Al-Ayyam, talked by phone with Sheikh Mustafa Kamel (Abu Hamza al-Masri ) the head of [the Islamist organization]”Supporters of Sharia'” at his residence in London, England to ask about his reaction to the verdict issued by the Tawahy Court of First Instance against ten accused individuals, including Al-Masri’s son, Muhammad Mustafa Kamel. Here follows the text of the telephone conversation.
Al-Ayyam: Peace be upon you. My name is Hisham Basharaheel, chief editor of the independent Al-Ayyam , the most widely circulated paper in Yemen .
Al Masri: Yes, Abu Al Hamza with you. May God bless you.
Al-Ayyam: Brother, we want to hear your opinion on the verdict issued by the court.
Al Masri: My opinion may not be appreciated when published and I don’t know whether you have freedom of expression in your country or …
Al-Ayyam: Speak freely.
Al-Masri: I only want to tell you that the way the verdict was issued was not Islamic and was not humane. It was not Islamic because it was based on secular laws and it was not humane because it came as a result of torture and duress. The accused was regarded as guilty until proven innocent and it was decided not to establish his innocence.
The main point is that the whole world witnessed the president saying, before the start of the trial, that they are guilty. It was arbitrary and prejudicial.
Al-Ayyam: But..Mr. Abu Hamza, people throughout the world saw you inciting to kill innocent people in Yemen
Al-Masri: I have never incited to kill innocent people in Yemen. Never!
Al-Ayyam: I myself saw you on a program on Al-Jazeera TV calling on people in Yemen to kill foreigners.
Al-Masri: The word I used was not foreigners, I talk about non-believers. Some of the foreigners there are Muslims. I speak of non-believers. Non-believers are innocent in the Islamic faith. Either they become Moslems or they pay “Jezya” [a tax paid by non-Muslims living under Islamic rule] or they could enter into a peaceful agreement in a country that follows “Sharia'” [Islamic law]. Otherwise their blood and wealth are not to be protected.
Al-Ayyam: But don’t you think that this is something to be dealt with by Yemenis within Yemen?
Al-Masri: I did not instigate Yemenis to do that, but….
(Al-Ayyam asks one more time)
Al-Ayyam: I mean this is something that should come from Yemenis from within Yemen, don’t you think so?
Al-Masri: Comes from Yemenis, you mean they should do it.
Al-Ayyam: No, shouldn’t this call, if required, come from within Yemen?
Al-Masri: That is the way it should be. We never interfered from outside in any way. When these men went to Yemen, they did not act upon my orders but out of determination that Yemen is a place where they could go to, and live there like many others before them. I encourage people to go to Yemen since it is a conservative country in a remote place away from strife. Since the country is poor one can live and maintain a family with little money and a few basic necessities.
Al-Ayyam: But brother, they did not come to Yemen for that purpose. The Yemeni authorities accused them of coming to Yemen for other objectives, and the court also affirmed that.
Abu Hamza: But they forced people to confess…They forced someone to admit crimes he didn’t commit only to fill the gaps in his testimony.
People will admit anything under torture. If you subject me to torture I would admit even to killing the pharaoh, because man was created like that by God. God almighty forgives even blasphemy if uttered under duress…
The Yemeni government was in this case the prosecution, the judge and executioner.
Al-Ayyam: Why did you choose Yemen for your “fatwa”?
Al-Masri: I have never chosen Yemen for my “fatwa”. On the contrary, this is a general “fatwa”. Before Yemen I was involved in Algeria and Egypt, but I have found that it difficult to promote reform from within many of these countries because they need invasions once again. They do not contain the elements for reform due to pervasive corruption among the people who act against the policy of Islam…
Al-Ayyam: You mean the Islamic invasion that starts from London.
Al-Masri: No, I did not say that. I said it should start from Yemen and we are its supporters.
Al-Ayyam: You said an outside invasion?
Al-Masri: Outside invasion starts from Yemen out. As the prophet, God’s prayers and blessings upon him, said: It comes out of Aden. We did not say it comes out of London. We said it comes out of Aden. If the army starts in Aden, people should join from every place if they can.
Al-Ayyam: What do you say about your call against the non-believers while living among them and off their money?
Al-Masri: I have never lived off their money. I paid lots of taxes to the non-believers while working as an engineer. I am reaping the benefits they have gained from the Muslims’ land according to my needs which is originally money that belongs to Muslims. What they spend on Muslims is nothing but leftovers and bread crumbs compared to the meat and honey they eat in our lands.
Al-Ayyam: And what do you say about the arms that they found in the possession of your son and the other suspects?
Al-Masri: You know that the children in Yemen carry Kalashnikovs, and weapons in Yemen sell easier than candy, and there were no fingerprints on the arms. Could a government which sexually abuses, beats, tortures and prevents the children from praying, be trusted with holding this evidence? This is a ridiculous case. If this case was in any country, even in the world of the non-believing West, it would not be considered a case. As there were weapons planted on them and other weapons with no fingerprints, and things that don’t match.
Al-Ayyam: What are your future expectations for the destiny of Yemen?
Al-Masri: If Yemen is on it its way toward the secular path it will suffer from disintegration, and internal conflict where there is no winner, since every person has his own opinion which he respects and cherish. However when we turn our matters in life to God and his prophet and even if we, by doing so, murder some people, it will be regarded as an error and it will be forgiven. And all mouths should be shut because when God and the Prophet speak all mouths should be shut.
We have no ambitions in any government. We say it is better for the ruling class to remain as is but the regime should be changed. What are the interests of the people, for instance, if the president changes? But what we want to have changed is to have an enlightened Islamic Yemen for which “Zakah”[the obligatory alms given to the needy in Muslim society] is levied and investments are encouraged. Its residents would have self-pride and would not eat its babies and kill its children and open its arms to the enemies. We don’t want that.
Al-Ayyam: You, along with the Aden [-Abyan Islamic] Army [an Islamist extremist organization accused by the Yemeni government of kidnapping and murdering foreign tourists], have threatened revenge if Aden-Abyan Islamic Army chief ]Abu Al-Hassan and the eight [other suspects] were unjustly convicted. [Editor’s note: Abu Al-Hassan and his associates were tried in Yemen last year; Al-Hassan was convicted and executed.] Are you still holding to that revenge?
Al-Masri: Revenge is not personal against individuals. It derives from revenge against a principal. In order to have the word of God the highest of all, it is imperative that the defender of the word of God should not be in the lower rank.
Al-Ayyam: But you said that war will emerge from the top of mountains and it will target the officials in the country. Do you still hold to your statement?
Al-Masri: No, I said it might happen and I did not say it must happen. The reason I said this might happen is because of the mountainous landscape of Yemen, the training and the background of the men from Afghanistan [veterans of the war in Afghanistan to expel Soviet troops in the 1980s] and so forth. This is merely a prediction, not incitement.
Al-Ayyam: Your freedom is presently guaranteed? Do you think that the British Police have any evidence against you or are they only trying to have you framed?
Al-Masri: They have tried hard to frame me, and they are still trying. They have brought people to testify against me but I have nothing to hide. I do what I say because my statements are my deeds in this country. I am a disabled person and I use their country. They also use it to spread corruption. I use it to preach reform and I hope to meet with people who are knowledgeable in Sharia’ and hold discussions with them in an Islamic manner instead of getting involved in irresponsible accusations and taking cover behind godless secularism and personal interests and so on. I believe in a legitimate dialogue and I believe that defending the sons of Islam is one of the important pillars of the belief.
Al-Ayyam: One question before we end, you may answer it if you wish. It is up to you. Did you work at a night club?
Al-Masri: What do you mean? When was that? What you are talking about was at the end of the seventies.
Al-Ayyam: Yes, Did you work?
Al-Masri: This was at the end of the seventies, before I was committed.
Al-Ayyam: We may say those were the days of Jahilliyyah [Quranic term referring to the period of “ignorance” that prevailed before the coming of Islam] for you?
Al-Masri: yeah…the days of Jahilliyyah. You have to ask [the Muslim Caliph] Omar Ibn al-Khattab how many of his daughters he had killed and how much wine he had drunk and how much he had fornicated before Islam?
Al-Ayyam: Yes, Yes.
Al-Masri: Maybe Omar should ask himself this question…..
Al-Ayyam: What do you want to say to your son now?
Al-Masri: I would like to say to my son that I was pleased to see your strength. I heard that even if they are allowed to return to London they prefer to remain in Yemen to study religion. This makes every father a proud man when he sees his son accept God without fear and would choose work and sharing the hard life of the Yemenis to giving up his religion for a travel document and some money.
Al-Ayyam: Thank you, this is Hisham Basharaheel, chief editor of (Al-Ayyam)
Al-Masri: I hope you will be fair in the report.
Al-Ayyam: I will publish your statements verbatim without any alterations. In an event of any omission I will not publish this interview.
Al-Masri: I call upon the government of Yemen. I want to say: have pity for God’s sake for yourselves and for the sons of Islam and we are at your service and your guards. We have no intention to rule and we will not replace you with others as long as you govern by the Sharia’ of God almighty. There is no other practice but this. I call upon them to follow Sharia'( Islamic Law) and to declare total amnesty and let it be a welcoming and Godly Yemen, and may God forgive the past.
(Translation by Karam Tannous)