Minding his own business in the West Bank city of Jenin in the village of As-ba'ah Al-Hartiyeh, Yusuf Mustafa Azzam gave his son, who was born in the year of 1941, the name Abdullah. Even though Zionist occupation had intensified during that era, Abdullah received a formal education and graduated from an agricultural high school in the city of Tulkarem. Showing a special affinity for Islamic sciences, the young man traveled to Syria and studied at the Faculty of Sharia at Damascus University.
After university, he took on roles of imam, preacher and teacher in various locations across Palestine, and in the meantime, married Samira Mohyeddin, who was seven years his junior. From this happy union, five sons (Ibrahim, Huthaifa, Muhammad, Hamza and Mus'ab) and three daughters (Fatimah, Wafaa, Sumayyah) were born into the world.
While Abdullah continued his role as a young and idealist teacher, the entire West Bank was occupied in the Six Day War in 1967, and the Azzam family moved to Jordan. With the large portion of the population being comprised of Palestinians, conditions in this desert country helped Abdullah Azzam to further clarify his political line. Azzam, who was in contact with the Muslim Brotherhood, had also met figures such as Said Hawwah, Marwan Hadid and Said Ramadan al-Bouti during his years in Damascus. When he returned to Palestine, he closely followed Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, the flag-bearer of Arab nationalism, and Yasser Arafat, who deemed himself the leader of Palestine. However the horrific outcome of the Six Day War would lead Azzam to question everything he knew.
Between the years of 1970 and 1973, Abdullah Azzam travelled to Cairo to complete a doctorate degree at Al-Azhar University, whereupon he returned to Jordan and stayed there continuing his work in education until he had to leave the country in 1980. His next stop would became the city of Jeddah after he found a suitable atmosphere for his political activities at King Abdul Aziz University. However, his arrival in Saudi Arabia happened to transpire just after the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan. So, our young scholar then found himself in Pakistan.
After a short stay in the capital Islamabad, Abdullah Azzam settled in Peshawar, a "passageway" with its close proximity to the Afghanistan border, giving lectures in the field of Islamic sciences on the one hand, and dealing with the practices of "jihad" on the other. During the first half of the 1980s, when “mujahideen (fighters in Islamic countries)” from all over the Arab and Muslim world flocked to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet Union, Azzam was at the helm of the flow. Inviting Osama bin Laden, whom he met in Saudi Arabia, to Pakistan, Azzam laid the foundations of an ideological structure with bin Laden: Al-Qaeda.
Starting from 1985, Abdullah Azzam made trips to the Middle East, Europe and the U.S. Within the scope of his four-year travels, Azzam visited more than 50 cities in 28 different U.S. states where he met with thousands of people, urging them to support “jihad.”
Toward the end of the 80s, it was becoming clear that the soviet Union was preparing to declare a grave defeat in Afghanistan. With the input of figures like Abdullah Azzam, Usama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and support of local Afghan forces and mujahideen, a victory that would shock the whole world was about to be won. However just then, a rift broke out between Azzam and two other Arab leaders. Azzam was trying to persuade Osama bin Laden, with whom he co-founded Al Qaeda in 1988, of which Arab volunteers formed the backbone, that Palestine should be the next target of jihad. According to Azzam, the mujahideen, who had been battle-hardened thanks to the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, should now employ their energies against Israel. However, bin Laden and his aide al-Zawahiri were insistent on continuing the struggle in Afghanistan.
An assassination in Peshawar on Friday, Nov, 24, 1989, ended all these conflicts and disputes:
Abdullah Azzam, along with his sons Ibrahim (20) and Muhammad (16), died when a 20 kilogram TNT mold planted on the road was detonated with a remote control while they were en-route to the Seb'u'l-Leyl Mosque, where he led the Friday prayers.
When I heard from a friend a few days ago that Azzam’s wife Samira Mohyeddin had died in Jordan from the COVID-19 disease, I recalled Azzam’s extraordinary tale.
It’s difficult to predict where Azzam would have been dragged to and where he would stand had he lived today. However, what he accomplished during his short lifespan of 48 years has left its mark on history, and imprinted him on the agenda of today.