Culture and Society

What are the main beliefs and goals of al-Qaeda?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. Al-Qaeda, or al-Qaida, is a radical Islamic terrorist organization that endeavors to implement Islamic laws in the governments of mostly Muslim nations. The group also has named the United States as a primary enemy of Islam, perpetrating the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001. The United States' presence in Saudi Arabia from 1991 to 2003 was a major source of contention for the group, which sought to free Islamic holy sites from foreign control. Al-Qaeda opposes any Muslim government that is allied with the United States, and it is generally believed to support other Muslim extremists worldwide, and to have committed terrorist acts in other nations. Much of the group's early philosophy probably was based on the writings of Sayyid Qutb, who intensely studied the Quran, the Muslim holy book [source: Berman]. He also likely was the mentor for Osama bin Laden, the group's longtime leader.

    The death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011 in Abbottabad, Pakistan, at the hands of elite American forces may have set the group back, but in a statement soon after the attack, members of the terror network said that blood "will not be wasted" [source: Stanglin]. The group threatened to continue attacking America and its allies. Egyptian Ayman al Zawahiri became leader of al-Qaeda after bin Laden's death.

    Many Islamists are careful to note that groups such as al-Qaeda are extremist and that in general, Islam stands for peace. President Barack Obama also pointed out that al-Qaeda had killed Muslims in many countries [source: Hetchkopf]. Author Richard Bulliet  has said that although many Westerners have tended to automatically associate bin Laden and al-Qaeda as typical of Islam, they do not associate Jim Jones or David Koresh with Christianity [source: Religious Tolerance]. The Islamic Society of North America is a 40-year-old organization that serves Muslims on the continent and works toward "building bridges of understanding and cooperation within the diversity that is Islam in America [source: ISNA]. The group also is expanding to include other faiths.

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