Abdullah Yusuf Azzam was born in a village in the North of Palestine named Selat Al Harithia in Genine District in the year 1941. His father's name was Mustafa Azzam who died a year after his son was assassinated. His mother was Zakia Saleh who died one year before the Shaykh was killed. She was buried in Pabi camp. He was brought up in a humble house where he was taught Islam, and was fed with the love of Allah, His Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم), those striving in the Way of Allah, the righteous people and the desire for the Hereafter.
The Azzam family is a well-known family, one of its members being Shaykh Abdullah Azzam, distinguished as child, who started making Da'wah at an early age. He was already showing signs of excellence and was recognized by his teachers while he was in elementary school. His peers knew him as a pious child. Since he was a small boy he was known for his determination and serious dispositions. Before he had even come of age, he joined the Muslim Brotherhood.
Shaykh Abdullah Azzam received his early elementary and secondary school education in his village, and continued his education at the agricultural Khadorri College where he obtained a Diploma. Although he was the youngest of his colleagues, he was the brightest and most astute. After he graduated from Khodori College, he worked as a teacher in a village named Adder in the South of Jordan. Later he joined Shariah College in Damascus University where he obtained a B.A. Degree in Shariah in 1966. After the Jews captured the West Bank in 1967, Shaykh Abdullah Azzam decided to migrate to Jordan, because he could not live under the Jewish occupation of Palestine. The sacrilege of the Israeli tanks rolling in the West Bank without any resistance made him more determined to migrate to learn the skills necessary to fight. In the late 1960's he joined the Jihad against the Israeli occupation of Palestine from Jordan.
During that time he received a Masters degree in Shariah from the University of Al-Azhar. In 1970 and after the jihad came to a halt, when the PLO was forced out of Jordan, he assumed a teaching position in the Jordanian University in Amman. In 1971 he was awarded a scholarship to Al-Azhar University in Cairo from which he obtained a Ph.D. Degree in Usul al-Fiqh in 1973. During his stay in Egypt he came to know the family of Sayyid Qutb.
Jihad in Palestine
Shaykh Abdullah Azzam spent a long time participating in the Jihad in Palestine. However, matters there were not to his liking, for the people involved in the Jihad were far removed from Islam. He told of how these people used to spend the nights playing cards and listening to music, under the illusionthat they were performing Jihad to liberate Palestine. Shaykh Abdullah Azzam mentioned that, out of the thousands in the camp he was in, the number of people who offered their Salah in congregation were so few that they could be counted on one hand. He tried to steer them towards Islam, but they resisted his attempts. One day he rhetorically asked one of the 'Mujahideen' what the religion behind the Palestinian revolution was, to which the man replied, quite clearly and bluntly, "This revolution has no religion behind it." This was the last straw. Shaykh Abdullah Azzam left Palestine, and went to Saudi Arabia to teach in the universities there.
Jihad in Afghanistan
When Shaykh Azzam realised that only by means of an organised force would the Ummah ever be able to gain victory, then Jihad and the Gun became his pre-occupation and recreation. "Jihad and the rifle alone: no negotiations, no conferences and no dialogues," he would say. Bypractising what he was preaching, Shaykh Abdullah Azzam was one of the first Arabs to join the Afghan Jihad against the communist USSR.
In 1979, when he learned about the Afghan Jihad, he left his teaching position at King Abdul-Aziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and went to Islamabad, Pakistan, in order to be able to participate in the Jihad. He moved to Pakistan to be close to the Afghan Jihad, and there he got to know the leaders of the Jihad. During the early time of his stay in Pakistan, he was appointed a lecturer in the International Islamic University in Islamabad. After a while he had to quit the University to devote his full time and energy to the Jihad in Afghanistan.
In the early 1980's, Shaykh Abdullah Azzam came to experience the Jihad in Afghanistan. In this Jihad he found satisfaction of his longing and untold love to fight in the Path of Allah, just as Allah's Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said,
One hour spent fighting in the Path of Allah is worth more than seventy years spent in praying at home.
[Authentic, At-Tirmidhi and Al-Hakim].
Inspired by this Hadith, Shaykh Abdullah Azzam immigrated with his family to Pakistan in order to be closer to the field of Jihad. Soon after, he then moved from Islamabad to Peshawar to be even closer to the field of Jihad and Martyrdom.
In Peshawar, Shaykh Abdullah Azzam founded the Bait-ul-Ansar (Mujahideen Services Bureau) with the aim of offering all possible assistance to the Afghani Jihad and the Mujahideen through establishing and managing projects that supported the cause. The Bureau also received and trained volunteers pouring into Pakistan to participate in Jihad and allocating them to the front lines.
Unsurprisingly, this was not enough to satisfy Shaykh Azzam's burning desire for Jihad. That desire drove him finally to go to the front-line. On the battlefield, the Shaykh gracefully played his destined role in that generous epic of heroism.
In Afghanistan he hardly ever settled in one place. He travelled throughout the country, visiting most of its provinces and states such as Lujer, Qandahar, Hindukush Heights, the Valley of Binjistr, Kabul and Jalalabad. These travels allowed Shaykh Abdullah Azzam to witness first hand the heroic deeds of these ordinary people, who had sacrificed all that they possessed -including their own lives - for the Supremacy of the Deen of Islam.
In Peshawar, upon his return from these travels, Shaykh Azzam spoke about Jihad constantly. He prayed to restore the Unity among the divided Mujahideen commanders; called upon those who had not yet joined the fighting to take up arms and to follow him to the front before it would be too late.
Abdullah Azzam was greatly influenced by the Jihad in Afghanistan and the Jihad was greatly influenced by him. To it he concentrated his full effort, that he ultimately became the most prominent figure in the Afghani Jihad aside from the Afghan leaders. He spared no effort to promote the Afghan cause to the whole world, especially throughout the Muslim Ummah.He travelled all over the world, calling on Muslims to rally to the defence of their religion and lands. He wrote a number of books on Jihad, such as Join the Caravan and Defence of Muslim Lands. Moreover, he himself participated bodily in the Afghan Jihad, despite the fact that he was in his forties. He traversed Afghanistan, from north to south, east to west, in snow, through the mountains, in heat and in cold, riding donkeys and on foot. Young men with him used to tire from such exertions, but not Shaykh Abdullah Azzam.
He changed the minds of Muslims about Jihad in Afghanistan and presented the Jihad as an Islamic cause which concerns all Muslims around the world. Due to his efforts, the Afghani Jihad became universal, in which Muslims from every part of the world participated. Soon, volunteer Islamic fighters began to travel to Afghanistan from the four corners of the Earth, to fulfil their obligation of Jihad and in defence of their oppressed Muslim brothers and sisters.
The Shaykh's life revolved around a single goal, namely the establishment of Allah's Rule on earth, this being the clear responsibility of each and every Muslim. So in order to accomplish his life's noble mission of restoring the Khilafah, the Shaykh focused on Jihad (the armed struggle to establish Islam). He believed Jihad must be carried out until the Khilafah (Islamic Rule) is established so the light of Islam may shine on the whole world.
Shaykh Abdullah Azzam made Jihad in every possible way, responding to the call of Allah:
انفِرُوا خِفَافًا وَثِقَالًا وَجَاهِدُوا بِأَمْوَالِكُمْ وَأَنفُسِكُمْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ ۚ ذَٰلِكُمْ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ إِن كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ
Go forth, light and heavy, and strive with your selves and your wealth in the path of Allah. That is better for you, if only you knew. [at-Tawbah, 9:41]
He reared his family also, in the same spirit, so that his wife, for example, engaged in orphan care and other humanitarian work in Afghanistan. He refused teaching positions at a number of universities, declaring that he would not quit Jihad until he was either martyred or assassinated. He used to reiterate that his ultimate goal was still to liberate Palestine. He was once quoted as saying,
Never shall I leave the Land of Jihad, except in three circumstances. Either I shall be killed in Afghanistan. Either I shall be killed in Peshawar. Or either I shall be handcuffed and expelled from Pakistan.
Jihad in Afghanistan had made Abdullah Azzam the main pillar of the Jihad movement in modern times. By taking part in this Jihad, promoting it and banishing the misconceptions which had been planted in the path of Jihad. He became an example to follow for the next generation that responded to the call of Jihad. Once he said,
I feel that I am nine years old, seven and a half years in the Afghan Jihad, one and a half years in Jihad in Palestine and the rest of the years have no value.
From his pulpit Shaykh Azzam was always reiterating his conviction that:
Jihad must not be abandoned until Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) Alone is worshipped. Jihad continues until Allah's Word is raised high. Jihad until all the oppressed peoples are freed. Jihad to protect our dignity and restore our occupiedlands. Jihad is the way of everlasting glory.
History, as well as anyone who knew Shaykh Abdullah Azzam closely, all testify to his courage in speaking the truth, regardless of the consequences. He always bore in mind the command of Allah to:
فَاصْدَعْ بِمَا تُؤْمَرُ وَأَعْرِضْ عَنِ الْمُشْرِكِينَ
Proclaim openly that which you were commanded, and turn away from the polytheists (Mushrikeen). [al-Hijr, 15:94].
On every occasion Shaykh Abdullah Azzam reminded all Muslims that,
Muslims cannot be defeated by others. We Muslims are not defeated by our enemies, but instead, we are defeated by our own selves.
He was a fine example of Islamic manners, in his piety, his devotion to Allah and his modesty in all things. He would never adulate in his relations with others. Shaykh Azzam always listened to the youth, he was dignified and did not allow fear to have access to his brave heart. He practised continual fasting especially the alternate daily fasting routine of Prophet Dawud (عليه السلام). He strongly counselled others to practice fasting on Mondays and Thursdays. The Shaykh was a man of uprightness, honesty and virtue, and was never heard to slander others or to talkunpleaasently about an individual Muslim.
As the Jihad in Afghanistan went on, he was succeeding in uniting together all the various fighting groups in the Afghani Jihad. Naturally, such a pride to Islam caused great distress to the enemies of this religion, and they plotted to eliminate him. In 1989 CE, a lethal amount of TNT explosive was placed beneath the pulpit from which he delivered the sermon every Friday. It was such a formidable quantity that if it had exploded, it would have destroyed the mosque, together with everything and everybody in it. Hundreds of Muslims would have been killed, but Allah provided protection and the bomb did not explode.
The enemies, determined to accomplish their ugly task, tried another plot in Peshawar, shortly after this in the same year when Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) willed that Shaykh Abdullah Azzam should leave this world to be in His closest company (we hope that it is so), the Shaykh departed in a glorious manner. The day was Friday, 24 November 1989. The enemies of Allah planted three bombs on a road so narrow only a single car could travel on it. It was the road Shaykh Abdullah Azzam would use to drive to the Friday Prayer. That Friday, the Shaykh, together with two of his own sons, Ibrahim and Muhammad, and with one of the sons of the late Shaykh Tameem Adnani (another hero of the Afghan Jihad), drove along the road. The car stopped at the position of the first bomb, and the Shaykh alighted to walk the remainder of the way. The enemies, lying in wait, then exploded the bomb. A loud explosion and a great thundering were heard all over the city.
People emerged from the mosque, and beheld a terrible scene. Only a small fragment of the car remained. The young son Ibrahim flew 100 metres into the air; the other two youths were thrown a similar distance away, and their remains were scattered among the trees and power lines. As for Shaykh Abdullah Azzam himself, his body was found resting against a wall, totally intact and not at all disfigured, except that some blood was seen issuing from his mouth.
That fateful blast indeed ended the worldly journey of Shaykh Abdullah Azzam which had been spent well in struggling, striving and fighting in the Path of Allah (سبحانه وتعالى). It also secured his more real and eternal life in the gardens of Paradise - we ask Allah that it is so -, that he will enjoy along with the illustrious company of "those on whom is the Grace of Allah, the Prophets, the Sincere ones, the Martyrs and the Righteous. The Best of company are they." [an-Nisa 4:69].
It was in this way that this great hero and reformer of Islam departed from the arena of Jihad and from this world, never to return. He was buried in the Pabi Graveyard of the Shuhadaa' in Peshawar, where he joined hundreds of other Shuhadaa'. May Allah accept him as a martyr, and grant him the highest station in Paradise. The struggle which he stood for continues, despite the enemies of Islam. There is not a Land of Jihad today in the world, nor a Mujahid fighting in Allah's Way, who is not inspired by the life, teachings and works of Shaykh Abdullah Azzam (رحمه الله).
We ask Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) to accept the deeds of Shaykh Abdullah Azzam and bring him to the Highest Part of Paradise. We ask Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) to raise up for this Ummah more Shaykhs of this calibre, who take their knowledge to the battlefield rather than confining it in books.
With this article, we record the events of Islamic history which took place in the ten years from 1979 to 1989, and continue to happen. As Shaykh Abdullah Azzam himself once said,
Indeed Islamic history is not written except with the blood of the Shuhadaa', except with the stories of the Shuhadaa' and except with the examples of the Shuhadaa'.
يُرِيدُونَ أَن يُطْفِئُوا نُورَ اللَّهِ بِأَفْوَاهِهِمْ وَيَأْبَى اللَّهُ إِلَّا أَن يُتِمَّ نُورَهُ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ الْكَافِرُونَ
هُوَ الَّذِي أَرْسَلَ رَسُولَهُ بِالْهُدَىٰ وَدِينِ الْحَقِّ لِيُظْهِرَهُ عَلَى الدِّينِ كُلِّهِ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ الْمُشْرِكُونَ
They seek to extinguish the light of Allah by their mouths. But Allah refuses save to perfect His light, even if the disbelievers are averse. It is He who has sent His messenger with the guidance and the true religion, in order that He may make it prevail over all religions, even if the pagans are averse. [at-Tawbah, 9:32-33].