News / Middle East

Popular Yemeni Sheik Demonstrates Divide in al-Qaida War

Heather Murdock

In Yemen, Sheik Abdul Majid al-Zindani is well-known as an influential, if controversial, leader and scholar.  In America, he is considered a terrorist.  More than anyone else, Zindani personifies the disconnect between how the war on al-Qaida is viewed by Yemenis, and how it is viewed in the West.  Heather Murdock reports for VOA from Yemen's capital, Sana'a.

This is the sound of Sheik Abdul Majid al-Zindani leaving a room.  Journalists and fans swarm around him, waving and jumping, trying to get his attention.  With a bushy red beard, and a famous smile, the sheik is a Yemeni rock star.

Although he is less famous in America than in Yemen, Zindani is also fairly well known in the West.  The U.S. government calls Zindani a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" and accuses him of being a spiritual guide to Osama bin Laden and of funneling money to terrorist organizations.

Ismail al-Suhaili is the head of the political-science department at Iman University, an Islamic college Zindani founded and now heads.  He says the United States has its history confused.

Zindani, like most Yemeni clerics, and the U.S. government, encouraged young Arab men to join Afghanistan's fight against the Soviet Union in the 70s and 80s.  Osama bin Laden may have been one of the fighters, al-Suhaili says, but he was just one of many.  Zindani, he says, has nothing to do with al-Qaida.

But Zindani makes no secret about his hostility towards Western policy.  At a Sanaa press conference he says American leaders lie to the people, and that the World Financial Crisis was caused by U.S. waste in Iraq.

In mid-January, Zindani called for "global jihad" if the West sends troops to fight al-Qaida in Yemen.  Most people here oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and joke that if the U.S. military came to Yemen, everyone would join al-Qaida.

And although Zindani is charged with funding terrorist organizations, Yemenis have a different list of who is a terrorist and who is not.  Hamas, for instance, is widely considered the legitimate government of Palestine, and Zindani, like many prominent Yemenis, openly supports the organization, which the United States and the European Union consider a terrorist group.

U.N. sanctions against Zindani have also been mostly ignored.   An official at Yemen's foreign ministry, Wael al-Hamdani, says the government cannot punish Zindani because he has not broken any laws.

"Sheik al-Zindani is a Yemeni citizen, abiding by Yemeni law," said Wael al-Hamdani. "If he had committed anything he would charged and prosecuted for it."

Some of the sheik's more eccentric offers are controversial in Yemen.  Zindani claims to have invented a cure for HIV/AIDS and says he has discovered scientific proof that women cannot think and remember at the same time, which is why in Islamic court two female witnesses have the same clout as one male witness.

The sheik's domestic policy is also divisive in Yemen.  Last year, Zindani led the opposition to a proposed law that would have banned adult men from marrying little girls.  He also objected to measures that would encourage women in politics, and supported a Saudi Arabian style "virtue police."

But for many Yemenis, even those who hate his politics, Zindani remains a national father-figure and a star.  Politicians say he is too popular to oppose and the very idea the Yemeni government would force the sheik to answer to Western charges is absurd.   

You May Like

Multimedia US Nurse ‘Cured of Ebola,’ NIH Says

Nina Pham, Texas nurse who treated first Ebola patient in US, received no experimental drugs; WHO expects vaccine surge in 2015 More

Video Islamic State Militants Encroach on Baghdad

Iraqi capital not under ‘imminent threat,’ US military says, amid worries about foothold More

Video Hong Kong Protesters Focus on Holding Volatile Mong Kok

Activists say holding Mong Kok is key to their movement's success, despite confrontations with angry residents and police More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid