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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs