Bin Laden’s will serves to do little more than keep mystery alive

The last testament of the Al Qaeda leader intrigues Shaukat Qadir

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 2007. AP Photo
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I am curious by nature. This often lands me in trouble but it is also a source of learning. I don’t always find out what I am searching for, but even if I don’t, the chapter isn’t closed. It can always be reopened.

In 2011, I set out to discover whether Pakistan’s intelligence service was either “complicit or incompetent”, as it was accused of, when it was discovered that Osama bin Laden and family members had been living in Pakistan for many years, at least six of them in Abbott­abad, within a stone’s throw of a military academy.

I found an answer that satisfied me but I was also fascinated by the image of bin Laden that began to emerge.

His was a complex personality of many contradictions. Involved in global terrorism, which thrives on publicity, he came across as a rather shy, even self-effacing individual on a personal level.

He was capable of extreme cruelty and despotism and clearly patriarchal to the extent of treating women as third-rate citizens. At the same time, he was loving and caring and seemed like putty in the hands of his youngest wife, Amal.

In 2002, he sent Khairiah, one of his other wives, and her four children away.

Later, they were arrested in Iran. However, when they were released in late 2010, Khairiah expressed a desire to return to bin Laden and, despite opposition from Al Qaeda leadership, arrived in Afghanistan.

Surprisingly, bin Laden consented, despite opposition from two of his wives and their children.

According to the transcripts of Amal, his youngest wife, bin Laden gazed unseeingly into the distance during one of the many heated discussions about Khairiah’s return; during which all family members expressed their concern that Khairiah wanted to return only to betray him, and commented: “She is the eldest of my wives. It is also her responsibility to see me interred”.

The latest disclosure about his private life is that he left an undated will which was released to the public last month among other declassified documents.

The will is said to have left the bulk of his wealth, totalling around $29 million (Dh106.5m), banked somewhere in Sudan, to continue funding global terrorism.

This is a very unexpected and surprising development.

The Islamic laws of inheritance, while complicated, are quite explicit and inflexible. A person may bequeath only a third of their fortune to anyone they wish, provided that the beneficiary is not one of those benefiting from the remaining two-thirds.

His remaining fortune is to be divided among his heirs according to Islamic law.

So, either bin Laden was unaware of Islamic laws, which I find unlikely, or he is still playing to the gallery, if he did actually leave such a document at all.

What makes this disclosure even more strange is that bin Laden also bequeathed smaller sums to relatives and associates.

Of course he could express a non-binding desire in his will, but the only way to give one’s entire wealth to individuals or movements under Islamic laws is to give the money away in one’s lifetime.

I have no idea whether the Sudanese laws of inheritance are Islamic or not, but if they are, the will is useless. Even if they aren’t, his family will be fully aware of my contentions here.

Perhaps that is what it was intended to do: make his determined hate and opposition to western democracy palpable even after his death.

Nonetheless, it is also possible that all his heirs choose to honour his will, and collectively execute it in accordance with his wishes.

But if so, why the gifting away of small sums to distant relatives and associates? Why, indeed, has he drafted such a peculiarly western style will?

Once again, this is such a foreign construct that it immediately tends to authenticate the will in western minds, but not so in the Muslim world.

Bequeathing small sums might lend authenticity to a western reader, but for Muslims aware of Islamic injunctions, it makes the will all the more incredible.

The entire thing makes no sense. Maybe the will was merely intended to document his legacy and to keep him in the news even after having lost all relevance.

Whatever he might have intended, the will has achieved far more than it should have, at least in keeping his saga alive.

Brig Shaukat Qadir is a retired Pakistani infantry officer