Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mountain Life by Omar & Najwa Bin Laden

I sat mute, feeling not one jolt of passion for my father's life. I only wanted him to be like other fathers, concerned about his work and his family. I didn't dare tell him the truth, that never would I understand why his mission to save the world was more vital than his duty as a husband and a father. When I sat staring without expressing excitement for his ideas, my father glanced at me in disappointment. He was accustomed to the passion of his warriors, men who hung on his every word, men who slept, ate, and drank only for the destruction of others.

That same passion did not exist in my heart. My father and I rode the rest of the stony highway in cold silence.

My father returned to Jalalabad with big plans. Now that he had the blessing of Mullah Omar, he would send for all his former soldiers. Some of the men had been with him in Sudan and their return would be easy. In fact, they would arrive on the same plane with my mother and siblings.

Although governments in the area did not welcome my father to live in their lands, because his passion to fight the non-Islamic world brought unwelcome attention from strong western leaders, ordinary people all over the Muslim world continued to celebrate my father as a great war hero. While Muslim governments distrusted, even hated him, their citizens loved him. In fact, as soon as the news spread that Osama Bin Laden was setting up new training camps for Muslim warriors, there were many eager recruits, all rushing to join the Jihad. With new recruits following the old, I was a witness to the making of a new army of eager Mujahideen.

Before long, my father would have more men than ever bowing to his ideas, willing to die for his cause. As they arrived in Afghanistan, I met many of those soldiers, because I was ordered to be by my father's side. I discovered that the mature soldiers who had fought with my father against the Russians were for the most part very good men. They had given up their personal dreams in order to free a Muslim country from the grip of a world power. Their purpose had never been to kill innocent civilians. But I noticed that while they seemed to enjoy the camaraderie of former soldier friends, they no longer seemed to have a fire in their belly for fighting.

The younger soldiers were distinctly different, their eagerness to kill and be killed so acute they swaggered with determination through the camps, warriors in the making. But when one looked closer, the quality of their characters appeared questionable. Many seemed to be running away from problems in their home countries. Some had fled to avoid being punished for violent crimes; for example, one of the younger soldiers bragged about slitting his own brother's throat when he discovered that brother having premarital sex. Others had lived in such severe poverty that they had only eaten meat a few times in their lives. Most could not afford to marry. Since Middle Eastern society promotes young marriage and many children, these men felt themselves failures at the achievements their culture held dear. Many were so miserable they felt themselves living in hell on earth, and were easily swayed by the Jihadi message to seek death so that they might soon be boosted into paradise.

I felt sorry for those young men. I knew they believed death to be a great reward, yet I never felt the urge to die; in fact, I did everything I could to stay alive. Though my own life was unhappy, I wanted to live and to pursue God's blessing of life on earth.

One day, while sitting on the edge of the ledge of Tora Bora Mountain and feeling particularly dismayed about my situation, my spirits instantly lifted when my father announced that my mother and siblings were departing Khartoum the following morning. I jumped to my feet, knowing that soon I would see my mother's sweet face. Although cross at the idea of what my mother's daily existence was about to become, I was still excited because I had not seen my dear mother in nearly four months. I wanted to shout with glee across the mountain range but muffled my excitement because my father did not approve of emotional displays.


  1. While living on my husband's mountain ( in 1996) I watched my oldest sons stretch into their adult years. Abdul Rahman was a man at nineteen years, while Sa'ad followed closely at eighteen. Omar, who seemed many years older than the actual time he spent on earth, would soon be sixteen. Osman, who was growing as tall a a mountain was fourteen. Sweet, quiet Mohammad was twelve, striving to keep up with his older brothers.

    I spent many hours with my youngest children, for we were mainly isolated in our living quarters. Fatima was a serious ten-year-old girl, shadowed by seven-year-old Iman. Ladin, still called Bakr by Osama, was my youngest son, an active toddler at three. My daughters adored their little brother and took pleasure in being little mothers, the way many little girls pamper toddler siblings.

    My daughters and I had managed to acquire some sewing supplies from my sons, who sometimes were allowed off the mountain to go to the villages below to purchase supplies. So my girls and I sat together and chatted while we darned old clothes and tried to make new ones without benefit of a sewing machine or electricity.

    The nighttime was spooky on the mountains. Other than moonlight, we only had gas lanterns to light our way. I was still cooking on a one-eyed gas burner, which was nearly impossible with so many hungry children to feed Hunger and cold were our two most vexing concerns. There were many people that my husband must feed, yet our resources were few. Although there were times that I swayed from weakness because there was not enough food, my main worries were for the unborn child I was carrying and the lively children at my feet. Never had I imagined that I would see my children cry from hunger pangs. A more helpless feeling I have never known.

    The cold mountain weather was a big problem. Our only heat was supplied by the wood-burning metal stove, and no matter that we kept the fire burning day and night, Tora Bora Mountain was subject to terrible blizzards. With snow piled on top of our roof, it was difficult to heat even three tiny rooms. Many were the hours that my children and I hovered close to that metal stove, shivering with cold, and wondering how we might survive without frostbite.

    My sister-wives faced the same challenges, and I do not know what we would have done without each other. Our husband had so many business matters that he was away as much as he was on the mountain. Thank goodness my sons were old enough to take over some of Osama's duties looking out for their mother, aunties and siblings.

  2. One night there was a terrifying storm that sat down on my husband's mountain. The storm was blowing with such intensity that our windows and doors lost their animal-skin covers and we were caught without any protection from the strong winds and rains. My smallest children were squealing with terror. Being on top of the mountain gave a feeling of being tossed into the maelstrom of the storm. Never had any of us seen such natural violence. We were accustomed to little more than sandstorms, which can be frightening, but nothing matched the power of crashing thunder, lightening flashes, high winds and torrential rain. Finally my older sons managed to hang a blanket over the door and towels over the windows. My small children and I huddled against the wall at the greatest distance from the door and windows.

    My older boys dashed away to check on their aunties. I suddenly heard a strange hissing sound, which I believed to be gas leaking from one of the cylinders that held fuel for our lanterns. When I went to check on the problem, my eyes caught sight of an enormous snake coiled by the hut's opening, acting as though she had been invited for a visit, although I realize now she was simply seeking shelter from the storm. I called God's name out loud and tried to walk backwards slowly. My husband and sons had warned me to be alert because those mountain snakes carried poison so deadly one would not have time to rush down the mountain and drive the highways to the hospital in Jalalabad. I did not want to die and leave my little children without their mother.

    I was tottering with fright. I am a woman whose childhood fears have increased to the level that I cannot tolerate even the image of a colorful snake on the pages of a book. Having nowhere to run in that small hut, I cried out for my boys. Omar quickly came running to me with his Kalishnikov in his hand. For the first time I was happy that my husband made my boys carry that bad weapon.

    I shouted, "Omar, be careful! There is a giant snake. There, by the door! kill it!"

    Omar took a look at the snake and teased me. "Poor snake. You want to kill it? Leave her alone, let her live."

    I kept screaming, "Kill the snake!"

    Finally Omar saw that his mother meant business and he used his big weapon to hit the snake on its head. I watched the snake's body deflate, to my immense relief.

    Omar felt guilty for the snake's life and, lifting the limp snake in his arms even as I creamed in terror for him to take it away, he said "You should not have made me kill this snake."

  3. There are many other stories. The life lived by the men around us was often so brutal that they did not notice cruelty. Even my own sons, and the sons of the men who worked for my husband, were known to abuse animals. But Omar was willing to fight to protect them, telling others, "Hey, leave that animal alone. I order you to stop." Even the older boys would obey because they knew that Omar would not hesitate to take further action on behalf of the animal.

    After months on that mountain, the days were beginning to feel like years. Then a good day arrived when Omar gave me the news that we would soon be leaving, to move to a city called Kandahar. "Mother, your daily life will improve", he said. Although I was careful not to speak of my happiness, my heart fluttered with joy. I knew my child was nearly due, and I did not know what might happen, for I had not seen a doctor once since arriving in Tora Bora. I was no longer a young woman having easy pregnancies. I prayed that I would be in the town of Jalalabad or at Kandahar when my child decided to come.

    Although life would remain difficult in so many ways, God granted my wish that my feet would never again walk the peaks of my husband's Tora Bora Mountain.

  4. "Growing Up bin Laden; Osama's Wife and Son Take Us Inside Their Secret World";by Najwa bin Laden, Omar bin Laden & Jean Sasson; St. Martin's Press, N.Y. 2009


    "I asked one of the religious sheiks in the area "Is it forbidden in Islam for me to listen to poems set to music?'.

    He recalled that it is allowed as long as the poem does not sing about the body or the features of a woman or does not contain crude lyrics.

    From that moment on, poems and songs became an important distraction from my miserable existence. I would spend every possible moment listen to Um Kulthum singing her woeful songs of love, longing and loss. Um Kulthum's message brought me to the realization that there was a parallel world to our bin Laden universe of hate and revenge, a world previously unknown to me where people lived for and sang about love."