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ABDEL RAHMAN, OMAR (b. 1938), more properly spelled `Umar `Abd al-Rahman, Egyptian religious scholar and Islamic fundamentalist leader. Born to a poor rural family in the village of al-Jamaliyah in Lower Egypt, Omar Ahmed Ali Abdel Rahman was accidentally blinded at ten months of age. He received a traditional religious education in regional urban centers, memorizing the Qur’an. In 196o he entered the faculty of Fundamentals of Religion at al-Azhar University in Cairo, where he graduated first in his class in 1965. Although he had hoped to become a teaching assistant at the university, he was appointed by the state as a mosque preacher in a poor rural village in the Fayyum,Upper Egypt. He soon returned to al-Azhar, however, obtaining a master’s degree in 1967 and a faculty appointment in 1968. He continued both his graduate studies and occasional preaching in the Fayyum.

Abdel Rahman made the pilgrimage to Mecca in 1968 and there met Said Ramadan, an expatriate leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood who opposed the government of  Jamal Abdel Nasser. Ramadan persuaded him to transport funds back to Egypt for the families of jailed brotherhood members; Abdel Rahman was arrested in the process and, although he was soon released, he lost his faculty position. He was appointed to a bureaucratic post in late 1969, but he saw this as a shameful demotion.

Abdel Rahman continued to preach in the Fayyum. At a public ceremony after Nasser’s death on 28 September 1970, he condemned Nasser as an infidel and prohibited prayers for him. As a consequence, he was detained by the government for eight months.

The new regime of Anwar el-Sadat declared an amnesty for jailed Islamic fundamentalists with the aim of enlisting them as a counterweight to leftist forces. Abdel Rahman was reappointed as a teaching assistant at the Azhari Institute in Fayyum, but he was still the subject of controversy among university administrators. After completing his doctorate in 1972 he briefly held a professorship at al-Azhar before being transferred to the religious faculty inAsyut, a center of Islamic fundamentalist activity. Both the regional and national governments supported the establishment there of the Jama’ah al-Islamiyah, the Muslim Brotherhood’s student organization, to which Abdel Rahman was strongly sympathetic.

In 1977 Abdel Rahman married ‘Isha’ Hasan Judah, daughter of a brotherhood member, and left Egypt to spend four years in Saudi Arabia as a professor of Qur’anic interpretation at Saud University. Soon after his return, he was arrested for his involvement in the fundamentalist Jihad Organization accused of assassinating President Sadat. He was accused of leading the organization and of participating in the assassination but was acquitted on both counts and released in 1984.

During this protracted trial (1981-1984), three factors led to Abdel Rahman’s emergence as the leading figure in his Islamist movement. The first was his book Mithaq al`amil al-Islami (Charter of Islamic Action), an explanation of his view of correct Islamic life; it marked his departure from the more moderate wing of the brotherhood and affiliation with the radical forces informed by the concept of jihad and the necessity to overthrow the secular state in order to restore the principles of the Qur’an. Second, he married again, this time to Fatin Shu’ayb, a kinswoman of several important activists, affirming his solidarity with the Jama’ah al-Islam-lyah inUpper Egyptand lending weight to his religious status as mufti al jihad. Third, most of the major leaders of the jihad organization were executed or imprisoned for life, leaving a power vacuum that Abdel Rahman readily filled.

During the decade that followed Abdel Rahman came to be portrayed by his political opponents and the media as the high priest of radical fundamentalism both in and outside Egypt. In 1990 he emigrated to the United States, where he was alleged to have inspired his followers to bomb the World Trade Centerin New York City in 1993. He has in fact been acknowledged by the Jama’ah al-Islamiyah as its spiritual guide, and he has assumed great importance to radical Islamists in much of the Muslim world.


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Auda, Gehad. “An Uncertain Response: The Islamic Movement in Egypt.” In Islamic Fundamentalisms and the Gulf Crisis, edited by J. P. Piscatori, pp. 109-130.Chicago, 199i.

Auda, Gehad. “Islamic Movement and Resource Mobilization: A Political Culture Perspective.” In Political Culture and Democracy in Developing Countries, edited by Larry Diamond, pp. 379-407.Boulder, 1993.

Auda, Gehad. “The Normalization of the Islamic Movement in Egypt.” In Accounting for Fundamentalisms, edited by Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, pp. 374-412.Chicago, 1994.

FawzI, Muhammad. `Umar `Abd al-Rahman.Cairo, n.d.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/abdel-rahman-omar/

  • writerPosted On: October 6, 2012
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