Sept 11, 2017
One day in early November 2001, on a hillside south of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden bade farewell to three of his young sons.
In the shade of an olive tree, he handed each boy a misbaha—a set of prayer beads symbolizing the 99 names of God in classical Arabic—and instructed them to keep the faith. The scene was an emotional one. “It was as if we pulled out our livers and left them there,” one of the boys would later recall in a letter to his father. Having taken his leave, bin Laden disappeared into the mountains, bound for a familiar redoubt known as the Black Cave, or Tora Bora in the local Pashto dialect.
The three boys who received the prayer beads that day would face three very different destinies. One, Bakr (also known as Ladin), would distance himself from al-Qaeda, both geographically and ideologically. Another, Khalid, would die protecting his father at their compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011. The third, Hamza, would vanish for years before reemerging in 2015 as the most likely candidate to reunite a fractured jihadi movement and lead al-Qaeda to a future still more violent than its past.
Groomed to Lead
Despite al-Qaeda’s generally dim view of women, it appears that Osama bin Laden respected and valued each of his wives. But he was surely familiar with the Qur’an’s warning that, “Try as you may, you cannot treat all your wives impartially.” It was well known that bin Laden had a favorite. This was Hamza bin Laden’s mother, Khairia Sabar, a child psychologist from the respected al-Hindi family of Saudi Arabia. The pair had been introduced when Saad, one of bin Laden’s sons by his first wife, Najwa al-Ghanem, had attended Khairia’s clinic to receive therapy for a mental disorder. Khairia was single, in her mid-30s, and in fragile health—an unpropitious situation for a woman in a conservative kingdom where teenage brides are far from uncommon. Bin Laden, by contrast, was seven years younger, the son of a billionaire, and already making a name for himself as a fundraiser for the mujahideen struggle against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Moreover, by this time, bin Laden already had two wives. But Najwa, the first of them, encouraged him to pursue Khairia, believing that having someone with her training permanently on hand would help her son Saad and his brothers and sisters, some of whom also suffered from developmental disorders.
Not surprisingly given Khairia’s age and state of health, she and bin Laden struggled to conceive. Over the first three years of their marriage, as bin Laden moved back and forth between Saudi Arabia and the theater of war in Afghanistan, she endured miscarriage after miscarriage. During this time, bin Laden added a fourth wife to the family—another highly educated Saudi woman, Siham Sabar. Then, in 1989, both Siham and Khairia bore him sons. Siham’s was called Khalid, a name that in Arabic means “eternal.” Khairia’s boy was named Hamza, meaning “steadfast.” Thenceforward, in accordance with ancient Arab custom, Khairia became known by the honorific Umm Hamza, the Mother of Hamza. The boy would remain her only child by bin Laden, but that fact has by no means diminished either Hamza’s importance or Khairia’s.
This article was posted: Monday, September 11, 2017 at 9:33 am