Tarim Journal in the NY Times–Crossroads of Islam, past and present

This remote desert valley, with its towering bluffs and ancient mud-brick houses, is probably best known to outsiders as the birthplace of Osama bin Laden’s father. Most accounts about Yemen in the Western news media refer ominously to it as “the ancestral homeland” of the leader of Al Qaeda, as though his murderous ideology had somehow been shaped here.

But in fact, Tarim and its environs are a historic center of Sufism, a mystical strand within Islam. The local religious school, Dar al-Mustafa, is a multicultural place full of students from Indonesia and California who stroll around its tiny campus wearing white skullcaps and colorful shawls.

“The reality is that Osama bin Laden has never been to Yemen,” said Habib Omar, the revered director of Dar al-Mustafa, as he sat on the floor in his home eating dinner with a group of students. “His thinking has nothing to do with this place.”

Lately, Al Qaeda has found a new sanctuary here and carried out a number of attacks. But the group’s inspiration, Mr. Omar said, did not originate here. Most of the group’s adherents have lived in Saudi Arabia — as has Mr. bin Laden — and it was there, or in Afghanistan or Pakistan, that they adopted a jihadist mind-set.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Asia, Islam, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Yemen