Banned Books in Australia A Special Collections-Art in the Library Exhibition

Sedition and Jihad

Richard Pennell

Abdullah Azzam (1941–1989)

Azzam was one of the principal theoreticians of the modern armed Jihadist movement. Born in Palestine, he graduated in Islamic law from the University of Damascus and studied at al-Azhar University in Cairo, where he received an MA, then a PhD in Islamic law in 1973. He taught Islamic law in Jordan until 1980, when he moved to Saudi Arabia joining other Islamist radicals who were congregating there.

Azzam theorised that external aggression towards the Islamic countries should be met with direct action and in 1981, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, he moved to Pakistan. Ostensibly he took up a post at the International Islamic University of Islamabad, but in fact made contact with mujahidin commanders. In 1984 he set up the Maktab al-Khidmat (service office) in Peshawar to provide welfare and support services to foreigners who came to join the Afghan jihad. Osama bin Laden was a collaborator.

Azzam was an ideologue, not a fighter. He used his writings and teachings to encourage jihad against the invaders. His books Defence of the Muslim Lands and Join the Caravan articulated a revolutionary interpretation of Islam that opposed both communism and Western secularism. This was a worldwide struggle that went far beyond the confines of Afghanistan. He looked for a reborn caliphate to replace the one obliterated by Atatürk in 1924 and proposed a new international jihad, rather than one focussed within the confines of a particular state or region. This fed the ideas of Osama bin Laden and others who sought to attack the ‘far enemy’.

In late November 1989 Azzam was assassinated in Peshawar while on his way to Friday prayer. He became an instant martyr: his followers reported there was scarcely a mark on his body, which suffused a smell of musk, a sign of his purity and sanctity.

In July 2005 the Daily Telegraph and Sydney Morning Herald complained about an Islamic bookshop in Lakemba selling books ‘promoting radical jihad and discussing the effectiveness of suicide bombings’. Osama bin Laden, the Herald said, endorsed them.

The NSW Attorney-General refused to prosecute and his Commonwealth equivalent, Philip Ruddock, referred seven books and a film to the Literature Classification Board, which refused to ban them. Mr Ruddock appealed to the Literature Classification Review Board, which agreed to ban two books by Abdullah Azzam (Defence of the Muslim Lands and Join the Caravan). It decided by a small majority not to ban Jihad: The Absent Obligation, by an Egyptian Islamist, Muhammad Abdul Salam Faraj. It unanimously agreed to allow the other five. The two banned books were removed from shelves in the University of Melbourne Library, along with The Lofty Mountain, on the grounds that it contained like-minded material, which if submitted for classification, would receive the same rating.

Mr Ruddock then announced a review of the law. In August 2007 Parliament passed an amendment to the Act whose coming into force was overseen by the Labor government elected in November 2007.


Abdullah Azzām, Defence of the Muslim Lands (London: Azzam Publications, 2002).
Abdullah Azzām, Join the Caravan (London: Azzam Publications, 1996, 2001).

Withdrawn From Circulation

Abdullah Azzām, The Lofty Mountain (London: Azzam Publications, 2003).

Not Banned

Muhammad Abdul Salam Faraj, The Absent Obligation: And Expel the Jews and Christians From the Arabian Peninsula.
Maryam Jameelah, Islam and Modern Man: The Call of Islam to Modern Man, vol. 2 (Lahore: Mohammad Yusuf Khan, 1976).
Omar Hassan, The Criminal West (Yagoona, NSW: Omar Hassan, 2002).
S.K. Malik, The Quranic Concept of War (Lahore: Wajidalis, 1979).
Abdul-‘Azeez Ibn Baaz, The Ideological Attack, ed. and trans. Abu Aaliyah Surkheel ibn Anwar Sharif (Hounslow, UK: Message of Islam, [n.d.]).
Abdullah Bin Muhammad Bin Humaid, Jihad in the Qur’an and Sunnah (Riyadh: Maktaba Dar-us-Salam, 1995).
Jihad or Terrorism (film).

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