Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, a radical cleric who helped found al Qaida and worked closely with Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden's deputy, has morphed into a fierce critic of al-Qaida-style jihadism. In a new statement, reported by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Sharif takes on a host of issues including Osama bin Laden, al Qaida recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki and the proposed Ground Zero mosque.
Sharif, jailed in Egypt since 2004, said that building the mosque near Ground Zero "entails harm to the victims of these [9/11] bombings, who were killed in an operation that was contrary to the teachings of Islam, and reminds them and others of their grief."
Sharif condemned Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf as "a promoter of discord." He added Rauf's Cordoba House project as "a mosque of discord, and one is not allowed to aid in its construction in any manner even if the Americans were to agree to it, since [if it is built] this damage and discord will continue for generations to come."
He denounced Anwar al-Awlaki's calls for American servicemen to kill their fellow soldiers as "contrary to the principles of Islam."
During the 1980s, Sharif developed a reputation as one of the most hard line jihadists among the core group that founded al Qaida. Jarret Brachman, a North Dakota State University professor who is a senior U.S. government consultant on al Qaida issues, writes of Sharif: "His ultra-extreme definition of jihad, focused exclusively on martyrdom and eternal warfare, made even the godfather of global jihadism, Abdullah Azzam, wince."
Since then, Sharif has softened considerably. In 2007, Sharif went public with his concerns, issuing a manifesto called Rationalizing Jihad in Egypt and the World, in which he argued that al Qaida has violated strict legal constraints governing the use of that violence. "One of the most significant of those is ensuring that other Muslims are not injured in the process. But al Qaeda, he points out, has built its post-9/11 reputation on killing Muslims."
"There have been four destroyers in human history who wanted to burn down the world in order to realize their imperial ambitions: Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Hitler, and Osama bin Laden," Sharif wrote.
Read more about Sharif's writings questioning jihadist terror here.