Al-Qaeda on Pakistan: Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Morning and the Lamp

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 11

Ayman al-Zawahiri

Over the past year, Pakistan has suffered from widespread extremist violence supported by a concerted al-Qaeda political attack on the government’s main institutions.  The most extraordinary escalation of this attack was a 130 page risala (monograph) written by Ayman al-Zawahiri, entitled The Morning and the Lamp, which contains his analysis of Pakistan’s constitution. This document does not merely call for radical reform of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan along the principles traditionally espoused by al-Qaeda and its local allies; it calls for the destruction of the state itself.  In making this call, Zawahiri is going beyond the name-calling and the declaration that Pakistan is an apostate government, to providing reasoned legal arguments to support his assertion that apostasy is rooted in the state’s foundational document.

The February arrest of the Afghan Taliban’s top military commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Karachi, reports of a number of additional arrests of Taliban leaders in Pakistan and the increasing success of the Pakistani Army against the Pakistani Taliban have all combined to spark speculation about a sea change in Pakistani cooperation with the United States. There are those that argue that U.S. pressure is the primary cause of this potential change, while others argue that the Pakistani establishment has concluded that radical al-Qaeda inspired groups now pose a significant threat to the Pakistani system (The News [Islamabad], February 24; February 27). If there really is a sustained change in Pakistan, its motivation would no doubt be a combination of both of these factors at least.  However, the timing in early 2010 raises some doubt that U.S. pressure was the key factor since that pressure has been a constant over the last eight years.  Nor is the upswing in extremist violence or the willingness of Pakistan’s security forces to arrest extremists on occasion an entirely new factor. What then is new today that did not play out in the Bush administration?
The answer may be partly found in the intense political attack by al-Qaeda on the legitimacy of the Pakistani state that intensified after the Pakistani Army’s offensive against the Taliban in Swat in May, 2009. Osama Bin Laden issued his “Letter to Our Brothers in Pakistan” (June, 2009) that asserted the Pakistani people have a religious duty to fight their government.  Ayman al-Zawahiri also issued several propaganda statements attacking the Pakistani state (particularly the army) and called on the Pakistani people to join the jihad in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Except for their intensity, these statements by al-Qaeda’s leadership did not break entirely new ground.  Even before the Swat offensive, Abu Yahya al-Libi had issued his Cutting Edge of the Spear to Fight the Government and Army of Pakistan (al-Fajr, April 2009). The Morning and the Lamp seems to have been written as early as November 2008, but was not released by As-Sahab Media until December, 2009. [1] Both Zawahiri’s and al-Libi’s essays, like many other al-Qaeda documents, were translated into Urdu to make them available to a much wider Pakistani audience.  Whatever the reason for the delay in releasing The Morning and the Lamp to the general public on the internet, the timing of its release makes it appear to be a dramatic escalation of al-Qaeda’s political attack. Zawahiri’s monograph provides the philosophical, religious, and legal underpinnings for the campaign of violence against the Pakistani state itself and not just for isolated attacks against its army and security apparatus.  

The Content of the Risala

Zawahiri begins his monograph by noting that Pakistani “brothers,” including preachers and those working in Pakistan’s Islamic groups, have always told him that Pakistan was something unique in that it has an Islamic Constitution that actually governs the state and allows citizens to elect representatives freely.  According to these brothers,  “the problem [in Pakistan] is not with the constitution or the system; instead the problem is with the corrupt ruling class, which assumes power by force or other means and does not abide by the rules of the constitution.” Zawahiri does not condemn those that make the statement.  Instead, he claims that these statements stirred up a series of perplexing questions that baffled him.  He prefaces his points by asking:

“How is it possible that the [Pakistani] system is based on Islamic foundations:

• Yet results in all this corruption, sabotage, and subordination to the West and the Americans?

• Yet is the system that teaches the confusion which results in the creation of generations with a sentimental attachment to Islam, while in fact, practice, tradition, and general fascination [are sympathetic] to Western culture.

• Yet the Army – the uncrowned king in Pakistan – is subordinate to the Americans?

• Yet Pakistan has become the greatest ally of America in its crusader war against Islam?”

Citing these questions, Zawahiri claims he studied the constitution because he was convinced that those who were praising it actually did not know much about it.  He concluded that the answer to his fundamental question is quite simple if painful to some of his audience. “Pakistan is not an Islamic state; it contradicts the Islamic Shari’a in a number of fundamental and significant ways.”  All of the arguments that follow are directed to Pakistanis but could just as well be directed to Iraqis, Afghanis or to any Muslim community as a fundamental attack on democracy itself.

 Zawahiri uses many references to the Quran, rational arguments and rhetoric to convey his message. Towards the end of his introduction, he explains that he chose the title The Morning and the Lamp to convey a message to the “sons of English culture” that the “sun of Muhammadan guidance rose 14 centuries ago.  Thus your weak lamps are extinguished, [the lamps that] have illumined only your teachers in the West who are living in the darkness of modern barbarism (jahiliyya).”  Zawahiri thanks Shaykh Atiyatullah and Shaykh Abu Yahya al-Libi for helping him with a draft of the monologue, but does not refer to Bin Laden.

Under the subtitle “Who has authority (hukm)?”, Zawahiri defines an argument that depends on Sayyid Qutb’s formulation that sovereignty (hakimiyya) belongs to Allah alone. [2] It is a clever argument, which at one stroke denies the validity of the majority of the legal edifice built up over the centuries within Islamic jurisprudence.  It is one thing to say that Allah is the source of all legal and governmental authority and another to say that Allah provides all law, even the most mundane, rather than being the source of infallible divine law and the principles upon which all human law should be based.
Zawahiri asks, “Who has the right to legislate and who has authority in Pakistan? Is it Allah alone or the majority of the representatives in Parliament or [does authority reside in] whatever the Advisory Council declares?”  Zawahiri goes on to say that he has found the answer settled authoritatively in the fundamental documents of the State of Pakistan.  “The answer is that the right to amend the constitution or issue laws belongs to the majority of the representatives [of Parliament] alone.”  He then presents a red herring by declaring that a two-thirds majority vote of the Parliament could change the name of Pakistan to the “Pakistani-American Republic” or the “Pakistani Christian Republic.”  In fact, he argues that a two-thirds majority of Parliament could change the constitution in any way they want and those changes could not be contested in any court.  Zawahiri’s text provides the constitutional provision in its English version to demonstrate that he is on solid ground in making these assertions. [3]

Zawahiri’s attack is intended to undermine all of the institutions of the Pakistani state: the executive, the legislature, the judiciary, and the military, from the very foundation of the state in 1947 until today.  In fact, one of the major goals of Zawahiri’s risala is to disabuse Pakistanis of the belief that the real problem is the corruption of the ruling class, asserting it is the nature of the Pakistani system itself.  To accomplish the destruction of Pakistan’s legitimacy, he provides a close analysis of eight examples from the constitution that contradict Shari’a:

1. A two-thirds majority of Parliament can change the constitution without any check by higher authority.

2. Immunity from prosecution or questioning of the president and other high officials.

3. The right of the President to pardon crime.

4. Lack of a clear stipulation that judges should be Muslim and no requirement that judges be just in any     court.

5. Lack of a requirement that the president be male.

6. Absence of protection from the application of retroactive punishment.

7. Absence of protection from double jeopardy.

8. The lack of a prohibition on usury.

The Impact of the Risala

Zawahiri’s analysis of the Constitution is likely not intended to influence groups like the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) or the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) since they need no convincing.  Voices similar to these have been arguing for the strict application of Shari’a for as long as the Pakistani constitution has existed. The real target is much more likely the ordinary people of Pakistan, especially the youth. It is probable that Zawahiri assumes these groups know as little about the Pakistani constitution as the more extreme “brothers” who motivated him to write his monograph in the first place.

A recent poll of Pakistani youth revealed that 64% want an Islamic state in Pakistan even though religious parties have received an insignificant share of the vote (Dawn, February 22).  Similarly, a recent Gallup Poll showed that fully 60% of the Pakistani public thinks that Shari’a should be the only source of legislation and one-third thinks that religious leaders should play a direct role in government. [4] Both polls show that despite these answers, support for freedom of speech and other democratic values co-exist with what many see as Islamic values.  Perhaps this is the confusion that Zawahiri is referring to when he complains that Pakistanis are attached both to Islam and Western culture, which he asserts are incompatible.   Is the subtle purpose of Zawahiri really to create another kind of confusion that might make the public more passive in the face of extremist violence aimed at undermining the Pakistani government?  In this period of rising extremist violence in Pakistan, is he recalling the public’s negative reaction to the military operation against the Red Mosque in July, 2007?  The public had initially been against violent attacks associated with the mosque, but then reversed itself after what it perceived to be indiscriminate violence by the army (see Terrorism Monitor, July 19, 2007).

It is reasonable to assume that Zawahiri is well aware of the small chance he has of actually convincing the public that his vision of Pakistan is correct?  Creating confusion in the short run and exacerbating the cracks in Pakistani society while the Taliban and other confederate groups work to destabilize the Pakistani state might be exactly what he intends.  In any case, the challenge to Pakistani security authorities will be to act with carefully calibrated operations that do not repeat the Red Mosque experience.  This is a very difficult challenge that will play itself out over the next year of increased American operations in Afghanistan and a potential increase in spillover violence in Pakistan.   
Dr. Michael W.S. Ryan is an independent consultant and researcher on Middle Eastern security issues and a Senior Research Associate at the Jamestown Foundation.


1. This written piece is referred to as a monograph in Western sources but is referred to as risala in Arabic, which could mean anything from a “letter” or “essay” or even the generic “communication.”
2. Sayyid Qutb was one of the foremost theorists for the Muslim Brotherhood and was executed by the Egyptian Government in 1966 (see Terrorism Monitor, May 4, 2005).
3. See  The amendments cited by Zawahiri are Amendments 238, 239 of Part IX. Zawahiri is fluent in English but does not claim to know Urdu.
4. Dalia Mogahed, “Islam and Democracy,” Gallup Muslim West Facts Project, n.d.,