Jean Sasson, the author of “Growing Up Bin Laden: Osama’s Wife and Son Take Us Inside Their Secret World” (published – 2009) and a regular at Mizozo.com, answered some of our questions regarding Osama’s death and Bin Laden family’s reaction to it.
What was Omar and Najwa’s reaction to Osama’s death?
FROM JEAN: I will say that Omar has asked that I keep our personal conversations private. Therefore I cannot give specific details as I respect his right to privacy in this very delicate matter. I can say that I did speak with Omar on the night of May 1st and I felt that Omar was shocked. This is what I believe from all my time of knowing Omar. I believe that he thought that if his father was found, that there would be a trial, much like in the same way as Saddam Hussein received a trial. I believe that most Muslims were surprised because most felt that the USA would arrest him, but not execute him on the spot. I was surprised myself.
As far as Najwa, she had a double shock when her dear mother died of a massive stroke after hearing about Osama’s death. So there was a lot going on in the family and all at the same time. Najwa Bin Laden is an exceptionally strong woman. I am sure she is protecting her children.
I respect the family and know that they mourn Osama as a husband and as a father. Anyone can understand that they would mourn a husband and a father.
What do they think about Osama’s funeral at sea? Does it really comply with their religious belief?
FROM JEAN: I believe that the family, like all Muslims, was shocked by the sea burial. That kind of burial was a shock to all Muslims that I know. Despite what the US government announced, that he was buried according to Islam, it is my understanding that burial at sea is NOT acceptable for a Muslim. Even if the body starts to decompose, I understand that the body should then be placed carefully between two wooden planks and dragged behind the ship until the shop can dock at a Muslim land. Then at that time, the body would be buried according to Islamic custom. Many Muslims felt that Islam had been dishonored by this method of burial. I, for one, wish that Omar, or some of Osama’s brothers living in Saudi Arabia, would have been allowed to identify the body of Osama. That would have harmed no one to do that one thing.
How has the family’s life changed since Osama’s death?
FROM JEAN: Their daily life as far as a routine, has not changed at all. They are living as in the same manner as they were before.
How does Osama’s private life in Pakistan compare to the life you described in your book with Omar and Najwa?
FROM JEAN: I was so very interested in watching all the video and other photos that came out. The home itself was like so many of the homes that Omar and Najwa had described to me. During the time they lived in Saudi Arabia, they lived in large homes that looked impressive from the outside, but was stark and unattractive inside. Omar once told me, “This is how we lived. Think of it as penthouse living but without anything nice inside the home.” Thus, Osama had not changed his way of living regarding the type home he lived in. That was clear from the old TV to the cheap looking furnishings.
HOWEVER, Osama’ private life had changed dramatically. When he was living with Najwa and the children, he was a very busy man, always leaving to go on meetings whether of a business nature or of a political nature. He had many wealthy and well-connected people visiting him whenever he lived in Saudi Arabia or Sudan or even in Afghanistan. He was traveling between the houses of his four wives, staying one night at each house at the time.
He was extremely busy with his businesses, whether farming or construction or building roads. HIs life was full, professionally and privately. Of course, from his own words, it was clear that he was also meeting with others planning various attacks against his enemies.
When I saw that he was basically a prisoner of his home, I knew that would be a big adjustment for him. Then when I heard that images had been caught of a tall man was pacing and walking in the garden, I thought of how free he once was, and how he rode horses with his sons, and boated on the Nile River, and went out into the desert, and even walked from Afghanistan to Pakistan on a routine basis. I thought of how he lived for so long in those rooms on the top floor. He must have been really miserable having to live in isolation.
Of course, we don’t know for certain that he never left the compound. Perhaps we will learn later that he would get into the back seat of the automobiles and have his couriers take him to meet other people. Yet that was not on a daily basis. So, his world had shrunk to a very small parcel of land consisting of a garden and the interior rooms of one villa. Compared to his former life, I’m sure he was very unhappy with his very closed world.
What else can I tell you about the family situation after Osama’s death?
FROM JEAN: I believe from the reactions of readers that before Osama’s death, many people did not really want to get to know the family situation. Now after Osama’s death, there is a softening, and people are starting to understand that these are good people, innocent people and they deserve to be able to forge a private life. For the first time, people are realizing that none of Najwa’s sons with Osama ever joined Al-Qaeda, that in fact, they are all peaceful and do not want to harm anyone, but to live their lives quietly. I find it simply amazing that out of 11 children with Najwa, that none followed their father’s path.
I’ve admired Omar’s courageous stance for peace since the first time I spoke with him in February, 2008. I think others are beginning to realize that we need more Omar Bin Laden’s in the world, young men from the Muslim world who are not afraid to say that violence is not the answer. How many other people in the public arena have done that? Very few, to my dismay.
I am very proud to be the biographer of Omar and Najwa’s story. I believe that the book is a valuable historical document. I believe that in a hundred years from now when scholars are studying this time in the earth’s history, and want to learn about Osama Bin Laden, those scholars will turn to the stories provided by the people who knew him best, his first wife, Najwa, and his 4th born son, Omar.
We read on your blog about wild and false claims made by some newspapers about Osama’s wife Najwa’s and her private life. What was that about?
FROM JEAN: I’m glad you asked me this question. Every chance I get, I like to clarify when the media gets something wrong, or, in this case, simply makes things up. The culprit in this case weas the Mail Today in New Delhi who took a statement made by Najwa in the book, “I loved the sleeping time the best.” and combined her words with with Omar’s memory of his father and mother retiring to their rooms for a long time after his father came back from Afghanistan and printed up wild statements that Najwa never said about only loving her husband in bed and nonsense like that. Some agency in India should overlook this sort of thing and the Mail Today should be fined and forced to retract those statements. There were a number os such crazy wild statement that they just MADE UP, attributing some to Najwa and some to me. I won’t repeat them here because I tend to cringe when I hear them.
I generally took the sleeping time to mean the night when Osama came home from a long day of school and work (this was concerning Najwa’s favorite time when they were living in SA) and she would receive her husband’s full attention, whether talking about their day or just visiting.
Anyone can read every book I have ever written and will see that I hav NEVER had any sexy talk about any of my heroines in my books. I leave the intimate part of a person’s life OUT of my books. I respect my subjects, and I respect myself, and I respect all women, and this means that I don’t dig out such things. Not that Najwa would have told me anything had I asked. She is an extremely conservative Muslim lady as are some of my other subjects.
I was asked a question whether or not the herbal substances found in the villa in Paksitan might have belonged to Osama. I answered truthfully. I had no way of knowing who they belonged to, but wouldn’t be surprised. That’s a long way from saying YES, which was attributed to me.
I remember when writing PRINCESS one of my editors called and asked if I could put in some romantic descriptions of Sultana and her husband Kareem. I was shocked and said of course I could NOT do such a thing, that my heroine was a Saudi Muslim and she would be offended, as would my own mother who read all my books and who was a conservative Christian lady.
SO, this is not my way and I will never write about sexual things in any of my books. It’s embarrassing now just to discuss this, YET, important to set the record straight.
Strangely enough, I was more upset than the family. The minute I saw the Mail Today, I sent them directly to the family. They didn’t like it of course, but Omar has had his own personal experiences with the tabloid media in the UK, and much of what was written about him was totally false, so he told me not to worry.
Life itself is interesting enough to report the TRUTH, and there is no reason for newspapers like MAIL TODAY to make up these words and put them in Najwa’s mouth, or in my mouth. I never spoke with the reporter and neither did Najwa, so they are bad! I always say, SHAME ON THEM! They should retract those made up statements, but they won’t. Such newspapers feel smug and superior and feel they can say anything they please and then they move on after they have hurt others.
Please feel free to send us your questions to ask her, either by emailing us at email@example.com or writing them in the comment section.
About Jean Sasson
Jean Sasson is an American writer who writes mainly about women in Middle East. Her first book – “The Rape of Kuwait” was published before the Gulf was in 1991. The Kuwaiti Embassy in Washington paid to send 200,000 copies of it to American troops in the Persian Gulf. Her book – “Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia” was on the New York Times Best Seller list for 13 weeks.
Her book “Growing Up Bin Laden: Osama’s Wife and Son Take Us Inside Their Secret World” (published – 2009) received excellent reviews all over the world.
“Fascinating. . . . Together, Najwa and Omar provide an intimate account of a family life that became steadily more dangerous and bizarre. . . . From affluence and comfort in Jeddah they were reduced to penury and privation in Afghanistan, all the wives and their many children living without electricity, running water, or even real beds, in forced pursuit of Osama’s jihadist dreams.”
—The Washington Post
Other Articles by Jean Sasson on Mizozo.com –
- Exclusive Interview with the Author of Growing Up Bin Laden, Jean Sasson
- The Real Story by Jean Sasson
Thanks a lot Jean!