Rated Reads

Growing Up bin Laden: Osama’s Wife and Son Take Us Inside Their Secret World

by Jean Sasson

Rated: Mild

By Najwa bin Laden, Omar bin Laden, and Jean Sasson

Omar bin Laden and his brothers and sisters came from a background of privilege. Their bin Laden grandfather was a very wealthy self-made businessman, and their father educated and wealthy as well, the owner of his own successful and growing businesses. They could have had everything they wanted, materially and in education. Their future should have been bright. Instead, as they grew up, their lives became increasingly isolated, lacking in education other than religious training, and primitive and impoverished. It was all due to the Islamic extremism espoused by their terrorist father, Osama bin Laden.

In Growing Up bin Laden, the first wife of Osama bin Laden and the couple’s fourth son share their story of being under the control of the notorious al-Qaeda leader. Najwa bin Laden was only 15 when she married her cousin Osama, who was 17 at the time. She left her native Syria for Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where Osama lived, leaving behind her loving family for what she hoped would be a life of happiness with her husband.

As time passed and their family grew, however, Najwa was isolated from the world because of her husband’s strict beliefs. Her only companionship became her 11 children and the other wives that her husband chose to marry to raise up a large Islamic posterity. Still, life would have been tolerable except for her husband’s other eccentric and extreme ideas: he felt their life should be as simple as possible, so despite their wealth, the family lived in spare quarters with no refrigeration and no air conditioning. They even ate simple, bland food.

Osama’s violent activities began with his financial support of and then direct involvement in the Soviet war in Afghanistan. He left the family for months at a time to fight with the insurgents against the invaders. When the Soviets finally left the country, Osama then turned to other violent activities, working toward making Islam the world’s only religion and defeating the Western infidels. His family suffered directly because of these activities when they were forced to leave Saudi Arabia and then Sudan and settled in Afghanistan, where Osama had them live for a time in extremely austere, primitive conditions in the mountains of Tora Bora.

Osama was deliriously happy whenever their terrorist attacks led to deaths, Omar bin Laden says, even if innocent Muslim civilians were killed as well as Christian or Jewish foreigners. He caned his sons whenever angry with them and rarely showed love or affection. Worst of all, he expected his children to follow in his footsteps and join al-Qaeda. Miraculously, despite his expectations and indoctrination, none of his children have joined him, and Omar bin Laden hopes to build an international organization to promote peace.

Growing Up bin Laden is a fascinating look into the personal life of a notorious terrorist who has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people. It shows from his family’s point of view the path that led him to where he is now, and it reveals how much damage he did to his own wives and children, who had no interest in his violent activities and mindset. It’s a very personal, human story of a family affected deeply by one person’s evil.

Rated: Mild, for some references to some violence and disturbing activities by people in Osama bin Laden’s circle, though there are no details.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for more than 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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  • Growing Up bin Laden: Osama’s Wife and Son Take Us Inside Their Secret World
  • by Jean Sasson
  • Rated: Mild
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Reviewer: