Abu Daoud, a Jordanian in his 20s, quit his job in Amman last year to come fight the Russians in Afghanistan.
Abu Daoud is calm and matter-of-fact as he explains that he will stay in the war "until I am martyred."
Hundreds of young Arab men have come to find a role in the Afghan jihad, or holy war, against the 6 1/2-year Soviet presence in Afghanistan. Many, like Abu Daoud, (a pseudonym), are fighting actively in what they see as part of a larger struggle between Islam and communism. They are inspired by a sense of moral outrage and a religious devotion heightened by frequent accounts of divine miracles in the war.
Early this month here, near a guerrilla base about 15 miles south of Kabul, the Afghan capital, a group of a dozen Arabs shouldered Kalashnikov assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades as they marched with several Afghan resistance fighters toward Soviet Army posts along a strategic road. Stopping for a moment's rest, they discussed their day's mission in the Arabic accents of the eastern Mediterranean.
The Arab mujaheddin -- "holy warriors" -- were fighting under the command of Ittihad-i-Islami (Islamic Unity), one of the seven main Afghan resistance groups. According to various Afghan and Arab sources, most of the Arabs who come to fight in Afghanistan do so with Ittihad-i-Islami, a fundamentalist party with close ties to Saudi Arabia and other Arab states.
"Most of the Arab mujaheddin come from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Jordan," said Mohammed Gul, a local commander of Ittihad-i-Islami. "Like the Afghan mujaheddin, they are ordinary people -- not specially military men," he said; "They are just here to fight for their Islamic ideals."
Many of the Arab fighters are university students on summer vacation or men who take a few months of leave from their jobs, Mohammed Gul said.
In Jordan, Abu Daoud said, he had managed a firm belonging to his father, whom he described as one of Amman's leading businessmen. Interviewed in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, Abu Daoud said, "At first, I told my father I was coming to Pakistan to study. After I arrived, I started telling him gradually about fighting in the jihad."
Abu Daoud said his parents had accepted his decision to fight until martyrdom in Afghanistan. "Maybe I would die in Amman; maybe I will die here," he said. "It is in the hands of God."
Like Abu Daoud, most of the Arabs who come to fight here seem well-educated and from middle or upper class families. They are Moslem fundamentalists who express common feelings of outrage toward both the United States and the Soviet Union for what they see as the superpowers' injustice toward Moslem Palestinians and Afghans.
They speak contemptously of their own government leaders for aligning with either superpower and for being what one Arab called "paper Moslems."
"The Arabs who come here, we don't mention our real names because of problems with our governments," said a Jordanian from Aqaba.
"Our government leaders -- Syrian President Hafez Assad, Jordan's King Hussein, Saudi King Fahd -- they do not like strong Moslems," he said. "They only like people they can control."
Ten months ago, Abu Ahmed, a university graduate, left his job with a Saudi company to edit a glossy Peshawar-based magazine called Al Jihad. Shocking pictures in the magazine, showing horribly mutilated Afghan war victims, seem to mirror Abu Ahmed's personal outrage at what Soviet military might is inflicting on Afghans.
As do the Arab and Afghan mujaheddin, Al Jihad casts the war as a battle between Islam and communism. Articles in the magazine, which is barred from newsstands in Arab countries, describe the Soviet Central Asian republics as "colonized Islamic lands."
Abu Ahmed says his magazine, written in Arabic, tries to interest Moslems in helping the jihad. A recent edition included an interview with Yusuf Islam, the former British pop music star Cat Stevens, who converted to Islam in the late 1970s and is helping Afghan refugees with his London-based charity, Moslem Aid.
"We are not trying to convince people to come fight in the jihad, said Abu Ahmed. He agreed with other Arabs, though, that books and magazines circulating in the Middle East with accounts of divine miracles in the war influence many Arabs in their decisions to come to Afghanistan.
Stories of miracles often focus on men who are killed in battle and, as martyrs for Islam, are believed to find places in heaven. "Sometimes, people have heard the voices of martyrs praising God," said an Arab who helps produce Al Jihad, "and the body of a Soviet, an unbeliever, begins to stink after two or three days -- but a martyr's body smells of perfume."
Abu Daoud said he saw such a miracle in eastern Afghanistan a few months ago, when "at night, as I watched by the graves of two martyrs, a shaft of light, like white neon, came out of the graves and shot straight up into the sky."
"When stories of brothers who are martyred are heard back in our countries, it inspires more Moslems to come and fight in the jihad," said Dr. Abu Hazifa, director of a Saudi Red Crescent clinic for war victims. "We do not know exactly why such miracles occur, but my thinking is that God performs them to encourage the mujaheddin -- to show them that he is with us in this war."
Abu Hazifa said the Arab fighters in Afghanistan also play an important role in facilitating Arab relief aid inside the country.
"Moslems who come to do jihad help us with reports on the situation inside, to see how our aid is being used," he said, adding that 50 such men currently are working for the Saudi Red Crescent.
None of the Afghan resistance parties openly encourages Arabs to fight against the Soviets. But even if the presence of the Arabs is not of particular military benefit in the war, many Afghans argue that, as Moslems, the Arabs should be permitted to participate in the jihad.
Ahmed Shah, a senior political officer of Ittihad-i-Islami, said, "We welcome any Moslem . . . who wants to help, and if he wants to share in the fighting, we have no objection."
A western analyst suggested fundamentalist Afghan parties also welcome Arabs who, on returning home, might aid their fundraising.
Some Afghans are more cautious in accepting the Arabs, saying that they sometimes try to preach their own interpretations of Islam. Arabs from the conservative Wahhabi sect centered in Saudi Arabia object to what they regard as "impurities" of mysticism and tribal traditions among Afghan Moslems.
Afghan intellectuals frequently express private worries that Arabs, and especially Saudis, are using their aid to gain religious influence in Afghanistan.