Sunday, April 08, 2012

Review: Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings

With kind permission from Muslim World Book Review, Spring 32, (3), pp. 18-20.

Tahir-ul-Qadri, Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings, (London: Minhaj-ul-Quran International, 2010), pp. 512, £ 19.95

Review by Dr M Mansur Ali

Cambridge Muslim College

This is the translation of an Urdu fatwa (Dahshat gardi awr fitnae khawarij) written by the author primarily to condemn terrorist activities taking place in the Asian sub-continent. In the original Urdu fatwa the author has a disclaimer saying that the writing of this fatwa is not politically motivated but a sincere attempt to rescue Islam from being hijacked by a discourse on terror. His intention is to show the beauty of Islam and that terrorism is not a part of this beauty. It is an exhaustive piece of work and reads like a classical Islamic law manual: first looking at linguistic analysis of key words, seconded by scriptural evidence from the Quran and Hadith and finally followed by the opinions of the legal experts. The English translation first discussed at a ‘historical launch’ press conference in London in March 2010 which was later published as a 512 page monograph in December 2010, had attracted much media attention. The introduction has also been translated into a myriad of languages including Arabic, French, German and Norwegian. It is also accompanied by a website, a Facebook and Twitter page. The English translation of the fatwa is preceded by a forward and an introduction by two eminent scholars in their subject area.

In the forward, Professor John Esposito places the fatwa in its historical context by showing that it is but one from a line of condemnations by Muslim scholars against terrorism and indiscriminate killing. He quotes authorities such as Timothy Winter, Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia. He makes reference to two important initiatives by Muslim scholars worldwide in their collective condemnation of terrorism: the Amman Message (2004-5) and ‘A Common Word Between Us and You’ (2007). Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri’s fatwa is an important continuation of the Muslim voice against terrorism. The author of the introduction, Dr Joel Hayward, a scholar of war and strategy, expresses his frustration that hitherto condemnations of terrorism have not done anything to convince non-Muslims of the peaceful nature of Islam, neither have they stopped Muslims from being radicalized. He says that in March 2010 he breathed a huge sigh of relief.

The fatwa is solidly grounded in the Islamic sources. Its meticulous attention to details covering every single avenue makes it read almost like an encyclopaedia on the ethics of war and justice. It discusses the lexical and etymological meanings of Islam, Iman and Ihsan, the unlawfulness of indiscriminately killing people, Muslim or otherwise. He writes about the unlawfulness of terrorism in all forms, the rules related to the protection of ones religion, life, honour and wealth and the prohibition of rebelling against the government amongst many other things. The fatwa also includes the opinions of Salafi and Deobandi scholars in their condemnation of terrorism.

However, there are two unique features of the fatwa which distinguishes it from other fatwas written on the subject. First of all the author claims that it is ‘an absolute condemnation of terrorism, without any excuses, without any pretext, without any exceptions, without creating any ways of justification, this condemnation is in its totality, in its comprehensiveness, in its absoluteness, [...] a total condemnation of every act of terrorism in every form and every manifestation.’ And the second unique feature which is the main thrust of the fatwa and which the author calls his unique contribution, is his declaration that terrorists are ‘outside the ambit of Islam’ in other words they are kafirs who are not ‘heroes of Islam but the heroes of hell.’

The author comes to this conclusion through three different types of reasoning. First of all through a linguistic analysis of the words ‘Islam’ and ‘Iman’ he concludes that a terrorist acts contrary to what Islam and Iman are and therefore he cannot be from them even though outwardly he is pious and devout (p. 35). The second evidence for declaring terrorists as kafirs is based on Abu Mansur al-Maturidi’s reading of the verse ‘whoever kills a person, except as a punishment for murder or disorder in the land, it is as if he killed all of humanity (Quran 5:32). Al-Maturidi’s reading of the verse is based on the understanding that a person who deems it permissible to kill another person (istihlal al-qatl) without recourse to a court of law, in essence is denying the validity of the Quranic verse and as a result of this he is a kafir. This is different from the person who kills out of anger without believing it to be permissible.

The above two reasonings are only preambles to the author’s main reasoning in declaring terrorists as kafirs. His main ammunition against them is that they are the same old evil kharijites with a new name. He dedicates over 145 pages in trying to prove this (chapter 17: today’s terrorists are kharijites, p.385). By identifying similar khariji traits in the modern day terrorists, he declares them to be a modern manifestation of kharijis and then falls back on to higher authorities who have declared kharijites to be out of the fold of Islam (he also honestly documents the opinions of those scholars who did not hold this view). He sincerely believes that the Prophet’s prophecies regarding the description of the kharijites also fit into today’s terrorists. However, in doing so he makes some gross generalizations such as the Prophet saying they will be young, they will have bushy beards, they will wear their trousers way above their ankles and that they will come from the east. He even tries to make acoustic links between the Haruriya (another name for the kharijites) and modern day Hizb al-Tahrir, and al-Qa’diya (one of the names for the kharijites) and al-Qaeda saying that the only difference in the latter is the addition of the letter alif.

Although most readers will agree with the bulk of the fatwa, some may find the author’s main thrust of the fatwa (i.e. declaring the terrorists to be non-Muslims) problematic and difficult to accept from a theological and sociological point of view. First of all one may ask what constitutes istihalal. Modern day terrorists are not deliberately rejecting a ma’lum min al-din bi al-darura (that which is necessarily known from the religion), but they are sincerely upholding an interpretation (yuqatiluna ala al-ta’wil) which mainstream Islam rejects. They are guilty of violating ijma’ and not kufr. Therefore, one may say that the author is too absolute in assuming that rejecting a consensual interpretation constitutes kufr. Similarly the author’s position goes against the Amman message which professor Esposito writes about in the forward. Scholars who signed the Amman message, of which the author is also a signatory, agreed that it is not permissible for anyone to declare a person who believes in Allah and the Prophet as an apostate. Ironically, it categorically mentions that the Ibadis are Muslims, the Ibadis being an offshoot of the historical kharijites.

Another problem arising from declaring the terrorists to be non-Muslims is that one may see it as an attempt to shy away from the fact that terrorism is a problem within the Muslim community. A more head-on theological rebuttal to terrorist misreading of the Islamic sources would have been more efficient. And finally one may say that by declaring terrorists as non-Muslims the author is falling into the very same mentality that the kharijites were notorious for. Saying this, the author’s line of argument may help potential terrorists think twice before allowing themselves to be radicalised. We hope this maybe the case.

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