THE WISDOM FUND: News & Views
July 28, 2005 (rev. December 7)
The Wisdom Fund

Fatwa Against Terrorism: Questions

by Enver Masud

Muslim scholars in the United States, Canada, Spain, and the United Kingdom have now issued fatwas -- opinions regarding religious doctrine or law by a recognized authority -- against terrorism. Hopefully, this may silence critics who had been asking why Muslims hadn't spoken out against terrorism. They had, but mainstream news media gave them little attention.

However, these fatwas provide little new guidance to Muslims confronted with the complexities of the real world. Muslims with only a minimal understanding of Islam know that Islam prohibits acts of violence against peaceful citizens, prohibits the destruction of their crops, water supplies, etc., and urges forgiveness rather than retribution. More guidance is needed.

First, what is terrorism?

The UN High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change defines terrorism as "any action intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or noncombatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do, or abstain from, any act."

According to Webster's New World Dictionary -- the Second College Edition, terrorism is defined as "use of force or threats to demoralize, intimidate, and subjugate, esp. such use as a political weapon or policy." This often equates with power politics and realpolitik.

Second, who is a terrorist and who is a freedom fighter?

To cite an often repeated cliche: one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. The passage of time may cause us to change our opinion of them. We have only to consider the labels applied over time to Nelson Mandela, the "terrorist" and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (1993); Yasser Arafat, the "terrorist" and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (1994); and America's founding fathers -- terrorists in the eyes of the British, freedom fighters in the eyes of Americans.

Third, who is a civilian?

The U.S. troops in Iraq are supported by an army of civilian contractors who provide security, bring them fuel, food, etc., and provide other services. The U.S. occupation of Iraq is overseen, and supported, by the largest U.S. embassy in the world many of whom carry out intelligence activities. Are these civilians or legitimate targets for the Iraqi resistance?

Israel presents a different issue. Except for religious scholars who are exempt, Israelis are drafted into the Israel Defense Force at age 18. Men serve for three years, women for 21 months. Upon completion of compulsory service each soldier is assigned to a reserve unit. Are these reservists, who change from military uniform to civilian clothes in the same day, civilians or military targets?

In the past, intelligence agencies are reported to have infiltrated consulting firms, charitable organizations, news services, student groups, etc.

Fourth, what about the rights of citizens of an occupied country?

Under international law, citizens of an occupied country have the legal right to resist occupation by any and all means. Indeed history records with favor the French resistance that fought against Nazi occupation.

Are those who collaborate with occupation forces a legitimate target for the resistance? Does the right to resist occupation grant authority to attack Israeli settlers in occupied Palestine?

An Italian judge ruled in April this year that "militants who attack military or state targets, even with suicide bombers, cannot be considered terrorists in times of war or occupation."

Fifth, what about state-sponsored acts of violence?

Former Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, chief U.S. prosecutor at the first Nuremberg trial, called waging aggressive war "the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."

"The same view would later be confirmed by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Far East. It was also confirmed in the detailed judgment in the 'Ministries Case' of the Subsequent Proceedings held at Nuremberg" wrote Benjamin B. Ferencz -- a prosecutor at the subsequent Nuremberg war crimes trials.

Does the fatwa apply to Russia's war on the Chechens, China's respression of the Uighurs, the Philippines' war on the Moros of Mindanao, and the U.S. invasion of Iraq -- the supreme international crime?

And what does the fatwa say about the U.S. invasion of Iraq? In his Nobel lecture, Harold A. Pinter, recipient of the 2005 Nobel Prize for literature, called it "an act of blatant state terrorism."

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Note: The Fiqh Council of North America, in the fatwa issued on July 28, cites a verse from the Quran as: "Whoever kills a person [unjustly]...it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind."

The Yusuf Ali transliteration of this verse (5:32) is: "On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our apostles with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land."

Joe Stephens and David B. Ottaway, "From U.S., the ABC's of Jihad," Washington Post, March 23, 2002

John V. Whitbeck, "'Terrorism': A World Ensnared by a Word," International Herald Tribune, February 18, 2004

[Terrorism is a tactic, a technique, a weapon that fanatics, dictators, and warriors have resorted to throughout history. . . . "We might as well be sending the 101st Airborne Division to conquer lust, annihilate greed, capture the sin of pride."--Patrick J. Buchanan, "Where the Right Went Wrong: How Neoconservatives Subverted the Reagan Revolution and Hijacked the Bush Presidency," Thomas Dunne Books (September 1, 2004), pages 89-126

"Secret FBI Report Highlights Domestic Terror," ABC News, April 18, 2005

Robert Fisk, "The Reality of This Barbaric Bombing," Independent, July 8, 2005

"U.S. MUSLIM RELIGIOUS COUNCIL ISSUES FATWA AGAINST TERRORISM," Fiqh Council of North America, July 28, 2005

[But the U.S. had already crossed a terrifying moral threshold when it accepted the targeting of civilians as a legitimate instrument of warfare. That was a deliberate decision, indeed, and it's where the moral argument should rightly focus.--David M. Kennedy, "Hiroshima: Crossing the Moral Threshold," Time, August 1, 2005]

[A far sounder definition was offered by Israeli National Security Council chairman Major General Uzi Dayan, who defined as terrorist in a December 2001 speech "any organization that systematically harms civilians, irrespective of its motives."--Kennedy, "The Farcical Definition at the Heart of the War on Terrorism," Future of Freedom Foundation, January 30, 2006]

"Muslim leaders condemn terrorism," BBC News, June 23, 2006

[Citing the "sinister campaign" to malign "Islamic faith...by linking terrorism with Islam and distorting the meanings of Quranic Verses and Prophet traditions", Mahmood Asad Madani, leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, had wanted Deoband to spell out the stand of Islam on world peace.

The fatwa, issued before a huge gathering of Muslims in Delhi's Ramlila Ground for the Anti-Terrorism and Global Peace Conference, went on to say, "It is proved from clear guidelines provided in the Holy Quran that allegations of terrorism against a religion which preaches and guarantees world peace is nothing but a lie. The religion of Islam has come to wipe out all kinds of terrorism and to spread the message of global peace. Allah knows the best."--"Deoband first: A fatwa against terror," Times of India, June 1, 2008]

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