March 3, 2010
The Wisdom Fund

How Does Dr. Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri's Anti-terror Fatwa Define Terrorism?

It doesn't, and there's no "universally accepted definition" -- that's the problem

by Enver Masud

Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri, founder of "Minhaj-ul-Quran International, has issued a 600-page fatwa that bans suicide bombing "without any excuses, any pretexts, or exceptions."

Several years ago, we raised a number of issues regarding suicide bombing, and other fatwas on terrorism.

The first question any fatwa on terrorism must address is how does one define terrorism?

In 2005, then UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, recognized this need, and called for a

universally accepted definition of terrorism, he endorsed the wording contained in the recent report from the UN High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, . . . The panel defined terrorism as any action intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organisation to do, or abstain from, any act.

Five years later, there's still no generally accepted definition of terrorism -- presumably because it would include acts that major powers now commit with impunity.

Webster's New World Dictionary, Second College Edition, defines terrorism as the "use of force or threats to demoralize, intimidate, and subjugate, esp. such use as a political weapon or policy".

Given this definition of terrorism, together with the definition of "power politics" and "realpolitik", leads to the conclusion that frequently realpolitik equals, power politics, equals terrorism.

We did not find a definition in Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri's English language summary.

Neither "suicide" nor "terrorism" are mentioned in highly regarded, English language translations of the Quran by Abdullah Yusuf Ali (an Indian Muslim), Muhammad Asad (born Leopold Weiss, a Jew, in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire), and Marmaduke Pickthall (a British Christian who converted -- Muslims say reverted -- to Islam).

To paraphrase Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri -- "without any excuses, any pretexts, or exceptions" -- killing civilians is wrong.

However, like previous fatwas, this new "fatwa against terrorism" leaves the most important question unanswered. What is the definition of terrorism?

Until there's a "universally accepted definition of terrorism", fatwas by Muslim leaders will, at best, have limited impact.

"Realpolitik and Terrorism," The Wisdom Fund

Enver Masud, "What's Wrong With Suicide Bombing?," The Wisdom Fund, May 9, 2002

Enver Masud, "Fatwa Against Terrorism: Questions," The Wisdom Fund, July 28, 2005

Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Terrorized by 'War on Terror'," Washington Post, March 25, 2007

[Terrorism remains a nebulous concept for the international legal system mainly because it has no acceptable definition. In the absence of a definition, there is a free and open tendency for the persons using the term, whether states, organized groups or scholars, to define it as suits their purposes at the moment, leading to uncertainty as to how to fashion a legal structure to address terrorism.--Upendra D. Acharya, "War on terror or terror wars: the problem in defining terrorism," Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, Fall 2009]

In 1853 the relative peace and stability of the Tokgawa era was rudely interrupted by the appearance in Tokyo Bay of Commodore Perry, an American naval officer, at the head of a fleet of black ships, demanding on behalf of the United Staes - along with varius European powers, notably Britain - that Japan should open itself to trade. Japan's long period of isolation could no longer be sustained: like so much of the rest of the world in the nineteenth century, Japan could not ignore the West and its metamorphosis into such an expansive and predatory players. In 1858, faced with the continuing threat of invasion, Japan signed the unequal treaties which opened up the country to trade on extremely unfavourable terms, including the imposition of extra-territoriality on its main ports, which excluded Western nationals from the requirements of Japanese law. The unequal treaties represented a major restiriction of Japan's soveriegnty. In 1859 Japan was obliged to lift the ban on Christianity imposed over 300 years earlier. (p51-52)

The First Opium War, in which the Qing unsuccessfully sought to resist British demands to allow the import of Indian-grown opium, led to the treaty of Nanjing. This was the first of the so-called unequal treaties and resulted in the imposition of reparations, the loss of Hong Kong, and the creation of four treaty ports in which the British enjoyed special concessisions. ... the Second Opium War (1857-60), which culminated in the ransacking of the Summer Palace in Beijing by British and French troops and the resulting Treaty of Tianjin and the Beijing Conventions. These established a whole string of new treaty ports in which Western citizens were granted extra-territoriality, the right to foreign military bases was conceded; missionaries were given freedom to travel in the interior; and further reparations were imposed. (p86-88) --Martin Jacques, "When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order," Penguin Press HC, The (November 12, 2009)

[It is the all-justifying term for anything the U.S. Government does. Invasions, torture, due-process-free detentions, military commissions, drone attacks, warrantless surveillance, obsessive secrecy, and even assassinations of American citizens are all justified by the claim that it's only being done to "Terrorists," who, by definition, have no rights. Even worse, one becomes a "Terrorist" not through any judicial adjudication or other formal process, but solely by virtue of the untested, unchecked say-so of the Executive Branch.--Glenn Greenwald, "Terrorism: the most meaningless and manipulated word,", February 19, 2010]

Sheldon Richman, "Terrorism: Made in the U.S.A.,", June 11, 2010

[The Saudi fatwa is a tough condemnation of terror and of the underground network that finances it.--David Ignatius, "Saudis act aggressively to denounce terrorism," Washington Post, June 13, 2010]

Enver Masud, "Fear Paralyzes U.S. Muslim 'Leaders'," The Wisdom Fund, August 3, 2010

[Dr. Rohan Perera, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee to Eliminate Terrorism, told IPS the only way to reach a consensus on the issue is to follow the path of adopting an operational or a criminal law definition of terrorism, rather than a generic definition. . . .

"The question of state terrorism will continue to be governed by general principles of international law, as it is not possible to deal with this aspect in a law enforcement instrument, dealing with individual criminal responsibility, based on an 'extradite or prosecute' regime," he said.--Thalif Deen, "UN Remains Deadlocked on Defining Terrorism,", November 24, 2010]

[Many commentators have questioned Qadri's motives, fearing he is a stalking horse for the powerful military and judiciary.--Jon Boone, "Pakistan supreme court orders arrest of prime minister on corruption charges,", January 15, 2013

[Why is a Canadian Islamic cleric marching on the streets of Pakistan and talking about creating a "peaceful" Tahrir Square in Islamabad? . . . A bigger question to ask is where he is getting all these funds to spend on his campaign?--Syed Hamad Ali, "Who is Islamic cleric Dr. Tahir ul-Qadri? And why should Pakistan care?,", January 16, 2013]

[The Pakistani government has reached a deal with cleric Tahirul Qadri to end his mass protest near parliament in Islamabad, the two sides say.--"Pakistan deal reached to end cleric Qadri's protest,", January 17, 2013]

Megan O'Toole and Ali Khan, "Tahir ul-Qadri: A political 'enigma',", October 22, 2014

S. Amjad Hussein, "Selective hearing perpetuates anti-Muslim attitudes',", November 10, 2014

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