"There is no room for play in Islam... It is deadly serious about everything."
So declared Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, in 1980. Nine years later, Indian-born British author Salman Rushdie discovered the grim consequences of free expression in fundamentalist Islam tenet, when Khomeini issued a fatwa condemning the novelist to death for blasphemous text in his novel, The Satanic Verses. Khomeini avowed that anyone who died in the cause of ridding the world of Rushdie would be a martyr and go directly to heaven.
An ominous forecast, the world promptly found out that this fatwa was not a vacant declaration for Western consumption, but potent warning. Bookstores that sold The Satanic Verses were firebombed, riots broke out in areas where it was believed Rushdie was staying and two of the book's translators were stabbed -- one fatally -- by extremists. Rushdie was immediately placed under the protection of the British government, which broke diplomatic relations with Iran. In 1998, Iran backed off its stance somewhat, and Rushdie has since emerged from seclusion, although, fear has indisputably become an everyday facet in his life.
Rushdie hasn't been the only writer forced into isolation recently through the threat of the fatwa. The novelist and poet, Taslima Nasrin, whose work confronts Shariah, or Islamic law, and the role of women in Muslim societies, in particular Bangladesh, has had a fatwa on her head since 1993. In a recent speech at Concordia University, the same university where students had violently 'protested' against a proposed appearance by Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrated again - with similar results.
A Dutch Muslim woman, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, had to flee the Netherlands because she said that Muslim men traditionally oppressed Muslim women. A death fatwa quickly followed. Likewise, a Sudanese writer, Kola Boof, whose detailed exposition of Christian slavery in her native country has taken refuge in the U.S. after fawta was issued sentencing her to death by beheading. Deprived women in many tyrannical Mulsim nations do not possess the luxury of exile, and have fallen casualty to fatwas passed by mullahs ranging from death by stoning and burning.
Fatwas protecting other religions have even been pronounced. In 1999, a London-based group, Al-Muhajiroun, which describes itself as the Defenders of the Messenger Jesus, issued its own fatwa against the participants of a play about Jesus. The group claimed Jesus was an important prophet in Islam and that classical and modern Islamic authorities agreed that capital punishment was the penalty for uncivil words regarding a messenger of God. The play, Corpus Christi, by Terrence McNally, retells the gospel story in modern Texas. It shows Jesus, who is crucified as "King of the Queers," after being betrayed by his gay lover, Judas.
These days, there are so many fatwas issued against Westerners and their interlopers that it is getting hard to keep track of it all. Issued by a mufti or a religious lawyer, a fatwa is a legal statement in Islam, requested by judges or individuals, and required in cases where an issue is undecided. Lawsuits can be settled on the basis of a fatwa, guidelines on diet or style of worship may also be offered. More significant to non-Mulsims and non-believers, death sentences can be handed out -- as countless Infidels are well aware.
Most Americans probably do not even realize they have a fatwa on their head. The most consequential, Osama bin Laden's 1998 proclamation "to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilians and military -- is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it." It was this fatwa that that was the religious rationalization to murder civilians on United States mainland by Al Qaeda terrorists.
Just days after 9-11, Sheikh Hamoud bin Oqla al-Shuaibi, a senior Wahabbi cleric in Saudi Arabia, issued his fatwa that "whoever supports the infidel against Muslims is considered an infidel.... It is a duty to wage jihad on anyone who supports the attack on Afghanistan." Support is defined as assistance "by hand, by tongue, or by money." Clerics belonging to the Islamic tribes on the Afgan-Pakistani border have also distributed pamphlets with a fatwa calling on people to gun down any American, whenever and wherever found.
Palestinian terrorist leaders long ago understood the effectiveness of religious zeal over undiluted Arab nationalism and now employ a bizarre mix of the two, liberally issuing fatwas against Israelis and Jews in general - between which they rarely differentiate. "Have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, in any country. Wherever you meet them, kill them. Wherever you are, kill those Americans who are like them." said Dr. Ahmad Abu Halabiya, a member of the Palestinian Authority's Fatwa Council and former acting Rector of the Islamic University in Gaza. Halabiya called for Israelis to be humiliated, tortured, and butchered wherever found.
In 2001, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abd al-Aziz bin Abdallah Aal al-Shaykh, deliverd a fatwa stating that Islam forbids suicide terrorist attacks. Within days, fatwas were issued against Aal al-Shaykh for his betrayal of the Palestinian cause, though it must be pointed out, the cleric's main area of contention was not Israelis but European targets in the Gulf. Sayyid Wafa, one of the highest-ranking clerics in Egypt at the time, considered a moderate and pragmatist in some circles, restructured the Saudi fatwa with an amendment that stated "all means are legitimate to fight the Jews."
If those religious edicts seem a smidgen severe, last week, the death fatwas' absurdity took a new turn. A fashion journalist, Isioma Daniel, writing for the Nigerian newspaper This Day, made a rather unfortunate reference to the Prophet Muhammad during the Miss World pageant in her column. She wrote that Mohammed might have approved of the contest since he might pick one of his wives from the swarm beauty contestants. To American eyes, the statement might have seemed innocuous, but the consequences were deadly.
"What we are saying is that the Holy Koran has clearly stated that whoever insults the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, should be killed," said Zamfara State Commissioner for Information, Umar Dangaladima Magaji. The New Nigerian newspaper said the fatwa had been issued by Zamfara's Deputy Governor Mamuda Aliyu Dallatun Shinkafi, who compared Daniel to Rushdie: "Like Salman Rushdie, the blood of Isioma Daniel can be shed." The speech was rebroadcast on local radio in Zamfara state, which was the first state in Nigeria to introduce Islamic law.
A direct result of what was at worst a thoughtless remark in a fashion column has directly led to the deaths of 200 people with another 500 injured in Nigeria during four days of rioting and mob violence. The mainstream media, for the most part, characterized the chaos as 'clashes between Muslims and Christians.' However, a revealing BBC report observed that Muslims armed with "sticks, daggers and knives set fire to vehicles and attacked anyone they suspected of being Christian." Sounds more like a lynch mob than an evenly balanced religious conflict.
Not only has this Isalmist violence in Nigeria led to a corrupting of traditional Islam, but a Catholic archbishop in Nigeria last week seemed to turn against basic Christian conviction when he said that his people were "tired of turning the other cheek" to Muslim attacks.
To its credit, the Nigerian government has responded to the fatwa by saying that it was illegal and unconstitutional. According to a government release, only the Jama'atu and the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, both headed by Nigeria's powerful Islamic figurehead, the Sultan of Sokoto, have the power to issue a fatwa. Now, if only Egypt, Saudia Arabia and other Islamic states would follow suit, perhaps lives and reputations could be saved.
In Iran, the significant case regarding Hashem Aghajari, a university professor, who was sentenced to death for insulting Islam, is coming to a conclusion. The verdict provoked weeks of protests by students and reformists, and hastened the intervention - likely brought on by fear - of Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The supreme leader has taken a uncommon step and ordered the judiciary to reconsider the verdict and an appeal was filed on Monday. A reversal might be the first step in reversing a trend that began in Iran over 20 years ago.