In December 2005, a published exchange appeared in the Dallas Morning News between counterterrorism researcher Daveed Gartenstein-Ross (“Extremists among Us?”) and Mahdi Bray (“We’re proud of our Muslim ‘face’”), head of the Muslim American Society’s (MAS) Freedom Foundation, regarding an announcement by MAS subsequent to the 7/7 terrorist attack in London that the group would be launching a campaign to combat terrorism.
In response to this announcement, Mr. Gartenstein-Ross noted that MAS had been equivocal on the terrorism issue, and stated that “a look beneath MAS’ current rhetoric into the organization’s connections, teachings and prior public statements reveals that extremists founded MAS and that, despite efforts to clean up its public image, the core of its teachings remain unchanged”.
In support of his argument, Gartenstein-Ross observed that even post-9/11, MAS had expressed support for terrorist activities in its magazine, The American Muslim:
Indeed, The American Muslim provides a snapshot of where MAS really stands on terrorism. The March 2002 issue includes a fatwa endorsing suicide bombings against Israelis, which states that "martyr operations are not suicide and should not be deemed as unjustifiable means of endangering one's life." The fatwa goes on to say that in suicide bombings, "the Muslim sacrifices his own life for the sake of performing a religious duty, which is jihad against the enemy."
But in his published defense of his organization, Mahdi Bray categorically denied that such a fatwa endorsing suicide attacks in Israel even existed:
Additionally, Mr. Ross asserts that a fatwa (religious opinion) in our March 2002 American Muslim magazine supports suicide bombing. There is absolutely no such fatwa in the March 2002 edition of the American Muslim magazine.
Just weeks after this exchange, the American Muslim website went dark, or more appropriately, white. A common practice for those who want to eliminate items from the web cache of search engines, such as Google, is to remove the page and replace it with a blank white screen to clear the information out of web cache. This is what happened to the American Muslim magazine website.
But one area that website owners cannot control is the various Internet archive sites that regularly catalogue the contents of the World Wide Web. It is here that the evidence supporting Mr. Gartenstein-Ross’ claims about the missing MAS martyrdom fatwa resides. In fact, the Internet Archive houses the past issues of American Muslim, and preserves intact a copy of the missing fatwa that Mahdi Bray vigorously denied existed.
The fatwa was issued by Faysal Mawlawi, deputy chairman of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, headed by the “Theologian of Terror”, Youssef al-Qaradawi (who also has a fatwa reprinted in the same issue), and is reproduced here in its entirety from the American Muslim archives:
Some people say that the operations carried out by Palestinians are considered suicidal acts and not a kind of Jihad, is that true? Please tell me whether these acts are martyr operations and a kind of striving in Allah’s Cause or not?
Answer: Sheikh Faysal Mawlawi:
Martyr operations are not suicide and should not be deemed as unjustifiable means of endangering one’s life. Allah says in the Glorious Qura’n: “And spend of your substance in the cause of Allah, and make not your own hands contribute to (your) destruction; but do good; for Allah loveth those who do good.” (Al-Baqara:195).
The verse obviously indicates that failing to spend in Allah’s Cause is like casting oneself into ruin. That is the reason behind the revelation of the noble verse. Reviewing the Islamic rule: “Words should be construed as imparting general meanings regardless of their specific occasions”, the meaning of the afore-mentioned verse is bound to extend to include any negligence of a religious duty; i.e. forsaking a religious duty entails casting oneself into ruin. The same applies to committing sins.
Therefore, it’s quite an abysmal analysis for someone to focus on the afore-mentioned verse through a narrow a perspective, without taking into consideration all relevant points.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) strictly forbade suicide and made it clear that anyone who commits suicide would be cast into hell. But in such case suicide means Muslim’s killing himself without any lawfully accepted reason or killing himself to escape pain or social problems.
On the other hand, in martyr operations, the Muslim sacrifices his own life for the Sake of performing a religious duty, which is Jihad against the enemy as scholars say.
Accordingly, a Muslim’s intention when committing suicide is certainly different from his intention when performing a military operation and dying in the Cause of Almighty Allah. So it is natural that the religious legal status would differ in each case, as Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him says in a Hadith: “Actions are but by intention, and every man shall have but that which he intended.”
This means that martyr operations are totally different from the forbidden suicide. Concerning the Palestinians, the enemy has occupied their land, their houses and their sacred places and has driven about four million of them out of their houses replacing them with even larger numbers of Jewish settlements. The enemy relies on sophisticated military equipments while, at the same time, denies the Palestinians their basic human rights, killing their women, children and men mercilessly, and rendering the Palestinians powerless and incapable of defending themselves — even all the Arab countries face the same fate, lacking necessary weapons.
So the Palestinians have nothing but throwing stones at their enemy in order to defend their country. This, despite its indication of a high morale, cannot deter the enemy this way. So the Palestinians resort to martyr operations, in which the martyr seriously harms the enemy meanwhile sacrifices his own life.
From the historical record of the American Muslim, we find that the fatwa is precisely how Gartenstein-Ross represented it. He said that
The March 2002 issue includes a fatwa endorsing suicide bombings against Israelis, which states that "martyr operations are not suicide and should not be deemed as unjustifiable means of endangering one's life."
And we find that the fatwa says exactly that in the opening sentence:
Martyr operations are not suicide and should not be deemed as unjustifiable means of endangering one’s life.
Thus, Mahdi Bray was either ignorant of the contents of his organization’s own publication and did not fact-check his claims (presumably he would have had ready access to confirm or deny the claims before publicly calling Mr. Gartenstein-Ross a liar), or his published denials were part of a deliberate campaign by the MAS to cover-up its advocacy of terrorism. Only Mahdi Bray can answer which is true.
In a forthcoming article concerning the MAS membership curriculum, which features a virtual “Who’s Who” of jihadist literature, I will document that the “cover-up and deny” methodology seems to be standard practice for the MAS. But Mahdi Bray and the MAS are no match for the vast expanse of the Internet and determined researchers willing to do the digging for the truth.