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Condemnation or Justification? By: Olivia Albrecht
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, August 12, 2005

At the National Press Club on Thursday, July 28, 2005, the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) – Muslim Americans’ religious authority – issued a fatwa, or Islamic religious ruling, against terrorism and extremism. The fatwa was endorsed by 140 U.S. Muslim groups, leaders and institutions. As stated at the press conference, the FCNA was persuaded to declare a fatwa against terrorism and extremism because almost two weeks ago, their British and Canadian Muslim counterparts declared a fatwa against such cruel and unjust violent acts.  American Muslims seemed to believe it was time to issue their own overdue fatwa. 

The fatwa states: 1) All acts of terrorism targeting civilians are haram (forbidden) in Islam, 2) It is haram (forbidden) for a Muslim to cooperate with any individual or group that is involved in any act of terrorism or violence, 3) It is the civic and religious duty of Muslims to cooperate with law enforcement authorities to protect the lives of all civilians.

While this fatwa is most certainly a step forward on behalf of moderate Islam toward a clear denunciation of violent extremists, questions still remain about the nature of the Muslim organizations in the US, specifically those supporting the fatwa. Backers of the document included the ranks of the "Big 10" Muslim organizations, such as Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), CAIR, MSA, ICNA, and MAS. Recent prolonged revelations regarding the financing of these organizations, however, have raised real and important concerns regarding ties these organizations may have with other "suspect" organizations. Thus, there is a fine line between innocence and benign neglect or even potential collusion.  

The MPAC "Grassroots Campaign to Fight Terrorism Handbook: 2005" was distributed at the conference. The similar 2004-2005 National Anti-Terrorism Handbook can be viewed in full online at http://mpac.org/atc/home.asp
.  This handbook is intended for Imams, Muslim community leaders, law enforcement, and the media and other interested parties. The campaign itself has received significant public attention, because one of its main priorities is to clearly annunciate Islam's criticism of terrorism.  One would expect that this handbook would explicitly state the Muslim community's stance on all of these topics. 

Regretfully, this was not the case - not even close.

After reading this handbook, I was under whelmed by its outright lack of an actual condemnation for suicide bombings and clear and reasonable definition of "innocent people," and appalled by its justification for such barbaric and inhumane treatment of all human beings.

The packet begins with the most oft-quoted Qur'an verse used to denounce terrorist activity.  Unsurprisingly, the verse was sited in the fatwa, which was read by one of the members of the FCNA, Shaikh Muhammad Al-Hanooti.  Shaikh Muhammad Al-Hanooti read from the fatwa, "The Qur'an, Islam's revealed text, states: 'Whoever kills a person [unjustly].it is though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind.' (Qur'an 5:33)."  However, on the first page of the MPAC handbook, the Qur'an verse reads in full without abridged notation, "Whosoever killed a human being - unless it be in punishment for murder or for spreading corruption on earth - it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind." (Qur'an 5:33) [emphasis mine.]

That certainly is a strange omission.  Odd because it is just such qualification that makes their statements hollow - they can condemn suicide bombings of innocents, while at the same time defining 'innocent' in a very narrow fashion, thereby inherently supporting the targeting of certain civilians (of whom most of the world would consider innocent). With this lack of unequivocal condemnation of all terrorist violence in the name of Islam, a "loophole" is introduced that if not intentional and "encoded", certainly could provide "cover" for those who seek religious justification for terrorist activities.

It can be argued that scriptural passages such as these have been debated and analyzed for centuries in order to decipher their true, divine meaning; however, I am not concerned here with the intent of the Qur'an in this passage - that is, whether or not it condones suicide bombings.  Rather, the primary concern is the inconsistencies in language in varying contexts. In an openly public fatwa, intended for mass attention, why is the above qualifier omitted? And why is it included in other literature intended more for the Islamic community?

Along with a number of sections on protocols found in the handbook, such as, how to interact with an FBI official, there are a series of reprinted articles by Muslim scholars that discuss some of the questions posed by non-Muslim Americans, who desire to understand how someone could blow themselves up along with innocent people in the name of God.  The articles address the suicide culture, the motivation of suicide bombers, the denunciation of terror as part of Islam, the real origins of suicide bombings, and generally, religious views on suicide.  While some of these articles are peculiarly interesting, one article in particular illustrates the subtle, or not so subtle, ambiguities of these teachings.

The article on the "Religious Views on Suicide" highlights the views of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism concerning the taking of one's own life.  Naturally, I would imagine a section in the Islam portion would clearly denounce suicide and suicide bombings. However, the section is confusing and again ambiguous.

The first line innocuously reads, "Like other Abrahamic religions, Islam views suicide strictly as sinful and detrimental to ones spiritual journey." Good start - clear, concise, and informative. Islam views suicide as strictly sinful.

The article continues, "However, human beings are said to be liable to committing mistakes, thus, God forgives the sins and wipes them out if the individual is truly sincere in repentance, true to the causes and determined in intention."

The passage continues, "There is an unpopular view that actions committed in the course of jihad resulting in one's own death are not considered suicide, even if by the nature of the act death is assured (e.g. suicide bombing). Such acts are instead considered a form of martyrdom." I fail to understand why the authors found it necessary to explain in such generous terms, the justification of suicide bombers in the name of Islam. Why would MPAC simply deem these radical and apparently unsubstantiated beliefs of these terrorist attackers as "unpopular?" "Unpopular" does not mean "radical" or "wrong" or "not part of Islam" - it simply means it’s a minority opinion. I would expect a judgment statement, and condemnation of such beliefs, not a statement of fact about the number of subscribers to such thought.

Finally, the passage ends virtually in contradiction to the first sentence of the article, "However, there is Quaranic evidence to the contrary stating those involved in the killing of the innocent are wrongdoers and transgressors." That's good. "Nevertheless," the article continues, "some claim Islam does permit the use of suicide only against the unjust and oppressors if one feels there is absolutely no other option available and life otherwise would end in death."  This sentence seems to justify suicide bombings, which is exactly what, I thought, they were going to denounce.  This article ends without condemning suicide bombings, and instead provides subtle justification for such action. Why on earth would MPAC think this is helpful to their cause?

While certainly none of this information is a clear manifesto for suicide bombing and murder, this handbook raises more questions than it answers and clearly muddles or at least, mitigates the recent fatwa.  Assuming the vast majority of American Muslims are law abiding loyal citizens, they should demand more clarity and conviction from their religious leadership on the matter of terrorism than they are receiving today.  Such ambiguous and conflicted messages as delivered by the MPAC Grassroots Campaign to Fight Terrorism Handbook 2005 do little to improve the situation and are not helpful.

Olivia Albrecht is a John Tower National Security Fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, DC.

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