As heinous acts of violence are perpetrated under the banner of religion -- from Sept. 11th to exhibition killings to suicide bombing in Iraq and elsewhere -- one of the most unsettling aspects of it has been the public silence of influential, mainstream Muslims who privately reject the barbarity done in their religion's name.
Over the past few years, a persistent group of people -- including ourselves, after the brutal murder three years ago of our son, Daniel Pearl -- have called upon Muslim clerics to reject terrorism in plain religious language by issuing a fatwa (religious edict) against Osama bin Laden and his followers.
The reason for the fatwa is obvious; secular condemnations, however sincere, are totally ineffective. It is only through the formal instruments of the Islamic religion -- declaring such acts as sin, heresy and apostasy -- that one can hope to penetrate the shroud of self-righteousness that licenses killings in the name of God.
And it is only through genuine religious excommunication that Muslims can disassociate themselves from those who have defiled their religion, such as the followers of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, who is responsible for many of the kidnappings and decapitations of foreigners in Iraq.
The unprecedented move taken by the Spanish Muslim Council on March 11 was precisely the move that the world expected of decent Muslims. Commemorating the first anniversary of the Madrid train bombings, clerics associated with the Spanish Muslim Council issued a fatwa against bin Laden, calling him an apostate and urging others of their faith to denounce the al-Qaida leader.
Although this move has been largely ignored by the muftis, imams and mullahs of the great mosques in the Middle East, and openly ridiculed by the followers of Al Zarqawi, it nevertheless carried an important symbolic message.
It demonstrated that, when conviction reigns, Western clerics do have the Islamic credentials and justification to issue such fatwas. Further, it has accentuated the disingenuous stance of clerics in the Middle East who refuse to denounce, in religious terms, acts which they have proclaimed to be contrary to the teachings of Islam.
More significantly yet, the Spanish fatwa now directs the limelight on the American Muslim clerics, and raises a natural question: Will they join their Spanish brethren and issue a fatwa against bin Laden between now and the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attack?
We plead that they do.
The question should in fact be broadened to include not merely bin Laden, but also his followers and all who advocate exhibition killing, suicide bombing and other terror acts against innocent civilians.
Chief among these is the influential cleric Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi, of Qatar, who recently called for the killing of American civilians in Iraq and women and children in Israel.
True, those who have already joined the ranks of al-Qaida are not likely to turn back by Western-issued fatwas.
However, to the millions of potential recruits who currently equate the logic of Qaradawi with the teaching of Islam, such fatwas may well be a wake-up call to recognize the sharp distinction between the two. Muslim clerics in the Middle East will eventually follow suit, for they cannot afford the risk of eroding their moral authority in the growing Muslim diaspora.
American Muslim clerics should therefore echo and amplify the Spanish fatwa, both to help preserve the sanctity of Islam and to create a better world for them, their children and the world at large.
Judea and Ruth Pearl are co-founders of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (danielpearl.org), an organization promoting intercultural dialogue named after their son, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was murdered in Pakistan in 2002.