Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar University in Cairo and the man whom the BBC called "the highest spiritual authority for nearly a billion Sunni Muslims," has reiterated his approval -- on Islamic grounds -- for suicide bombing.
Egypt's MENA news agency reported (according to IMRA) that Tantawi "announced on Sunday [2 November] that suicide-bombers who are defending their land are seen as martyrs in Islamic shari'ah law. Anybody blowing himself up in the face of an the occupiers of his land is a martyr, said Shaykh Tantawi in response to a question about the Islamic shari'ah stance over the Palestinians who blow up their bodies against the Israelis."
Tantawi is on firm Qur'anic ground here. Read the statements of jihadists themselves, and they invariably quote one of the Qur'an's guarantees of Paradise for those who kill for Allah and are killed while doing so: "Allah hath purchased of the believers their persons and their goods; for theirs (in return) is the garden (of Paradise): they fight in His cause, and slay and are slain: a promise binding on Him in truth . . ." (Sura 9:111).
Tantawi "stressed, however, that Islam did not allow the killing of innocent civilians and children but only invaders and aggressors."
Tantawi's ruling here is based on the Sharia's dictum that non-combatants are fair game if they are aiding the combatants. Of course, Osama bin Laden saw the World Trade Center as a veritable nest of people who were doing just that -- aiding the "invaders and aggressors." Other radical Muslims have declared on these grounds that there are no non-combatants in Israel.
After initially condemning the practice in 2001 (which is what set the BBC aflutter in the first place), Tantawi has now repeated his approval of it several times. I examined his initial flip-flop on this issue in an April 2002 article, after which a prominent Muslim apologist challenged my interpretation of his words by contending that they had been mistranslated from the Arabic. But I believe that Tantawi has by now provided ample clarification of his own.