This looks great at first glance, but as with so many of these kinds of initiatives, it looks less and less good the more one examines it.
The focus seems to be entirely upon a fatwa issues by Ibn Taymiyya. Taqi al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328) was a jurist of the Hanbali madhhab. He directed that "since lawful warfare is essentially jihad and since its aim is that the religion is God's entirely and God's word is uppermost, therefore according to all Muslims, those who stand in the way of this aim must be fought."
He is, however, hardly the only Islamic scholar who ever said anything like this.
Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), a pioneering historian and philosopher, was also a Maliki legal theorist. In his renowned Muqaddimah, the first work of historical theory, he notes that "in the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force." In Islam, the person in charge of religious affairs is concerned with "power politics," because Islam is "under obligation to gain power over other nations."
Another Maliki jurist, Ibn Abi Zayd al Qayrawani (d. 996), agrees: "Jihad is a Divine institution. Its performance by certain individuals may dispense others from it. We Malikis maintain that it is preferable not to begin hostilities with the enemy before having invited the latter to embrace the religion of Allah except where the enemy attacks first. They have either the alternative of converting to Islam or paying the poll tax (jizya), short of which war is declared against them."
The Hanafi Shaikh Burdanuddin Ali of Marghinan (d. 1196) says the same thing: "It is not lawful to make war upon any people who have never before been called to the faith, without previously requiring them to embrace it, because the Prophet so instructed his commanders, directing them to call infidels to the faith, and also because the people will hence perceive that they are attacked for the sake of religion, and not for the sake of taking their property, or making slaves of their children, and on this consideration it is possible that they may be induced to agree to the call, in order to save themselves from the trouble of war...."
Even the great Muslim philosopher Averroes (1126-1198) says this: "the Muslims are agreed that the aim of warfare against the People of the Book . . . is twofold: either conversion to Islam, or payment of poll-tax (jizya)."
So why do these Muslim reformers seem to focus on Ibn Taymiyyah, at least from the looks of this report, as if he originated the ideas they are condemning? Are these scholars criticizing and rejecting the principle of offensive jihad, or just this particular ancient fatwa?
"Muslim Scholars Recast Jihadists' Favorite Fatwa," from Reuters, March 31 (thanks to all who sent this in):
PARIS (Reuters) - Prominent Muslim scholars have recast a famous medieval fatwa on jihad, arguing the religious edict radical Islamists often cite to justify killing cannot be used in a globalized world that respects faith and civil rights.
A conference in Mardin in southeastern Turkey declared the fatwa by 14th century scholar Ibn Taymiyya rules out militant violence and the medieval Muslim division of the world into a "house of Islam" and "house of unbelief" no longer applies.
Osama bin Laden has quoted Ibn Taymiyya's "Mardin fatwa" repeatedly in his calls for Muslims to overthrow the Saudi monarchy and wage jihad against the United States.
Referring to that historic document, the weekend conference said: "Anyone who seeks support from this fatwa for killing Muslims or non-Muslims has erred in his interpretation.
"It is not for a Muslim individual or a Muslim group to announce and declare war or engage in combative jihad ... on their own," said the declaration issued Sunday in Arabic and later provided to Reuters in English.
This doesn't say that combative jihad is never justified. It appears to be simply a variation on the old argument that today's jihadis are waging unlawful warfare because their jihad has not been declared by a lawful state authority. To this they counter that their jihad is defensive, and that defensive jihad is an obligation upon every individual Muslim, and needs no state authority to declare it.
And anyway, did these scholars answer the question of under what circumstances "combative jihad" could and should be waged?
The declaration is the latest bid by mainstream scholars to use age-old Muslim texts to refute current-day religious arguments by Islamist groups. A leading Pakistani scholar issued a 600-page fatwa against terrorism in London early this month.
Another declaration in Dubai this month concerned peace in Somalia. Such fatwas may not convince militants, but could help keep undecided Muslims from supporting them, the scholars say.
One may hope.
The Mardin conference gathered 15 leading scholars from countries including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, India, Senegal, Kuwait, Iran, Morocco and Indonesia. Among them were Bosnian Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric, Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah of Mauritania and Yemeni Sheikh Habib Ali al-Jifri.
RULE FOR MUSLIM RADICALS
Ibn Taymiyya's Mardin fatwa is a classic text for militants who say it allows Muslims to declare other Muslims infidels and wage war on them. The scholars said this view had to be seen in its historic context of medieval Mongol raids on Muslim lands.
But the scholars said it was actually about overcoming the old view of a world divided into Muslim and non-Muslim spheres and reinterpreting Islam in changing political situations.
The emergence of civil states that guard religious, ethnic and national rights "has necessitated declaring the entire world a place of tolerance and peaceful co-existence between all religious, groups and factions," their declaration said.
This is very positive and important, depending on what they mean. "Tolerance and peaceful co-existence" could refer to the arrangement of dhimmitude under Sharia, which Muslims often refer to as a tolerant system that makes for peace, or to Muslims and non-Muslims living together as equals under a non-Sharia government. This needs clarification.
Aref Ali Nayed, a Libyan who heads the Dubai theological think-tank Kalam Research and Media, told the conference the great Muslim empires of the past were not a model for a globalized world where borders were increasingly irrelevant.
"We must not be obsessed with an Islam conceived of only geographically and politically," he said.
"Living in the diaspora is often more conducive to healthy and sincere Muslim living. Empires and carved-out 'Islamic states' often make us complacent."
Nayed said Muslims must also understand that "not all types of secularisms are anti-religious." The United States has stayed religious despite its separation of church and state, but some "French Revolution-like secularisms" were anti-religious.
The declaration ended with a call to Muslim scholars for more research to explain the context of medieval fatwas on public issues and show "what is hoped to be gained from a sound and correct understanding of their respective legacies."
I'm all for that.