Note that the debate in Amir Taheri’s “To Kill Or Not To Kill” in the New York Post (thanks to Cid Martel) is not over whether or not it’s permissible to kill non-Muslims: everyone takes that for granted. It is over whether Muslims can be killed in the course of jihad operations. Note also that the “self-styled ulema” about which al-Shamri complains includes Qaradawi, one of the most influential Islamic teachers in the world.
June 10, 2005 — AN obscure Arabic word is making a comeback from centuries of oblivion to dominate the debate about whom Muslims are allowed to kill in the service of political goals.
The debate has been triggered by the killing of large numbers of Muslims, including women and children, by Islamist insurgents in Iraq. Are such acts permissible? Judging by fatwas (religious opinions) and articles by Muslim theologians and commentators, the Islamic ummah (community) is divided on the issue.
Those who believe that killing innocent people, including Muslims, is justified in certain cases, base their opinion on the principle of tattarrus. The word, which originally meant “dressing up,” was first used as a religious term in the book “Al-Mustasfa” (“The Place of Purification”) by Abu-Hamed al-Ghazali (d.1127), to mean “using ordinary Muslims as human shields for Islamic combatants against infidel fighters.”
Actually there are other justifications. Mawardi in al-Akham as-Sultaniyyah (4.2) allows for the killing of women and children who are perceived as aiding the war effort against the Muslims (cf. ‘Umdat al-Salik o9.10). This is, of course, different from the killing of Muslims, but it applies to Taheri’s reference to “killing innocent people” as “justified in certain cases.”
In the 13th century, the theologian Ibn Tayimiah wove a whole doctrine around the term to justify the killing of Muslims while combating Mongol invaders. By century’s end, however, the concept had fallen into disuse and a new consensus developed against the killing of noncombatants.
But in 1995 Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian mentor of Osama bin Laden, used the concept in his book “The Rule for Suicide-Martyr Operations.” Arguing that the ends justify the means, al-Zawahiri insisted that the killing of Muslims, including women and children, was not a sinful act provided the combatants were fighting “the enemies of Islam.”
More recently, that view has been endorsed by Yussuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian sheik working in Qatar. Initially, al-Qaradawi had ruled that only three categories of unarmed individuals could be killed: apostates, who have turned their back to Islam; homosexuals, who “dirty” the pure society “” and Israelis, including unborn children, who could grow up to join the Jewish army.
Now, however, al-Qaradawi has expanded his doctrine to allow for the killing of innocent Muslims in Iraq. His argument is stark: What matters is the broader interest of the Islamic ummah which could, under certain circumstances, necessitate operations in which Muslim civilians lose their lives.
That position is supported by several Saudi theologians, including Hammoud al-Uqalla, Ali al-Khudhair, Nasser al-Fahd, Ahmad al-Khalidi and Safar al-Hawali. Their argument is that the broader interest of the ummah requires the expulsion of the U.S.-led forces from Iraq and that the killing of innocent Iraqis in whatever numbers is of no concern to the combatants, whose place in paradise is assured.
Other Saudi theologians, including Abu-Muhammad al-Maqdasi and Abu-Basir al-Tartussi, go further and apply tattarrus to situations where no “infidel” troops are present. Thus they justify the killing of innocent Muslim Saudis in Saudi Arabia because, they claim, such actions could lead to the establishment of a “truly Islamic regime.”
This is an argument that goes back to Qutb and Maududi, and to their own traditional antecedents, which go all the way back to the earliest power struggles over the caliphate, in which the losers were often killed as hypocrites or apostates.
The starkest defense of tattarrus in its new sense has come from Abu-Musaab al-Zarqawi, the al Qaeda mastermind in Iraq. “Islam establishes a hierarchy of values in all domains,” he wrote in a recent missive posted on Islamist Web sites. “In [that hierarchy], protecting the faith is more important than protecting the self. Killing the mutumarresoun [i.e, civilian Muslims who live under the control of the infidel] is necessary to prevent the faith of the infidel from striking root [in the land of Islam].”
I discuss Zarqawi’s detailed argumentation in a recent article.
The only point of dispute among supporters of tattarrus is related to procedural matters. Can Islamic combatants decide whom to kill and when or should they obtain a fatwa in every single case?
Showabel al-Zahrani, a Saudi militant and author of “Views of Theologians Concerning the Rules of Raids and Tattarrus” claims that what is needed is a “flexible understanding” of the concept. “To demand that a combatant get all his operations approved by a theologian in advance is a demand for inaction,” he writes. “The better rule is to allow the combatant to do as he sees fit and have his actions approved afterwards.”
Zarqawi, too, says there is no need for fatwas in each case: A fatwa issued by bin Laden in 1999 authorizing the killing of “enemies of Islam” is sufficient. It is up to the muqatelin (combatants) to decide who is an enemy of Islam.
Abu-Unus al-Shami, an insurgent leader killed in Baghdad last September, held a similar position. His claim was that the insurgents in Iraq had “permanent authority” to kill whomever they thought was necessary in order to “re-conquer Iraq for Islam.”
Abu-Hufus al-Masri, the mastermind of the 2004 Madrid massacre, also claimed that the combatants had had the authority to decide when and where and against whom to strike: “We are at war against the infidel and its apostate allies,” he wrote. “And in a war he who fights has the authority to decide what action is best, leaving the final judgment to The Most High.”
Sheik Muhammad Hussein Fadhlallah, the spiritual leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah, however, says that combatants do not have such authority and should refer each case to an authorized “mujtahid” (guide) such as himself. Fadhlallah is uncomfortable by the fact that the majority of those killed by the insurgents in Iraq are Shiites like himself.
And here’s a tiny minority of extremists update:
While the majority view among Islamist activists seems to justify tattarrus, many other voices are raised against it.
Grand Ayatollah Ali-Muhammad Sistani, the primus inter pares of Shiite theologians, condemns tattarrus in its current sense as an “innovation” (bid’aah) and has called on Iraqi Shiites not to embark on revenge killings against Sunni insurgents.
Great. But note how far short this is of a general renunciation of violence, exhortation to adopt political means to solve problems, etc.
Sheikh Mohammad Sayyed Tantawi, dean of Cairo’s al-Azhar University, insists that Islamic law “rejects all attempts on human life and all attacks on civilians.”
Except in Israel, eh, Tantawi? “[Sheikh Tantawi] emphasized that every martyrdom operation against any Israeli, including children, women, and teenagers, is a legitimate act according to [Islamic] religious law, and an Islamic commandment, until the people of Palestine regain their land and cause the cruel Israeli aggression to retreat”¦”
“Nothing in Islam justifies the deliberate killing of non-combatants,” Tantawi says. “Tattarrus applies to collateral damage in a war between two regular armies, and not to action perpetrated by self-styled combatants.”
Najih al-Ibrahim, another Egyptian theologian, also castigates what he terms “the abuse of tattarrus.”
“No one can use tattarrus to justify the shedding of innocent blood,” he says. “The only time that tattarrus is allowed is when Muslim combatants have to kill a fellow Muslim who is captured by the infidel and may, under torture, reveal secrets that could help the infidel against the true believers. Apart from that, shedding Muslim blood is the gravest of sins in Islam.”
Yet another Egyptian theologian, Hisham Abdul-Zahir, says the insurgents’ killing of Iraqi civilians is “totally unjustifiable under any circumstances.”
“Tattarrus is relevant only in the case of Muslim women and children who are captured in a war by the infidel,” he says. “In such a situation, it would be permissible to kill them to prevent them from being converted into other faiths by the infidel or abused by infidel soldiers.”
Jassim al-Shamri, a Saudi theologian, rejects the authority of the “self-styled ulema” to reinterpret Islamic concepts for political goals.
“These gentlemen sit in air-conditioned rooms and drink iced mango juice and issue fatwas for indiscriminate killing,” al-Shamri says. “We never see any of them or their children sent on suicide missions.”
Sheikh Abdul-Muhsin al-Ubaikan, a Saudi theologian, has proposed “a theological summit” to discuss tattarrus and related issues.
“Is it enough for an individual to say he is fighting for Islam in order to claim a license to kill anyone, anywhere and anytime?” al-Ubaikan asks.
Well, if it isn’t, Ubaikan, then please explain why, so that those who believe this way will lay down their arms. Rhetorical questions won’t do the trick.