Days before the London bombings, many of the Muslim world’s top religious leaders declared that much of the violence committed in Islam’s name is not spiritually legitimate.
More than 150 Muslim imams and scholars met in Jordan, called by King
Abdullah II. The unprecedented statement they released could drain some of the faith-based power behind wars between Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere, some experts say. The impact on attacks like the ones against non-Muslim nations – the U.S., Spain and England, among others – are less obvious. It does not disavow all acts of violence.
The uniqueness of the Jordan announcement lies in the broad base of its support.
Imagine the pope, Billy Graham, the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention, Pat Robertson and 150 other assorted Christian preachers and educators getting together – and then hammering out a communiquÃ©.
The Jordan statement, issued on July 6 with little notice outside the Muslim world, said Muslim religious rulings, called fatwas, have no religious validity unless issued by people who have the appropriate, defined training or authority. And it says that all major branches of Islam – including Sunni, Shiite (also known as Shia) and Sufi – are essentially valid. (Sunni and Shiite Muslims are often violently at odds in the Middle East, and their agreement on the Jordan statement is one of the things that makes it remarkable.)
By implication, both assertions reject the religious justifications often offered by Islamic terrorists, who proclaim fatwas to condemn other Muslims as heretics, or “apostates.” Islamic law says that Muslims, as a general rule, should not attack other Muslims. But terrorists say that it’s a religious duty to attack apostates.
And to the extent that faith is used to recruit fighters, inspire attacks and raise money, the document strikes directly at that support.
Osama bin Laden declared a fatwa to justify the attacks on Americans, though he doesn’t have the religious credentials called for in the Jordan statement. Various groups in Iraq have issued their own fatwas to justify killing Iraqis who cooperate with the American-backed government – fatwas that under the Jordan agreement are clearly invalid. Fear of such declarations from local self-styled imams – and the violence that could follow – stifles some moderate Muslims in many countries, experts say.
Nobody believes that Mr. bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or other Islamist terrorists will read the statement, slap their foreheads and exclaim, “How could I have been so wrong?” And nobody is suggesting that any effect of the document will be quickly apparent.
But some experts say that the statement and the attention it is getting in the Muslim world may deter less hard-line Muslims who are considering joining terrorists – or who stand in quiet sympathy when terrorists strike.
“It is not fully appreciated how vulnerable movements such as al-Qaeda are to criticisms concerning their doctrinal propriety,” said Stephen Ulph, the London-based editor of the online journal Terrorism Focus and analyst of Islamic affairs for Jane’s Information Group.
Muslim world buzzing
All but ignored so far by Western media, the conference has been discussed on several Arab and Muslim Web sites. Reports about it have appeared on the Kuwait and Jordanian official news services, and several Middle East TV and radio networks, including al-Jazeera.
“It happens one step at a time,” said Joseph Lombard, an American-born
adviser to King Abdullah, who helped organize the conference. “With this, there will be one person somewhere who will get a doubt in his mind and won’t do something he otherwise would have done. Then there will be five people and 100 people and so on.”
Supporters of the Jordan conference and statement include:
.Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, the most influential Shiite cleric in Iraq. Shiite Muslims form the majority in that country and control the U.S.-supported government.
.Grand Imam Sheik Al Azhar Mohamed Sayyed Tantawi and Grand Mufti Ali Jumaa, both highly respected Sunni leaders in Egypt.
.Sheik Yusuf Al Qaradawi, the controversial Egyptian-born cleric who has issued a fatwa declaring the legitimacy of Hamas attacks on Israel.
.The Islamic Fiqh Academy of Saudi Arabia, that nation’s highest religious body; and the Grand Council for Religious Affairs of Turkey, that nation’s top religious body.
Two Americans participated: Brooklyn-based Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Ingrid Mattson, an Islamic studies professor at Hartford Seminary.
Attacks on Muslims
The conference statement most clearly applies to Muslim-on-Muslim violence. During 14 centuries of Muslim history, dozens of wars and battles have been religiously justified by one side declaring the other excommunicated, or takfir.
But the Jordan document says that those who follow any of eight
long-standing schools of Islamic jurisprudence cannot be declared outside the faith.
The communiquÃ©’s application to violence committed against non-Muslims is less clear…