Does a 2010 book offer anti-jihadist “counter-narratives which emerge from religious views” of Muslim “mainstream scholars who have a lot of credibility” as desired by National Defense University Professor Hassan Abbas at a recent Washington, DC, panel? Like other prominent academics, Abbas advocated the Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings, yet this disturbing but often unexamined 500-page book does not deserve its good reputation among policymakers.
This fatwa written by Pakistani cleric Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri comes highly recommended on the book cover where Abbas writes that “Qadri has been very bold in saying that these terrorists are awaited in hell.” Leading Islam apologist John Esposito and foreign policy commentator Fareed Zakaria also write respectively that the “absolute condemnation of any form of terrorism” in the fatwa “says there is no theological justification for terror in Islam.” Esposito adds in his forward for the book that the “primary causes of terrorism, most often political and economic grievances, are sometimes obscured by extremists’ use of religious language and symbolism.”
The former Royal Air Force College dean and prolific military writer Joel S. Hayward writes in his book introduction that Qudri is “one of the world’s foremost authorities on Islamic jurisprudence.” Qadri’s research institution, Minhaj ul-Quran, with which Hayward is affiliated, “promotes Islam globally…in the manner of Islam’s Beloved Prophet: through impeccable teachings that stress peace, patience, respect and tolerance.” Unmentioned amidst such praise is Qadri’s self-proclaimed pride in helping to institute the notoriously deadly blasphemy law in his native Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
Hayward’s introduction likewise does not indicate his controversial background, but his website offers a detailed biography covering matters such as his conversion to Islam as a former “passionate Zionist” from a Christian background. The “wanton violence that I personally witnessed being perpetrated by Israelis against Palestinians in Nablus and Hebron shocked me” and encouraged him to see Israel as “merely as the product of all-too-human power politics.” His “harassment by some sections of the Jewish community in and after the year 2000 finally convinced me that my early fascination with, and uncritical belief in, both Judaism and the State of Israel had been misplaced.”
Hayward thereby criticizes receiving “unfair ill-treatment for mistakes about Jewish history I had made in a thesis a full decade earlier as a young and well-intended brand-new graduate student.” These mistakes involve his execrable 1993 master’s thesis, a favored posting of Holocaust denial websites since becoming a public scandal in 2000. Among other shocking claims, his thesis’ “impartial and dispassionate judgement” of “available evidence pertaining to Nazi gas chambers” concluded that “these apparently fall into the category of atrocity propaganda.”
An extensive review by New Zealand’s University of Canterbury, where he earned his master’s degree with dubiously high honors, criticized the thesis’ substantial deficiencies but rejected demands to revoke his degree. Hayward has since conceded that his thesis “was an imperfect piece of research.” His 2000 thesis addendum stated that the Nazis murdered “millions of Jews” during World War II through various means, including gas chambers.
Hayward’s colleague Qadri also shows questionable judgment in his fatwa, wherein he reiterates the etymological canard that the word “Islam denotes absolute peace” and not submission. Islam’s “unprecedented model of tolerance, harmony, and peaceful coexistence” affords “complete religious freedom to non-Muslims,” he writes. The fatwa ignores Islam’s oppressive dhimmi regulations and (as Robert Spencer previously noted) Quran verses on jihad despite non-Muslim suffering in the Middle East (see here, here, here, and here) and in places like Qadri’s native Pakistan.
Qadri strangely approves of things that trouble non-Muslims, like the “excellent manner” of Caliph Umar’s governance in Islam’s founding era, a man often cited as the originator of dhimmitude. Qadri praises that Christians conquered under Islam’s first caliph, Abu Bakr, could according to one Islamic document “beat their wooden clapper [naqus] without any restriction—except for the times of the five daily prayers.” Qadri cites a canonical saying or hadith of Muhammad telling his warriors during the conquest of the Jewish Khaybar settlement that the “property of the non-Muslim citizens is not lawful for you except that which is due.”
Other historic Islamic commentators cited by Qadri raise yet more disturbing issues. One argues that the applicability of Quran 5:33’s gruesome death penalty for “corruption on the earth also includes calling people to heretical beliefs at odds with Islam.” Another commentator notes a hadith according to which it “is impermissible to kill a Muslim except for one of three reasons” including “one who leaves the religion and separates himself from the community.” Yet another commentator interpreted a hadith to mean that “fighting the pagans is a pursuit of profit.”
Qadri’s hagiographic Islamic history attempts to suggest that Islam opposes jihadist outrages against non-Muslims, but Israeli academic David Bukay indicates caveats. Muslim clerics often “sidestep the question of ‘martyrdom operations’” or, like Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, even justify Islamic terrorism as jihad, he notes. “Because preserving the life of dhimmis (Jews and Christians) is conditional to their acceptance of Muslim rule, suicide attacks upon Israelis or Jews and Christians outside majority Muslim countries may be permissible.”
Complementing such analysis, Qadri’s fatwa quotes the Muslim World League’s January 10, 2002, Mecca Declaration on terrorism. The declaration states that “state terror is the most dangerous form of terror threatening world security and peace,” something whose “clearest examples are the acts of terror perpetrated by the Jews in Palestine.” Rather than condemn all manner of terrorism against Israel, the declaration argues that “countering this state-terror is self-defense and jihad in the path of God.” Additionally, such “defensive” jihad does not require declaration by a Muslim caliph, unlike offensive jihad, notwithstanding the fatwa’s deceptive claim that “there is no jihad without a ruler.”
Concerning the specific tactic of suicide bombing, the fatwa lists numerous Islamic condemnations of suicide, but they all involve mortal escape from human misery. Yet jihadists distinguish doctrinally between such self-interested acts and the self-sacrifice of lives in conflict. Far from unknown, this outlook parallels the willingness of Japanese kamikaze pilots and would-be German resistance assassins of Adolf Hitler to accept suicidal attacks during World War II.
Qadri’s fatwa also condemns violence from “extremists who regard everyone as disbelievers except themselves” against Muslims deemed apostates. He extensively compares this “worst manifestation of sectarianism that the Muslim Umma faces” with the Kharijite zealots from Islam’s founding period. The “terrorists who are active in Pakistan possess all the traits of the Kharijites,” for example, deserve “complete annihilation.”
Analogous to Thomas Hobbes, Qadri writes that if rulers “are called Muslims, even if in word and not in deed—armed rebellion should not be undertaken” due to Islam’s “fear of disruption, mass killing and bloodshed.” While “all legal, constitutional, democratic and peaceful means can be used against injustice,” the “Sharia has made crystal clear that armed struggle against a Muslim government is impermissible, even if the government is sinful and corrupt.” Rebellion is only legitimate if a government “makes an open declaration of disbelief or there is a complete and absolute consensus in the Umma that the rulers have become disbelievers.”
While Qadri claims to oppose violence, his arguments against rebellion have troubling implications for Muslims and non-Muslims struggling against tyranny in Muslim societies. In his analysis, the brutality of regimes such as Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship or Iran’s Islamic Republic is irrelevant as long as these rulers do not openly challenge Islamic faith. “Un-Islamic” liberal reform goals, meanwhile, would classify non-Muslims like American military forces engaged in regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq as legitimate targets for jihadists.
Qadri’s condemnation of the “extremist beliefs of the Mutazilites…the intellectual heirs of the Kharijites” makes additional arguments against societies based upon reason. Often extolled by modern proponents of Islamic reform, the ninth-century Mutazilites had argued against the Islamic doctrine that the Quran had an eternal, divinely-fixed nature. They judged instead many Quran passages as created for the historical circumstances of its revelation and therefore subject to rational interpretation. “Declaring God’s speech, the Qur’an, created was the single most dangerous tribulation the Umma had faced,” the unenlightened Qadri writes.
Ultimately useless in its proclaimed opposition to terrorism and suicide bombing, Qadri’s fatwa only provides justification for illiberal elements within Islam. Assuming that Abbas, Esposito, Hayward, Zakaria, and others have appropriately analyzed this book, they must be truly desperate to present the work of an often deceptive Qadri as a manifest for a peaceful Islam. Free societies requiring accurate assessments of Islamic threats can ill afford such false hopes at the highest levels of policymaking and academia.