A respected Islamic scholar will publish a seminal fatwa tomorrow that unequivocally condemns terrorism and warns suicide bombers that they will “go to hell” for their attacks.
Pakistani-born Shaikh Dr Tahir ul-Qadri is launching his fatwa in London as part of a drive to combat the power of jihadist rhetoric on the web and provide English-speaking Muslims with an authoritative theological explanation detailing why terrorism is not permitted.
Although numerous fatwas condemning terrorism have been released by scholars around the world since 9/11, Shaikh Dr Qadri’s 600-page ruling is both significant and unusual because it is one of the few available in English and online.
Those hoping to combat terrorism have long spoken of their frustration at the traditional Islamic hierarchy’s inability to exert their influence on the internet where violent jihadists and Saudi-influence Wahabis have long reigned supreme.
Until recently English speaking Muslims could easily obtain fatwas justifying suicide bombings and terrorism, but many would have struggled to locate the much more mainstream opinion that such attacks are not justified.
Shaikh Dr Qadri’s ruling is unlikely to sway committed extremists who view any form of dissent from their uncompromising theological outlook as takfir, a sign of unbelief. But counter terrorism officials and mainstream scholars hope it will help persuade those who may be moving towards a violent extremism but have yet to fully devote themselves to terrorism.
Within the British Pakistani community Shaikh Dr Qadri - and his grassroots organisation Minhaj-ul Quran – is well known and respected. He is a "shaikh ul-Islam", one of the highest positions in Islamic jurisprudence, and the UK branch of Minhaj boasts some 25,000 signed up members, most of whom hail from the British Pakistani community.
He learned Islamic jurisprudence under the guidance of Tahir Allauddin, a globally admired scholar who was born in Iraq and migrated to the Pakistani city of Quetta in the late 1950s. Although their teachings have Sufi leanings – like much of Pakistan’s Barelwi school of Islam does – the Minhaj school of thought is very much considered part of the Sunni mainstream.
Finding fluent and approachable Pakistani scholars is important because the majority of British-born extremists involved in domestic or overseas plots have family or cultural links within the Pakistani community.
In his fatwa Shaikh Dr Qadri, 51, is explicit in his condemnation of suicide bombings, kidnappings and the killing of innocents which he describes as “absolutely against the teachings of Islam”.
“Today’s tragedy is that terrorists, murderers, mischief-mongers and rioters try to prove their criminal, rebellious, tyrannous, brutal and blasphemous activities as a right and a justified reaction to foreign aggression under the garb of defence of Islam and national interests,” he writes.
“It can in now way be permissible to keep foreign delegates under unlawful custody and mirder them and other peaceful non-Muslim citizens in retaliation for interference, unjust activities and aggressive advances of their countries. The one who does has no relation to Islam.”
Shahid Mursaleen, spokesman for Minhaj ul Quran’s British wing, described the fatwa as an attempt to sow doubt in the minds of wannabe extremists.
“[Shaikh Dr Qadri] has hit hard on the terrorists as it prevents Islamists from considering suicide bombers as ‘martyrs’. This fatwa injects doubt into the minds of potential suicide bombers. Extremist groups based in Britain recruit the youth by brainwashing them that they will ‘with certainty’ be rewarded in the next life and Dr Qadri’s Fatwa has removed this key intellectual factor from their minds.”
Unlike extremists, traditional Islamic authorities have been notoriously slow to catch on to the appeal of the web in spreading their message. Violent groups such as Al Qa’ida, and fundamentalist Islamic schools such as Saudi Arabia’s Wahabism, have long used the net to propagate their uncompromising messages. Their fatwas have been translated into scores of languages and are readily accessibly, describing suicide bombers as “shahideen” (martyrs) and those committed to violence as “mujahideen” (holy warriors).
In contrast, traditional Islamic exegesis has remained stubbornly impenetrable to most of the world’s one billion Muslims. It is usually written in complex religious Arabic and is rarely accessible on the web.
But some mainstream scholars are beginning to play the extremists at their own cyber game. In November the Independent revealed how Cairo’s Al Azhar, the Islamic world’s oldest and most respected university, had published a series of fatwas in English that explicitly deconstructed the more hardline rulings from Saudi Arabia’s Wahabis clerics. The 200-page book of fatwas, known as The Response, was published freely online both in English and Urdu, the language spoken most commonly in Pakistan.
Shaikh Dr Qadri’s fatwa has been welcomed by a number of Muslim groups, many of whom do not usually agree with each other.
The Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremist think thank comprised of former Islamists, described it as a “significant step” in countering Saudi and extremist rhetoric.
“Fatwas by Wahabi-influenced clerics and Islamist ideologues initiated modern terrorism against civilians,” a spokesperson said. “Terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda continue to justify their mass killings with self-serving readings of religious scripture. Fatwas that demolish and expose such theological innovations will consign Islamist terrorism to the dustbin of history.”
Inayat Bunglawala, the former spokesman of the Muslim Council of Britain who has frequently clashed with Quilliam but has gone on to found his own anti-extremist group “Muslims4UK”, also agreed.
"This adds to the view of many Islamic scholars internationally that terrorism and suicide bombings are unacceptable in Islam," he said. "It is a positive initiative. Anything that helps move young people away from violence and from those who promote violence must be welcomed."