Foreign Policy : Sheikh to Terrorists: Go to Hell

Foreign Policy : Sheikh to Terrorists: Go to Hell

APRIL 14, 2010

Pakistani newspapers recently picked up an intriguing story from the country's security establishment. Reporters learned that their government had intercepted a secret message circulating within Tehrik-e-Taliban, the most prominent of several militant groups trying to overthrow the government in Islamabad. The jihadists, it seemed, had just added a new target to one of their death lists. His name is Tahir ul-Qadri, and he's no government official. He's one of Pakistan's leading Islamic scholars, an authority on the Quran and Islamic religious law.

It's no wonder the terrorists want to see Qadri dead. Last month he promulgated a 600-page legal ruling, a fatwa, that condemns terrorism as un-Islamic. A few Western media outlets gave the news a nod, but the coverage quickly petered out. And that's a pity, because the story of this fatwa is just beginning to get interesting. "I have declared a jihad against terrorism," says the 59-year-old Qadri in an interview. "I am trying to bring [the terrorists] back towards humanism. This is a jihad against brutality, to bring them back towards normality. This is an intellectual jihad." This isn't empty rhetoric. Last year militants killed one of Qadri's colleagues, a scholar named Sarfraz Ahmed Naeem, for expressing similar positions.

This isn't the first time that a Muslim jurisprudent has denounced suicide bombings as contrary to the spirit of Islam. But Qadri's ruling represents an important precedent nonetheless -- one that could well contribute to the struggle between the suicide bombers (and those who support them) and a more moderate brand of Islamic politics. Many Muslim scholars before Qadri, of course, have denounced terrorism. What makes him significant is the uncompromising rigor of his vision, which deploys a vast array of classical Islamic sources to support the case that those who commit terrorist acts are absolutely beyond the pale. He's especially keen on targeting the coming generation, younger members of the global ummah (the community of believers) who -- he contends -- have lost their bearings in the roiled post-9/11 world.

Qadri's fatwa aims to establish a bit of healthy clarity. His finding, which builds its argument around a meticulous reading of the Quran and the hadith (collections of oral statements attributed to the Prophet Mohammed), makes the case that terrorist acts run completely counter to Islamic teaching. While quite a few scholars before have condemned terrorism as haram (forbidden), the new fatwa categorically declares it to be no less than kufr (acts of disbelief). "There was a need," says Qadri, "to address this issue authentically, with full authority, with all relevant Quranic authority -- so that [the terrorists] realize that whatever they've been taught is absolutely wrong and that they're going to hellfire. They're not going to have paradise, and they're not going to have 72 virgins in heaven. They're totally on the wrong side."

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