Guardian UK : Fatwas can be a force for good

By Ed Husain
Friday 26 February 2010 11.30 GMT

Sadly, we all remember the death warrant on Salman Rushdie but next month a fatwa against terrorism will be delivered

Following the Salman Rushdie affair, the word fatwa became commonplace in our vernacular – it, lamentably, became associated with death, killing, and censorship. But to most Muslims, the word fatwa is not a political term, but an unbinding religious edict issued by erudite scholars who take into consideration the needs of the modern world. While most of us remember the Iranian cleric Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa of death, how many remember the other scholar, Zaki Badawi, who offered refuge and solace to the then beleaguered Rushdie?

Sadly, fatwas with death warrants are still deemed necessary by some. Only this week, a leading Saudi Wahhabi cleric issued a fatwa suggesting death for Muslims who propagate free interaction with members of the opposite sex. This destructive cycle of judging Muslims' religious beliefs, then issuing excommunications or takfir, followed by calls for their deaths, lies behind the modern terrorism of al-Qaida and Taliban slaughter of Muslims in Iraq or Pakistan.

Rightly, then, many ask where are prominent Muslim voices who oppose extremism and terrorism?

Next week, here in Britain, one such renowned Muslim opinion-former will deliver a hard-hitting fatwa against suicide bombings and terrorism. Founder of the vast Pakistani grassroots movement known as Minhaj ul Quran, Dr Tahirul Qadri has authored an unprecedented 600-page fatwa on why suicide bombings and terrorism are un-Islamic and scripturally forbidden. This is likely to be a powerful, popular fatwa from a much loved, inspiring scholar of Islam.

Earlier this month, invitations to attend the launch of the fatwa went to most parliamentarians. A leading Labour MP friend wrote the following lines in an email to me: Is this helpful? Do we need a fatwa to say suicide bombing is wrong? Surely it should be just part of being a human being?

Well, yes and no. If our politicians and others ignore the value of moderate Muslim leaders coming out with fatwas against terrorism, not only do we close down an important and emerging public space, we also forget our own history of progress. After all, John Locke's works on tolerance were nothing more than Christian fatwas in the midst of 17th century European wars of religion. Locke wrote with references to the Bible. His arguments were rooted in theology. More importantly, however, a prominent Muslim fatwa against killing innocent people, citing religious texts, does three things.

First, it emboldens other Muslim thought leaders to amplify their voices against extremism. Secondly, it prevents activist Muslims from considering suicide bombers as "martyrs", and thus removes the hero status currently attached to murderers. And finally, a fatwa challenging perceived "martyrdom operations" will inject doubt into the minds of potential suicide bombers. Where there is doubt, in Islamic religious behaviour, there is avoidance. Suicide bombers currently kill because they have certainty (yaqeen) of being rewarded in the next life (akhirah). Shaikh Tahir ul Qadri's fatwa removes this key intellectual ingredient from the minds of killers.

Finally, Shaikh Tahir is no ordinary scholar. He is the head of a global social movement of mainstream Muslims, a teacher to thousands, and a compassionate Muslim leader who has drawn millions to normative Islam. Doubt me? Take a look at preparations for the mass celebration of remembering the birthday of the prophet Mohammad in Pakistan. Those mainstream Muslims that believe in love, compassion, song, music, fireworks and birthdays don't tend to kill fellow human beings. Shaikh Tahir is a leader of that caravan of ordinary Muslims, trying to rescue our Islam from the Saudi clerics that issue fatwas of death, and leading the way for announcing fatwas against death. In this battle of the fatwas, we must not make the mistake of supporting our oil supplying allies.

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