Magharebia : Fatwa condemning terrorism fuels Maghreb debate
Maghreb imams and other experts on Islam are reacting with everything from doubt to cautious optimism about a fatwa against terrorism issued by a prominent Pakistan-born religious scholar.
The 600-page fatwa, which was issued in London on Tuesday (March 2nd) by Dr. Muhammad Tahir Qadri, says "hellfire" awaits suicide bombers, and categorically rejects attacks that kill innocent people.
"Look at our deplorable situation today," Qadri said in an interview that appeared March 5th in the London-based newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat. "People are killed inside mosques and on the streets. They are killed while sleeping in their beds. Terrorists bomb marketplaces where women, children and the elderly get killed. There is no justification for this at all."
Qadri, born in 1951 in Pakistan's Punjab province, received his Ph.D. from Punjab University. A lecturer in Islamic Sciences since 1974, he has also worked with various Pakistani government bodies, including the High Court and the Ministry of Education.
Many in the Maghreb welcomed Qadri's fatwa, which includes the opinions of key ancient and modern scholars, as an important step forward.
In Mauritania, Salick Ould Yerbe, the imam of a Nouadhibou mosque, told Magharebia that the fatwa "is very important and will have a good impact, God willing, on the souls of Muslims".
He said the fatwa's content had been explained by Mauritanian scholars "who have issued repeated fatwas that terrorism and violence have no place in the true religion of Islam, and that the fate of suicide bombers is hell".
Mohamed El Koury Ould Abd El Hay, a Mauritanian professor of fiqh, called the fatwa "a decisive and binding argument for those who believe in God and the Last Day. I think that its impact will be very big, especially in our Islamic world."
"There is no doubt that Sheikh Qadri and people like him ... have recognised the damage brought by terrorism to the Islamic religion and Muslims everywhere across the world", the professor added.
In Tunisia, Professor Monia Ferjani, an expert on Islamic movements, said that "finally, a Muslim scholar has come forward and condemned suicide bombing, calling it by its real name, 'terrorism', and issuing a fatwa calling it blasphemy".
"We've been desperate for such fatwas that condemn violence in all its shapes and forms," added Ferjani.
"Islam has always appealed for dialogue and rejected violence," Said Bouziri, a theology professor at the Tizi Ouzou University in Algeria, told Magharebia. "If even one life is saved as a result of that fatwa, I consider that a victory."
Some Maghreb analysts had doubts about the fatwa, though more based on concerns over its form and effectiveness than out of conflict with its content.
A Moroccan expert on Islamic movements, Mohamed Darif, told Magharebia that the Muslim world's many schools of thought, including Arab, Asian and European currents, detracted from efforts to establish unified positions.
"This kind of fatwa, pronounced in London, can't have an impact on the Arab world, given that imams have always condemned acts of terrorism", Darif told Magharebia.
"This scourge can only be tackled by way of... security policies and laws", added the expert. "So far, this policy has borne fruit in Morocco".
Abdelbari Zemzemi, a Moroccan imam and member of Parliament, said that terrorist groups do not heed fatwas issued by imams because such extremists have their own points of reference.
"In the Muslim world, all Islamic ulemas denounce acts of terrorism," said Zemzemi. "The role of imams is to make the public aware of this, so that they don't veer towards fundamentalism." The imam added that it is "essential" not to lump fundamentalists together with those who defend their own land, especially in Palestine.
"I agree with the rationale behind it," said Tunisian lawyer and feminist thinker Bochra Belhadj Hmida of the fatwa; nevertheless, she rejects it "because a fatwa is a political tool that governments use to serve their present interests."
What is needed, Hmida continued, "is for governments to loosen up on the media and make them accessible to thinkers in the region, who are capable of developing societies, media and arts."
Other Maghreb experts and scholars took a mixed view of Qadri's fatwa, assessing it as having both strong and weak points.
The head of Amnesty International in Tunisia, Lotfi Azzouz, called the fatwa "valuable but hard to implement, especially by the young people, because of their inclination toward radicalism, and away, to an extent, from rationalism".
Azzouz added that "Islamic institutions are governmental and authoritarian institutions, and because of conspiracy and subordination to the government, they've lost credibility with the people; even ... similar fatwas go unrecognised".
The head of the national council of Morocco's Party of Justice and Development, Saaddine Othmani, said the fatwa could have more of an impact in Western countries, while in Arab countries, councils of ulemas "have always risen up against terrorism" by way of rigorous religious analysis.
The fight against terrorism "should be waged not only on the religious, but also on the political, social and economic fronts", added Othmani.
Some experts said the fatwa's anti-terrorism message echoed earlier thinking by Maghreb religious scholars.
"This is what we've been saying non-stop for 20 years," said a former Algerian minister of religious affairs, Dr. Mahieddine Amimour.