Dr. Tahir ul-Qadri, a Pakistani Islamic scholar visiting the United Kingdom, recently released a 600-page fatwa, or non-binding opinion in Islamic law, against terrorism. This fatwa might actually have an impact. It is comprehensive, direct and does not dodge any of the issues. It has come at a time when there is very strong abhorrence for terrorism, especially in Pakistan, and it will strip terrorists of what little legitimacy they might be still enjoying in the eyes of Muslims who fear that Islam is under attack by Western powers.
Qadri is a prominent imam who founded Minhaj ul Qur'an International, an organisation with the stated aim of creating understanding between communities, and who enjoys a large popular following. He also happens to be well ensconced in the traditional Islamic heritage. But those who are engaged in extremist violence and those who sympathise with them belong to a more recent trend within Salafism, an ideology that aims for the emulation of the practice of Islam in its early days and a rejection of centuries' worth of Islamic thought and doctrine in favour of literal interpretation.
Salafism is a recent transplant in South Asia and fortunately does not have deep roots in the region. Qadri and his large following constitute mainstream Muslims in Pakistan and in the Pakistani diaspora. In principle, they should be able to prevail easily over the extremist voices now causing such turmoil in that land.
Qadri's 600-page fatwa is essentially an encyclopedic compilation of Islamic jurisprudence on the use of force. It gathers the various jurisprudential positions advanced by Muslim scholars and jurists of different schools of thought and provides a comprehensive overview of the various normative and ethical limitations that derivations from Islamic sources – ethical and legal pronouncements that Muslims have accumulated over centuries – have placed on the legitimate use of force.
There is nothing new in Qadri's tome and that is a good thing. He is not advancing new interpretations of Islamic sources, nor is he trying to reinvent the wheel. His contribution is in showing that not only does Islam prohibit terrorism, it condemns the terrorist to hell. He also shows how Muslims have long considered suicide a forbidden act and that Islam has held this stance from the beginning. The collection of the various opinions of classical scholars too demonstrates the extent and depth of Islam's prohibition of the use of force against civilians, against women and against children.
The extremists and their sympathetic scholars will not be able to produce a document that could trump Qadri's fatwa.
The extremists in the Muslim world have relied basically on two elements to advance their radical agenda: one, they have exploited the widespread theological illiteracy of Muslims to advance out-of-context and unprecedented new interpretations and justifications for the principle of jihad (a spiritual and religious effort) to legitimise their crusade against the West and its allies. Two, they have benefitted from the anger that Muslims have been feeling against the various military attacks and occupations by Western armies of Muslim lands in the past two centuries.
Add to this the suffering of the Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghan and Pakistani civilians at the hands of Western forces and you begin to comprehend why some Muslim youth embrace the un-Islamic interpretations of Islamic sources by extremist clerics.
Is Qadri's fatwa a magic bullet that will erode all anger, frustration and resentment? Certainly not. Will it engender a widespread loathing for the use of terrorism as a tactics? Most certainly, yes, if it is given sustained attention by the media. Unfortunately, other fatwas against suicide bombing, such as those issued by Shi'ite cleric Ayatollah al-Udhma Yousof al-Sanei and Saudi scholar Al Habib Ali Al-Jifri, have gone comparatively unnoticed by mainstream media.
In Pakistan, Qadri's reputation and the growing anger against terrorists for their indiscriminate violence against mosques and against Muslims will combine to give the fatwa a chance to marginalise extremists. Hopefully supporters of extremist groups will either rethink their politics or at least abstain from openly and actively supporting a culture of violence.
Qadri and his institution also hope that the perception held by some in the West that Islam is the cause of terrorism will be corrected. I am, however, less sanguine about this. Those in the West who argue that mainstream Muslims are not opposing terrorism or those who insist that terrorism is a consequence of Islamic values are motivated by political interests and are clearly "Islamophobic". They will not change their mind.
However, those who are still unaware that most Muslims condemn terrorists and that there is nothing in Islam that supports terrorism may perhaps be enlightened as a result of this fatwa.
* Dr. Muqtedar Khan is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delaware. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from the author