A friend from Balloon Juice, the lovely Leelee, told me about some good news out of England: Pakistani-born Sheikh Dr. Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, a leading Islamic theologian and former Pakistani lawmaker, recently issued a scathing fatwa condemning terrorism. Announcing his ruling first in London on March 2, and then again in Islamabad on March 18, Qadri was absolutely unequivocal in his denunciation, going so far as to say that those who commit acts of terrorism are guilty of kufr, disbelief:
Terrorism is terrorism, violence is violence and it has no place in Islamic teaching and no justification can be provided for it, or any kind of excuses of ifs and buts. The world needs an absolute, unconditional, unqualified and total condemnation of terrorism….
[Suicide bombers] can’t claim that their suicide bombings are martyrdom operations and that they become the heroes of the Muslim umma. No, they become the heroes of hellfire and they are leading towards hellfire. There is no place for any martyrdom and their act is never, ever to be considered jihad [holy struggle].
I am no expert on Islam. Far from it. But I have read enough to believe that there are two particularly notable things going on here. First of all, Qadri is a jurist from deep within the Sunni mainstream — John L. Esposito, one of the world’s leading experts on Islam, wrote this about the fatwa and Qadri himself:
Qadri’s fatwa is an exhaustive, systematic theological and legal study of the Islamic tradition’s teachings on the use of force and armed resistance to support an absolute condemnation of any form of terrorism for any cause. Its significance will be felt in Pakistan, where Qadri over several decades has become a prominent scholar and religious leader as well as a religious media star. It will also have an impact in the West young Muslims in Britain, Scandinavia and Canada, many of whom are of Pakistani backgrounds.
Qadri is a Barelvi Muslim scholar (Barelvi and Deobandis, who claim to follow a more pristine version of Islam, are the two major Sunni Muslim groups or schools of thought in the Indian subcontinent). The Barelvi are estimated to be the largest Muslim group in Pakistan, India and Great Britain. Qadri, noted for his liberal and tolerant views, promotes greater unity among Muslims and inter and intra faith dialogue, reaching out to other theological schools like the Deobandi and to Shiah Muslims and Pakistani Christians. He emphasizes religious, social, and cultural teachings of Islam.
Pointing out that other scholars have issued similar fatwas in the past, Dr. Muqtedar Khan, Director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware, explains why this ruling carries different weight:
Dr. Qadri is a prominent mega-Imam who enjoys a large popular following. He also happens to be well ensconced in the traditional Islamic heritage. His is clearly a loud voice of the hitherto silent majority.
…Dr. Tahir ul-Qadri’s fatwa against terrorism might actually have an impact. It is comprehensive, direct, does not dodge any issue. It has come at a time when there is very strong abhorrence for terrorism, specially 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.
As in any faith, it matters who says what. It matters that a man widely known and respected for his scholarship and representing significant numbers his of co-religionists has made this statement. It won’t lead Osama bin-Ladin to see the light, but many are likely to sit up and pay attention. “Those who are already hardliners will pay no attention at all,” says Tim Winter, a scholar of Islamic studies at Cambridge University. “But ‘swing voters’ — poorly educated and angry Muslims, who respect mainstream scholars, will probably take note.”
And then there’s the fact that Qadri goes out of his way to say “these folks who do these things? They’ve forfeited their faith.” Everything I’ve learned tells me that such a statement carries enormous weight among faithful Muslims, and directly contradicts anything that Muslim terrorists might claim about heavenly reward or the line drawn between the faithful and the infidel.
None of which is to say that the road is not still long. Another well-regarded jurist, Sarfraz Ahmed Naeemi, issued a similar, verbal fatwa on national Pakistani television just last year, and was assassinated. It makes Qadri’s effort that much more moving to know that he was a good friend of the assassinated cleric.
I hope that the people who are running our wars and trying to win hearts and minds have been following this turn of events. Far too many non-Muslim Americans continue to treat Islam as a pariah faith. That has got to change — particularly if we’d like to end the wars.
(And if you’d like to learn more about Islam, I’ll be back tomorrow with a short reading list!)
Note: I’ve read (here, for instance, and here) that the 600 page-long fatwa should be available online in English, but I haven’t found it. I have found the website of Qadri’s organization, Minhaj-ul-Quran, and their coverage of the event in Pakistan (with a lot of photos, which I found kind of fascinating) — and I’ll be honest, the likelihood that I would make it through 600 pages of Islamic jurisprudence was pretty slim, anyway…!