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Muslim scholars recast jihadists’ favourite fatwa

Prominent Muslim scholars have recast a famous medieval fatwa on
jihad, arguing the religious edict radical Islamists often cite to
justify killing cannot be used in a globalized world that respects faith
and civil rights.  A conference
in Mardin in southeastern Turkey
declared the fatwa by 14th century
scholar  Ibn Taymiyya
rules out militant violence and the medieval Muslim division of the
world into a “house of Islam” and “house of unbelief” no longer applies.

bin Laden has quoted
Ibn Taymiyya’s “Mardin fatwa” repeatedly in
his calls for Muslims to overthrow the Saudi monarchy and wage jihad
against the United States.

Referring to that historic document, the weekend conference said: “Anyone
who seeks support from this fatwa for killing Muslims or non-Muslims
has erred in his interpretation.  “It is not for a Muslim individual or a
Muslim group to announce and declare war or engage in combative jihad …
on their own,”
said the declaration.  Click
here for my full report
on it.

mardin 6

Ali Al-Jifri, Director, Tabah Foundation, Abu Dhabi (L) and Abdullah
Omar Naseef, President of the World Muslim Congress, Saudi Arabia (R),
27 March 2010/Sohail Nakhooda

The declaration is the latest bid by mainstream scholars to use
age-old Muslim texts to refute current-day religious arguments by
Islamist groups. A leading Pakistani scholar issued a 600-page
fatwa against terrorism
in London early this month. Another
declaration in Dubai this month
challenged the religious
justification for violence used by Islamist
rebels in Somalia
and calling for peace and reconciliation there ( more
on that here

Fatwas may not convince militants, but they
can help keep undecided Muslims from supporting them, the scholars say.
Because Islam has no central authority to define the faith in all its
details, militants who hijack it by twisting texts for their own
purposes need to be confronted by moderates who cite chapter and verse
to refute them.

Outside the Muslim world, declarations like these risk the fate of
trees that fall in the forest when nobody’s listening. This conference
was held in Mardin, a medieval town near the Syrian border, and the
media present were mostly Turkish and Arabic speakers. It got good
coverage in the Turkish press and Al-Jazeera television ran extensive
footage in Arabic.  But getting the message out to the rest of the
world, including the majority of Muslim who speak neither Arabic nor
Turkish, means getting it out in English.

Mustafa Akyol, an Istanbul
journalist and blogger
known to readers of this blog, was there
writing in English for the Hürriyet
Daily News
And one of the main speakers was Aref Ali
Nayed, another name regular FaithWorld readers will recognise, whose Kalam Research & Media
theological think tank provided the quick English translation of the
final declaration. They helped complement the basic information provided by the conference

Akyol explained the significance of Ibn Taymiyya’s famous fatwa like

The way Ibn Taymiyya denounced the Mongol
rulers of his time, who claimed to be Muslim but fell short of
implementing the Islamic Shariah, has provided justification for some
radical groups to denounce Muslims they view as less strict as

mardin 8 ceric

Bosnian Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric, 27 March
2010/Sohail Nakhooda

“The jurist’s division of the world into the ‘Abode
of Islam’ and the ‘Abode of War’ – and his view that a place is not
really a part of former unless it implements Shariah – have also
inspired fundamentalists dedicated to establishing ‘Islamic states’ in
predominantly Muslim countries.”

He also quoted  Mustafa Ceric, the
grand mufti of Bosnia
, on the conference theme of the need
for a new interpretation of old texts. “Most ulema
[Islamic scholars] have a problem,”
he said.
“They know the classical texts very well, but they don’t know the
contemporary world that much.”
During Ibn Taymiyya’s time, there
was no concept of international law based on human rights. 

“Today the world is so different. The Bosnian Muslims
who took refuge in European countries such as Sweden found there the
rights and privileges that they would not exactly find in Muslim
countries… There is no such thing as an Islamic state. There are only
states that provide justice, freedom and security and those that do

Nayed, who like Ceric is a leading voice in the Common Word group for
Muslim-Christian dialogue, developed this theme of the new world context
for Islam in his address “Duties of Proximity: Towards a
Theology of Neighbourliness” ( PDF
It ’s an eloquent refutation to
militants who dream of Islamising western countries or recreating a
“Islam must never be conceived of
merely geographically, because it is beyond geography…We must never
reduce the abode of peace to a worldly dar al-Islam, conceived of as
merely a geographically distinct empire or state.”

mardin 14

Research & Media Director Aref Ali Nayed (L) and Sheikh Abdullah
bin Bayyah. Director of Global Centre for Renewal and Guidance, 28 March
2010/Sohail Nakhooda

Rather than vilifying life in the West, Nayed said, Muslims must
realise that “it is a fact that today many liberal
environments are actually more conducive to Muslim living and worshiping
than many so-called ‘Muslim countries’. As a matter of fact many
Muslims today are actually forced to move to non-Muslim countries
because of political or economic insecurity. At least up to 9/11, and in
many places, even after it, many ‘non-Muslim’ countries fare quite
better than many so-called ‘Muslim countries’, and even ‘Muslim states’,
in allowing Muslim living.”

“We must not see secular liberalism as hostile to
Islam. We must help secularisms mature to become more and more accepting
of religious values in life. Much has been lost because of the lumping
together of all sorts of secularism under the negative generic rubric of
‘almaniyya’ (Arabic for secularism). A great deal of discernment and
wisdom is called for in this regard.”

What do you think of this declaration? Will it make a difference?