Religious Beliefs

How do contemporary Islamic religious and legal scholars deal with the realities of terrorism perpetrated by people who call themselves Muslims?

Since immediately after the horrors of 9/11/2001, Muslim religious scholars have been publishing legal advisories known as fatwas denouncing the actions of Al-Qaeda and other organizations that claim religious legitimacy for their use of the tactics of indiscriminate mass violence. Such public denunciations have, for a variety of reasons, almost never been reported in European or American news media. But here are some principles by which one of the more recent, and most detailed, fatwas distinguishes between legitimate jihad and religiously indefensible uses of violence.

London-based Pakistani Shaykh Tahir al-Qadri argues, first, that Islamic teaching forbids the indiscriminate torturing or killing of Muslims or non-Muslims, even in the conduct of legitimate warfare. He then assembles extensive evidence from Islamic history and major sources condemning the forcing of Islamic beliefs on non-Muslims, the destruction of non-Muslim places of worship, and rebellion by Muslims against legitimate Muslim government administration. In considerable detail, the shaykh addresses forthrightly the historical reality that people identifying themselves as Muslims have indeed rationalized numerous violations of all of these explicit prohibitions. He identifies the seventh-century Khawarij (seceeders) as the earliest such movement: they rebelled against Ali (the fourth Rightly-Guided Caliph) and condemned Ali and all who continued to support him as infidels and proclaimed that all such people should be eliminated. The shaykh describes in detail how the Khawarij, and other groups like them through history, have portrayed themselves as the champions of “true” Islam and attempted to persuade the public of the religious righteousness of their cause and methods, all the while distorting the tradition to arrive at their conclusions; and they have recruited and brainwashed adolescents to do their dirty work. Qadri concludes with evidence of Muhammad’s own condemnation of such people as “the dogs of Hell,” and calls on the global Muslim community to fulfill their historical obligation of struggling (i.e., engaging in jihad) to eliminate the scourge of the modern-day Khawarij.


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