August 2, 2005
For many, the fatwa on terrorism issued by the Fiqh Council of North America seemed to fulfill what many Americans have been seeking - a condemnation of terrorism by Muslim American organizations. The Fiqh Council, an amorphous group of 18 Islamic scholars, was founded by American Islamist organizations that are linked to Saudi Arabia, Pakistani extremists and the Muslim Brotherhood. Rarely does the Council speak out, and this may be the first time the names of the 18 individuals who comprise the Council were revealed publicly. The fatwa also was endorsed by more than 100 Muslim American organizations.
The Fiqh Council's fatwa, or Islamic theological opinion, is not written in the traditional style. Normally, a problem is presented to an imam, and the imam issues a substantial written response that includes a recitation of the problem that was presented and provides Islamic legal precedents along with citations and explanations of Islamic theological sources in support of his opinion. The July 28 fatwa on terrorism, however, does not explain the relevance of the Qur'anic verses that were cited, and does not include any further sources nor an explanation of the context in which it was issued.
While the statement condemned terrorism, the organizations that endorsed it have demonstrated for many years that they are committed to denouncing terrorism in name only. When they make statements condemning terrorism, we have to examine not only what they have said but what they have actually done to root out extremist teachings in their own communities.
A few examples:
- In November 2001, the executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations New York office, Ghazi Khankan, defended Hamas suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. "From a religious point of view, [Palestinians] have the right to defend themselves. Such self-defense cannot be equated with Bin Ladin. The people of Hamas who direct their attacks on the Israeli military are in the correct position. Those who attack civilians are wrong," he said. Replying to a question concerning his definition of civilians, Khankan said, "Who is a soldier in Israel and who is not? Anyone over 18 is automatically inducted into the service and they are all reserves. Therefore, Hamas in my opinion looks at them as part of the military. Those who are below 18 should not be attacked."
- In May 2004, the Islamic Society North America invited Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, the Imam of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, to speak at an event near Toronto, Canada. Al-Sudais became infamous in 2002 for a sermon in which he declared that Arabs should bid farewell to peace with the Jews, whom he described as "the scum of the human race, the rats of the world, the killers of prophets and the grandsons of monkeys and pigs."
- One of the endorsers of the fatwa is Imam Fawaz Damra of Cleveland. Damra is currently imprisoned for lying about his ties to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror organization and has engaged in fundraising for it. At a 1989 event, he told the audience that the "first principle I believe is terrorism, and terrorism alone is the path to liberation." At a similar event in 1991, he gave a speech in which he urged participants to donate to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, asserting that Muslim countries would not regain their glory until all guns were aimed at the Jews, whom he described as "sons of pigs and monkeys."
- In 2005, Freedom House issued a report that examined Saudi extremist publications distributed in the U.S. These publications were being freely distributed via 15 major mosques, thereby infiltrating Muslim communities and minds throughout our country with anti-American, anti-Christian, and anti-Semitic ideology. The signatories of the fatwa have been overwhelmingly silent about this and have not taken action to extirpate these teachings and inflammatory ideology.
Muslims believe that they are commanded by God in the Qur'an to "enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong." Muslims who are sincere about fighting the promotion of extremist ideology need to take action against those who are spreading that evil in their midst. When those actions are taken, then pronouncements like the Fiqh Council fatwa will be credible.
Yehudit Barsky is director of AJC's Division on Middle East and International Terrorism.