The Deobandi Fatwa Against Terrorism Didn't Treat the Jihadi Root
Many in the West and in other regions of the world were impressed by
the issuing of a fatwa (Islamic theological edict) condemning Terrorism
by one of the leading religious centers in the Muslim world, the
Darool-Uloom Deoband in India. An Islamic seminary said to have
'inspired' the Taliban has, according to the said document denounced
"terrorism" as against Islam, calling it an "unpardonable sin."
for a major change in ideology, international counter terrorism
authorities and policy makers have been asking experts to determine if
the Deobandi declaration will help counter the calls for violent Jihad
by al Qaeda and its ilk around the world. In the war of ideas with the
Jihadists, many Western architects of strategic communications look for
any sign that hearts and minds may be changing course and sympathies.
From Washington DC to Brussels and beyond, bureaucrats tasked with
exploring the Muslim world for new trends, shop around for what they
call "counter-narrative against extremism."
School, a classical third branch for Salafi Islamism (along with
Wahabism and Muslim Brotherhood), has significant weight in the South
Asia Theater. Its teachings based on a strict interpretation of Islamic
law have reached many countries, including Afghanistan and Britain,
where they are said to have indoctrinated the Taliban.
they change course, al Qaeda and the Taliban are finished," I heard in
Europe and the United States. So the question now is have they changed
doctrinal direction and is this fatwa the evidence?
I regretfully conclude that it is not the case yet.
It looked good at first
of thousands of clerics and students from around India attended a
meeting at the 150-year-old Deoband, north of New Delhi, and declared
that they stand "against acts of terrorism."
"There is no
place for terrorism in Islam," Maulana Marghoobur Rahman, the older
rector of Deoband, told Reuters. "Terrorism, killing of the innocent is
against Islam. It is a faith of love and peace, not violence." Rahman
said it was unjust to equate Islam with terrorism, to see every Muslim
as a suspect or for governments to use this to harass innocent Muslims.
"There are so many examples of people from other communities
being caught with bombs and weapons, why are they never convicted?"
said Qazi Mohammed Usman, deputy head of Deoband. The meeting defined
terrorism as any action targeting innocent people, both Muslim and
non-Muslim, whether committed by an individual, an institution or a
These statements could be seen as impressive when
quoted by news agencies rushing to break the good news, but to the
seasoned analysts of Salafism, the solid doctrinal roots of Jihadism
were kept untouched. Here is why.
Goals of the fatwa
the fatwa itself and the statements made as it was issued, the
following political goals likely motivated the gathering and the fatwa.
a separation in the eyes of the public discourse between Islam (as a
religion) and terrorism as an illegal violent activity.
move is legitimate and to be encouraged as it diminishes the tensions
towards Muslims in non-Muslim countries, particularly in the West, as
some are claiming that the Islamic religion is theologically linked to
the acts and statements of the Jihadists. The logic of "we are Muslims
and we are against Terrorism," helps significantly the disassociation
between the community and the acts of violence. However, without
criticizing the ideological roots of this violence, the fatwa seem to
state a wishful thinking, not an injunction. A more powerful fatwa
should have openly and expressly said: "we reject the calls for violent
Jihad regardless of the motives." For the followers of Jihadism do not
consider their Jihad as "terrorism." Their answer has always been -to
these types of fatwas- "but we aren't performing terrorism, we are
conducting Jihad." Thus, at this crucial level, the Deobandi fatwa
missed the crux of the problem.
Deny governments the ability to use the accusation that Islam condones Terrorism to oppress Muslims.
fatwa is concerned with geopolitics more than theological reform.
Concern for the safety of one's co-religfionists is of course
legitimate and should be addressed. But Jihadism, the legitimizing root
of political violence, cannot be ignored in any effort to protect the
lives of Muslims.
There is no evidence that modern day
governments have expressly linked religion to terrorism; quite the
opposite. Almost all national leaders involved in the confrontation
with Jihadi forces since 9/11 have clearly made a clear distinction
between religion and terrorism.
Some even went further by
negating any link whatsoever between theological texts and Jihadism,
which of course is not accurate. For in the texts, there are passages
used by the Terrorists in their indoctrination. Hence, the Deobandi
fatwa should have instead asked clearly the Jihadists not to use these
citations or else they would be considered as sinners themselves. But
instead of using their religious prominence to remove the theological
weapon from the hands of the Jihadists, the Deobandi clerics are
attempting to shield the Jihadists from the actions of Governments by
denying that these extremists are indeed using -- and abusing --
Some may argue that the fatwa's open goal is to
defend Muslims from being unjustly targeted by non-Muslim governments
(a positive move) but a thorough analysis of the text used shows that
the main intention of that declaration is to defend the Islamists from
being contained by both Muslim and non-Muslim Governments around the
world. In other words by denying that Jihadism is the root cause of
many acts of Terror in Europe, the US, Africa, the Greater Middle East
and Asia, the Deobandi fatwa in fact is shielding the Jihadists from
the accusation of Terrorism, thus protecting them.
Who is "innocent"?
fatwa defined terrorism as violence "targeting innocent people." Such a
definition is not new and doesn't set clear boundaries. For the
question at hand is what does "innocent" mean? On several web sites and
on many shows on al Jazeera television, Jihadi apologists often use the
Arabic term"bare'e" for "innocent" and assure the audience that Jihad
cannot target the latter.
But Usama Bin Laden and Ayman
Zawahiri, and to some extent Hassan Nasrallah, all claim that innocence
is relative. Al Qaeda explicitly targets innocent civilians and has
authorized the massacre of 4 million US citizens as of 2001. Bin laden
explains that civilians who vote for and pay taxes to the infidel enemy
are not "innocent."
Hezbollah targets innocent civilians as
well, not only in Israel but also in Lebanon and overseas (as in
Argentina). The concept of "innocent" isn't that innocent in Jihadism.
For the militant ideologues can render individuals and groups "bare'e'
or not "bare'e" at their discretion.
Leading Islamist scholar
Sheikh Yusuf al Qardawi expounds at will on the innocence of civilians,
detailing how civilian populations have been considered as part of the
war efforts of the enemies of the Caliphate. In short, the status of
"innocence" doesn't overlap fully with the status of "civilians." It is
a matter of discretion in Jihadi warfare. Hence, to claim that
Terrorism is defined as targeting innocent people is to claim that not
all civilians are innocent, and that not only breaches international
law, but gives credence to Jihadi violence.
Who is a Terrorist?
still the fatwa doesn't identify al Qaeda, or any other similar group,
including the Taliban, as Terrorist organizations. And as of now, no
subsequent fatwas based on this Deobandi fatwa have done so yet.
Therefore, in terms of identification of terror entities, the edict has
failed to show its followers who is the terror perpetrator.
text simply doesn't bring novelty to the debate about Jihadi-rooted
Terrorism. For years, particularly since 2001, Islamist ideologues and
militant groups have refrained from simply naming those terror groups
as such. Spokespersons have constantly repeated that condemning
terrorism in general is enough.
If the Muslim scholars
followed this logic on the question of occupations, then neither Iraq
nor Palestine should be specifically mention. But that is not the case.
The Deobandi fatwa didn't
explain what where the legal basis for the edict. Was there any new
ground broken? Which were the previous rules that have changed
regarding terrorism? Is the fatwa a reminder of a principle or a new
principle to be adopted? Is the rejection of terrorism a duty (wajib)
and what kind of obligation?
All these questions are warranted
so that a fair assessment of the statement can be issued.
Unfortunately, the legal grounds are not specific enough to enable
readers -- and eventually followers -- to understand the absolute
injunction of rejection of Terrorism.
The body of the fatwa
there have been similar statements and fatwas issued in other quarters
of the Middle East, yet they haven't had a definitive impact on
reality. And by exploring the reason behind the inefficiency of these
declarations, one finds that the body of fatwas remains below the level
of a reform, of a doctrinal radical rejection of Jihadism as a aqidah
The Deobandi fatwa -- like its predecessors --
tells followers that the principle of Jihadi wars (efforts) is sound
and that the level of innocence of the target is discretionary but that
engagement in violence has to be disciplined and not chaotic. In short,
don't give the infidels an alibi to compromise the ultimate goals by
waging irresponsible acts of violence. Simply put: we don't need
Jihadism to be labeled as Terrorism.
Because of its unclear
stipulations, there is room for more precise fatwas calling for
violence against one or another targets, and receiving support from
indoctrinated segments of society. These future fatwas could undo this
So in the end, how to deal with this and with
similar edicts? At first one should welcome any statement that
delegitimizes al Qaeda's hot-headed Jihadism, even if the fatwa doesn't
cross the doctrinal line. Any call to stop terrorism is positive and
should be built upon.
In principle the Deobandi fatwa should
be considered as a step that needs more steps in the direction of a
doctrinal reform. Minimally, these fatwas should name al Qaeda and
similar groups as Terrorists. But to be considered as breaking a new
ground, they must render Jihadi violence illegitimate and terrorism
against non combatants illegal, regardless of any theological,
ideological or political goals.
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