Middle East Times

July 7, 2005

Muslim scholars 'forbid' labeling apostasy
(criteria for issuing fatwas)

Sana Abdallah

AMMAN -- Over 170 Muslim scholars, thinkers and historians agreed on Wednesday to forbid takfeer, or accusing other Muslims of apostasy, and decided to work out a criteria for issuing fatwas - religious edicts - in an attempt to unify the eight schools of Islamic thought and put an end to violence done in the name of the religion.

The decision came in an unprecedented fatwa issued by leading clerics from the eight schools of Islamic jurisprudence following three days of deliberations in the Jordanian capital, Amman, where scholars from over 40 countries gathered in the first International Islamic Conference.

Dubbed "True Islam and its role in modern society", the conference was a Jordanian attempt to repair the image of Islam amid growing violence being carried out in the name of the religion and the US-led counterattack in its war against terror - where Islam and terrorism have almost become synonymous.

While the final communique of the conference made no clear reference to violence, it tried to limit the religious approach used by militants to justify their violence through regulating the interpretation of Islam and issuing religious edicts.

The final statement said that the "schools of jurisprudence within Islam means adhering to a fundamental methodology in the issuance of fatwas: No one may issue a fatwa without the requisite personal qualifications which each school of jurisprudence defines."

It added that "no one may issue a fatwa without adhering to the methodology of the schools of jurisprudence and no one may claim to do absolute Ijtihad [interpretation] and create a new school of jurisprudence or to issue unacceptable fatwas that take Muslims out of the principles and certainties of Sharia [Islamic law]."

Mainstream clerics have complained about what they call "religious chaos" that has been growing since the late 1980s, in which Salafi militants - those who have resorted to armed jihad - have used interpretations and fatwas of clerics aggravated by the continued Israeli occupation of Palestine, the US policies in the region, and more recently, the war on terror and the American occupation of Iraq.

The Islamic conference's final statement made no political references and did not condemn terrorism against civilians, possibly to avoid opening a Pandora's Box and to give credibility to these scholars who are seeking to win over the confidence of those who have resorted to violence and extremism.

Participants at the conference said that had the issue of condemning violence by Islamic militants been brought up, then condemning the violence of the US forces in Iraq and the violence of the Israeli forces in Palestine could not be ignored.

However, the statement clearly referred to the takfeer approach adopted by militants and their religious guides.

It said that anyone belonging to one of the eight schools of thought in the Sunni and Shia sects, as well as those who practice "true Sufism" (banned in most Muslim countries) is considered a Muslim and cannot be declared an apostate and therefore "his or her blood, honor and property are sacrosanct".

And what appears to be an attempt to avert the wrath of the Salafi militants and to try to attract them to the teachings of "true Islam", the scholars said that it was also "not possible to declare whosoever subscribes to true Salafi thought an apostate".

However, many factors are directly linked with the rise of Islamic militancy, primarily regional political conditions, the lack of freedom and democracy in their respective countries and poverty.

Joseph Lumbard, an American Muslim and special advisor to Jordan's King Abdullah on interfaith affairs, insists that addressing the religious factors is the most important way to uproot violence by simply referring to only one thing: Islam.

"It is clearly unacceptable in Islam's dictates of law to kill noncombatants," he said, adding that the fatwa issued by the scholars in Amman might "put doubt in the minds" of militants that listen to the edicts issued by those going against the dictates of Islamic law. He told journalists that the conference and the final fatwa (statement) was "just a first step ... the religious component needs to be addressed on a religious basis and this is what this conference is doing".

But Lumbard acknowledged that more work and effort needed to be made on all fronts - political, social and economic - and to combine all these efforts to address the totality of the problem of violence.

So how much influence will these scholars have on the angry religious zealots who are wreaking havoc, especially that their militancy is being fueled by the US-led war on terror that President Bush launched as a "crusade" in the aftermath of 9/11?

Farouk Jarrar of Aal Al Bayt Foundation, an Islamic think tank that organized the conference, believes that they have a lot of influence on the ground.

He said that "some of these people in there have their television shows and their Websites, they are highly influential. If they say that killing civilians is against Islam and must stop, it will stop," or at least decline.

But it might not be so simple, considering all the elements involving Islamic militancy.

Lumbard, however, believes that if results of this conference put one doubt in one militant's mind that he is doing something wrong and it stops one car bombing, "then we have succeeded".

Posted on 07/07/2005 4:51:50 PM PDT by nickcarraway.
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