Saudi Arabia Denounces Terrorism — a Step in the Right Direction

Thursday, 17 Jun 2010 08:44 AM

By Tawfik Hamid

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Saudi Arabia's highest religious authority issued a fatwa (edict) denouncing all acts of terrorism and criminalizing of its financing, the Asharq al-Awsat Daily reported on April 14 2010.

The London-based newspaper said the Council of Supreme Scholars declared "any act of terrorism, including providing financial support to terrorists, a crime," regardless of where it takes place.

According to the fatwa, the financier of acts of terrorism will be considered a "partner" in the crime.

The fatwa begins with a clear definition of terrorism, which it calls "a crime aiming at destabilizing security." The document goes on to list examples of this criminal activity: "blowing up of dwellings, schools, hospitals, factories, bridges, airplanes (including hijacking), oil and pipelines."

It doesn't mention any geographical area where such actions might be permissible. David Ignatius addressed the issue in his Op-Ed in The Washington Post on June 13, 2010.

The Pentagon also spoke positively about the fatwa. Generally speaking, the denouncement of an action or wrongdoing in the Muslim and Arab world can be effective in deterring others from doing this act if the denouncement follows certain criteria:

1. It is directed against a person rather than just the act itself. For example, the Quran did not only denounce adultery, but also warned that the "persons" who do it will face severe punishment in hell (Quran 25: 68-69).

2. It uses powerful expressions such as "kufr" (the act that makes a person an infidel or a kafer) and "redda" (apostasy). There are several levels of describing mistakes in Arabic and Islamic jargon. In order of less severe to more severe, the following Arabic words could be used to denounce a person who commits a wrongdoing:
  • Level 1: Khatyea (made a mistake),
  • Level 2: Muzhneb (committed a minor sin)
  • Level 3: Daal (on the wrong path)
  • Level 4: Faal Fahesha (committed major sin)
  • Level 5: Mujrim (criminal)
  • Level 6: Kafer (infidel)
  • Level 7: Murtad (apostate)

3. It is unconditional: Denouncement for the evil nature of the act itself, not because it was "not beneficial" to Muslims. The latter implies that it is OK to take a particular action if it is beneficial to Muslims.

4. It must be general to all acts irrespective of the faith of the victim. Denouncement of acts of terror for killing Muslims is indirect approval of acts of terror that kill non-Muslims.

5. It does not give any justification for the act of terror.

Fatwas that do not fulfill the above criteria can only serve the purpose of improving the image of Islam in the West without upholding the main role of fatwa.

The main role is to deter young Muslims from doing these acts of violence or participating in them in any way ever again.

An example of the powerful fatwa is the fatwa issued recently by Sheikh Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri against terrorism at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London on March 2, 2010. In this fatwa, the sheikh described the terrorists as "infidels" who would go to hell.

Another powerful message of disapproval of terrorists was displayed when Indian Muslims said they did not want the gunmen, killed by security forces during the attacks in Mumbai, to be buried in a Muslim cemetery.

They considered the terrorists non-Muslims or apostates. Refusal to burry a Muslim in a Muslim cemetery is extremely powerful message that can deter young Muslims from pursuing the path of terrorism.

The Saudi fatwa is promising: It considered the act criminal activity; it did not give any justification for terrorism; and it did not limit the fatwa to denouncing killing Muslims.

However, this religious edict could have been much more effective if it considered the terrorists as "kafer" (infidels) or "murtad" (apostates), as this is the highest level of denouncement.

It should also have mentioned that the terrorists will be punished in the day of judgment by "hell fire," and that terrorists must not be buried with Muslims in Muslim cemeteries.

In brief, the recent fatwa of the Saudi scholars against terrorism is a positive step; however, it is still not powerful enough to be effective.

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