By Uran Botobekov
Pakistan seems to take active measures against the ideology of radical Islamism after Donald Trump accused Islamabad of playing a “double game” on fighting terrorism and warned it would have to do more if it wanted to maintain U.S. aid. In mid-January 2018, more than 1,800 Muslim clerics in Pakistan issued fatwa against jihad and suicide bombings.
The text of the legal religious decision specifies that “suicide bombings are ‘Haraam’ and violate key Islamic teachings.”“This fatwa provides a strong base for the stability of a moderate Islamic society,” Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain told at an official ceremony. The fatwa has been developed by 30 clerics, and another 1,829 prominent representatives of the Islamic clerics have supported this position, as AlArabiya has written in its message.
As a scholar analyzing the process of radicalization of the Islamic ideology and the activities of Salafi-Jihadi groups in Central Asia and in the Middle East, I’d like to emphasize that this measure taken by the Pakistani authorities have been approved by many Ulema of moderate Islam in the region. Only Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani criticized the anti-terror fatwa issued by religious scholars in Pakistan, saying the anti-terrorism fatwa should have covered the entire Muslim world, including his country.
It should be noted that prominent theologians, muftis and Ulema of the Islamic world before had issued similar Islamic directive or fatwa against suicide bombings used by terrorist groups. For example, in 2010, a prominent Islamic preacher, Doctor of Theology Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri issued a global fatwa against suicide bombings. In his book, “Fatwa on terrorism and suicide bombings”, issued in English in London, he has organized theological arguments based on Ayat of Quran against killings of civilians and against suicide bombings. He set out a point-by-point theological rebuttal of every argument used by al-Qaeda inspired recruiters. At that time Tahir ul-Qadri told that his 600-page judgment, known as a fatwa, completely dismantles al-Qaeda’s violent ideology. Unfortunately, after 8 years, we have to admit that the promises made by Tahir ul-Qadri have not been accomplished. His fatwa didn’t destroy the radical ideology of al-Qaeda, which keeps on succeeding in recruiting new supporters throughout the world and using suicide bombings.
In 2014, Saudi Arabia’s senior clerical leadership has issued a new fatwa, or legal ruling, declaring terrorism a “heinous crime” under Sharia law to undermine the legitimacy of ISIS insurgents in Iraq and Syria and to discourage support for the extremists. In 2013, Afghan and Egyptian Muslim scholars raised the issue of the release of a fatwa prohibiting suicide bombings, which are actively used by the Taliban militants. In March 2015, Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims of Russia also issued a fatwa against ISIS, which said that the creation of the Caliphate was the Haraam without the approval of all the Muslims of the world and approval of the Shurah. Russian Ulema have noted that Islam forbids the announcement of the Caliphate without the “Shurah” procedure (approval) with all the Muslims of the world. Announcement of the caliphate without approval is deemed a Fitnah (revolt). Similar Fatwas against the use of suicide bombers by al-Qaeda and ISIS have been issued by Islamic Ulema of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, India and other states.
Yet the efficiency of Islamic directive or fatwa against jihad issued by muftis and Ulema of the Islamic world remains low. Because of their methods of countering the ideology of Islamic radicalism and the ways of fatwa, the explanations given to the people are not sufficient to convince them. Unlike them, the Islamic radicals use social media efficiently and treat various categories of people exactly.
It is naïve to think that if religious scholars issue a fatwa against al-Qaeda and ISIS, the ideology of Islamic radicalism would be delegitimized, while their supporters would lay down arms and would not use suicide bombings.
I have always argued that the ideology of radical Islamism, which allows the use of suicide bombings “against crusaders, Jews and other enemies of Islam”, first of all, must be fought by the Islamic countries, prominent Ulema and recognized muftis that know well the theory and practice of the Islamic religion. However, a burst of the violent ideology of the Islamic radicalism and the active use of suicide bombers in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan last year prove that the Islamic countries and their clergy lose out significantly to transnational groups of al-Qaeda, Taliban and ISIS in an ideological struggle. The downfall of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria does not mean that the ideology of the militant Salafism has been prostrated in these countries and suicide bombings have stopped. Vice versa, the activity of the supporters of the Islamic State has increased significantly in social media where they call for jihad against the United States, Russia, Israel and other countries in the West.
It is the call for jihad that is the ideological weapon in the arms of terrorist groups. In the traditional moderate Islam, jihad is not among the five pillars of the faith and is understood as the defensive war against harassment of the Muslims. However, the Islamist radicals try to make jihad as the sixth pillar in the Islamic science, after Shahada (a declaration of faith), Salat (daily worship), Zakat (almsgiving), Siyam (fasting during the Ramadan), and Hajj (the pilgrimage to Makkah).
The Salafis consider jihad mainly as an armed struggle, placing emphasis on the attacking aspect of the holy war. They declare participation in jihad as the sacred duty of every true Muslim. Ideologists of radical Islamism Sayyid Qutb, Abd al-Salam Faraj, Ayman al-Zawahiri have developed jihad strategy and tactics for the modern world, emphasizing the methods of using of suicide bombers. In social media, terrorist groups from Central Asia Katibatal Tawhid wal Jihad, the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), Katibatal-Imam Bukhari call the Muslims to join jihad in Sham and defend Islam instead of sitting at home. They claim that only after the overthrow of Kafirs and restoration of the unity of all Muslims (Ummah), like it was in the golden age of Caliphates, peaceful relations can be established within the Ummah.
The Quran as the Source of Truth in the Ideological Struggle
To defend their own positions, both parties – prominent scholars of moderate Islam and leaders of radical Islamist groups – appeal to the Ayat of the Quran and Hadiths. In their Fatwas, the Ulema and muftis of Pakistan, Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, as well as prominent theologian Tahir ul-Qadri claim that Islam has nothing to do with terror and the Quran does not allow suicides by means of bombs. As an argument, the authors of Fatwas refer to the famous Surah 4:29 of the Quran, which reads as follows,
“And do not kill yourselves [or one another]. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful.”
However, ideologists of radical Islamism also refer to the Surah Ali ‘Imran [3:169-170] of the Quran for the purpose of recruiting new suicide bombers and inspiring them to the acts of violence and terror:
”And never think of those who have been killed in the cause of Allah as dead. Rather, they are alive with their Lord, receiving provision, rejoicing in what Allah has bestowed upon them of His bounty, and they receive good tidings about those [to be martyred] after them who have not yet joined them – that there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve.”
The leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has become the leading theoretician of suicide terrorism by rhetorically blurring the line between suicide and martyrdom. In essays such as “Jihad, Martyrdom, and the Killing of Innocents,” among others, Zawahiri differentiates the two on the basis of intention: Ending one’s life “out of depression and despair” is suicide, but ending one’s life “to service Islam” is martyrdom. Zawahiri told that “the death of a martyr is not the end of the jihad, but rather a clarion call to the witnesses of truth. Martyrdom has come to pour fuel on the fire of rage blazing in the hearts of his troops against the Crusaders.”He goes on to state that anyone who joins the UN is not a true Muslim, calling them Henchmen of the Crusaders.
Zawahiri calls the governments of Muslim states the betrayers of Islam. To intensify his thoughts, he refers to Ayat 60:4 of the Quran, in which Allah via his Messenger, Muhammad, summarizes the Muslim-Infidel relation as plainly exampled by Abraham, when he states: “We disown you and that which you worship besides Allah. We renounce you. Enmity and hate shall forever reign between us–till you believe in Allah alone.”
The Foggy Future of Fatwa
Thus, as the analysis has shown the efficiency of Fatwas against suicide bombings issued by prominent religious scholars and Islamic clergy of Pakistan, Russia, India, and some Central Asian states remains low. To speak simply, the impact of Fatwas on terrorist groups of al-Qaeda, ISIS and their branches in Central Asia, Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), Katibat al-Imam Bukhari remains very low. The Islamic extremist groups do not consider the authors of Fatwas as prominent authorities in Sharia law.
Moreover, they think that these Fatwas have been issued by order of the governments of Islamic countries, which they consider Irtidad, i.e. renegades of Islam. According to Islam, apostasy is punished by death. Sahih al-Bukhari [52:260]: “…The Prophet said, ‘If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.’”Therefore, terrorist groups of al-Qaeda, ISIS and Taliban do not recognize and do not accept the Fatwas against suicide bombings issued by the spiritual leaders of moderate Islam. Radical Islamist groups have their own advices on religious affairs and they follow their own commandments. This is another sign that confirms that radical Islam does not accept the principles of modern society and the democratic legal order.
In my opinion, the Fatwas against suicide bombings used by terrorist organizations have a positive impact on the struggle against the ideology of Islamic radicalism for several reasons. First, the positive aspect of Fatwas issued is their impact on public perception. Despite the fact that they cannot strike a devastating blow to the ideology of terrorist groups, this initiative of Pakistani religious scholars can in some way prevent the recruitment of new jihadists.
Second, Fatwas contribute in some way to the public debates among the leaders of traditional moderate Islam and violent jihadists, which can lead to the revision of contradictory interpretations of some important elements of the Islamic science.
Third, after the issue of such Fatwas, the Islamic world gradually comes to understand that the Muslim community of the world plays the decisive and defining role in the struggle against the ideology of radical Islamism and destruction of jihadist groups. Responsibility for the destruction of Islamist terrorist groups and jihadist ideology lies on the shoulders of the governments of Islamic states.
We can say quite literally that current Islamic civilization goes through a critical and crucial point in its history and the fate of this civilization directly depends on its ability to cope with radical ideology of the ISIS, al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups.