Islamic group to issue ruling against terrorism

Legal scholars association also to target extremism in far-reaching fatwa

July 28, 2005|By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah | Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CHICAGO - In the most far-reaching ruling of its kind in America, the nation's largest association of Islamic legal scholars plans to issue a fatwa today against terrorism and extremism.

The ruling by the Fiqh Council of North America has been endorsed by several major American Islamic organizations and follows one issued by British Muslims in the wake of the London bombings.

Because Islam is a decentralized faith, the fatwa would have little binding effect on most Muslims. But it is a significant step by a well-known organization that, through its moral authority, could have reverberations around the world.

In recent weeks, Muslim organizations in the West have stepped up their efforts to condemn violence in the name of the faith. In part, it is a reaction to criticism that they are not doing enough to oppose violence overseas. But it also follows the London bombings and the growth of a new threat - homegrown terrorists.

The Council of American Islamic Relations, or CAIR, released a 30-second "Not in the Name of Islam" public service announcement this month. The Muslim American Society, another major advocacy group, announced a national initiative this week.

On Sunday, when Muslim youth leaders gather for a summit in Chicago, one of the topics organizers want to discuss is the sanctity of human life and how suicide bombing is not allowed in Islam, said Abdul Malik Mujahid, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.

CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said the ideas behind the fatwa mirror what such Muslim groups have always said in response to suicide bombings, beheadings and other attacks. But the fatwa gives that argument the force of an Islamic legal opinion.

"Whenever any Muslim appears anywhere they are asked, `Why have you not condemned terrorism?' when in fact we have been consistently condemning it," Hooper said. "This is just one more way to get that message out."

After the Sept. 11 attacks, a fatwa against terrorism was issued by the council of Islamic scholars, but the new fatwa is expected to go further.

The text of the fatwa is embargoed until today. But Louay Safi, an executive director at the Islamic Society of North America, an umbrella group that represents 600 mosques, says a working version he saw goes beyond terrorism to explicitly denounce religious extremism, he said. It cites Islamic sources such as the Quran and condemns violence against innocent civilians.

"For the first time while condemning terrorism, in the same breath they are also advocating moderation and rejecting extremism in religion," said Muqtedar Khan, a professor at the University of Delaware and fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Khan said it falls short in not referring to any organization or movement such as al-Qaida or any episode such as the London attacks. Without that, those who feel Muslims have not done enough to oppose violence may not feel that the fatwa is much of an improvement, he said.

Still, Khan said, American Muslim attitudes have come far since the Sept. 11 attacks. An open letter he wrote then, calling American Muslims to fight extremism, was attacked for six months, he said. By contrast, after the London bombings, a similar letter he wrote was praised on prominent Muslim Web sites immediately.

"After September 11, most Muslims were not as well organized," he said. "And many Muslims were in a state of denial. They couldn't believe this was done by Muslims."

Last year the Muslim Public Affairs Council started a campaign training mosques to, among other things, avoid "irresponsible rhetoric." It also tells mosques to relate to congregants that jihad, or holy war, is for self-defense - that Islam "doesn't tolerate hurting civilians, suicidal destruction of human life or inflicting harm on noncombatants."

Some Muslims have also started grass-roots efforts, such as a group in the Cincinnati area that created Muslim Mothers Against Violence.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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