August 5, 2005

American Muslims: Fatwa Was CYA Only

After a band of Islamic scholars in America issued much-heralded fatwa against religious violence last week, the media cheered its message as a concrete example of mainstream Muslim opposition to terrorism. However, the edict generated considerable skepticism among analysts, which noted several technical problems with the specific wording, arguing that the fatwa had enough gaps to justify all but the most egregious acts of terrorism. Now the Washington Times reports that the command has failed to satisfy even American Muslims, who sound similar criticisms:

The fatwa condemning religious extremism recently issued by American Muslim groups was so broad it was meaningless, and should have denounced specific terrorist groups including al Qaeda, critics within the U.S. Muslim community say. ...

Muqtedar Khan, a political scientist at the University of Delaware and author of "American Muslims: Bridging Faith and Freedom," said it appeared the main aim of last week's fatwa was protecting U.S. Muslim groups from criticism. And the edict may have fallen short of even that goal, he said.

"They should have been at least specific about events, if not individuals or organizations. They did not condemn al Qaeda or [Osama] bin Laden. It would have had more punch to end all these claims that American Muslims are not doing enough to end terrorism if they had," Mr. Khan said.


When asked about this very point, Ibrahim Cooper of CAIR replied that identifying each covered terrorist group would result in a "laundry list" that would make the fatwa unteachable. He instead referred people to the State Department list of terrorist groups as a handy source to determine which groups fall under this fatwa. As Rachel Zoll notes, this list includes Hamas, a group which American Muslim activists have tried to keep from being recognized as a terrorist organization for years. It also includes Hizbollah, which some argue has a legitimacy in Lebanese politics that overrides its terrorist activities against Israel.

Furthermore, the fatwa treats the problem as that of undue outside influences on Islam, rather than a product of the nature and structure of the faith itself. Omid Safi notes that this renders the edict somewhat historically and intellectually disingenuous, as the radical elements of Islam we see today have almost always existed within the religion. The chairman of the Progressive Muslim Union argues that this treatment precludes any attempt to confront these elements and eliminate them for good by pretending that they either don't exist or that they have nothing at all to do with Islam, neither of which Safi says is true.

I thought that the fatwa was a good first step, but that it came a bit late -- almost four years after the death of 3,000 Americans on 9/11. Obviously, Western Islamic scholars need to review these criticisms and make the necessary adjustments so that they can clearly state what they feel to be unacceptable and prepare themselves for true reform. It shouldn't take another London bombing or WTC attack to get that effort under way. If they want to be taken seriously, then they need to start reforming their mosques and their messages now.


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» A fatuous fatwa [updated] from Angry in the Great White North
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» A weak fatwa from American Islamic scholars from Angry in the Great White North
A fatwa from American Islamic scholars seems as weak as the one issued to Canadian Muslims. [Read More]

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