March 19, 2003 Special Dispatch No. 480

Jihad Against the U.S.: Al-Azhar's Conflicting Fatwas

March 19, 2003
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 480

The Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi,has occasionally issued contradictory Fatwas, such as his ruling regarding the religious legitimacy of Palestinian suicide attacks.[1] Contradictions have now become apparent in his views on waging Jihad against the U.S. should it launch a war on Iraq. The following are excerpts from news reports on this issue:

Jihad on the U.S.

The London-based Arabic-language daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported that Sheikh Tantawi fired Sheikh 'Ali Abu Al-Hassan, the head of the Fatwa Committee at Al-Azhar, and replaced him with Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Qarshi, following Abu Al-Hassan's recent ruling that "it is obligatory to fight the American forces if they enter Iraq," and "the blood of the American and British soldiers is permitted in this instance... the Muslims killed will be considered Shahids [martyrs]."[2]

However, days later, Sheikh Tantawi approved a communiqué issued by the Islamic Center for Research at Al-Azhar University titled "A Call to the Civilized World and to All the Peace-loving Forces," that called for Arabs and Muslims across the world to be ready to defend themselves and their faith. The communiqué stated: "Since everyone thinks that the aggression against Iraq is inevitable, it is in accordance with logic and with Islamic religious law that if the enemy raids the land of the Muslims, Jihad becomes an individual's commandment, applying to every Muslim man and woman, because our Muslim nation will be subject to a new Crusader invasion targeting the land, honor, belief, and homeland."

The communiqué also stated: "The Center for Research has studied the events… and realized that our Arab and Islamic nation, and even our religious faith, Islam, are a main target of all the military forces, who are targeting millions of people from among our nation, as well as our faith, everything sacred to us, and all the sources of wealth and power of the Arabs and the Muslims. The first manifestation of this will be the attack on Iraq, the occupation of its land, and the seizing of its oil resources…"[3]

The Center for Research's Secretary-General Wafaa Abu 'Ajour said, "The communiqué is a reaction to the tension in the region due to the crisis with Iraq, as the U.S. and Britain mass tens of thousands of troops in advance of the expected invasion." He also said that Sheikh Tantawi had read and approved the communiqué.[4]

Sheikh Tantawi told the London-based Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that "there is a big difference between terror and Jihad in Islamic religious law. Jihad in Islam means self-defense, and the defense of property and honor. If the enemy invades the land of the Muslim, Jihad becomes an individual's obligation." Sheikh Tantawi also stated that he had signed the Islamic Center for Research's communiqué and agreed with everything it said. He described it as a "communiqué of peace," and added, "Islamic religious law reaches out in peace to anyone who reaches out in peace. However, [when] someone attacks, it is the right of the reasonable religious scholar to defend those who are attacked."[5]

At the same time, the Mufti of Egypt, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, told a conference at the University of Cairo that "martyrdom [i.e. suicide] operations, in which the Palestinians blow up targets of the Israeli occupation, are actions that are 100% permitted according to Islamic religious law, and it is forbidden to facilitate [the American forces'] attack of a Muslim country… Any attempt to invade Iraq is forbidden by Islamic religious law and by morality, and Islam forbids it, and even commands its believers to resist attempts at invasion and occupation. Islam is against striking any Arab or Islamic city, whether it be Baghdad or in Palestine."[6]

Tantawi's Planned U.S. Visit

Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported that Sheikh Tantawi plans to visit the U.S. in the near future as the leader of a delegation of Al-Azhar clerics. During the visit, he is to meet with top American officials in the administration, and with Muslim and Christian activists.

Al-Quds Al-Arabi also reported that Sheikh Tantawi's planned trip to the U.S. is arousing "great rage" in the religious circles at Al-Azhar and among the imams of the mosques. The paper reported that many imams are accusing Tantawi of going against the will of the entire nation, which believes that a visit will not help Islam at all and that its real purpose is to make the American administration and its head, George Bush, look better.

Sheikh Ibrahim Salameh, imam of the Al-Rahma mosque in Cairo, told the newspaper, "Tantawi should back down from his position and make time for inspiring the Muslims to demonstrate against the U.S. Tantawi is [behaving] as if he was more of a royalist than the king. While Egypt's ruling party organizes a demonstration of a million citizens, he is busy with traveling to the U.S., on the pretext that he is elevating the banner of Islam and tolerance." Salah Al-Jamal, lecturer at the research department of Al-Azhar, told the paper, "Tantawi must immediately declare Jihad, because he is the imam of the Muslims."[7]

[1]See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 53: "Debating the Religious, Political and Moral Legitimacy of Suicide Bombings - Part 1," Debating the Religious, Political and Moral Legitimacy of Suicide Bombings Part 1: The Debate over Religious Legitimacy.

[2]Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 7, 2003.

[3]Muslim Brotherhood website, Egypt,, March 10, 2003.


[5]Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 12, 2003.

[6], March 11, 2003.

[7]Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 3, 2003.

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