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memri
August 14, 2003 No.
145

Leading Egyptian Islamic Clerics on Jihad Against U.S. Troops in Iraq: March – August 2003

Prominent Egyptian Islamic scholars have issued Fatwas and religious opinions on the subject of Jihad against the U.S. before, during, and following the war in Iraq. These include the most prominent religious figures appointed by the Egyptian government to the highest religious positions, such as the Mufti of Egypt, Dr. Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, and the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Dr. Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi. Other prominent Egyptian Islamic authorities who have come out in support of Jihad against U.S. troops include scholars from leading Egyptian universities, such as Cairo University and Al-Azhar University.

From the Islamist camp, Islamist leaders such as Egyptian-born Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, one of the most prominent figures in the Muslim Brotherhood movement, have issued similar rulings. The following highlights the opinions of leading Egyptian Islamic scholars on Jihad against U.S. troops in Iraq from March to August of 2003:

Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Dr. Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi

Dr. Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, [1] who served as Mufti of Egypt from 1986 until 1996 [2] when he was appointed sheikh of Al-Azhar, has called for Jihad against U.S. forces in Iraq. At a press conference he convened on April 5, 2003, Sheikh Tantawi called on the Iraqi people to "continue its Jihad in defense of religion, faith, honor, and property, because Jihad is a religious ruling of Islam aimed at opposing aggressors. It is the right of the Iraqis to carry out any operation in defense of their homeland, whether martyrdom operations [i.e. suicide operations] or [by] any other means." Sheikh Tantawi encouraged volunteers from Arab and Islamic countries to go to Iraq "to support the Jihad of their oppressed brethren there, because resistance to oppression is an Islamic obligation, whether the oppressor is Muslim or not." He reiterated, "The gates of Jihad are open until the Day of Judgment, and I say to the volunteer: Go in peace, and I wish you the best. I speak words of truth, but I cannot [issue an] order [to] any man." [3]

During a Friday sermon at Al-Azhar the following day, he added: "The American aggression against Iraq is not acceptable to Islamic law, and to the [shari'ah] law; The Iraqi people must defend itself, its land, and its homeland with all means of defense at its disposal, because it is a Jihad that is permitted by Islamic law. Jihad is an obligation for every Muslim when Muslim countries are subject to aggression. The gates of Jihad are open until the Day of Judgment, and he who denies this is an infidel or one who abandons his religion. This is an obligation applying to the nation now, in order to respond to the aggression." [4]

Mufti of Egypt, Dr. Ahmad Al-Tayyeb

Dr. Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, former professor at Al-Azhar University and current Mufti of Egypt, replaced Egypt's previous mufti, Sheikh Nasr Farid Wassel, in March, 2002, who according to Islam Online, [5] one of the most popular Islamist websites, was dismissed for stating that "it is every Muslim's duty to launch Jihad against those who protect the aggressors." [6] Dr. Al-Tayyeb told a conference at the University of Cairo in March, 2003 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." [7]

Al-Azhar University Scholars

The Muslim scholar Dr. Abd Al-Fattah Idrees, [8] Professor of Comparative Jurisprudence at Al-Azhar University, explained that his position for Jihad against the U.S. forces is based upon Qur'anic exegetes: "The U.S.-led forces are no more than invaders of the Iraqi people. So the Iraqis have to resist them. Allah Almighty says: 'Allah will not give the disbelievers any way (of success) against the believers.'(An-Nisa': 141) Exegetes of the Qur'an explain this verse to mean that disbelievers must never rule over the believers. So the Muslims are entitled to resist invasion by all possible means to defend themselves and their lands. This is one of the urgent cases of Jihad in which fighting becomes an individual obligation on all people in the country, men, women, old people and children. It is principally impermissible for Arab and Muslim forces to participate in such [an] invasion. But if Arab and Muslim [forces are] sent by the U.N. for the sake of maintaining peace and security until a fair government is established in Iraq, then the mission of such Arab and Muslim forces should not exceed peace maintenance. It is in this case only that Arab and Muslim forces may participate. But they are not permitted to use violence against the invaded people. Otherwise they would be no more than invaders or supporters to invasion and must be resisted. If any Arab or Muslim forces participated to maintain security of the invaders, then they are to be treated as invaders." [9]

Idrees' opinion is shared by others at Al-Azhar. On March 20, 2003, as U.S. forces launched attacks on Saddam's regime, Al-Azhar's Islamic Research Complex called upon all Muslims to launch a Jihad in response to the U.S. actions: "Jihad is an individual duty for all Muslims if the U.S. launches a war against Iraq. Arabs and Muslims should be on high alert to defend themselves, their doctrine and lands… [Muslims] have to forget all internal differences so as not to surrender to prospective attacks. Jihad is an individual duty in case an enemy occupies Muslims' lands. Our Arab and Muslim nation will face new crusades that aim to deprive us of our homeland, doctrine and dignity." The statement added: "Insistence on waging a war against Iraq is nothing but a beginning of a series of attacks directed to the rest of the Arab world. This is evidenced by the declaration of anti-Islamic forces to the effect that once Iraq is subdued, the situation in the Arab region will be rearranged in favor of U.S. and Israeli interests." [10]

Cairo University Scholars

Dr. Ahmad Yusuf Sulaiman, Professor of Islamic Shari`ah at the Faculty of Dar `Ulum, Cairo University, added the following, pertaining to fighting U.S. forces in Iraq: "No one can deny that fighting the invaders is an individual obligation, so that all people in an invaded country, men, women, old people and even children, have to participate in resisting the invaders. If international forces are sent to Iraq by U.N. resolution to maintain peace and security in the country, without extending any support to the invaders, then the popular resistance forces in Iraq must not fight them. If, on the other hand, they have gone there to support the invaders and add legality to their occupation of the land, then they are in the same position of the invaders and should be resisted by all available defense mechanisms." [11]

Dr. Ahmad Abu-Al-Wafa, Professor of International Law at Cairo University, gave a similar opinion on July 30, 2003: "The status quo in Iraq indicates that the main purpose of sending international forces to Iraq is to avoid daily losses in the U.S.-led forces there. Sending international forces to Iraq has two possible interpretations: First, they are support to occupation. In other words, the international forces would be placed as shields for the U.S. and the British forces in Iraq. In this case, it is permissible to fight them. Second, they are sent to evacuate U.S. and British forces from Iraq and give the reins of power there to the Iraqis themselves. In this case they are not to be fought. Rather, the way should be paved for them to carry out the mission they are assigned with. But if they stay for a long time with the presence of the U.S.-led forces in Iraq, then they must be fought and dismissed." [12]

Islamist Cleric Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi

Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, a leading Islamist figure, who was trained at Al-Azhar and received his Ph.D. there, has issued multiple calls for Jihad against the U.S. The Iraqi newspaper Al-Zaman reported on May 9, 2003 that Al-Qaradhawi called for Muslims to launch a Jihad "to expel foreign troops from Iraq." However, he also stated that "only governments have the right to organize volunteers for Jihad." [13]

At his March 7, 2003 sermon at the Omar Ibn Al-Khattab Mosque in the Qatari capital Doha, Al-Qaradhawi issued a Fatwa stating that it was not permissible for Arab and Muslim countries to let the United States use their airports, harbors, and territories as a launching-pad for striking Iraq . He added, "Resisting the invaders is an individual duty on all Muslims. If the enemies invaded a Muslim country, the people of that country should resist and expel them from their territories… it is an individual duty on all Muslims, men and women."

Al-Qaradhawi explained, "If they succeeded in forcing the enemies out, it is alright… But if they did not, it is incumbent on their Muslim neighbor countries to defend them…" According to the website, "The prominent Muslim figure charged that the U.S. war was aimed at seizing control over Iraqi oil, annihilating the military and human power of Iraq by destroying its weapons and tearing down Arab powers, which represent obstacles in the way of the Zionist state." [14]

Months before the first Jihad fighter appeared in Iraq, Al-Qaradhawi maintained in an interview with the Islamist press agency, Al-Quds Press, that a difference should be made between American civilians and the U.S. government and military, which are a colonizing force encroaching on the land of Muslims: "Those killed fighting the American forces are martyrs given their good intentions since they consider these invading troops an enemy within their territories but without their will."

In the interview, Al-Qaradhawi further explained: "The issue is not with the Americans who are peace-loving, but with their arrogant government." On the U.S. war on terrorism, and the issue of reforming Islamic schools, charities, societies, and personalities, he stated: "This mentality is considered by the U.S. administration as a threat. So it was at pains not to allow the rising of a strong Muslim man or woman objecting [to] injustice and keen on applying the right things as well as ready to sacrifice himself or herself for the sake of Allah." [15]

On efforts to change Islamic curricula, which include lessons on Jihad, Al-Qaradhawi explained, "… They want to omit all teachings about Jihad, pride and dignity, and set away the Qur'anic verses on Jihad and the military expeditions of Prophet Mohamed (peace be upon him) from his biography. There are other attempts to get Muslims to forget such great characters as Khalid Ibn Al-Waleed, Salah Eddin Al-Ayyubi and Omar Al-Mukhtar from the chapters of out history," Al-Qaradhawi lamented, referring to Islamic heroes. Al-Qaradhawi was confident that all of these attempts would be doomed to failure. [16]

Fatwas by Egyptian Muftis on 'Islam Online'

Islam Online was recently asked to provide a religious ruling regarding Muslims fighting U.S. troops in Iraq: "The U.S. is trying to convince the U.N. and its allied countries to send international forces to Iraq. This is obviously due to the American's inability to face the Iraqi popular resistance forces alone. What is the [religious] ruling on fighting the international forces that enter Iraq?"

According to the website, a group of Egyptian muftis answered as follows: "Scholars agree that it is an individual obligation to use all possible means to defend the homeland against invasion. This means that not only men have to fight, but also excused people, such as women and the old, must participate. In addition, any external forces that go to Iraq to support the U.S. invasion inside Iraq are considered invaders as well. Hence, they are to be treated in the same manner as the U.S.-led forces; the invaded people must resist them by all possible means." [17]

* Steven Stalinsky is Executive Director of MEMRI


[1] For more extensive details on Sheikh Tantawi's opinion see MEMRI Special Dispatch #480, "Jihad Against the U.S.: Al-Azhar's Conflicting Fatwas," (Jihad Against the U.S.: Al-Azhar's Conflicting Fatwas), and Inquiry & Analysis #130, "Sheikh Tantawi's Positions on Jihad Against Coalition Forces, Saddam's Resignation, and The War in Iraq," (Sheikh Tantawi's Positions on Jihad Against Coalition Forces, Saddam's Resignation, and The War in Iraq).

[2] For Sheikh Tantawi's bio, see http://www.sunnah.org/history/Scholars/mashaykh_azhar.htm.

[3] Al-Hayat (London), April 6, 2003. Sheikh Tantawi was also careful not to alienate Western countries who opposed the war, by calling it a "Crusader War." He explained, "Some tried to exploit the description of the war as 'Crusader' in order to influence the positive positions of France, Germany, and Russia, which tried to prevent the war. Therefore, a need emerged to state that a war that bears religious slogans is unacceptable, and that Crusader wars were in the distant past and they had causes that have no connection to Christianity, which calls for peace among men." Inquiry & Analysis #130, "Sheikh Tantawi's Positions on Jihad Against Coalition Forces, Saddam's Resignation, and The War in Iraq," (Sheikh Tantawi's Positions on Jihad Against Coalition Forces, Saddam's Resignation, and The War in Iraq).

[4] Reported by Reuters news agency, quoted in Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), April 6, 2003. The crowd of worshipers in attendance shouted, "You will not stop us from waging Jihad!" Also see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis #130, "Sheikh Tantawi's Positions on Jihad Against Coalition Forces, Saddam's Resignation, and The War in Iraq," (Sheikh Tantawi's Positions on Jihad Against Coalition Forces, Saddam's Resignation, and The War in Iraq).

[5] According to its website, Islam Online's mission is to "create a unique, global Islamic site on the Internet that provides services to Muslims and non-Muslims… for everything that deals with Islam, its sciences, civilization and nation," (http://www.islamonline.net/english/aboutus.shtml) to "present a unified and lively Islam that keeps up with modern times… [and] to expand awareness of important events in the Arab, Islamic and larger worlds." (http://www.islamonline.net/english/mediakit/index.shtml). The site is overseen by a committee of Islamic scholars, including Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, "to ensure that nothing on this site violates the fixed principles of Islamic law (Shar'ia)" (http://www.islamonline.net/english/mediakit/index.shtml).

[6] The statement was made in an interview with the Egyptian newspaper Al-Haqiqa. http://www.islamonline.net/english/News/2002-03/11/article05.shtml.

[7] http://www.egypt-facts.org, March 11, 2003.

[8] Dr. Abd Al-Fattah Idrees has been referred to as an "eminent scholar" by Islam Online's Fatwa Page, July 30, 2003, http://www.islamonline.net/Fatwaapplication/english/display.asp?hFatwaID=102437.

[9] Islam Online Fatwa Page, July 30, 2003, http://www.islamonline.net/Fatwaapplication/english/display.asp?hFatwaID=102437.

[10] "Al-Azhar Calls for Jihad over Iraq War." Ummah News Online, March 26, 2003.

[11] Islam Online Fatwa Page, July 30, 2003, http://www.islamonline.net/Fatwaapplication/english/display.asp?hFatwaID=102437.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Al-Zaman (Iraq), May 9, 2003.

[14] Talima, Essam. "Resisting Invaders Individual Duty: Qaradhawi." Islam Online, March 8, 2003 , http://www.islamonline.net/english/News/2003-03/08/article09.shtml .

[15] "Those Who Die Fighting U.S. Occupation Forces are Martyrs: Qaradhawi." Islam for Today, January 8, 2003 , http://www.islamfortoday.com/Qaradhawi04.htm .

[16] Ibid.

[17] Islam Online Fatwa Page, July 30, 2003, http://www.islamonline.net/Fatwaapplication/english/display.asp?hFatwaID=102437.