October 6, 2004 Special Dispatch No. 794

Reactions to Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi's Fatwa Calling for the Abduction and Killing of American Civilians in Iraq

October 6, 2004
Iraq | Special Dispatch No. 794

At a convention on the subject of "Pluralism in Islam" which took place in late August, 2004 at the Egyptian Journalists' Union in Cairo, Sheikh Dr. Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood movement and one of the most important religious authorities in Islamist circles, issued a religious legal opinion permitting the abduction and killing of American civilians in Iraq in order to pressure the American army to evacuate its forces. Al-Qaradhawi stressed the fact that in his view, "all of the Americans in Iraq are combatants, there is no difference between civilians and soldiers, and one should fight them, since the American civilians came to Iraq in order to serve the occupation. The abduction and killing of Americans in Iraq is a [religious] obligation so as to cause them to leave Iraq immediately. The mutilation of corpses [however] is forbidden in Islam." [1]

Al-Qaradhawi issued this opinion one week after prominent Muslim clerics from various countries published a statement calling for support for the forces fighting against the coalition in Iraq. This statement was signed by 93 Muslim clerics, including prominent members of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, among them Al-Qaradhawi, as well as leaders from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hizbullah. [2]

Ten days after Al-Qaradhawi's opinion on the abduction and killing of American civilians in Iraq was issued, and after his words had already evoked heated reactions in the Muslim world, Al-Qaradhawi sent a fax to the office of the Al-Hayat daily in which he disowned "that which was said in my name in the media on the subject of the killing of American civilians in Iraq." According to Al-Qaradhawi, "some media outlets have claimed that I published a religious legal opinion to the effect that there is an obligation to kill American civilians in Iraq. These claims are unfounded. I have not published a Fatwa on this issue. At the Egyptian Journalists' Union a few days ago I was asked about the permissibility of fighting against the occupation in Iraq, and I answered that it is permitted. Afterwards I was asked concerning the American civilians in Iraq and I merely responded with the question – are there American civilians in Iraq? It is a matter of common knowledge that in Fatwas such as these I do not use the word "killing" but rather I say "struggle," which is a more comprehensive word than the word "killing" and whose meaning is not necessarily to kill. In addition, I have condemned the taking of hostages on a number of occasions in the past and have demanded that they be released and that their lives not be threatened." [3]

On a later occasion Al-Qaradhawi explained that a civilian in Iraq is "someone who does not take part in the fighting and does not abet the occupying soldiers. [On the other hand] one who abets the occupiers – his status is identical to theirs. The occupation is fighting against Muslims and anyone who helps the occupation has the same status as the military." He further clarified that this is his position regarding Muslim civilians in Iraq as well. [4]

It should be noted that prior to the publication of this denial, the director of Al-Qaradhawi's office, Isam Talima, affirmed that Al-Qaradhawi did indeed issue a Fatwa to the effect that there is an obligation to fight against the American civilians in Iraq, as they are considered to be invaders. [5]

As previously mentioned, Al-Qaradhawi's ruling caused a flurry of reactions among Muslim religious figures and intellectuals; the following are the most important of them:

Al-Azhar Clerics: The Americans in Iraq are not Innocent Civilians and thus it is Permitted to Kill Them

Some of the clerics at Al-Azhar University in Cairo expressed their unequivocal support for Al-Qaradhawi's position. The former Dean of the Faculty of Religious Fundamentals at Al-Azhar, Dr. Abd Al-Mu'ti Bayyoumi, explained: "Islamic law states that it is forbidden to kill civilians who are distant from the area of fighting, who are not participating in military operations, and who have nothing to do with the occupation of lands. However, civilians who take part in military operations, whether it be supplying food or giving medical treatment to the fighters, their legal status is that of fighters who are attacking land, honor, and property, and therefore there is no prohibition in Islam against killing them." [6]

A lecturer at Al-Azhar University, Dr. Salih Zaydan, added: "Whoever cooperates with the fighters who attack the land of Muslims, like the American civilians who are aiding the military in Iraq, becomes through his actions a fighter himself. Muslims are permitted to fight against such people and to kill them so as to defend land, honor, and property, and thus there is no prohibition against killing them." [7]

The former Undersecretary of the Department of Religious Endowments, Sheikh Mansur Al-Rifa'i Ubeid, explained: "It is illogical [to think] that the U.S. is sending its civilians to Iraq in the [current] state of war without their having a role in the military operations. Therefore, they are not civilians, but fighters whose status [in religious law] is identical to that of the military combatants." [8]

Dr. Abd Al-Azim Al-Muta'ani, a member of the Supreme Committee for Islamic Affairs in Cairo and a lecturer at Al-Azhar University, explained that only an American civilian who already lived in Iraq before the occupation is not included in the Fatwa: "Al-Qaradhawi based his Fatwa that it is permitted to kill American civilians on the fact that they came to Iraq as invaders… It is [normally] forbidden to attack civilians, but the [American] civilians and military came to Iraq as invading soldiers. The crime [that is forbidden] is an attack on American civilians in their own land. Not only those who are armed but also all those who aid the American soldiers have an identical status [in religious law], except for American civilians who were already in Iraq before the occupation and stayed there; they are not to be considered invaders. However there are very few of these due to the tense relations between Washington and Baghdad." Al-Muta'ani also voiced his opinion on Arabs who aid the Americans, saying: "An Arab or a Muslim that abets the American occupation forces in Iraq is a traitor, and his status [in religious law] is identical to that of the American civilians. It is permitted to abduct him and to kill him, but it is forbidden to mutilate his corpse, since this is prohibited in the Shari'a."

Dr. Abd Al-Sabour Shahin, a lecturer at Cairo University who is well known for his activities in propagating Islam, stressed that while it is permitted to abduct and to kill American civilians in Iraq, no harm should be done to European journalists: "I support Dr. Al-Qaradhawi's Fatwa one-hundred percent, since if it were not for the occupation [the American civilians] would not be coming to Iraq… [However,] non-Americans, like the French reporters and other Europeans, who came to Iraq in order to inform the world of the facts, they are to be considered as having come to aid the Iraqi people and there is no reason to do them harm – indeed the Iraqi cause is in need of more of their help." [9]

The prominent Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Ayatollah Husein Isma'il Al-Sadr expressed criticism of Al-Qaradhawi's Fatwa and opposed the meddling of foreign clerics in the situation in Iraq: "Iraq has its [own] senior religious authorities who understand the country and its residents… The Fatwa s that are being issued by clerics outside of Iraq's borders are not based on an accurate understanding of the state of affairs in the country." [10]

Muslim Progressive Intellectuals Oppose Al-Qaradhawi's Fatwa

The Fatwa is a Sweeping Call for Murder

A columnist in the pan-Arab daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Dr. Ahmad Al-Rub'i, wrote: "As if these daily killings are not enough for us – we awake to the beheadings of the Nepalese workers in Iraq and go to sleep to the news of the kidnapping of hundreds of innocent children in Russia, and in the course of [the day we hear about] the abduction of the French journalists and the slitting of the Turkish workers' throats in Baghdad. As if all this is not enough, there appears somebody who is a supposed moderate promoter of Islam, Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, and publishes a religious legal opinion permitting the killing of U.S. citizens in Iraq… [11]

"Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi is like many of the radical sheikhs who generally do not die [for a cause] and don't opt for martyrdom. Neither do their sons, who generally study at the best universities in the West. Such Fatwa s are read by impassioned Muslim youth who may go to Iraq to perform the religious duty that Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi preaches. As long as there is no difference between an American who goes to Iraq with an international organization in order to help people and provide them with medical aid and between a combatant soldier, what is to stop an inflamed youngster, who looks up to Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi and believes him, from killing a doctor or a civilian employee of the relief [agencies] in Iraq … and in light of the difficulties in entering Iraq, why should the impassioned youngster not kill the U.S. soldiers scattered throughout the Gulf countries, which collaborate [with the U.S.] - particularly Doha and Kuwait - because after all, most of them served or were employed in Iraq? And why shouldn't he kill the U.S. civilians in Kuwait or Qatar so long as the latter aid the U.S. military? And following this … is it not the duty of the impassioned youth who looks up to Al-Qaradhawi to kill the Qatari and Kuwaiti officials who made it possible for these forces to be stationed in their countries?

"The difference between madness and reason, and between extremism and moderation, is clear. Al-Qaradhawi, who lives a life of comfort and luxury in Doha, publishes a Fatwa to kill U.S. civilians, while the four Shi'ite Imams who convened at Al-Sistani's home in Najaf and who live under occupation, call to refrain from violence against the U.S. forces. That is the difference between responsible thinking and irresponsible thinking - between thinking that calls to protect peoples' lives and thinking that calls for their murder, all the while lecturing about moderation." [12]

A columnist in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai Al-Aam, Dr. Wael Al-Hasawi, wrote: "I am not well-versed in religion and do not issue Fatwa s, but I am entitled to discuss some of the religious opinions of clerics from a realistic standpoint concerning their compatibility with the general principles of Islam. Al-Qaradhawi's Fatwa opens the door to justification of all the barbaric crimes being perpetrated against the foreigners in Iraq. Logic dictates that what holds true for the Americans also holds true for the English, the Italians, the Japanese and others, for they are either invading forces or else they are helping the invading forces. In addition, the word 'civilians' also means the journalists who came to Iraq to cover the events and to reveal to the entire world what is happening, as well as engineers, experts, and workers who came with their companies in order to build Iraq, and have no connection with the war…

"There is a thin line separating Jihad for Allah and the dissemination of corruption over the land, and it is the duty of religious clerics to make this clear to the people and to prevent them from wrongdoing and from carrying out barbaric acts under the guise of defending their countries and their people… One of the subjects that it is time the clerics investigate and rule upon is the question of setting up civilians as targets – women, children, and men – even in conquered countries with the presence of invaders, such as Palestine and Chechnya. We have had enough of justifying this with [the fact] that there is no difference between civilian and soldier in a country like the Zionist entity in Palestine, or that a country like Russia has harmed the Muslims in Chechnya and killed many of them… It is not possible to achieve lofty aims except by lofty means. The greatest crime occurring in our generation is the distortion of the image of Islam…" [13]

The Clerics are Not Free of Responsibility for Terror

Bahraini author and journalist Sawsan Al-Sha'er dealt with Al-Qaradhawi's Fatwa in her column in the Bahraini daily Al-Ayyam, writing: "… Hence today there are time bombs, especially among the Sunni Arabs dispersed among us, in the Arab countries as well as worldwide, waiting for the designated moment in order to blow themselves up and to kill whoever is around them (as an act of Jihad )… These time bombs are our sons, born on our soil and educated by our sheikhs and our clerics.

"The Muslims are embarrassed when faced with the clerics and sheikhs who admit through their hesitant stance [toward the killings] that there are still supporters of this suicidal ( Jihadist ) trend in our midst and that they have social influence and are capable of influencing the popular status of these clerics. There are sycophants among us who defend this trend of suicide bombers, and walk the middle ground [between the suicide bombers and their critics]. They see to it that every word that escapes their mouths will be ambiguous … on the one hand they make every effort to deflect the accusation of terrorism from the Muslims, and on the other hand they pray for the well-being and the longevity of the supporters of this trend. It was Arabs who carried out all of the latest atrocious terror attacks. The fact that they [the perpetrators] are not from the ranks of our sheikhs and our clerics does not prove that this sector is not responsible for the extremism. As long as we do not acknowledge this responsibility, our turn will come, and so too will the turn of our clerics and our sheikhs…" [14]

The former editor of the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat,Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, wrote in an article titled "The Painful Truth is that all of the Terrorists are Muslims:" " Listen to what the tele-sheikh, Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, said. He has issued a public Fatwa permitting the killing of Americans in Iraq. Imagine a cleric urging the murder of civilians; an elderly sheikh inciting young boys to kill civilians while his two daughters study under the protection of British security in the infidel United Kingdom. How can a father like him face the mother of young [Nick] Berg whose throat was slashed because he came to Iraq to work as an engineer at [the Prometheus] Towers [Company]? How can we believe him when he tells us that Islam is a religion of mercy and tolerance while he turns it into a religion of blood…?

"Clearly no honor is done us when someone from among us holds pupils hostage in a school, kidnaps journalists, kills civilians, or blows up buses, whatever the pains of the avengers may be. These are the ones who have distorted and harmed Islam. We will only be able to clear our reputation once we have admitted the clear and shameful fact that most of the terrorist acts in the world today are carried out by Muslims. We have to realize that we cannot correct the condition of our youth who carry out these disgraceful deeds until we have treated the minds of our sheikhs who have turned themselves into pulpit revolutionaries who send the children [of others] to fight while they send their own children to European schools." [15]

Hussein Sanjari wrote in an article titled "Whoever Incites to Terrorism is a Terrorist" in the Iraqi weekly Al-Ahali: "Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi said explicitly that 'killing military and civilians in Iraq is a religious duty.' The same Fatwa was issued by the Lebanese Shi'ite cleric, Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah. These two individuals and hundreds of thousands of mullah s all throughout the lands of Islam … give weekly sermons encouraging youth to murder and to spill blood in Chechnya, Iraq, Kurdistan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, America, Europe, Asia, and the Pacific islands. Look at what happened in the massacre of the children in Beslan and remember what the whole world remembers, that Syrian, Jordanian, and Yemenite Arabs were among those who shouted 'Allah Akbar, we are here to die…'

"The Kurds related that one of the suicide terrorists who was caught before he succeeded in exploding himself was asked by his interrogators: 'Why did you wrap your genitals in all of these bandages?' The terrorist answered: 'I was told [to do this] so that my genitals will not be harmed when I explode myself and will stay whole when I go to paradise and am greeted by the virgins.'

"When will reformist clerics come forward to purify the religion from these bloodthirsty ideas? They will appear when the knot binding religion together with politics will be undone. We must separate the two, for the good of religion even more than for the good of politics…" [16]

Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi has Revealed His True Face

Dr. Abd Al-Khaliq Hussein, a contributor to the progressive Internet site Elaph, wrote: "Finally Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi has removed the veil from his true face, the same face as that of all of the masked terrorists, and declared himself to be a religious authority and propagandist for the terrorists, without shame and without hesitation. This comes after a long period in which he tried to fool [us], attempting to be considered moderate and religiously tolerant.

"Al-Qaradhawi issued a Fatwa [calling] to abduct American civilians and to murder them in cold blood in order to achieve two goals – to 'protect' the Iraqi people and to exalt Islam, the Muslims, and their position among the nations! We, as Iraqis, were not surprised by the Fatwa of the propagandist of terrorism, for he is the religious guide for the Qatari TV channel Al-Jazeera, which the Iraqis rightly call 'the satellite channel of the masked [terrorists],' and which makes great efforts day and night to encourage terrorism in Iraq. The Muslim Brotherhood Party in Egypt proposed to elect Al-Qaradhawi as party head. He declined [the offer], perhaps so as not to devolve onto the party any of the responsibility for the publication of his bloodthirsty Fatwa s and so as to take advantage of religion in a free manner for political and financial purposes, as he so likes to do…

"The strange and perplexing thing is that Al-Qaradhawi issued a Fatwa calling only for the murder of American soldiers and civilians in Iraq, and not in Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, or anywhere else in the world. Al-Qaradhawi lives in Qatar in a house furnished with luxuries, and works for the Al-Jazeera channel, a mere few hundred meters from the largest American military base in the world, outside of America. What is more, the sheikh visited London, the capital of Britain and America's greatest ally, and which assisted in the 'occupation' of Iraq…

"A question for the bloodthirsty, terror-mongering cleric Al-Qaradhawi and his supporters among the sheikhs of Al-Azhar [University]: Do you know what is in the interest of the Iraqi people better than the Iraqis themselves…? Who gave you permission to force yourselves as custodians on the Iraqi people? Through the fact that bloodthirsty clerics publish terrorist Fatwa s, and through their support for terrorists, they have turned Islamic thought into an ideology of terror, and in so doing have caused the greatest damage to Muslims, Islam, Islamic thought, and to Islam's reputation in the world …" [17]

There is No True Moderation in Political Islam

Said Al-Hamad, a columnist for the Bahraini daily Al-Ayyam, wrote: "It is possible that the Fatwa of the 'Sheikh' and the 'Imam of the moderates,' Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, which permitted and even commanded the abduction and killing of American civilians in Iraq … will clear up the confusion … which we, the progressive intellectuals, have concerning 'moderation' and 'extremism' among the streams of political Islam, in all its various forms and gradations. It is possible that this Fatwa, issued by the 'Sheikh of moderation and compromise [ wasatiya ],' comes to put to rest the debate among the progressives [over the question whether] … there exists some 'moderation' in the thought and discourse of some of the streams of political Islam [or whether] this 'moderation' is merely something superficial, forced by specific conditions, or in modern terminology - [it is] merely a tactic or conditional prudence, and not a strategy or a principle based on the thought of these various groups and streams, in all their varying designations and schools.

"The Fatwa of Al-Qaradhawi, who carries the title of 'Sheikh and Imam of the moderates,' led to the near-complete collapse of moderation and destroyed the very foundations of the 'way of compromise.' It emphasizes that the question of 'moderation and extremism' is a relative matter among the different streams of political Islam. Al-Qaradhawi proved the truth of the conclusion reached by the well-known [Egyptian] researcher Nasser Hamed Abu Zayd, who revealed that the differences in the conceptualization of moderation and extremism among the different streams of political Islam, [as evidenced] in their numerous sermons, are only a matter of degree and not of kind. The difference is one of quantity and not of essence. The proof of this is Al-Qaradhawi's Fatwa … in which he does not forbid slaughter and murder, but limits the kind and the quantity to American civilians. Sheikh Qaradhawi's Fatwa … causes us, the progressive intellectuals, to reassess the concept of the 'moderation' or 'extremism' of the prominent Islamic groups on the Arab scene so long as the 'moderates,' if they exist, do not hurry to correct their balance of moderation by way of an honest and clearly-stated Fatwa that will oppose the Fatwa of their sheikh and imam…" [18]

Iraqi columnist Aziz Al-Hajj wrote on the progressive Internet site Elaph: " What kind of national cause is this that uses children like kerosene for igniting a total war of destruction in the name of national and religious liberty…? The Islamic-Arab terrorism has turned into the greatest danger in the world, and threatens civilization, security, and life everywhere. It is today the symbol of evil, religious fanaticism, and moral degradation, and it is the essence of political crime in today's world… Islamic terrorism is the outcome of 'moderate' political Islam, as it is generally described. The latest proof of this is Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi's Fatwa calling for the killing of all Americans in Iraq…" [19]

The Solution to the Problem of Terrorism: Indict Those Who Incite to Terrorism

The researcher and author Dr. Shaker Al-Nabulsi, who writes for the progressive Internet site Elaph, also expressed sharp criticism of Al-Qaradhawi's Fatwa, and raised questions concerning his motives in singling out the Americans for attack, as opposed to the other coalition forces: "Is it because the Americans are the reason why Al-Qaradhawi lost three million dollars that were in his 'Al-Taqwa' bank account, which belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood and which was the main financer of the Al-Qa'ida organization, and which was shut down, and its assets and deposits confiscated, due to the U.S.'s efforts to trace [the activities] of this shady bank that financed various terror operations? Is it because America prevented Al-Qaradhawi from entering its territory and cancelled the visa it had granted him in the past? Did Al-Qaradhawi omit British soldiers and civilians from his latest Fatwa because Britain is at present the only opening Qaradhawi has to visit and speak in the West, after he burned his bridges with France due to his negative stance on the [law] preventing the [wearing of the] veil…?

"On what verse, or on what divine or prophetic tradition, did Al-Qaradhawi rely in this Fatwa ? Is there a verse in the Quran which says: 'Oh you faithful, if the Americans take down Saddam's regime fight them, their soldiers, their children and their women, with no exceptions…?' Is there a tradition originating from the word of God saying: 'Oh my servants, you must [kill] the Americans, their soldiers, and their civilians. They are merely dead but you are martyrs?'"

Al-Nabulsi goes on to describe the prevailing weakness in the Arab world: "There is no doubt but that the Arab political vacuum, the pitiful nature of Arab politicians, the failure of the political parties, the vacuum in Arab political discourse, the collapse and attenuation of the Arab political structures, the absence of a politically conscious Arab grassroots, the absence of an active public opinion capable of bringing about change … [all of these] allowed those who wear turbans [i.e. the religious leaders] to take to the political stumps, in the east and the west of the Arab world, and to lead the Arab political activity which has turned into an expression of the call for more and more bloodshed in the name of the new religion which Al-Qaradhawi brought, together with the rest of the religious fundamentalist terror groups. This is the clear proof that we have become a politically bankrupt nation. We inherited this from our fathers and we are bequeathing it to our children…

"The Arab regimes are not capable of reining in the religious sheikhs and preventing them from disseminating politico-religious legal rulings, since some of the rulings are to their benefit, strengthening their influence, lengthening their rule, and providing them with a religious aegis. The secular political parties are not capable of forming a coalition amongst themselves since tribalism and familial loyalty reign in these parties… The Arab grassroots has disappeared, it is hungry, it is uneducated, it is tired, and it has lost all hope for the Arab political forces. It sees in the sheikhs of the religious establishment and in their Fatwa s its last refuge from the hatred, oppression, starvation, abandonment, and theft on the part of the ruling establishment. The Arab intellectual and political elites that live in the Arab world are incapable of dealing with the religious sheikhs and their rulings due to their fear of the rule of these sheikhs, who have bloodthirsty armed militias which are capable of beheading any intellectual or politician who opposes them… The majority of the voices opposing these sheikhs and attacking their rulings are those of Arabs who live in the West, far from the sheikhs' violence against their opponents.

"What then is to be done? There is only one solution. A group of progressive Arab intellectuals ready to put their lives in danger must meet and write a humanistic, international, progressive statement written in the language, way of thinking, and logic of the 21st century. It must present this statement to the U.N. and demand that the Security Council discuss it and pass a resolution on it that will grant the U.N. [the authority] to establish a tribunal, which will be called the 'Terrorism Court.' All those who foment terrorism and disseminate Fatwa s encouraging terrorism, and all those who carry out terrorism, will be brought before this tribunal. [This is necessary] since terrorism has become a global, international problem and does not only concern the Arabs…" [20]

[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 2, 2004.

[2] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), August 23, 2004. For more on the statement see MEMRI's report at: The Muslim Brotherhood Movement in Support of Fighting Americans Forces in Iraq.

[3] Al-Hayat (London), September 9, 2004.

[4] Al-Hayat (London), September 23, 2004.

[5] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), September 9, 2004.

[6], June 9,2004.

[7], June 9,2004.

[8], June 9,2004.

[9] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), September 4, 2004.

[10] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), September 3, 2004.

[11] Al-Hayat (London), September 5, 2004.

[12] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 3, 2004.

[13] Al-Rai Al-Aam (Kuwait), September 5, 2004.

[14] Al-Ayyam (Bahrain), September 7, 2004.

[15] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 4, 2004.

[16] Al-Ahali (Iraq) September 8, 2004.

[17], September 5, 2004.

[18] Al-Ayyam (Bahrain), September 7, 2004.

[19], September 4, 2004.

[20], September 3, 2004.

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