Muslim thinker Dr. Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, who heads Minhaj-ul-Quran International, issued a lengthy 600-page fatwa March 2nd in London condemning "terrorism and suicide bombings".
The stance of this Pakistani-born religious scholar regarding al-Qaeda's actions is nothing new. However, this fatwa set him apart from many other Islamist scholars who in the past would only condemn al-Qaeda's actions without specifying – according to their theological viewpoints – the punishments to be meted out to those who carry out bombings and killings whose victims are innocent civilians, even if the latter were not the primary target of these attacks.
In his lengthy fatwa, Sheikh Qadri argued that those who carry out suicide bombings will be punished with hellfire, refuting the fact that suicide bombers will be rewarded with Paradise and its maidens. He said that Islamic teachings categorically reject attacks which kill innocent people, indicating that Islam forbids killing a single innocent person even if the attack in which that person would be killed would also cause the death of dozens of miscreants.
Qadri included in his fatwa the opinions from many important scholars, both modern and ancient, who reject what al-Qaeda and the Taliban consider lawful, and he called them the "kharijites of our time."
Qadri, born in 1951 in Pakistan's Punjab province, received his Ph.D. from Punjab University. The title of his thesis was ''The Islamic Penal System and its Philosophy.'' He has served as a lecturer in Islamic Sciences since 1974 and practised the legal profession from 1976 to 1978 in Pakistan. He was also a legal advisor in the Federal Shariat Court, the Pakistani High Court and a member of the National Committee for Islamic Curriculum at the Pakistani Ministry of Education.
The Pakistani scholar explained his stance in a lengthy interview in the March 5th issue of Al-Sharq al-Awsat, in which he said that even in wars, Islam has proscribed the killing of women, children, the elderly and monks. It even prohibited the killing of animals belonging to the enemy, burning of trees and destroying property, killing farmers or traders and diplomats and ambassadors.
Qadri said, "Look at our deplorable situation today. People are killed inside mosques and on the streets. They are killed while sleeping in their beds. Terrorists bomb marketplaces where women, children and the elderly get killed. There is no justification for this at all. These al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists are smearing the image of Islam by randomly killing innocent people in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, New York, London and Madrid."
He accused the leaders of al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden and Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, of being the "kharijites of our time".
Undoubtedly, Qadri is aware of the fact that it would be difficult for him to convince all the members of al-Qaeda to change their beliefs, saying that they have been subjected to "brainwashing". However, his main concern is the new generation of Islamist youths who could be attracted to the ideology of al-Qaeda. That is why he wants them to read his fatwa in order to learn about the Qur'anic verses, Prophetic traditions, stories of the Caliphs and the Companions, and the opinions of the scholars in the hope that they would be convinced of the wrongness of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and all the groups that support them.
Quilliam, an organisation whose members are Islamists who were formerly part of extremist groups, and who are today involved in combating extremist ideologies, said that the fatwa of Sheikh Qadri can be read as "the most comprehensive critique of terrorism committed by Islamists so far."
It pointed to the fact that Qadri's organisation, Minhaj-ul-Quran, "has hundreds of thousands of followers throughout South Asia and in the UK", and that his stance "has set a precedent for other scholars to condemn in a similar fashion the ideas that support terrorism."
A Quilliam spokesperson said in a statement at a press conference in London that "this fatwa could represent a major step towards eradicating Islamic terrorism. The fatwas of religious scholars influenced by the Wahhabi ideology and those of Islamic theoreticians have been the progenitors of terrorism against civilians in recent times. Terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda continue to justify their mass killing based on interpretations of scriptural texts that suit their interests. But fatwas that expose the truth behind these innovations in Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) such as the fatwa of Qadri will send Islamic terrorism to the dust bin of history."
Regardless of Qadri's fatwa and Quilliam's remarks, there is a clear trend within Islamic movements to be critical of al-Qaeda and the Taliban and counter their ideologies. Revisions made by many Islamist scholars and leaders of Islamic movements during the past few years have unanimously condemned random killing and bombing of civilians, regardless of whether the primary targets are soldiers which al-Qaeda and the Taliban describe as infidels or apostates.
A prominent example of these revisions is the one made by the former leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Dr. Fadl ("A Guidance for Jihad Activity in Egypt and the World") and the revisions of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (titled "Corrective Studies in Understanding Jihad, Accountability and the Judgement of People"). Before these two revisions, the Egyptian Islamic Group's revisions were published, and were the most critical of the actions of hard-line Islamic groups – including its own line of action against the Egyptian government – in their fight against "apostate regimes".
In addition to these revisions, prominent scholars and religious leaders have adopted stances which led to similar conclusions. Among these were statements by a prominent Salafi-Jihadist scholar in Morocco, Mohammed al-Fizazi, in jail since 2003, in which he categorically prohibited Muslims from carrying out terrorist acts in European countries.