By Rashad Bukhari
In recent years, the words and actions of extremists claiming to commit violence in the name of Islam, time and again through the media, has arguably caused great harm to Islam’s peaceful reputation. It is in this context that Dr. Tahir ul-Qadri, a prominent Islamic scholar from Pakistan, issued his 600-page fatwa (a non-binding religious opinion in Islamic law) against terrorism from London in March.
Arguably the most comprehensive document ever produced on terrorism in the over 1,400 years of Islam’s history, the fatwa categorically denounces all facets, forms and justifications of terrorism on theological grounds with irrefutable arguments from Islamic texts, history and schools of thought.
I had the incredible opportunity to speak with Qadri recently to understand what motivated him: “I felt the urge to clear the name of Islam, which is being maligned and distorted by fanatics who cannot be called Muslims by any definition of the word.”
One of the most enlightening parts of our two-hour discussion was Qadri’s refutation of the argument commonly used by extremists to justify terrorism on religious grounds: that the world is divided into the “House of Peace,” which includes countries living according the Islamic principles, and the “House of War,” which is comprised of countries in which Muslims do not enjoy peace and security or are not free to practice their religion. However, not all Muslim scholars abide by this definition and many believe that the two “houses” need not be in a constant state of war.
These terms, first used by the 8th century imam and jurist Abu Hanifah, were based on the political divisions of the time, not the Koran or hadith (sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad). For example, in response to the Mongol invasions of Muslim lands, 14th century Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyyah, issued a religious opinion using these terms to justify violence against unjust and authoritarian leaders if the aim was to re-establish a system of law based on Islamic principles.
Many Muslims who use this religious opinion as an excuse to commit acts of terror today are neither aware of its roots nor the geopolitical context in which it emerged.
Qadri laments that terrorists claiming to act in the name of Islam today don’t consider even Muslim-majority countries as being in the House of Peace since, according to them, such countries do not fully implement Islamic laws. For them, the whole world is a House of War. Thus, they justify the killing of individuals in blatant disregard to Islamic principles, which clearly reject the killing of civilians.
Qadri explains that this philosophy has no basis in Islamic texts or teachings.
According to Qadri, the Islamic view of international law, as defined by many Islamic jurists, puts nations into five categories, and governs behaviour towards each.
In the first category fall Muslim-majority countries with Muslim rulers, considered part of the House of Peace, whether or not Islamic laws are implemented domestically.
Nations with which these Muslim-majority countries engage in a temporary peace treaty fall into the second category, the “House of Truce”. Their status is equal to those in the House of Peace, as long as a treaty is intact.
The third category, the “House of Promise,” includes countries with which there is a permanent peace treaty.
The fourth category includes countries that are neither allies nor enemies. They are also subject to the treatment of nations in the House of Peace – including the rights to life, property, honour and freedom for all, regardless of religion, language or race.
The fifth and last category is the “House of War.” It applies to states with which there is no peace treaty, which are currently at war with Muslim-majority states, and/or in which Muslims are unsafe. Some argue that this permits individual Muslims to use violence against these states or their inhabitants. Yet Qadri explains that when it comes to nations in the House of War, there are rules of conduct.
Muslim combatants cannot target or harm non-combatants. Caliph Abu Bakr, the Prophet Muhammad’s father-in-law, is reported to have ordered his army: “Do not practice treachery or mutilation. Do not kill a young child, an old man or a woman. Do not uproot or burn palms or cut down fruitful trees. Do not slaughter a sheep or a cow or a camel, except for food.”
Perhaps most importantly, Qadri explained that in Islamic law no individual or group can declare war under any pretext. It is solely the prerogative of a state authority and only as a last resort when all other efforts to make peace have failed.
Qadri’s fatwa has already been widely discussed and circulated with the hopes that the tide of extremism can be turned and vulnerable youth, prone to extremists’ rhetoric, have the religious justification to stand up to those falsely claiming to speak on behalf of Islam and restore Islam’s image as a peaceful religion.
Rashad Bukhari is member of the Common Ground News Service’s editorial board and programme advisor for Muslim-Western understanding at Search for Common Ground.