Barack Obama has removed all mention of Islam from the National Security Strategy document, which during the Bush Administration said: “The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century.” Obama apparently agrees with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said Monday: “Islam and terrorism cannot be mentioned together, because they are contradictory to each other.”
Erdogan, incidentally, also famously said this about “moderate Islam”: “These descriptions are very ugly, it is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.” And that statement itself demonstrates one of the key fallacies of the Obama Administration’s stance that Islam has nothing to do with, uh, Islamic terrorism.
Now that the idea that Islam and terrorism have anything to do with one another has been relegated to the dustbin of history, it’s worth asking why anyone got this idea in the first place. Was it sheer bigotry? Racism? Let’s see. Could it have been from Osama bin Laden, who once praised Allah for the Qur’an’s “Verse of the Sword” (9:5), which instructs Muslims to “slay the unbelievers wherever you find them”? Or maybe it was from Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, who once thundered: “Islam says: Kill in the service of Allah those who may want to kill you!…There are hundreds of other [Koranic] psalms and hadiths [sayings of the prophet] urging Muslims to value war and to fight. Does all that mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim.”
Maybe it was from the British Muslim Omar Brooks, who said in 2005 that it was imperative for Muslims to “instill terror into the hearts of the kuffar” and added: “I am a terrorist. As a Muslim of course I am a terrorist.” Or maybe it was from the Qur’an itself, which tells Muslims to “strike terror into the hearts of the enemies of Allah” (8:60). Maybe it was from the perpetrators of the 15,000-plus terror attacks committed in the name of Islam since 9⁄11.
But a recent conference of Islamic scholars in Mardin, Turkey, has given apparent intellectual heft to the Obama/Erdogan contention. Discussing a fourteenth-century fatwa by the Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyya, a favorite of contemporary Islamic jihadists, the scholars declared: “anyone who seeks support from this fatwa for killing Muslims or non-Muslims has erred in his interpretation and has misapplied the revealed texts.”
That sounds great. It is unequivocal. But what it is unequivocal about is the use of Ibn Taymiyya’s fatwa to justify killing Muslims or non-Muslims. It unequivocally declares that illegitimate. It does not declare illegitimate the killing of Muslims or non-Muslims itself.
I am not saying that these scholars did not mean to condemn the killing of Muslims and non-Muslims in the name of Islam. Maybe they did. But they did not do so by condemning the use of Ibn Taymiyya’s fatwa, for there are plenty of other Islamic sources that justify the killing of unbelievers.
The scholars issued what they called the “New Mardin Declaration,” saying: “Ibn Taymiyya’s fatwa concerning Mardin can under no circumstances be appropriated and used as evidence for leveling the charge of kufr (unbelief) against fellow Muslims, waging revolt against rulers, deeming their lives and property freely accessible to Muslims, terrorizing those who enjoy safety and security, acting treacherously towards those who live (in harmony) with fellow Muslims or with whom fellow Muslims live (in harmony) via the bond of citizenship and peace.”
Here again, the focus is very narrow: the New Mardin Declaration seems to discuss only Ibn Taymiyya’s fatwa, not the larger question of the Islamic justification for these things outside of that fatwa. But in any case, the part of the Declaration quoted above offers no comfort to unbelievers concerned about being targeted by jihadists. It is only concerned that Muslims do not declare other Muslims to be unbelievers – which is indeed a favorite practice of Salafis in general – and that they do not revolt against rulers (which is probably a slap to Al-Qaeda for waging jihad against the House of Saud, etc.).
It does also rule out “acting treacherously towards those who live (in harmony) with fellow Muslims or with whom fellow Muslims live (in harmony) via the bond of citizenship and peace,” but leaves unclear what exactly might constitute this treachery. This may forbid Muslims in West to commit violent jihad attacks against non-Muslims in their adoptive countries, but it remains unclear whether Muslims in Western countries would be “acting treacherously” by working in non-violent ways to impose elements of Sharia. Would CAIR’s efforts to smear and defame anti-jihadists, and intimidate Americans into being afraid to report suspicious activity by Muslims, constitute “acting treacherously”? Would efforts to secure special privileges for Muslims in workplaces, schools, and public places like airports constitute “acting treacherously”?
The New Declaration said that the distinction in Islamic theology between the dar al-harb, the house of war, and the dar al-Islam, house of Islam, as outmoded, “based on ijtihad (juristic reasoning) that was necessitated by the circumstances of the Muslim world, then and the nature of the international relations prevalent at that time.” The Declaration said that in the modern age, circumstances “had changed with international treaties and nation states.”
That’s reasonable, but it raises another question: if circumstances change again, might all this “reform” be out the window? Is the New Mardin Declaration a matter of an evolved understanding of core principles – i.e., a genuine reform – or is it simply a temporary expedient?
On jihad, the New Declaration stated: “Muslim scholars, throughout the ages, have always stressed and emphasized that the jihad that is considered the pinnacle of the religion of Islam, is not of one type, but of many, and actually fighting in the Path of God is only one type. The validation, authorization, and implementation of this particular type of Jihad is sanctioned by the Shariah to only those who lead the community (actual heads of states).
Great. There are many types of jihad. But there is no rejection of the supremacist character of jihad – i.e., its goal to impose Sharia upon non-Muslims polities. All this is saying is that there are many ways to do that. And that “this particular type of Jihad” – i.e., not all types – is the province of the state to sanction. Thus Osama bin Laden, who couches his jihad as defensive, which he must do since he recognizes that the office of caliph, the only person authorized in Sunni Islam to declare offensive jihad, is vacant, would find nothing in the New Mardin Declaration that would stop him. Defensive jihad in traditional Islamic theology does not need the sanction of the state, but becomes the obligation of every individual Muslim as soon as an Islamic land is attacked.
And the New Mardin Declaration goes on to say just that:
This is because such a decision of war is a political decision with major repercussions and consequences. Hence, it is not for a Muslim individual or Muslim group to announce and declare war, or engage in combative jihad, whimsically and on their own. This restriction is vital for preventing much evil from occurring, and for truly upholding Islamic religious texts relevant to this matter.
The basis of the legitimacy of jihad is that it is either to repel/resist aggression: “Fight in the Way of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah likes not the transgressors.” (Qur’an, 2:190), or to aid those who are weak and oppressed: “And why should you not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)?” (Qur’an, 4:75), or in defense of the freedom of worshiping: “To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged; – and verily, Allah is most powerful for their aid.” (Qur’an, 22:39). It is not legitimate to declare war because of differences in religion, or in search of spoils of war.”
Osama has quoted Qur’an 22:39 in his communiques. He is waging defensive jihad, not “war because of differences in religion, or in search of spoils of war.” The problem is that with unbelief itself constituting aggression for some Islamic authorities, and given the Qur’anic command to fight unbelievers until “religion is all for Allah” (8:39), it is cold comfort to unbelievers, and no restraint for jihadists, to remind them that they should only be fighting aggression.
There is here no simple and straightforward declaration that Muslims should not fight non-Muslims and attempt to subjugate them under Sharia. And that is still the problem. Obama and Erdogan and the rest are demanding that Islam be separated from terrorism, and yet the conceptual apparatus establishing a peaceful Islam has never been presented. We are all supposed to take it on faith. But the stakes are too high for that.