When 120 Muslim Scholars Can Be Questioned

Posted: Oct 03, 2014 12:01 AM

I was truly pleased to see the detailed letter signed by 120 Muslim scholars claiming that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, was not acting in accordance with Islam and that the murderous acts of ISIS find no support in the Quran or Islamic tradition.

Surely it is positive that so many Islamic leaders have spoken with one voice, and certainly, this suggests that the countries they represent would affirm their views and not engage in similar, barbarous acts.

Among the 24 points they cover in their letter are:

· It is forbidden in Islam to kill the innocent.

· It is forbidden in Islam to kill emissaries, ambassadors, and diplomats; hence it is forbidden to kill journalists and aid workers.

· Jihad in Islam is defensive war. It is not permissible without the right cause, the right purpose and without the right rules of conduct.

Again, it is good to see these categorical statements made in black and white, yet some questions remain, both general and specific.

First, why is there only one signer from Saudi Arabia and none from Iran?

The former represents Sunni Islam (like ISIS) and the latter Shia Islam, and these two countries are among the Muslim nations most committed to Sharia Law. Why the paucity or absence of signers from these nations? Does this imply lack of agreement?

Second, what are we to make of the presence of Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein as one of the signatories, listed as the Mufti of Jerusalem and all Palestine?

In a speech celebrating the 47th anniversary of Fatah and aired on Palestinian Authority TV on January 9th, 2012, the Mufti cited a well-known Hadith (an Islamic tradition attributed to Muhammad) which states that, “The Hour [of Resurrection] will not come until you fight the Jews. The Jew will hide behind stones or trees. Then the stones or trees will call: ‘Oh Muslim, servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’” (As reported by Palwatch.org, a July, 2011 poll sponsored by the Israel Project indicated that a staggering 73% of Palestinians believe this Hadith.)

When questioned in 2012 about his statement, the Mufti made clear that he couldn’t change what the tradition said but that it only applied to the end of the age. How comforting! (And why, pray tell, did he actually quote this Hadith in his sermon? For what purpose?)

What, then, are we to make of the fact that Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein signed this letter?

More broadly, do most (or all) the signers of this letter also embrace this dangerous Hadith? Do they also believe that the resurrection will not come until the Muslims virtually wipe out the Jews? And would we discover similar disturbing statements and views if we examined the background of the rest of the signatories?

Third, al-Baghdadi reportedly holds a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from the Islamic University of Baghdad. Is this letter claiming that he doesn’t understand the clear teachings of Islam? Or is it rather a matter of interpretation, meaning that he could defend his views as well as these scholars can defend theirs?

Point #3 on the letter states, “It is forbidden in Islam to issue legal rulings about anything without mastery of the Arabic language.”

Does not al-Baghdadi, a lifelong Arabic speaker and a serious student of the Quran, have sufficient mastery of the language?

Fourth, I noted that there was nothing in the document stating that Muslims who leave the faith cannot be put to death. To the contrary, I believe that death for apostasy from Islam is the official policy of some of the countries represented by the signatories. If so, that would mean that the spirit of conciliation and tolerance expressed in this document is quite limited in scope. (Point #9 points in this direction as well.)

Fifth, according to point #10 in the letter, “It is forbidden in Islam to harm or mistreat—in any way—Christians or any ‘People of the Scripture’.”

Why then, have Christians in Egypt (a country represented with dozens of signers) often been treated as second class citizens? More importantly, where were these Muslims leaders of Egypt when the Coptic Christians were beaten, killed, and falsely imprisoned in recent years, all while their church buildings were being vandalized and burned? (If the Egyptian signatories openly opposed the persecution of Egyptian Christians, that would be great to hear.) And what of the decades-long persecution and slaughter of Sudanese Christians under the banner of Islam?

And why were the Jews left out from this statement in your document, since they are the most ancient “People of the Scripture”? And are we really to believe that the Muslim countries represented in the letter (including Egypt, Pakistan, Yemen, Turkey, Jordan, Palestinian territories, Abu Dhabi, Tunisia, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sudan, and others) fully affirm that “It is forbidden in Islam to harm or mistreat – in any way –” the Jews?

It is noteworthy that the two primary references to Israel in the document are negative (and potentially inflammatory) while the reference to the Jews in the context of being people of the was intended to point to the Yazidis as fitting in this category. Seriously?

Sixth, by implication, do the signatories also condemn the actions of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and other Islamic terror groups, or is it only ISIS that has crossed a line in the sand?

Again, I am heartened by this letter, which is positive in many ways, since I am quite aware of the different interpretations that adhere in Islam. (Classical Arabic studies formed part of my college and graduate work, but I am anything but a scholar of Islam.)

Yet I am troubled by what is not said in the document, I am concerned about the presence of certain signers coupled with the virtual absence of key countries, and I (and many others) would welcome further clarification on these critical issues, since in our day, we have seen all too much of this virulent stream of Islam .

Can we really be sure that ISIS and these other terrorists groups are not following in the footsteps of Muhammad?