The idea of issuing a fatwa (edict) against terrorism is an appealing one. If for no other reason than it would serve to distance the more moderate adherents to the faith from the more radical. However, the big question is how binding are these fatwas on Muslims and what are the real world punishments for failing to adhere to them?
More importantly, how should Muslims respond to competing fatwas or competing interpretations of what is acceptable with respect to violence perpetrated in the defense of the religion of Allah? There are plenty of Muslim organizations, and Muslims, throughout the world that are seeking to issue fatwas against terrorism as a means of distancing the faith from the criminal acts of a few. The YouTube video below relates to a fatwa issued in India.
This post is not suggesting that terrorism is a Muslim issue alone or that only Muslims perpetrate terror. However, the post is dealing with the issue of fatwas and terrorism, and this is a discussion within the framework of Islam and the interpretation of what is forbidden (haram) and what is permitted / legitimate (halal).
This is an interesting question. I thank Harry over at Multibrand for, in essence, challenging me on the issue, and also Tikno over at Love Ely for pointing me to the Indonesia version of a 2004 Fatwa on terrorism issued by the Indonesian Ulema Council (Majelis Ulama Indonesia / MUI).
In the Indonesian context, a fatwa is not binding in a strict legal sense. The government may consider them and may even adopt them if they are so inclined. However, adoption would require the codification of the fatwa into law. This is something that happens to a certain degree in matters relating to Islamic finance where the MUI plays a role in determining what financial products are legitimate under the rules of Islam. These are then codified in laws and regulations enacted by the state.
Furthermore, Indonesia already has an Anti-Terrorism Law (Interim Law No. 1 of 2002 / Law No. 15 of 2003) so is there a need for a fatwa forbidding conduct which is already prohibited in the criminal legal sense? For an interesting paper on the subject you can read Simon Butt's paper by downloading it from here.
I have taken the time to translate the MUI fatwa and would be happy to send it out if anyone wanted a copy in English. I am reluctant just to post it here because I am hopeless at formatting and "stuff" within the blogspot framework.
The fatwa is interesting because it does not forbid in an absolute sense the killing of oneself in the defense of the religion of Allah. Yet, the fatwa goes to considerable lengths to try and point out that random suicide bombings with undefined targets is absolutely against the teachings of Islam.
The primary difference in the fatwa between terrorism and jihad is that terrorism is used for destructive purposes and to cause chaos and fear whereas jihad is a legitimate struggle to defend the faith. Unfortunately, the violence perpetrated in both cases can be the same, but the intent of the perpetrator is what makes the difference. If the perpetrator is amaliyah al-istisyhad or undertaking the action in search of syahid, then this is acceptable. In contrast, where the perpetrator is one who kills themselves and others because they are a pessimist has therefore sinned in the eyes of God and has committed a crime that can never be permitted by Allah or Islam.
Therefore, the violence is a matter of perception with respect to whether it is legitimate or forbidden. Yet, the fatwa states that the act of suicide bombing is an act of despair and is therefore forbidden under the laws of Islam irrespective of whether it is done in a time of peace or a time of war or in an area dominated by Muslims or in areas dominated by other faiths.
But, in the next point of the fatwa a suicide death where the losses inflicted on the enemies of Islam are greater than those inflicted upon Islam would constitute amaliyah al-istisyhad. However, this is seemingly modified by the phrase dar al-harb which is reasonably translated as regions at war. Yet, it can also be translated to places where Muslims are in the minority and are therefore in constant struggle to practice their faith.
What is interesting about the MUI fatwa was that it was issued in 2004 and even today it is not widely known and has not been widely discussed. It is interesting because wider and more open discussion of the fatwa and terrorism could have made a significant contribution to the understanding of the "problem" of terror and how the Indonesian Muslim community is seeking to deal with it.
There are plenty of sites dedicated to debunking fatwas on terrorism as nothing more than fakes of ways of diverting attention from the real intents and purposes of terrorism. To each their own.