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U.S.: Can Antiterror Fatwa Have Impact On Militants?

By Andrew Tully

A group of Muslim clerics from Canada and the United States on Thursday issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, against terrorists and terrorism. At a Washington news conference, they said they were inspired by a similar declaration issued after the recent London bombings by colleagues in Britain. But will the fatwa have any impact on militants who may be planning more attacks against the West and Western interests around the world? RFE/RL correspondent Andrew F. Tully takes a closer look.

Washington, 29 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Ever since the first attack on New York's World Trade Center in 1993, polls show Americans have been apprehensive of Muslims in their midst. And anti-Muslim sentiment seems rise, if only briefly, after every attack attributed to Islamic militants.

So the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, a Muslim advocacy group, has produced public-service advertisements for radio and television. The message: Islam does not condone violence or terror.

Woman: We often hear claims: 'Muslims don't condemn terrorism.'
Man: ...and that Islam condones violence.
Woman: As Muslims, we want to state clearly...
Man: ...that those who commit acts of terror in the name of Islam are betraying the teachings of the Koran and the Prophet Mohammed.
Woman: We reject anyone of any faith who commits such brutal acts...
Man: ...and will not allow our faith to be hijacked by criminals.
Woman: Islam is not about hatred and violence. It's about peace and justice.

CAIR previewed that 30-second spots at a news conference yesterday during which 18 North American Islamic scholars issued their fatwa for American Muslims.

Muzammil Siddiqi, the chairman of the group, read the crux of the ruling: "There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism. Targeting civilian life and property through suicide bombings or any other method of attacks is 'haram' -- prohibited in Islam -- and those who commit these barbaric acts are criminals, not martyrs."

So is associating with terrorists or preaching violence against civilians, Siddiqi said. He quoted passages from the Koran supporting this interpretation, including one saying whoever kills a single human kills all humans, and whoever saves a single human saves all humans.

The 18 scholars are members of what is known as the Fiqh (Islamic law) Council of North America, an organization of Muslim academics who interpret Islamic law. They said their fatwa is endorsed by scores of other Muslim groups and clerics in Canada and the United States.

Nihad Awad, CAIR's executive director, said there is nothing new to this fatwa and the one issued in Britain. He said Muslims in the United States have been trying for more than a decade to demonstrate to their fellow Americans that they should not condemn all Muslims because of the actions of the very few.

Speaking Arabic, Awad called on fellow Muslims to speak out against terrorism.

"This message is clear because there were some doubts raised in the American press that Muslim Americans did not condemn terrorism enough; so we are recording this position in a way that is clear and important, so there will be no misunderstanding about the American Muslim community regarding this sensitive topic," Awad said.

Fatwas tend to have a local impact. For example, fatwas issued by Muslim muftis in Egypt tend to be followed only by Egyptian Muslims, not by Pakistanis. CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said the fatwa is meant to influence young American Muslims, just as the British fatwa was aimed at Muslims there.

Shukri Abed applauded the motives of the Fiqh Council, but he said the effect of their fatwa might be limited. Abed, a native Palestinian, specializes in Arabic history and culture at the Middle East Institute, a policy studies center in Washington.

Speaking with RFE/RL, Abed said it was most likely that the Fiqh Council wants to deflect any blame for terrorist attacks from North American Muslims as a whole.

"Obviously they are doing the right thing, but their motive is obviously to possibly impact their relations with the governments of the U.S. and Canada," Abed said. "Clearly they live here and they have to put the best face on it."

Abed said he doubts the fatwa would have any effect on Americans' perceptions of Muslims. Like Hooper, he noted that Islamic groups in the United States have been trying for years to demonstrate that theirs is a religion of peace, but their message has not gotten through.

Likewise, Abed said, he doubts the fatwa will change the minds of any Muslim militants.

"The reality is different from what they [the American Muslim leaders] see, and there's a great deal of resentment, hatred, of American foreign policy, there is [the] conviction that violence is [an acceptable] part of the struggle against imperialism and the ideas of the West," Abed said. "There is no question about it."

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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