Religion in America: Fatwas issued against killings
Soon after the first round of terrorist attacks on the London transportation system, Prime Minister Tony Blair and other British leaders said they needed more than a military campaign and beefed-up security to defeat Islamic extremism. Blair invited Muslim leaders to 10 Downing Street and urged them to speak out against the radical Islamic ideology behind the attacks.
Several Islamic groups quickly did just that. They issued fatwas, or religious opinions, condemning the London attacks, with some going so far as to say that suicide bombing in general is against the teachings of Islam.
One such fatwa organized by the British Muslim Forum, was signed by more than 500 clerics and scholars representing about 300 mosques across the country. The fatwa was read outside the Houses of Parliament.
"Islam's position is clear and unequivocal: Murder of one soul is the murder of the whole of humanity; he who shows no respect for human life is an enemy of humanity," the fatwa stated. Quoting the Koran, the opinion said: "Whoever kills a human being . . . then it is as though he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a human life, it is as though he had saved all mankind."
Another fatwa issued by Jama'at-e Ahl-e Sunnat, or Sunni Council, said, according to the International Herald Tribune: "Leaving aside the atrocities being committed in Palestine and Iraq, the attacks in London have no Islamic justification, are totally condemned, and we equally condemn those who may have been behind the masterminding of these acts, those who incited these youths in order to further their own perverted ideology."
Although fatwas are technically binding only on supplicants who have come to a Muslim legal specialist for an opinion on a matter, they do serve as guidance for others. Noah Feldman, a New York University professor who specializes in law and religion, says that fatwas such as the one issued by the British Muslim Forum are clearly aimed at the general population, including non-Muslims. The important thing, he emphasizes, is that at least some Muslim legal scholars have now issued opinions against suicide bombing. "Everyone asks where the clerics are," he says. "This is an example of clerics speaking out against the bombing but not in a technical legal sense." Some clerics might look at these fatwas, Feldman says, and question their legal justification, saying Islam sanctions killing if it is in self-defense.
And it is clear, from the second round of London attacks as well as the most recent bombings in Egypt, that at least some Muslim extremists continue to interpret self-defense in the broadest possible way.