WASHINGTON, D.C. — More than 120 Muslim scholars from around the world signed an open letter recently that denounces the fighters and fanatic followers of ISIS as un-Islamic. The scholars rely strongly on the Qur’an in making the denunciation.
The 18-page letter released Sept. 24 offers a point-by-point refutation to the philosophy and violence of ISIS, which also goes by ISIL and Islamic State. President Obama, the United Nations and some news organizations refer to the group by the acronym ISIL, which stands for Islamic State in Iraq & the Levant; others prefer the name under which it made its debut, Islamic State in Iraq & Syria; still others use Islamic State.
No matter the name, the letter from the Muslim scholars declares that the conflicts have produced “the most extreme ideas, the most bizarre fatwas (legal edicts), and the most fanatical and inciting opinions.”
Disregarded Islamic mandates
“These fatwas have justified bloodshed while disregarding Islamic law’s mandates of civil obedience, respect for life, and to refrain from divisiveness, irrespective of how morally degraded a society becomes,” the letter states. “Instead, there are inappropriate claims of engaging in jihad and addressing the ills of society without fulfilling the conditions of doing so, which has led to even more suffering.”
There are inappropriate claims of engaging in jihad and addressing the ills of society.
The scholars point out that this conflict has international implications and “tarnishes the image of Islam worldwide.” They caution that some might even describe Islam as “a religion of terrorism,” and work to try Islam and its adherents under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter.
The scholars point out that in recent weeks and months, the incidences of violence have accelerated and become more indiscriminate and destructive in nature, leaving no segment of society or religious community unaffected.
Responsibility to protect life
“The responsibility of the scholars and religious authorities at this time in particular is to protect life,” the letter states. “No sane person can remain indifferent to the loss of life and suffering in the Muslim world.”
No sane person can remain indifferent to the loss of life and suffering in the Muslim world.
In fact, ISIS has raised international outrage by employing brutal tactics to seize large amounts of territory in eastern Syria and across northern and western Iraq. ISIS has employed highly publicized beheadings and mass executions among the innumerable brutal deaths and widespread destruction it has wrought in trying to establish a transnational Islamic state, a "caliphate” ruled by a single political and religious leader according to Islamic law, or Sharia.
The letter’s authors include well-known religious and scholarly figures in the Muslim world, such as Sheikh Shawqi Allam, grand mufti of Egypt, and Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem & All Palestine.
Detailed, scholarly rebuttal
The World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary, the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, welcomed 126 Muslim scholars’ publication of the open letter to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, leader of the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” (IS) and his followers.
“The meticulous, detailed and scholarly rebuttal of the claims of [ISIS] to represent authentic Islam offered by this letter will be an important resource for Muslim leaders who seek to enable people of all religions to live together with dignity, respecting our common humanity,” Tveit said.
Tveit expressed especial concern for the safety and flourishing of Christian communities in the Middle East, as well as in other continents. “This document is a significant contribution to how we together as people and leaders from our faith perspective and address threats to our one humanity,” he said.
The scholars contend in their letter that much of what is happening in the Muslim world now can be traced back to misunderstandings about aspects of Islamic law that are not problematic for “open-minded and peaceful societies.” They say some examples include applying Islamic penal laws, exercising jihad, establishment of the caliphate, practicing obedience to political leaders, and the moral duty to enjoin good and prevent evil.
“When properly understood, these concepts safeguard peace and protect the sanctity of life,” the letter states.
Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies
The letter’s primary signatory is Abdallah bin Bayyah, president of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies. The letter was drafted at the forum held in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, attended by 250 of the world’s leading Islamic scholars, academics and thought leaders.
Organizers said the forum was the first global conclave of scholars ever held “to form a unified front against the scourge of extremist ideologies, sectarianism and terrorism that has afflicted the Muslim world for decades.”
"The only way to counter the forces tearing the Muslim world apart is to get to the roots of the misinformation, misunderstandings and heresies that drive extremist ideologies, sectarian hatreds, and murderous and destructive violence,” said Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah. The purpose, according to him, is to refute extremist ideologies with a true understanding of Islam as a religion of wisdom, compassion, tolerance and forbearance clearly articulated in the Qur’an and the Traditions of the Prophet Mohamed.”
Distorted means and ends
The letter composed at the forum states that the relationship between means and end has been distorted: “Any disconnection between the ends and goals as well as the means and tools leads to violating Islamic law,” it says. “That is because the means to evil ends are also evil, and noble ends can be reached only by noble means. So one cannot use genocide, murder, oppression, or vengeance to establish truth and justice.”
One cannot use genocide, murder, oppression, or vengeance to establish truth and justice
The scholars explain that jihad is not synonymous with fighting. “A deeper reading of the primary sources of Islam makes clear that jihad includes all devotions,” they emphasize. “As for the jihad when it relates to fighting, that is in defense of the freedom to practice one’s faith.”
As a rule, the state of relations between Muslims and people of other faiths and persuasions is one of peace, the scholars emphasize. “Jihad, in the intent behind its original legislation, is a search for “perpetual peace,” they explain in the letter.
As for military jihad, the scholars point out that it was prescribed for times when there were no global treaties or pacts, leaving no means to convey the message of Islam other than with military support.
Also, they note there were no borders that were acknowledged, unless they were maintained by force, or vast distances separated regions, and, there were no weapons of mass destruction at this time.
“All of these premises are no longer the case,” the letter emphasizes, and ask, “How can any Muslim who understands the texts and aims of Islamic law call for war against all other nations?”
The letter says one who does so is “foolish, ignorant of the true nature of Islam as well as the realities of today, and seeks to sow corruption in the land.”
The letter explains that the caliphate is not a matter of theology. “Rather, it is a matter of law subject to legal stipulations,” the scholars say, “and it is one possible means among others that could be replaced today by other means in order to achieve unity between nations so that they may cooperate and complement one another.”
The scholars unambiguously declare that all forms of oppression and aggression against religious minorities are in direct contradiction to the values of their religion. “In fact, Islam calls us to do well by religious minorities, to place them under our protection, and threatens those who harm them with punishment in the afterlife,” they point out.
Fighting and conflict for reasons other than self-defense and repelling aggression are not Islamic values despite the attempts of some to dress it up as righteousness, according to the scholars.
“These are values foreign to the Islamic ethos,” the letter says. “In the Islamic tradition, destruction has never been seen as a foundation for advancement; rather, it is seen as a result of ignorance and fanaticism, the effect of suppression and feelings of frustration and vengeance.”
The scholars emphasize that Muslim societies need to inculcate peace as a goal and a priority. “This should be done by means of clearly stated values, both Islamic and those common to broader humanity,” the letter says, “and by means of elucidating the legal aspects of peace and reconciliation, its terms, principles, universals, and particulars.”
The scholars call on the youth of the Muslim world to remain steadfast in the fact of the empty claims and promises made before them and to live the Islamic law properly “so that they will not be confused and duped into confusing falsehood with truth.”
Full text of the letter from the Muslim scholars is available on line at Open Letter to Al-Baghdadi.