This article was published in the Norwegian daily Vart Land on 2005.01.17.
Theology of Terror in The Islamic Federation (“Det Islamske Forbundet”)
One of Norway’s most influential muslim leaders, Basim Ghozlan, the Director of “Det Islamske Forbundet” (we shall refer to this organization as DIF), was the object of attention last fall after having publicly supported suicide attacks on civilian Jews in Palestine. On the home page of the organization he is leading, he features in articles supporting the suicide operations of Palestinian terror organizations like Hamas. His employment of the term “settlers” in this connection appears to refer to all Jews living in Palestine, i.e. including those living in the state of Israel.
Mr. Ghozlan’s position on suicide bombers is in agreement with the position of the majority of Sunni-Muslim leaders world wide. The position is a result of theological-political deliberations, not just emotions and rage, and it is well worth to have a closer look at its theological foundation.
Mr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi is widely considered to be the most powerful Muslim leader in the world, and at any rate he is the most influential person in Sunni-Islam when it comes to questions of Islamic jurisdiction. He was born in Egypt in 1926, but as a member of The Muslim Brotherhood he was persecuted in his homeland and settled therefore in Qatar in 1961, where he still lives. In Europe Mr. Qaradawi exerts considerable formal influence as Director of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, an organization which seeks to become the official mouthpiece of Sunni-Islam in Europe. Further, Mr. Qaradawi is the chief professional leader of the European Institute of Human Sciences, Europe’s largest educational centre for imams, located in France. But above all Mr. Qaradawi importance stem from the enormous authority and respect conferred upon him by ordinary Sunni-Muslims world wide.
The Director of Institute of Islamic Political Thought in London, Mr. Azzam al Tabibi (recently seen on BBC’s “Hard Talk”), has pertinently expressed the importance of Mr. Qaradawi: “When you talk about Sheikh Qaradawi, you talk about an audience of hundreds of millions of Muslims all over the world, someone who really creates public opinion. … Whenever Mr. Qaradawi issues a Fatwa, that Fatwa is recognized in hundreds of places around the world the next day”. Mr. Qaradawi has issued something in the order of 150 Fatwas, and some of these are particularly relevant to suicide bombers.
Suicide is really strictly forbidden within Islam. The Quran promises eternal hell for the person committing suicide. Killing civilians is also forbidden within Islam. In Islamic theory of just war (Jihad), we can find detailed definitions of just when civilian casualties are acceptable. This is restricted to situations where loss of civilian lives is an undesirable but unavoidable consequence of hitting military targets (e.g. civilians inside a military compound which is being stormed). It is, therefore, puzzling that organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad organizes and executes suicide operations against civilian Jews and, in addition, claim that the suicide bombers will reap particularly pleasant rewards in Paradise. To highlight the paradox in this situation it is worth stressing that these organizations are not run by rabid illiterates, but by well educated Islamists with an ideological basis in traditional, Islamic law. One of the main architects behind the ideology of suicide bombings is even a highly learned scholar with a doctor’s degree from the Al Azhar University in Cairo, namely Mr. Qaradawi.
Mr. Qaradawi has issued several Fatwas which define all adult Jews living in Palestine as “occupants” and “combatants”, and therefore legitimate targets of war. These Fatwas contends that when the suicide bomber looses his life in executing his/her operation, this does not count as suicide but as a sacrifice in holy war and, therefore, as martyrdom.
The rationale for considering all adult Jews in Palestine as combatants is the fact that all adult Israelis, men and women, are registered in the Israeli Defense Force and has status as reservist, also in their civilian life. With reference to Jewish children, Mr. Qaradawi makes clear that even if these cannot be killed as combatants, it is acceptable that some Jewish children be killed in vengeance for Arab children having been killed by Jews. At this point one must add that Mr. Qaradawi condemns the killing or persecution of Jews which are not participating in the “occupation of Palestine”.
Concerning the meaning of his saying that Jews ”occupy Palestine”, this must be understood on the rational of Islamic Law, not that of the United Nations. Firstly, Mr. Qaradawi is referring to the geographical Palestine, i.e. today’s Jordan, the West Bank, Israel, and Gaza. So not only settlements or land conquered in 1967 and since held by Israel, is considered occupied, but also the very the State of Israel. According to Islamic law, all this is considered occupied land. The reason is that this is land which has been under Islam previously (so as to become faqw), and therefore, according to Islamic political principles, non-Islamic political governance over this territory can never be accepted. The situation holds a close resemblance to what we would have seen if Christian leaders were organizing suicide operations in Turkey in order to liberate Istanbul, lost by Christianity in1453.
Mr. Qaradawi’s Fatwas have been pivotal among Muslims world wide in forming a kind of theological-political legitimization of suicide bombings. Two important Fatwas are: “Amalyat Hamas Jihad Waqatalaha Shuhada” (Hamas Operations are Jihad and those who die [in carrying them out] are martyrs) and “El-amalijat al-istishadiya a’zam suwar al-jihad” (Martyr operations are the highest form of Jihad). A more comprehensive explanation of the theological ideology behind the suicide bombings can be found in a Qaradawi-Fatwa printed in the London newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on the 19th of July 2003; and also in the Conference Report from the European Council of Fatwa and Research’s meeting in Dublin, September 2000. For web references directly to these sources and more, see our compilation of additional information on Mr. Qaradawi.
Returning now to the local arena in Norway: In his capacity as Director of DIF, Basim Ghozlan has repeatedly characterized Mr. Qaradawi as being one of Islam’s most eminent scholars. In several articles found on DIF’s web pages Mr. Ghozlan employs statements from Mr. Qaradawi as sources for theological-judiciary argumentation. In a public debate with Walid al-Kubaisi (in Dagbladet), Mr. Ghozlan even informs us that DIF has received a recommendation from Mr. Qaradawi concerning the building of a mosque in Oslo. Also, Mr. Ghozlan sees no objections to the fact that the Oslo Imam Mr. Meboub ur-Rahman is a member of The European Caouncil for Fatwa and Research, an organization headed by Mr. Qaradawi. That Mr. Ghozlan also accepts Mr. Qaradawi’s Fatwas on ”martyr operations” is a highly natural assumption which Mr. Ghozlan himself may be allowed to confirm or disconfirm.
At any rate, it is quite thought provoking (to use a careful expression) that a Norwegian Muslim leader close ranks with Muslim leaders world wide in giving moral support and religious legitimacy to Palestinians blowing up Jewish civilians as well as themselves, all for the purpose of liberating Jerusalem and Israel from “Zionist occupation”.
Simultaneously it is worth noting that Islamsk Råd Norge (Islamic Council Norway), an umbrella organization for 25 Norwegian, Muslim member organizations, refuses to distance itself from Mr. Ghozlan’s public statements. This causes a rather troubled situation in which Norwegian politicians face some tough dilemmas concerning the limits of the freedoms of religion and expression. Our Secretary of Justice, Odd Einar Dørum, carries a heavy responsibility here.
Mr. Ghozlan’s support of suicide bombers is a warning as well as a forceful reminder of some extremely difficult problems related to Norway’s impoverished means of coping with radical Islamist elements in a rapidly growing Muslim population. Until further these problems can be freely debated and handled democratically. Yet we often see that the debate over these issues is choked for fear of stigmatization, as it is still politically incorrect to be critical towards Islam. Consequently, the free and open debate in the public sphere is being suppressed. At the same time what we really need is an open and respectful debate over Islam; a debate that should not be restrained to any particular political, religious, or ideological party. It is a fair assumption that such a debate, if it ever comes, will not present us with quick and easy answers. But we can be certain that suppressing the problem will not take us anywhere.
By Jens Tomas Anfindsen, editor, HonestThinking.org.