ATbar The 17th Islamic Fiqh Academy Session: Apostasy, Terrorism, and a Chaos of Fatwas

The 17th Islamic Fiqh Academy Session: Apostasy, Terrorism, and a Chaos of Fatwas

10/08/2006 | by Maliach, Assaf (Dr.)  

At the end of June, more than a hundred 'Ulama and Fuqaha (Muslim religious scholars and jurisprudents) from 44 Arab and Muslim countries met in Amman, Jordan to discuss issues central to Islam. The five-day 17th Islamic Fiqh Academy (IFA) Session held from June 24 to 28 of this year, dealt with the following issues: the prohibition on declaring any religious school in Islam as apostate (Kafir); Islamic radicalism; extremism and terrorism; the Muslim Diaspora; relationships with the international community; women's rights; and the Palestinian, Iraqi and Somali issues. At the end of the session, in a joint declaration, the participants called upon the 'Ulama around the world not to issue Fatwas (religious decrees) that lack religious origins and are driven from "imaginary interests" and not to declare any religious school in Islam an apostate.[1] 

Declaring Muslims apostates - Forbidden according to Islam

The publication of Fatwas declaring Muslims apostates received an important place on the agenda of the IFA annual session. The IFA expressed its support for the "Amman Declaration" of the International Islamic Conference held in Amman on July 4-6, 2005. This declarations stated:

Whosoever is an adherent of one of the four Sunni Schools of Jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali), the Ja'fari (Shiite) School of Jurisprudence, the Zaydi School of Jurisprudence, the Ibadi School of Jurisprudence, or the Thahiri School of Jurisprudence is a Muslim. Declaring that person an apostate is impossible. Verily his (or her) blood, honour, and property are sacrosanct. Moreover, in accordance with what appeared in the Fatwa of the Honourable and Respectable Sheikh al-Azhar, it is not possible to declare whosoever subscribes to the Ash'ari creed or whoever practices true Sufism an apostate. Likewise, it is not possible to declare whosoever subscribes to true Salafi thought an apostate. Equally, it is not possible to declare an apostate any group of Muslims who believes in Allah the Mighty and Sublime and His Messenger (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) and the pillars of faith, and respects the pillars of Islam and does not deny any necessary article of religion."[2]
The IFA urged Muslim states to forbid the media from publishing or printing anything that declares Muslims apostates without accepted religious origins.[3]

The IFA participants encouraged constructive criticism, which according to them, can increase the mutual understanding and decrease the disagreement between the various Schools of Jurisprudence.4 Again, they referred to the "Amman Declaration", which claims that more exists in common between the various Schools of Jurisprudence than separates them:

The adherents to the eight Schools of Jurisprudence are in agreement as regards the basic Islamic principles. All believe in Allah the Mighty and Sublime, the One and the Unique; that the Noble Koran is the Revealed Word of Allah; and that our master Muhammad, may Blessings and Peace be upon him, is a Prophet and Messenger unto all mankind. All are in agreement about the five pillars of Islam: the two testaments of faith (Shahadatayni), the ritual prayer (Salat), almsgiving (Zakat), fasting the month of Ramadan (Sawm), and the pilgrimage to the Sacred House of Allah in Mecca (Hajj). All are also in agreement about the foundations of belief: belief in Allah, His Angels, His Scriptures, His Messengers, in the Day of Judgement, and in Divine providence - good and evil. Disagreement between the 'Ulama is only with respect to the ancillary branches of religion (Furu') and not the principles and fundamentals (Usul). Disagreement with respect to the ancillary branches of religion (Furu') is a mercy."[5]
The IFA opposed opening the gate of Ijtihad and supported the "Amman Declaration", which stated:

"No one may issue a Fatwa without the requisite personal qualifications which each School of Jurisprudence defines. No one may issue a Fatwa without adhering to the methodology of the Schools of Jurisprudence. No one may claim to do absolute Ijtihad and create a new School of Jurisprudence or to issue unacceptable Fatwas that take Muslims out of the principles and certainties of the Shari'a and what has been established in respect of its Schools of Jurisprudence."[6]

The IFA emphasized a prohibition on issuing of Fatwas without a sufficient religious basis, and which are driven by "imaginary interests". The Academy requested that Muslim scholars and institutes to lend an ear to the decisions of the Fiqh Academies, in order to gain unity in the Fatwas among the Muslim world.[7] Scholars and jurisprudents who participate in the session denounced the latest Fatwa of Muhammad Abu Faris, parliament member of the Islamic Labour Front in Jordan, who described Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi as a Shaheed (Martyr), Mujahid (Holy warrior) and Shafee' (intercessor), and labeled this Fatwa as "deviant" and "terroristic". Sheikh Muhammad al-Najimi from the Supreme Institute of Justice in Riyadh warned that individual Fatwas of this kind, "lack religious origins and gave legitimacy for terror attacks in the name of Islam."[8]

The participants called upon Muslim scholars to show moderation and expressed a need for shared meetings and assemblies, in order to strengthen the communication between the various schools of Islam.[9] Moreover, they urged Muslims to avoid the killing of innocents, the display of disrespect and the destruction of properties, and shook off responsibility of those who do these things in the name of one of the Muslim schools.[10]

Jihad for the Defense of the Muslims' Faith and Lands is Acceptable

The stance of the IFA towards Islamic radicalism, extremism and terrorism was the second issue dealt with in the 17th session. The participants advocated a prohibition on all kinds of terror attacks and declared them "war crimes". According to the IFA, a terrorist is anyone who took part, directly or indirectly, in terror attacks. The terrorist may be a person, a group or a state that may assist by killing, aiding or financing. However, the IFA distinguished between terror attacks, which are "committed by members of other religions", and what it defined as "legitimate resistance to occupation" by "accepted religious means" committed by Muslims. The IFA argued that Jihad (holy war) for the defense of the Muslim faith and lands from foreign occupation is not terrorism, and called upon the media to avoid linking terrorism to Islam.[11]

The IFA called upon Muslim scholars to deal with the causes of terrorism, beginning with radicalism, extremism, and ignorance regarding Muslim religious law (Shari'a).[12] Sheikh Muhammad al-Najimi claimed that this ignorance causes the issuance of misleading Fatwas by individual scholars, which encourage terror attacks. According to al-Najimi, terrorism has a direct connection to the Takfir (labeling someone as an apostate), and those who perpetrate terror attacks are influenced by such Fatwas which deal with Takfir.[13] Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammad, King Abdullah's special consultant and representative to the IFA session, said that, "there is a need to reveal the deviation of the Takfir thought from the Islamic way and from the Shari'a principles. The terror attacks in Amman and in many other countries harm Islam and instigate against the Muslims."[14]

The IFA also called upon the United Nations to prevent terrorism and to strengthen international cooperation in the struggle against terrorism. It criticized the western countries, which it claims, "should reexamine its curriculum that holds a negative approach towards Islam and should enforce the media not to insult Islam."[15]

The Muslim Diaspora

Living abroad is another issue brought up during the IFA's 17th session. The IFA decided that the term Diaspora, which refers to Muslims who do not live in Muslim countries, should be replaced by the term citizenship (Muwaatanah), which in itself must be redefined. The reason for this decision is the large number of Muslims who do not live in Muslim countries, such as India (approximately 150 million Muslims) and China (approximately 40 million Muslims), that according to the IFA can not be labeled as "Diaspora".[16]

According to IFA, Muslims can take part in the social, political or economic life in western countries on condition that this does not threaten their Islamic identity or personality. The IFA called upon the Muslim world to lend a hand to Muslims living abroad, in order to maintain the Diaspora's Islamic identity, as well as to strengthen their status there. This should be done through establishing schools and institutes that will teach Islam and the Arabic language and through establishing colleges that will produce Imams and propagandists.[17]

The IFA called for the establishment of an Information Center which will supervise the Muslim communities in the states that are not members of the OIC.[18]

Relationships with the International Community

Relations between the Muslim world and the international community were also discussed during the 17th session. According to the IFA, Islam is cooperating with the international community. However, such processes must be done according to Shari'a and must not violate it or give the other side a supremacy over the Muslims.[19]

The Women's Rights

The IFA expressed dissatisfaction with international conferences which deal with women's rights. According to the IFA, these conferences separate life from religion and consider some of the Muslim religious principles as discriminatory against women. The participants warned against using the slogan "equality between man and woman", as an excuse to commit deeds contradicting Islam, and advocated the defense of the Muslim woman from deeds and customs that could expose her to exploitation and violate her rights.[20]

The participants rejected Hasan al-Turabi's Fatwa that allows Muslim woman to marry a Jewish or Christian man and unanimously deemed it "unacceptable".[21]

The Palestinian, Iraqi and Somali issues

At the close of the 17th session the IFA issued a declaration concerning Palestine, Iraq and Somalia. These are the highlights:[22]

The IFA will continue to follow the events in Palestine and calls upon the entire world to stop the "Israeli terror" against innocent children, women and men.

The IFA protests against the "separation fence", which "violates religious laws and international law."

Jerusalem (al-Quds) and the al-Aqsa mosque are sacrosanct to all Muslims around the world, and the Jews have no connection to the al-Aqsa mosque.

The IFA blesses the Arab and Muslim organizations and states, especially Jordan, for keeping the Arabic and Islamic identity of Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa mosque.

The Palestinian people have the right to establish an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.

The Palestinian people have the right to defend themselves from the "enemy" through all means.

The IFA calls for the recognition of the Palestinians' right of return.

The IFA calls for an end of the occupation of Iraq. It denounces the "attempts to create a clannish conflict", and calls upon both Shiites and Sunnis to stop the fighting between them (Fitnah, a term with serious meaning in Islam). It urges the belligerent parties to fulfill a national reconciliation with the help of the Muslim world.

The IFA calls upon the belligerent parties in Somalia not to miss the latest opportunity for national reconciliation that can put an end to the bloody civil war. 

Summary and Conclusions

Islamic conferences are a well-known phenomenon in the Islamic and Arab world and receive international attention, particularly when they deal with terrorism and the conflict between Islam and the West. Unfortunately, these conferences tend to describe only one side as "terrorist", while describing the other side as using "legitimate resistance" by "acceptable religious means". The 17th IFA session was no exception.

The 17th IFA session began with an important, although not new, issue facing the Muslim world: the Takfir (declaring other Muslims apostates). In order to prevent Fitna among Muslims, the participants called for the recognition of all religious schools in Islam, the institutionalization of the Fatwas' issue, and the need to avoid opening the gate of Ijtihad and declaring any Muslim an apostate. Although it is not the first session which deals with this issue, until now more has been said than has been done.

When it came to terrorism, the IFA acted in a hypocritical manner. The IFA distinguished between "terror attacks committed by members of other religions" and what it defined as "legitimate resistance to occupation" by "accepted religious means" committed by Muslims. In other words, attacks committed by Muslims against western targets, especially American and Israeli targets, are not consider terrorism, while attacks against Muslims are unanimously considered terrorism by the IFA.

Moreover, the expression "legitimate resistance to occupation by accepted religious means", obviously contradicts the IFA's call on the UN to prevent terrorism and to strengthen international cooperation in the struggle against terrorism. The IFA intentionally chose not to mention the term Jihad (Holy war) as one of the "accepted religious means" against those considered by Muslims as occupiers or apostates and the main cause for terrorism.

The IFA also called for the avoidance of the killing of innocents in the name of Islam, but did not mention who they consider innocents. Do they include non-Muslims who killed in the terror attacks in London, Madrid and Tel Aviv, or only those killed in Amman, who were mentioned during the session?

There is little reason to be optimistic that Islamic "academic" conference such as this one will do much to achieve any real moderation in Islam.


1 Khalf, al-Tahat and Abd al-Hakeem al-Qaralah, "'Ulama wa-Fuqaha yuhaddiruna min maghabati itlaq Fatawa la tastnidu li-asl shar'i" ("Muslim religious scholars warn from the results of issuing Fatwas without a religious root"), al-Ra'i (Amman), (June 29, 2006), p. 44; The Islamic Fiqh Academy (IFA) is a subsidiary organ of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), created by the Third Islamic Summit Conference held in Mecca (Saudi Arabia) in January 1981. It is based in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia). According to the IFA, its members and experts are selected from among the best scholars and thinkers available in the Islamic world and Muslim minorities in non Muslim countries, in every field of knowledge (Islamic Fiqh, science, medicine, economy and culture, etc.), see, "The Islamic Fiqh Academy", IFA Website in Arabic, (July 1, 2006).

2 al-Tahat and al-Qaralah, Ibid; See, Statement issued by the International Islamic Conference held in

Amman in July 4-6, 2005 under the title: 'true Islam and its Role in Modern Society'.

3 Manar, Mu'awad, "'Ulama Majma' al-Fiqh yuharrimuna jami' a'mal al-'irhab wa-'ashkalihi wa-mumarasatihi" ("The Fiqh Academy's scholars forbidden all kind of terror acts"), al-Ghad (Amman), (June 29, 2006).

4 Mu'awad, Ibid.

5 al-Tahat and al-Qaralah, Ibid; See, Statement issued by the International Islamic Conference held in

Amman in July 4-6, 2005 under the title: 'true Islam and its Role in Modern Society'.

6 Ibid; Tariq, Dilwani, "Fuqaha: al-taqnin li-muwaajahat fawda al-'ifta'" ("Jurisprudents: legislation against the Fatwa's chaos"), IslamOnLine, (June 25, 2006); The literal meaning of the term "Ijtihad" is effort, i.e., the intellectual effort required to infer law from jurisprudence origins (Usul al-Fiqh) in order to identify Allah's will on earth, if it wasn't explicitly expressed in the Koran or in the Sunnah. At the beginning of the 10th century it seems that, post factum, nobody created new laws through this technique, and a general agreement (Ijma') was formed that the gate of Ijtihad was closed and it was replaced by the Taqlid (which accorded with the line of the four Sunni Schools of Jurisprudence: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali). One can interpret existing laws but can not create new laws from the jurisprudence origins.

7 al-Tahat and al-Qaralah, Ibid.

8 Khalf, al-Tahat and Abd al-Hakeem al-Qaralah, "Mu'tamar al-fiqh al-Islami yuhaddiru min al-Fatwa al-munfaridah wa-yad'u li-dabt al-'ifta" ("The Islamic Fiqh conference warns from individual Fatwas and calls to restrain the Fatwas' issuing"), al-Ra'i (Amman), (June 29, 2006); Muhammad Abu Faris and three other parliament members of the Islamic Labour Front were arrested on June 11, 2006 after visiting Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's clan and family to express condolences on his death; see, "al-Hukumah ta'taqilu arba'ah min nuwab jabhat al-'amal" ("The government arrests four parliament members of the Labour Front"), al-Sabeel (Jordan), (June 13, 2006).

9 Mu'awad, Ibid.

10 al-Tahat and al-Qaralah, "Muslim religious scholars warn from the results of issuing Fatwas without a religious root"; Mu'awad, Ibid.

11 al-Tahat and al-Qaralah, Ibid; Mu'awad, Ibid.

12 al-Tahat and al-Qaralah, Ibid; Mu'awad, Ibid.

13 al-Tahat and al-Qaralah, "The Islamic Fiqh conference warns from individual Fatwas and calls to restrain the Fatwas' issuing".

14 Tariq, Dilwani, "Majma' al-Fiqh yad'u li-muhaarabat fikr al-takfir" ("The Fiqh Academy calls to fight the Takfir thought"), IslamOnLine, (June 24, 2006).

15 al-Tahat and al-Qaralah, "Muslim religious scholars warn from the results of issuing Fatwas without a religious root".

16 Tariq, Dilwani, "Majma' al-Fiqh: Muslimu al-gharb 'Muwatinuna' wa-laysa 'Jaaliyah'" ("The Fiqh Academy: the western Muslims 'citizens' and not 'Diaspora'"), IslamOnLine, (June 27, 2006).

17 al-Tahat and al-Qaralah, Ibid.

18 al-Tahat and al-Qaralah, Ibid.

19 al-Tahat and al-Qaralah, Ibid.

20 al-Tahat and al-Qaralah, Ibid.

21 Dilwani, "Jurisprudents: legislation against the Fatwa's chaos"; See, also, Fahd, al-Ghariri, "al-Qawl bi-jawaz zawaj al-Muslimah min Masihi aw Yahudi munaqid li-ijma' al-Muslimin wa-al-Kitab wa-al-Sunnah" ("The saying which permit marriage of Muslim woman with Christian and Jewish man contradicts the Muslims' agreement and contradicts the Koran and the Sunnah"), al-Jazirah (Riyadh), (April 11, 2006).

22 al-Tahat and al-Qaralah, Ibid.