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On October 24, 2004, Arabic websites Middle East Transparent[1] and Elaph[2] posted a petition from Arab liberals to United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan and the Security Council. Written primarily by the Tunisian intellectual Lafif Lakhdar, the

On October 24, 2004, Arabic websites Middle East Transparent[1] and Elaph[2] posted a petition from Arab liberals to United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan and the Security Council. Written primarily by the Tunisian intellectual Lafif Lakhdar, the petition calls for an international treaty banning the use of religion to incite violence. The Saudi newspaper Arab News reported that, within a week of the petition's posting, over 2,500 Muslim intellectuals from twenty-three countries had signed the petition.[3]

Shakir al-Nabulsi, a Jordanian academic and one of the signatories, noted that "There are individuals in the Muslim world who pose as clerics and issue death sentences against those they disagree with. These individuals give Islam a bad name and foster hatred among civilizations."[4] The petition names several prominent clerics, among them Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian preacher working in Qatar,[5] and cites a number of fatwas as examples. The translation below, edited for grammar only, was posted November 3, 2004, on the Middle East Transparent website.[6]—The Editors.

To the United Nations Security Council and the U.N. Secretary General Requesting the Establishment of an International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Terrorists

… We, the signatories of this letter, a group of Arab and Muslim liberals, would like to draw your attention to an extremely dangerous source of terrorism. This source is the purported religious pronouncements, fatwas, issued by some psychotic [and] dogmatic Muslims encouraging the commission of terrorist acts in the name of and under the banner of Islam.

It is not enough for the Security Council to adopt resolutions "condemning" terrorism. What will be more effective is the establishment of an international tribunal affiliated to the United Nations [which will] prosecute individuals, groups, or entities involved, directly or indirectly, with terrorist activities including, but not limited to [the issuance of] fatwas (religious rulings) … calling upon Muslims to commit terrorist acts.

By these fatwas, all terrorists have died, or will die, fully convinced that they will immediately enter paradise. Of course, we do not exclude other causes for committing terrorist acts, such as the ticking population explosion bomb with its resultant illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, educational backwardness, and reactionary religious teachings. [Above all is the problem that] in almost all Arab countries, there are dictatorships.

But despite the above reasons, certain religious fatwas such as those which clothe terrorist acts with the legitimacy of the sacred tenets of the Muslim faith, remain the pivotal cause of terrorist acts.

We can provide you with exhaustive lists of fatwas which incite terrorist acts, but the following few may suffice:

  • When the presiding judge of the Egyptian court asked Sheikh Muhammad al-Ghazali[7] to opine about the murder of Faraj Fuda in 1992,[8] Sheikh al-Ghazali's opinion was, "The killing of Faraj Fuda was in fact the implementation of the [justifiable] punishment against an apostate which the [state] had failed to implement." When the defendant heard Al-Ghazali's opinion he shouted, "Now I will die with a clear conscience [for murdering Mr. Fuda]."

  • On February 13, 2002, the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper published a fatwa issued by the Saudi Sheikh Ali bin Khudair al-Khudairi which approved and condoned Al-Qaida's 9/11 terrorist acts in New York and Washington. In his fatwa, the sheikh said, "It is astonishing to mourn the [American] victims as being innocent. Those victims may be classified as infidel Americans which do not deserve being mourned, because each American is either a warrior or, a supporter in money or opinion, of the American government. It is legitimate to kill all of them, be they combatants or non-combatant like the old, the blind, or non-Muslims."

  • On February 13, 2002, the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper published another fatwa issued by the Saudi Sheikh Safar al-Hawali in which he described the 9/11 attacks as equivalent to President Clinton's missile attack on Al-Qaida's training camps after the [1998] terrorist attack on the American embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. He went on to condone the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon describing them as centers for money laundering, devil's nests, spying cells, and mafia retreats.

  • The fatwa issued by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi permitting the killing of Jewish fetuses, on the logic that when Jews grow up they might join the Israeli army. On July 3, 2004, he issued another fatwa (published in Al-Ahram al-Arabi) permitting the killing … of Muslim intellectuals, claiming that Islam justifies the killing of such apostates. Furthermore, on September 3, 2004, Al-Qaradawi issued a fatwa to kill all American civilians working in Iraq.

  • The fatwa issued by Rashid al-Ghannushi[9] according to which he permits killing all civilians in Israel, because "there are no civilians in Israel. The population—males, females, and children—are the army reserve soldiers, and thus can be killed."

As it is difficult, if not impossible, to prosecute these extremists in their native Arab or Islamic countries, they continue to issue and publish their fatwas inciting acts of terror under the false umbrella of Islam. As the fatwas issued by the extremist Muslim clerics encourage the commission of terrorist acts to provoke a state of terror and, due to the importance of combating terrorism … we, the signatories of this letter, respectfully submit to your excellencies and to the working group constituted pursuant to Article IX of Resolution 1566[10] (that you should) create an international tribunal to prosecute all terrorists, whether individuals, groups, or entities, including individuals who incite terrorism through the issuance of fatwas in the name of religion.

Sincerely yours,

Lafif Lakhdar, Shakir al-Nabulsi, Jawad Hashim

[1] Middle East Transparent, Oct 24, 2004.
[2] Elaph, Oct 24, 2004.
[3] Arab News, Oct. 30, 2004.
[4] Ibid.
[5] "The Qaradawi Fatwas," Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2004, pp.78-80.
[6] "Letter from Liberal Arabs and Muslims," at http://www.metransparent.com/texts/arab_liberals_appeal_to_un_for_int_court_against_terror_fatwas_english.htm.
[7] A prominent Muslim Brotherhood leader.—Eds.
[8] Faraj Fuda was a secular Egyptian intellectual murdered in 1992. See, Gibreel Gibreel, "The Ulema: Middle Eastern Power Brokers," Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2001, pp. 15-23.—Eds.
[9] A prominent Tunisian Islamist.—Eds.
[10] Adopted Oct. 8, 2004, U.N. Security Council, New York, N.Y. Article IX reads: "[The Security Council] Decides to establish a working group consisting of all members of the Security Council to consider and submit recommendations to the Council on practical measures to be imposed upon individuals, groups or entities involved in or associated with terrorist activities, other than those designated by the Al-Qaida/Taliban Sanctions Committee, including more effective procedures considered to be appropriate for bringing them to justice through prosecution or extradition, freezing of their financial assets, preventing their movement through the territories of Member States, preventing supply to them of all types of arms and related material, and on the procedures for implementing these measures." —Eds.