It is likely that most Westerners first encoutered the Arabic term fatwa in February, 1989, when Ayatollah Khomeini sentenced Salman Rushdie to death for the crime of writing fiction. It's no wonder, therefore, that the word has sounded sinister to Western ears ever since.
It shouldn't, though. A fatwa is simply a ruling on Islamic law issued by a Mufti, or Islamic legal scholar. There have been a number of fataawa issued on the subject of terrorism since Sept. 11 (and before), but none, perhaps, as important as the one issued by the Fiqh Council of North America on Friday (click here to read a .pdf of the fatwa and the list of 168 US Muslim organizations that have added their support to the decree).
At first, the Fiqh Council's fatwa mirrors those issued by other Muftis by speaking out against the perpetrators of terror:
Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives. There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism. Targeting civilians' life and property through suicide bombings or any other method of attack is haram â€” or forbidden â€” and those who commit these barbaric acts are criminals, not "martyrs."
What makes the Council's decree unique is what follows:
In the light of the teachings of the Qurâ€™an and Sunnah we clearly and strongly state:
1. All acts of terrorism targeting civilians are haram (forbidden) in Islam.
2. It is haram for a Muslim to cooperate with any individual or group that is involved in any act of terrorism or violence.
3. It is the civic and religious duty of Muslims to cooperate with law enforcement authorities to protect the lives of all civilians.
In points two and three, the emphasis is shifted from the terroristsâ€”who would likely ignore the fatwa anywayâ€”to the Muslim community as a whole. Not only is terrorism forbidden (duh!), but so is suppoting it, tacitly or otherwise. By including the general population in this fatwa, the Muftis of the Fiqh Council prove that their proclamations are meant to be so much more than empty pieties. The number of American Muslim organizations that have signed on to the Council's decree suggests that it represents the mainstream of Islamic thought in this country.
The Fiqh Council's words also provide an emphatic answer to the question issuing from places like FOXNews and the Rush Limbaugh Show: Where's the Muslim outrage and condemnation? Well, here it is, in plain language for all the world to see. Here's hoping the world listens.