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Special Report

Attacks find no justification in Islam, Muslim leader say

Warsaw, Poland

Leading Muslim theologians in Europe have denied claims that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center might find justification under Islamic teaching.

Both Christian and Muslim leaders also praised current dialogue between the faiths and urged adherents of both faiths to cooperate more closely to work for “justice, peace and reconciliation.”

“Extremist and fundamentalist groups maintain that we’re in a state of war, and have a duty to bring justice on earth by hook or by crook,” said Imam Abduljalil Sajid, a prominent Muslim theologian in Great Britain. “But their notions have been twisted to suit their own understanding rather than God’s. The Prophet is absolutely clear: If you kill anyone without just and lawful reason, you are gravely sinning against God and committing a crime that must be stopped. Though war may be a last resort when other options against injustice and oppression have failed, violence will not solve the world’s problems, and evil acts can never be defended.”

The Pakistan-born religious leader said the terrorist attacks, whose death toll is expected to exceed 7,000, had been denounced throughout the Muslim world. He added that isolated persons suggested justifications were “guided by political motives, not religious beliefs.”

“Islam teaches that the sanctity of human life is paramount -- that human beings must cherish, protect and thank God for the gift of life,” the 65-year-old imam said in an interview. “To kill not only yourself, but also innocent people going about the normal business of their lives cannot be justified from any theological viewpoint. No scholar from any Islamic tradition could cite any text to claim such actions are permissible.”

Meanwhile, another leading Muslim warned that interfaith ties could suffer if the United States inflicted “vast collateral damage” by retaliating against targets in the Islamic world without “conclusive evidence.”

“Many Muslims feel they’re being treated as second-class people, that they have to do something to prevent their rights from being violated like those of the Palestinians,” said Zaki Badawi, a Muslim representative on the International Council for Christians and Jews. “But so many verses can be cited from the Quran to show that God condemns aggression and violence. There would be no conflict if people had jobs and economic prospects, and felt their dignity was being respected.”

FBI and independent European investigators said the atrocities were linked to Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden, whose bases in Afghanistan are believed likely targets for U.S. and NATO military action.

Sajid said numerous verses in the Quran urging Muslims to fight and accept martyrdom -- such as Verse 73 of Sura (Chapter) 9, which calls on Muslims to “make war on the unbelievers” -- dated from the War of the Ditch in 627 A.D., and were intended to encourage Muslims loyal to Muhammad in Medina to sacrifice their lives during a Meccan campaign.

He added that Islamic teaching forbade the use out of context of Quranic concepts such as jihad, which was not intended to have “military connotations.”

“In reality, jihad means the struggle to remain a faithful Muslim by resisting the world’s temptations,” said the imam, who heads the social policy committee of Britain’s Muslim Council. “Islam preaches salam, or peace, and resolutely opposes violence. Taking action for glory and possessions rather than for God is against the spirit of jihad.”

Verse 151 of the Quran’s Sura 6 states: “You shall not kill -- for that is forbidden by God -- except for a just cause.”

Meanwhile, Verse 191 of Sura 2 says: “Fight for the sake of God those that fight against you, but do not attack them first. God does not love aggressors.”

Another text, Verse 32 of Sura 5 recalls God’s injunction to the Israelites that “whoever killed a human being, except as punishment for murder or other villainy in the land, shall be regarded as having killed all mankind; and that whoever saved a human life shall be regarded as having saved all mankind.”

Sajid said the verses indicated war must be waged solely in self-defense, and never against ordinary civilians who had inflicted no harm.

Among interfaith reactions, the attacks on the United States were deplored in a Sept. 12 statement by the international Islamic-Catholic Liaison Committee, co-chaired by Cardinal Francis Arinze, the Nigerian prefect of the Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.

Meanwhile, in a Sept. 16 declaration, 80 Christian and Muslim leaders from 80 countries, meeting in Sarajevo, Bosnia, committed themselves “to work even more determinedly for justice, peace and reconciliation.”

The five-day conference was cosponsored by the Council of European Catholic Bishops’ Conferences and Conference of European Churches. The religious leaders attending also pledged to create “new instruments for dialogue and understanding,” and to promote mutual respect through education and clergy training.

Badawi, the Muslim representative on the International Council of Christians and Jews, said he was “very satisfied” with current Catholic-Muslim dialogue, adding that Muslims were “very much counting on Christian leaders” to ensure they were not blamed for the Sept. 11 atrocities.

“We are drawing nearer, by listening to complaints and trying to support each other,” said Badawi, who also chairs the London-based Council of Imams and Mosques. “The pope has been very fair to Muslims, and we already share much common ground. We should see ourselves as allies, not adversaries, in protecting faith in today’s secularized, atheistic societies.”

Asked whether extreme interpretations of the Quran could be reined in by Islamic leaders, Sajid said the Muslim world lacked a central doctrinal authority comparable to the pope. However, he added that all religious leaders concurred that practical applications of Islamic teaching should be validated by specific citations from the Quran.

“The attacks were opposed to the highest values of Islam, and this explains why no Muslim scholar -- not even in Iran or Libya, and not even among the Afghan Taliban -- has actually tried to defend them,” the religious leader said.

“What crime had these men, women and children committed against Muslims when they boarded their planes or went to work?” Sajid asked. “Islam commands us to abide by law and justice, whereas actions like these lead only to chaos. They show the Muslim world is also under siege from extremists.”

Jonathan Luxmoore is a freelance writer living in Warsaw, Poland.

National Catholic Reporter, October 5, 2001