TEL AVIV – Hundreds of religious and academic scholars, most of them Muslim, have added their names to an open letter that uses Islamic jurisprudence to refute the ideology of the ruler of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The 76-page treatise, also addressed to ISIS’s followers, garnered over 123,400 Facebook likes after it was published on September 19, 2014.
Since then, the open letter has been updated with new arguments refuting Baghdadi’s extremist rulings.
In one section of the document, the Islamic scholars charge ISIS evidences ignorance of the Arabic language, especially in interpreting Quranic verses.
Prof. Ella Landau-Tasseron wrote an analysis of the important letter for the Middle East Media Research Institute. Landau-Tasseron is a retired professor who taught at the Department for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Regarding ISIS’s “ignorance,” Landau-Tasseron finds:
Mastery of Arabic is obviously first and foremost among the qualifications required from a Muslim scholar. The critics argue that ISIS speakers show ignorance when using Arabic.
For example, when the caliphate (khilafa) was announced, the spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-’Adnani, said, “this is [the fulfillment of ] Allah’s promise,” (hadha wa’d allah), alluding to Koran 24:55: “God has promised those who believe and do good works that He will establish them as successors (la-yastakhlifannahum) [to those who preceded them] on earth, just as He made those before them successors [to others]…”
The critics argue, first, that it is erroneous to apply a Koranic verse to a specific event that occurred 1,400 after the Koran had been revealed; at the most, the speaker should have said, “this is part of Allah’s promise” (hadha min wa’d allah).
Secondly, the verb la-yastakhlifannahum mentioned in the verse means “He will make them successors,” and has nothing to do with khalifa (a caliph or ruler), although the two Arabic words are cognates. Thus, al-’Adnani’s mention of the verse in the context of establishing the caliphate was inappropriate.
The critics cite Koranic verses to argue that ISIS violates Islamic law by killing innocents.
The verses cited stipulate that killing is forbidden “except [killing] for a lawfully justified cause” illa bi-l-haqq” (5:32, 6:151, 17:33). However, the term “justified cause” remains vague.
Certain Koranic verses enjoin the Muslims to kill infidels (e.g. 2:191, 9:5). The early jurist and theologian al-Shafi’i (d. 820 CE) inferred from them that unbelief was a justified cause for killing. He made an exception for women and children because, taken prisoner, they were the Muslims’ property and it was not wise to destroy property.
On the other hand, Abu Hanifa (legal scholar, d.767 CE), maintained that unbelief was not a justified cause for killing, and that only combatants should be killed. This stance too may be inferred from Koranic verses (e.g. 2:190). A “justified cause” for killing is thus given to various interpretations.
Prominent Muslim scholars who have endorsed the anti-ISIS document include Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam, the current Grand Mufti of Egypt; Dr. Ali Gomaa, the former Grand Mufti of Egypt; and Sultan Saad Abubakar, the sultan of Sokoto and leader of over 70 million Muslims in Nigeria.
Recent signatories include Abdallah Schleifer, senior fellow at the Royal Aal al Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought; Sayed Khatab, Professor of Politics and International Relations, Monash University, Australia; Zoltan Bolek, chairman of the Hungarian Islamic Community; Dr. Abdullah Ma, chairman of the Islamic Association of Shanghai, China; and Sohaib Sultan, Muslim Chaplain at Princeton University.
The letter itself comes with this executive summary of its arguments:
- It is forbidden in Islam to issue fatwas without all the necessary learning requirements. Even then, fatwas must follow Islamic legal theory as defined in the Classical texts. It is also forbidden to cite a portion of a verse from the Qur’an—or part of a verse—to derive a ruling without looking at everything that the Qur’an and Hadith teach related to that matter. In other words, there are strict subjective and objective prerequisites for fatwas, and one cannot “cherry-pick” Qur’anic verses for legal arguments without considering the entire Qur’an and Hadith.
- It is forbidden in Islam to issue legal rulings about anything without mastery of the Arabic language.
- It is forbidden in Islam to oversimplify Shari’ah matters and ignore established Islamic sciences.
- It is permissible in Islam [for scholars] to differ on any matter, except those fundamentals of religion that all Muslims must know.
- It is forbidden in Islam to ignore the reality of contemporary times when deriving legal rulings.
- It is forbidden in Islam to kill the innocent.
- It is forbidden in Islam to kill emissaries, ambassadors, and diplomats; hence it is forbidden to kill journalists and aid workers.
- Jihad in Islam is defensive war. It is not permissible without the right cause, the right purpose, and without the right rules of conduct.
- It is forbidden in Islam to declare people non-Muslim unless he (or she) openly declares disbelief.
- It is forbidden in Islam to harm or mistreat—in any way—Christians or any “People of the Scripture.”
- It is obligatory to consider Yazidis as People of the Scripture.
- The reintroduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam. It was abolished by universal consensus.
- It is forbidden in Islam to force people to convert.
- It is forbidden in Islam to deny women their rights.
- It is forbidden in Islam to deny children their rights.
- It is forbidden in Islam to enact legal punishments (hudud) without following the correct procedures that ensure justice and mercy.
- It is forbidden in Islam to torture people.
- It is forbidden in Islam to disfigure the dead.
- It is forbidden in Islam to attribute evil acts to God.
- It is forbidden in Islam to destroy the graves and shrines of Prophets and Companions.
- Armed insurrection is forbidden in Islam for any reason other than clear disbelief by the ruler and not allowing people to pray.
- It is forbidden in Islam to declare a caliphate without consensus from all Muslims.
- Loyalty to one’s nation is permissible in Islam.
- After the death of the Prophet, Islam does not require anyone to emigrate anywhere.