A group of 38 imams, led by Calgary Imam Syed Soharwardy, have signed a six-page fatwa banning the Islamic State, condemning their work as “not Muslim,” and attacking conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for using the term “jihad” in connection with the Islamic State terrorist group.
In a press conference Wednesday, Soharwardy explained that the objective of the fatwa was to use Islamic law to target “the radicalization and the recruitment for IS/ISIL in Canada.” The fatwa (full text) heavily emphasizes that Muslims are the predominant victims of Islamic State violence. While it lists crimes such as the killing of children and slavery as “haram,” it only mentions Muslims as victims of the Islamic State, not Kurdish Yazidis or Assyrian Christians, who have been targeted for genocide.
The imams state categorically that “a Muslim cannot choose the path of ISIS or other terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda, Taliban, Boko Haram, Al-Shabab, Al-Nusrah, Lashkar Taiba, Lashkar Jhangwi, etc.” Regarding Canada specifically, they note: “Muslims have complete freedom to practice Islam in Canada. Therefore, any attack on Canada will be an attack on the freedom of Canadian Muslims.”
The fatwa refers to Islamic State jihadists as “Khawarij,” referring to a group considered haram which arose to establish a Caliphate during the first Islamic civil war. The group, despite calling themselves Muslims, are considered enemies of Islam. Similarly, the fatwa claims, the Islamic State is not an association of Muslims, but of “Khawarij” created by “Western countries… to overthrow the Syrian regime.” The fatwa also claims American and Canadian foreign policy is “based upon Islamophobia, bias and intolerance towards Muslims.”
Twenty-seven of the imam signatories hail from Canada, while one is American.
Imam Soharwardy, who organized the effort, used the press conference announcing the fatwa to condemn Prime Minister Stephen Harmer for referring to Islamic State fighters as “jihadists.” ISIS members commonly refer to the men among them as mujahid or mujahideen, both words meaning “jihadist.” “Harper is not treating Muslims with equal eyes, with equal respect,” Soharwardy alleged.
Soharwardy, the founder of the Canadian group Muslims Against Terrorism, has a mixed history with his efforts to promote Islam in Canada. He has received death threats in the past for speaking out against extremism and demanding Muslims refuse to buy into Islamic State propaganda. He has also called for stricter laws against jihadist recruitment in Canada.
In other statements, however, Soharwardy has been accused of promoting anti-Semitic sentiments and promoting Sharia law. In 2010, Soharwardy received significant attention for a fatwa similar to that released today. While initially heralded for the effort, it also shined a spotlight on what writer Ezra Levant calls “a track record of disseminating antisemitic and anti-Western sentiment.” Using Levant’s research, the Jewish service group B’nai Brith questioned the sincerity of the fatwa. “The fact that this fatwa limits itself to terrorism in North America and predicates its anti-terror positions on the damaging effects of terrorism only on the Islamic community is quite concerning,” said Frank Dimant, B’nai Brith Canada’s Executive Vice President, at the time.
Soharwardy has also issued statements on his Facebook page condemning Muslims who travel to non-Muslim countries for exclusively economic reasons. In 2013, the Toronto Sun noted that Soharwardy had posted on Facebook: “Muslims never migrated to non-Muslim countries for economic reasons, looking for good jobs and better life style. In fact, this is against Islam’s reasons for migration towards a non-Muslim country. Please go back.”
Canada is facing a barrage of recruitment efforts from the Islamic State and other jihadist groups, which has triggered a recent movement to legally ban the Muslim Brotherhood on Canadian soil. ISIS has succeeded in recruiting Canadian fighters, making one of them the star of a recruitment video in which scenes of hockey, fishing, and snow are interspersed with violent jihadist acts to attract born-and-raised Canadians to the Caliphate.