PARIS (Reuters) - Prominent Muslim scholars have recast a famous medieval fatwa on jihad, arguing the religious edict radical Islamists often cite to justify killing cannot be used in a globalized world that respects faith and civil rights.
A conference in Mardin in southeastern Turkey declared the fatwa by 14th century scholar Ibn Taymiyya rules out militant violence and the medieval Muslim division of the world into a “house of Islam” and “house of unbelief” no longer applies.
Osama bin Laden has quoted Ibn Taymiyya’s “Mardin fatwa” repeatedly in his calls for Muslims to overthrow the Saudi monarchy and wage jihad against the United States.
Referring to that historic document, the weekend conference said: “Anyone who seeks support from this fatwa for killing Muslims or non-Muslims has erred in his interpretation.
“It is not for a Muslim individual or a Muslim group to announce and declare war or engage in combative jihad ... on their own,” said the declaration issued Sunday in Arabic and later provided to Reuters in English.
The declaration is the latest bid by mainstream scholars to use age-old Muslim texts to refute current-day religious arguments by Islamist groups. A leading Pakistani scholar issued a 600-page fatwa against terrorism in London early this month.
Another declaration in Dubai this month concerned peace in Somalia. Such fatwas may not convince militants, but could help keep undecided Muslims from supporting them, the scholars say.
The Mardin conference gathered 15 leading scholars from countries including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, India, Senegal, Kuwait, Iran, Morocco and Indonesia. Among them were Bosnian Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric, Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah of Mauritania and Yemeni Sheikh Habib Ali al-Jifri.
Ibn Taymiyya’s Mardin fatwa is a classic text for militants who say it allows Muslims to declare other Muslims infidels and wage war on them. The scholars said this view had to be seen in its historic context of medieval Mongol raids on Muslim lands.
But the scholars said it was actually about overcoming the old view of a world divided into Muslim and non-Muslim spheres and reinterpreting Islam in changing political situations.
The emergence of civil states that guard religious, ethnic and national rights “has necessitated declaring the entire world a place of tolerance and peaceful co-existence between all religious, groups and factions,” their declaration said.
Aref Ali Nayed, a Libyan who heads the Dubai theological think-tank Kalam Research and Media, told the conference the great Muslim empires of the past were not a model for a globalized world where borders were increasingly irrelevant.
“We must not be obsessed with an Islam conceived of only geographically and politically,” he said.
“Living in the diaspora is often more conducive to healthy and sincere Muslim living. Empires and carved-out ‘Islamic states’ often make us complacent.”
Nayed said Muslims must also understand that “not all types of secularisms are anti-religious.” The United States has stayed religious despite its separation of church and state, but some “French Revolution-like secularisms” were anti-religious.
The declaration ended with a call to Muslim scholars for more research to explain the context of medieval fatwas on public issues and show “what is hoped to be gained from a sound and correct understanding of their respective legacies.”
Editing by Jon Boyle