Ever since the influential Muslim scholar Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri last month issued a 600-page fatwa, or religious ruling, condemning terror, he has been at the center of international discussions about Islam, Al-Qaeda, and the morality of suicide bombings. Qadri, a Pakistani, is the founding leader of Minhaj ul Qur'an International, a worldwide organization which promotes education in the Islamic sciences. RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondent Muhammad Tahir speaks with him about why he issued the fatwa and what impact it has had.
RFE/RL: What led you to release the fatwa last month, and why did you choose this particular moment?
Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri: The basic reason for issuing this fatwa at this moment was that a wave of terrorism and violence had become very strong during the past two years, and the terrorists started slaughtering some of those who didn't agree with their ideology and even took dead bodies out of their graves and started hanging them from the trees. And violence and their suicide bombings became very, very frequent, on an everyday basis.
And unfortunately, I saw many ulema [Islamic clerics] and scholars who were supposed to criticize or condemn these acts of terror, [but] instead of condemning them absolutely and strongly, they were silent.
This violence and this terrorism has created a problem for the whole world, right from east to west, and a bad name is coming to Islam. And the new Muslim generation is being brainwashed and it is getting confused about Islamic ideologies. And relations between East and West, I mean the Muslim world and the western, non-Muslim world, are being badly affected, and this will be a terrible thing for future generations and for the peaceful atmosphere of the world.
That is why I took the decision to issue this fatwa, a comprehensive jurisprudential document, to clarify the situation and to explain the stance of Islam toward acts of terror.
RFE/RL: There has been some favorable response already to this fatwa, with the Afghan presidency, for example, showing interest in translating it into local languages. What do you expect to happen with this document?
Qadri: I have seen a very big response, an unexpectedly high response from both sides, I mean, from the Muslim world and the western, non-Muslim world. Indiscriminately, this fatwa has been highly appreciated, highly received, by the media particularly, and it has reached every part and corner of the world. And you see the influence and effect of the fatwa in [the fact] that rather more than half a million websites are discussing this fatwa.
I think this is something unprecedented, half a million websites for and against, and all those people, the extremists, who are discussing the fatwa in their forums and websites -- up until today none of them have been able to refute this fatwa with Koranic evidence or arguments.
RFE/RL: Of course, groups like the Taliban and Al-Qaeda also issue fatwas in which they call for violent struggle against people they see as oppressors or infidels. What makes you believe you are right and they are wrong?
Qadri: When I talk about this subject, I have a basic principle in mind, and every Muslim should keep this principle in mind. Number one: nobody -- as an individual or as a private organization or as a group of people -- has the right to declare jihad. This is the unanimously agreed-upon view of Islam; no jurist and no school of law in Islamic history has disagreed with this point. Jihad cannot be declared by any group of individuals or any organization, this is number one, [because] this can create anarchy and disorder and disruption all over the world.
Neither the Koran nor the Sunnah, I mean the tradition of the Holy Prophet, nor the classical authorities, none of them say that any group of individuals or any party or any organization has the right to declare jihad or take up arms and fight against the government or challenge the writ of the government.
Even governments with Muslim rulers who are not practicing Islam in totality, or enforcing Islam in totality -- even then they are not allowed to take up arms against them or to fight against them. They are not allowed to take up arms and kill non-Muslims and commit suicide bombings in non-Muslim societies to kill civilians and to kill noncombatants. There is no jihad against noncombatants.
RFE/RL: When you say killing innocent people cannot be justified in Islam, does it mean suicide bombers will go to hell?
Qadri: Yes, definitely. Number one: killing is a big sin, it is a crime. And killing people with an ideology that killing them is lawful and that killing them is permissible or not forbidden, but is an act of jihad -- considering that the killing of people is an act of jihad -- if somebody kills people with this ideology, he goes out of the fold of Islam, he himself becomes a non-Muslim, and that is why this suicide bombing contains two big crimes, or rather three. Number one is killing people. Number two is considering the act of killing lawful. And number three is the suicide act. Suicide itself is a forbidden act which leads to hellfire.
RFE/RL: And what about those who encourage people to commit suicide bombings or pick up arms to fight against others -- what awaits them?
Qadri: They will also join in the same torment and punishment. They are a partner in this punishment, and this is a crime of the same level, same sanguinity. They are also leading themselves to hellfire because they will have a double sin upon them. The same sin that the suicide bombers commit goes to the instigators, promoters, or propagators. And, number two, there is the act of propagating an evil, and that also leads to hellfire.
RFE/RL: How do you describe Al-Qaeda as an organization and the activities it is involved in?
Qadri: There is no need to ask this question, and the reason is that the whole world knows [the answer]. Whatever they are doing, I declare again that it is not an act of jihad, it is not an act of goodness. Whatever they are committing, it is an act of brutality, an act of violence, an act of militancy, an act of disorder, an act of disruption. It is a fitna [sedition]. This is terror and this leads to hellfire. It is not a service to Islam; it is a big loss and damage to Islam.
RFE/RL: Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov has claimed responsibility for the March 29 twin suicide bombings on the Moscow metro system that killed at least 39 people. The rationale is that this is revenge for civilian deaths in Chechnya at the hands of Russian troops and pro-Russian forces. Is it justified?
Qadri: Taking revenge on the non-Muslims, even their aggressors, their armies -- taking revenge in this form by suicide bombings, killing people traveling in planes or trains, Islam does not allow.
For example, if you kill somebody's parents, mother and father, is that person allowed in revenge to rush to your house and kill your parents, in Islam? The answer would be no. He has to go to the court of law and to follow the courts of law, and the murderer should be punished through the court of law. This is Islam. If somebody is committing aggression, you have the right to fight there on the land; the army has a right to fight there in self-defense. But you have no right to go and commit suicide bombings or acts of terror.