Pakistani Fatwa Against Suicide Bombing

Amir Mir is a brother of the renowned TV anchor Hamid Mir.


By Amir Mir (2005)

A group of 58 religious scholars from Pakistan representing all major schools of Islamic thought issued a Fatwa (edict) on May 19, 2005 stating that Islam strictly forbids suicide attacks on Muslims and those committing such acts at places of worship and public congregations cease to be Muslims.

While on the face of it, the move can be seen as an attempt to discourage suicide bombings being carried out on places of worship in Pakistan, many believe the decree was part of the official campaign to sell a soft image of the country to the West. The rising number of suicide bombings in Pakistan has shaken the federal government to its very core given the fact that President General Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz had also been the target of the suicide bombers on a number of occasions in the past two years.

Interestingly, however, the decree issued by the Pakistani religious scholars does not apply to bombings in either Jammu & Kashmir or Palestine. Suicide attacks are used by Pakistani militant groups in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The religious scholars led by chairman Tanzimul Madaris Pakistan and chairman Ruet-e-Hilal Committee Mufti Munibur Rehman, clarified at a press conference in Lahore that the line of demarcation between terrorist activity and a freedom struggle has to be clearly defined. They said the Fatwa applies only to conditions in Pakistan and those waging jehad and running freedom movements in places like Palestine, Iraq and Kashmir are out of its scope. The Fatwa was pronounced at a hurriedly-called news conference, whose invitation cards were issued by the Press Information Department (PID) of the federal government.

The Fatwa holds that killing of innocent human beings is forbidden in Islam and carries death penalty. Killing a fellow Muslim without Islamic and legal reasons is even a bigger crime, it said. The Fatwa said killing any non-Muslim citizen or foreigner visiting the country is also forbidden in Islam since those people are under protection of the Pakistan government. The religious scholars said they had issued the Fatwa in the perspective of Pakistan’s situation where, during the past few years, suicide attacks were carried out at places of worship and some elements had been propagating that the bombers were brainwashed by religious outfits into carrying out such attacks that would lead them to paradise. Such propaganda, the scholars said in the press conference, was bringing a bad name to Islam besides giving a false impression that clerics were involved in provoking religious or sectarian killings. Thus, the 58 pro-government religious scholars felt it their religious and national duty to issue the Fatwa to clarify the situation and prevent those becoming tools in the hands of enemies of Islam.

What the Pakistani media did not report was the fact that some leading religious scholars of the country, despite agreeing to the contents and spirit of the Fatwa, refused to support it, maintaining that the government-sponsored move could be used by the United States to justify its propaganda against suicide attacks. Dr Sarfraz Naeemi, the country’s top most religious scholars and the head of Jamia Naeemia, said he backs the Fatwa but the timing and manner in which it was hurriedly announced reflected government pressure. “There is a need to issue a decree against the Americans who have been slaughtering Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, so I have serious reservations about the present move”, Dr Naeemi said in an interview with the BBC.

Meanwhile, Minister of State for Religious Affairs and the moving spirit behind the Fatwa, Dr Aamir Liaquat Hussain, considered close to General Musharraf, congratulated the nation over the issuance of Fatwa, adding that it has proved that Islam is a religion of peace and non-violence which is not against any sect, creed or ideology. Dr Aamir who has been pursuing the religious scholars for the last six months, described the decree as a monumental success of the Pakistani nation and an unprecedented expression of religious harmony. He said the edict has proved that the Pakistan religious scholars are broadminded; they understand issues and problems and give their opinion in the best interest of the Muslim Ummah.

On the contrary, however, when it comes to gauging the general public feelings, six in ten Pakistanis support suicide attacks against enemies of Islam. Going by a January 2005 survey report prepared by the Washington-based PEW Research Centre, though most people in Muslim-dominated nations are divided over violence against civilian targets, 41 percent of those interviewed in Pakistan said it was justifiable in the defence of Islam. According to the report, 47 per cent of the Pakistanis said that the Palestinian suicide bombings against the Israelis were justifiable, while 36 percent said it was not.

Six in ten older Pakistanis said that the suicide attacks against American troops in Iraq were correct, compared with the 44 percent of those who are younger saying it was not. In Pakistan, said the report, there was also a significant gender gap in attitudes toward suicide attacks, with men roughly twice as likely as women saying that violence against the Americans and other Westerners in Iraq was justifiable. Surprisingly, however, al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden is viewed with almost universal contempt throughout Europe and Turkey, but regarded favourably by 65 percent of the Pakistanis polled. Fidayeen or suicide cadres have for years been mobilized, ideologically motivated and trained in Pakistan for export in the neighbourhood – particularly to Jammu & Kashmir in India, and to

Afghanistan – as well as further afield, to South East Asia, Iraq, Chechnya, and the many other and multiplying loci of Islamist extremist terror. J&K had witnessed the first suicide attacks in 1999, and since then there has been a steady stream of fidayeen operations. Supported by the national political ethos that actively encouraged and sponsored jehad and shahadat, these suicidés had, however, till recently excluded their home ground in Pakistan from the scope of

their holy war. But, even as fidayeen attacks decline sharply in J&K, Pakistan appears to be emerging as a favoured target. Thus, while J&K witnessed six fidayeen attacks so far in the current year (2005), with a total of 30 fatalities, 88 people have been killed in at least seven fidayeen attacks within Pakistan.

On December 25, 2003, at least 18 persons were killed and 40 others sustained injuries during a second assassination attempt in less than two weeks on General Pervez Musharraf while he was proceeding to his Army residence in Rawalpindi. The first attempt, using C4 explosive devices on a Rawalpindi bridge situated on the Presidential cavalcade’s route, had occurred on December 14, 2003. Then on July 30, 2004, seven persons, including the attacker, were killed in a suicide bomb attack on Prime Minister-designate Shaukat Aziz’s cavalcade, in Fateh Jang town of the Punjab province. Over a dozen suicide bombattacks have occurred within the span of less than two years across Pakistan. Although several networks of potential suicide bombers have been busted in a series of raids, officials admit they are facing a serious threat because they are ill-equipped to combat in terms of infrastructure, expertise and training.

Islam frowns on suicide. Yet Islamic extremists have gotten around this problem by describing suicide attacks as acts of martyrdom. They have been justified as attacks on infidels and therefore a part of jehad. A suicide mission in which the bomber is able to take the lives of Westerners and Indians is thus not un-Islamic. Members of a rival sect, too, are regarded as infidels and therefore their killing

through a suicide attack is not un-Islamic. Mosques, processions and rallies have become vulnerable targets of suicide attacks by rival sectarian outfits. Since the aim is to create terror and maximum damage to the rival sectarian group, suicide bombers target mosques on Fridays, when thousands of worshippers attend prayers. Keeping these facts in mind, the general public in Pakistan believes the Fatwa issued by their religious scholars will be ineffective as nothing can stop these highly motivated and extremely committed suicide bombers who are out to sacrifice their lives for the sake of Islam.

(Cobrapost News Features)