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Islam's new terrorism stance

THE HORRIBLE bombing attacks in London overshadowed an important conference in Amman, Jordan, where as many as 170 Muslim scholars from 40 countries came to define ''The Reality of Islam and its Role in the Contemporary Society."

Participants represented all segments of Muslim society, and the conference aimed to shape a unified stance toward the great challenges of contemporary society -- reforms, human rights, minorities, women, and, of course, terrorism.

The first day of deliberation, July 4, revealed some of the difficult problems Muslims face in the post 9/11 era. Addressing the issue of terrorism, Jordan's King Abdullah stressed that Muslims are obliged to correct the tarnished image of Islam, unite in confronting extremism, and ''present to the world the true essence of Islam."

''The acts of violence and terrorism carried out by certain extremist groups in the name of Islam are utterly contradictory to the principles and ideology of Islam," the king said. ''Such acts give non-Muslims excuses to attack Islam and interfere in the affairs of Muslim peoples."

Paradoxically, participant Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the influential Qatar cleric who has called for the killing of American civilians in Iraq and women and children in Israel, resorted to conspiratorial logic and blamed ''injustices done to Muslims by the West" as a reason for the growth of Muslim extremism.

The historical roles of royalty versus priesthood seem to have switched around in Amman, with the king pressing for principled moral imperatives while the sheik is opting for political excuses. Evidently, Qaradawi believes that the ''true and peaceful image of Islam" will surface on its own, and that bin Laden's ideology need not be censored by religious red lines, impervious to political grievances.

This noncommittal stance of Muslim clerics toward terrorism has long been a major contributor to the tarnished image of Islam, baffling Muslims and non-Muslims alike. In an article last year, Sa'd Bin Tefla, a journalist and former Kuwaiti minister of information, recalled the fatwa (religious edict) issued against Salman Rushdie for his book ''Satanic Verses": ''Despite the fact that bin Laden murdered thousands of innocents in the name of our religion and despite the damage that he has caused to Muslims everywhere, . . . to this date not a single fatwa has been issued calling for the killing of bin Laden."

Bin Tefla's observation is no longer valid. On March 11, 2005, commemorating the first anniversary of the Madrid train bombings, the Spanish Muslim Council issued a fatwa against bin Laden, calling him an apostate and urging others of their faith to denounce the Al Qaeda leader.

This unprecedented move has generated expectations that those acting ''contrary to the principles and ideology of Islam" (using the words of King Abdullah) would also be recognized as apostates and sinners against God, and that using the Islamic instruments of fatwa, apostasy, and fasad (corruption) Muslims would be able to disassociate themselves from those who hijacked their religion.

Unfortunately, the realization of these expectations will need to wait for a brave new leadership to emerge. The final communique of the Amman conference, issued July 6, states explicitly: ''It is not possible to declare as apostates any group of Muslims who believes in Allah the Mighty and Sublime and His Messenger (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) and the pillars of faith, and respects the pillars of Islam and does not deny any necessary article of religion."

In other words, belief in basic tenets of faith provides an immutable protection from charges of apostasy; anti-Islamic behavior, including the advocacy of mass murder in the name of religion, cannot remove that protection. Bin Laden, Al Zarqawi, and the murderers of Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg will remain bona fide members of the Muslim faith, as long as they do not explicitly renounce it.

Moreover, issuing a fatwa will become more regimented. ''No one may issue a fatwa without the requisite personal qualifications which each school of jurisprudence defines. No one may issue a fatwa without adhering to the methodology of the schools of jurisprudence," says the final communique.

True, this edict will prevent bin Laden from issuing fatwas against the West, but it may also discourage fatwas like the one issued by the Spanish Muslim Council which aim at discrediting bin Laden and bringing him to justice.

Judea Pearl is president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, an organization promoting intercultural dialogue named after his son, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was murdered in Pakistan in 2002.

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