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Monday, April 12, 2010

A Significant Discussion About Takfir

According to Al Sharq Al Awsat, a group of senior Saudi clerics is discussing a proposal to criminalize "takfiri" fatwas which claim that people taking part in certain kinds of activity are not to be considered Muslims.

While a positive development, there is an important loophole -- the proposed rule would only prohibit takfiri fatwas from "non-official institutions." Sorry, Ahmadiyyas! Apparently takfir is OK when it's coming from the Saudi establishment.

The definition of what is an "official" institution is also in play. There are a lot of Islamic institutions outside of Saudi Arabia which rely on Saudi financial support, and not all of them are exemplars of tolerance and brotherly love. Would all of these institutions be covered by this ban, or would it just apply within the kingdom?

Furthermore, the stated motive for this proposal is not exactly pristine from an Islamic standpoint. A source explained to Al Sharq that the non-official takfiri fatwa phenomenon "diminishes the prestige of the state, as well as impacting on external relations between Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world." That sounds like nationalism, which is a no-no under the Saudi interpretation of Islam, and it also sounds like a politically expedient decision rather than a principled stand.

And what is the penalty for issuing a non-official takfiri fatwa? Will the Saudis declare takfir against offenders? And doesn't that undercut the whole point of this exercise?

Whether for good -- in that it diminishes the strength of the takfiri movement -- or for ill -- in that it highlights the hypocrisy of the Saudi establishment for all Muslims to see -- this discussion is worth watching. If a ruling emerges, there will almost certainly be repercussions. Beware the law of unintended consequences.

In other takfiri news, Dr. Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, a prominent Islamic scholar with one foot in the east and one in the west, has issued a fatwa against terrorism which states that terrorists who are "burning the Muslims are debarred from the fold of Islam."

Will those who live by the sword of takfir also die by it? This seems a little dicey to me. Also take note that the takfir in this case applies only to terrorists who kill Muslims. The fatwa does prohibit terrorism against non-Muslim targets, but no penalty is specified.

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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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