RECOMMENDED READING: "The Role Of Consensus In The Contemporary Struggle For Islam"


Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a former Jihadist and now counter-terrorism consultant and attorney, has analyzed several papers issued by the Aal al-Bayt Institute which is best known for its sponsorship of the “Amman Message”, a document signed by a large number of Islamic scholars on the subject of Islamic unity. One of the papers Gartenstein-Ross examines is titled ” Jihad and the Islamic Law of War” and is described as follows:

In 2007, the Aal al-Bayt Institute began to address another controversial jurisprudential issue, the Islamic law of war. The institute has not yet produced a final statement on the matter, but I have been able to review a late draft. Entitled Jihad and the Islamic Law of War, the 79-page document has no signatories at present (presumably there will be no signatories until the statement has been finalized). Instead, the Aal al-Bayt Institute’s name appears on the cover as an institutional author. Though informed sources tell me that the document will still need amendments, it already makes an interesting contribution to religious debates concerning jihad.

Gartenstein-Ross praises what he calls the “Jihad document” for addressing a common justification of Islamic terrorist groups, the notion of dar al-Harb and dar al-Islam (the Abode of War and Abode of Islam):

…Jihad and the Islamic Law of War holds that the religious identity of a people cannot justify the Muslim community making war on them. The document offers scholarly analysis of some of the critical verses that militants have used to justify warfare against non-Muslims (a notable exception at this point is verse 9:29, which the current version of the jihad document does not discuss), as well as juristic doctrines governing relations with non-believers. For example, the document addresses the distinction between dar al-Harb and dar al-Islam (the Abode of War and Abode of Islam) enshrined by classical jurists. Under this view, dar al-Islam encompasses geographic areas in which sharia law has been erected, while dar al-Harb constitutes the rest of the world, excepting states that have specifically enacted treaties with the Muslim world. Viewing the world as a battlefield between Islam and the forces of disbelief, classical jurists would authorize warfare to expand the dar al-Islam if there were “a reasonable prospect of success.”The jihad document tackles this doctrine directly. Aal al-Bayt’s scholars note that the classical laws of jihad assumed “that the default position between states was a state of war,” and argue that this reflected the state of affairs in seventh century Arabia and the areas surrounding it. However, the document claims that the universal treaties that prevail today—such as the UN Charter and Geneva Conventions—alter the context of international relations:[T]he world was not always governed by the universal treaties of today. The terms Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb are not terms from the Qur’an or from the teachings of the Prophet, but grew out of the work of jurists coming to terms with the new international profile of Islam. As such, they also coined terms such as dar al-sulh (“abode of reconciliation”) and dar al-‘ahd (“abode of treaty”), referring to those lands not ruled by Islam but with which the Islamic state had some sort of peace agreement. … From the point of view of Islamic law, the gradual adoption and advancement of moral principles in international law is a welcome development, and brings the world closer to the Qur’anic ideal of non-aggression and peaceful coexistence.

What Gartenstein-Ross fails to note is that the global Muslim Brotherhood has already taken on the concept of dar al-Harb, employing terminology similar to dar al-‘ahd (“abode of treaty”) . For example, one scholar has written that global Brotherhood leader Youssef Qaradawi has used a term similar to dar al-‘ahd while still mentioning a divine promise that Islam will eventually reach victory over all religions.

Gartenstein-Ross also praises the Jihad document for taking on Osama Bin Laden’s justifications for war against the West:

The document also delivers a particularly harsh rebuke to Osama bin Laden’s claims about war in Islam. Bin Laden has long employed utopian rhetoric in offering his followers the prospect of the caliphate’s reestablishment. The jihad document compares this kind of thinking to Vladimir Lenin’s statement, “You cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs,” and insists that Islam does not countenance utopian ideology. “When one can justify any act in the name of a worldly utopia,” the drafters warn, “then one has passed into pure utilitarianism.”Turning to bin Laden’s declaration of war against the West in which he instructs his followers to kill both soldiers and civilians, Aal al-Bayt’s volume assails his scholarly qualifications and religious methodology, describing it as a “takfiri cut-and-paste method.” The document states:That every top authority on Islamic law in the world rejects Bin Laden’s conclusions and his temerity in declaring a “fatwa” is, lamentably, often never mentioned in the West. … [Bin Laden’s] method amounts to a cherry-picking of sources to arrive at a conclusion that was decided beforehand. It is misleading to present Bin Laden, and others like him, as men steeped in their religious tradition who take Islam’s teachings to their logical conclusions. For all the talk about “madrasahs”, which is simply the word for “school”, it is important to note that the terrorists who claim to fight in the name of Islam today are almost entirely men educated in medicine, engineering, mathematics, computer science, etc. … It is striking how absent graduates of recognized madrasahs or Islamic seminaries (such as al-Azhar in Egypt) are among the ranks of the terrorists.

Once again, Qaradawi and the global Brotherhood have long criticized Bin Laden as an unqualified Islamic scholar.

Gartenstein-Ross does write that the Jihad doccument “leaves some unanswered questions.”

Most significant, the circumstances under which the use of force is justified-self-defense, the protection of sovereignty, and “in defense of all innocent people”-are never explained. Are roadside bomb attacks against coalition forces in Iraq justified defenses of sovereignty? What about suicide bombings in Israel? Some very prominent Islamic scholars would answer yes to both questions-and, unfortunately, there is reason to believe that their ranks include signatories of the Amman Message’s takfir document. True Islam compiles the proceedings of a number of institutions that affirmed the Three Points. One of these, the International Islamic Fiqh Academy, issued a declaration on “Extremism, Radicalism, and Terrorism” that was reprinted in the volume. While the declaration rejects terrorism, it also explicitly recognizes “the rights of occupied peoples to armed resistance,” which it asserts “is a right recognized by law and by reason, and is affirmed by international treaties.” Such language is frequently used to justify attacks in Iraq and Israel.

These “unanswered questions” can be resolved by understanding that the criteria under which the use of force is justified essentially comprise the Muslim Brotherhood doctrine of “defensive jihad” which holds that violent jihad is justified for “just causes, such as to repel aggression or resist severe oppression, and only if peaceful means to achieve peace fail.” Using such principles, global Brotherhood leaders such as Qaradawi have justified terrorist attacks in Israel and Iraq.

Given that the doctrines espoused by the document produced by the Aal al-Bayt Institute are consistent with the positions of the global Muslim Brotherhood, it will be interesting to see the eventual list of signatories. The Amman Message itself was signed by a large number of Muslim Brotherhood luminaries including Youssef Qaradawi but also included some interesting bedfellows. For example, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was a signer along with Ibrahim El-Zayat, the leader of the German Muslim Brotherhood who was also tried and sentenced in absentia by an Egyptian Military tribunal which found him to be a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.

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