An organization of top American Muslim religious scholars plans to issue a formal ruling today condemning terrorism and forbidding Muslims to cooperate with anyone involved in a terrorist act, according to officials of two leading Islamic organizations.
The one-page ruling, or fatwa, will be issued by the Fiqh Council of North America, an association of Islamic legal scholars that interprets Islamic law for the Muslim community. Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy group, said the ruling does not represent a new position on terrorism.
Rather, Hooper said, "it is another way to drive home the point that the American Muslim community rejects terrorism and extremism."
Although Muslim leaders and political organizations have repeatedly denounced religious extremism, Hooper added, "any time any Muslim goes on a talk show or on television, the first question is, 'Why haven't Muslims condemned terrorism?' "
Louay Safi of the Islamic Society of North America noted that there is an important difference between a fatwa and previous statements from the Muslim community. The fatwa "is not a political statement. It's a legal or religious opinion by a recognized religious authority in the United States," said Safi, whose group is based in Indianapolis.
The fatwa, to be released at a news conference in Washington, was prompted by the condemnation of terrorism in a similar ruling from the Muslim Council of Britain after the July 7 terrorist attacks in London, Hooper said.
Safi, who heads the society's Leadership Development Center, said yesterday that "the statement prohibits Muslims from giving any support to terrorist groups who have carried out attacks against unarmed civilians. Groups like al Qaeda have misused and abused Islam to fit their own radical and criminal agenda, and I feel the statement is an important step to repudiating such groups."
Although the fatwa is important, Safi added, "there is a need to become more proactive in addressing the issue of terrorism by American Muslims."
The British fatwa did not name al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and neither does the ruling to be issued today. But a March 11 fatwa from the Spanish Muslim Council on the first anniversary of the Madrid train attacks received widespread publicity because of its harsh denunciation of bin Laden by name.
John O. Voll, a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University, said naming bin Laden and al Qaeda is not a major issue. "I think that it is very important for both Muslim and non-Muslim leaders to go beyond the fixation on Osama bin Laden," he said. "The important thing is to condemn violent extremism done in the name of Islam."