Asharq al-Awsat reports today that a contentious debate broke out in the UAE at the 14th Annual conference of the International Congress for Islamic Law concerning the permissibility of suicide bombings. A scholar named Hasan Safar argued that while individual efforts against an enemy army are approved by medieval jurists, the Islamic legal tradition condemns such actions where they harm innocents in markets and so on. He further argued that the suicide bombings carried out by Palestinians in Israel have been not only un-Islamic but also politically inept insofar as they allowed the Israelis to delegitimize the Palestinian movement as terrorist in nature.
(There is a Hasan Safar from Kuwait listed at UNESCO. Does anyone know if this is the same man?)
The Egyptian Islamist Yusuf al-Qaradawi (Azharite and old-time Muslim Brotherhood activist) was there, and expressed amazement at Dr. Safar’s position. He agreed that hijacking an airplane full of innocents is forbidden in Islamic law. But he upheld suicide bombings against a power that was occupying Muslim land, as in Palestine. He identified this sort of action as “defensive jihad,” and condemned the idea that it is terrorism. Asharq al-Awsat’s reporter felt that his view probably prevailed among participants.
Qaradawi, who is enormously influential, has stated this position in the past. He condemned unreservedly both September 11 and the bombing of a synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia, which also killed German tourists. But he insists that virtually anything can be done to “resist occupation of Muslim lands.” In his youth he was active in Muslim Brotherhood attacks on the British positions at the Suez Canal.
Qaradawi’s rulings in Islamic law have a very wide following: http://www.qaradawi.net/site/topics/index.asp?cu_no=2
Qaradawi’s position is at the least widely shared. Last summer the Saudi Ambassador to the UK revealed that he had had a private poll taken of British Muslims (who number about 1.5 million) and found that 80% of them support the Palestinian bombing operations. He suspected that support in the Middle East if anything would be higher. See http://www.ain-al-yaqeen.com/issues/20020719/feat7en.htm
I have to say that I see a logical contradiction (not to mention a moral lapse of huge proportions) in Qaradawi’s position. Innocents are innocents. You can’t logically speaking accuse a baby of being an “occupier” and deserving of being blown up for this reason. Medieval Muslim thinking on warfare always had special rules for the treatment of enemy women and children, who were to be safeguarded unless they were *active* combatants, in which case they would be treated like enemy soldiers. I am unaware of any support in classical Islamic legal thinking for denying to innocents the status of innocents merely because the soldiers of their people had managed to conquer land away from Muslims. I’m afraid that there has been a romance with terrorism on the part of the hardline Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots that goes all the way back to the 1940s. Western imperialism doesn’t excuse everything.