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Muslim clerics divided on jihad • Wednesday March 26, 2003

AFP, Mar. 26, 2003
Habib Trabelsi

The calls for jihad against Americans have mushroomed since the start of the US-led war on Iraq but Muslim religious scholars are divided on whether and how to wage a holy war against the infidel invaders.

Sunni Muslims from Saudi Arabia outside the official religious establishment in early March called for jihad against the “crusaders” and anyone who helped the Americans or the British in taking on Iraq.

Sheikhs Ali al-Khudhair, Nasser al-Fahd and Ahmed al-Khaldi, known to have a penchant for Osama bin Laden and sought by Saudi authorities, have issued fatwas, or religious edicts, on the internet declaring that “whoever assists the US cause is an atheist and apostate”.

The three picked up where bin Laden left off in an audiotape posted on the internet in February in which he accused Arab leaders of being on the payroll of the “crusaders” and branded them “non-believers”.

Toning down the message, 32 Saudi religious moderates acknowledged in a statement published in mid-March that “any cooperation with the United States in its aggression against Iraq would be a grave sin”.

But they stressed that the decision to issue the call to jihad “should be made by people versed in religious studies”.

They also said they opposed “the bloodshed of our Muslim brothers or foreigners living in the country (Saudi Arabia) under such a pretext”.

Saudi Arabia’s top mufti, Sheikh Aziz al-Sheikh, followed suit, calling on March 23 for the faithful to prove their patience and “obey their leaders whatever the circumstances”.

One week earlier, the head of Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s highest institution, revised an earlier call to followers by its religious research committee asking “all Arabs and all Muslims to prepare to fight to defend their sacred values and to not weaken in the face of (American) aggression”.

“Jihad to defend Iraq will be an obligation for all Muslims… but there is a difference between jihad and terrorism,” Al-Azhar leader Mohamed Sayyed Tantawi said.

Yasser al-Serri, the director of the Islamic Observatory based in London, an Islamist interest group, agreed that “it is the duty of all Muslims to defend themselves against the aggressor.

“Today, America is in the process of attacking a Muslim country. Any Muslim is obliged to hit the aggressor and the bases used to stage this attack,” Serri said.

“(But) that does not necessarily mean defending the dictator, Saddam Hussein,” he added.

The head of the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe, also based in London, the Iraqi Ahmed al-Rasui, urged Muslims to resist the urge for vengeance.

“Certainly, this war defies international legitimacy… but all aggression against an individual or institution under the pretext of defending rights is wrong,” Rasui said.

Nearly six months before the war started, however, some 450 Iraqi Sunni and Shiite religious leaders met in Baghdad and proclaimed that “if an attack is launched against Iraq, jihad against this century’s Pharaoh (US President George W. Bush) would become the duty of any Muslim”.

On Monday evening, four days into the war, an Iraqi carried out a suicide attack in the southeastern Fao peninsula and destroyed a tank used by the US-British coalition, according to an Iraqi army spokesperson.

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