The ruling, or fatwa, also said American Muslims can participate in the military response to the Sept. 11 attacks. "We find it necessary to apprehend the true perpetrators of these crimes, as well as those who aid and abet them through incitement, financing or other support," the five Muslim scholars declared.
The ruling, released Thursday, was written by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the widely respected chairman of the Sunna and Sira Council in Qatar, along with three colleagues in Egypt and one in Syria.
Suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden has issued his own fatwa authorizing terrorist murders of American civilians, but an edict led by al-Qaradawi carries vastly more weight for believers who adhere to Islam's traditions and procedures.
Al-Qaradawi had also condemned the attacks on New York and Washington in a Sept. 13 fatwa, but he is no predictable ally of the West. For instance, last April he told The Associated Press in the context of Palestine that "a suicide bombing is an act of martyrdom, not an act of suicide."
The new fatwa cited the words of God in the Quran and authoritative Hadith, traditions of the teachings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad. "All Muslims ought to be united against all those who terrorize the innocents, and those who permit the killing of non-combatants without a justifiable reason," the fatwa said.
The text was dated Sept. 27 and released in Washington by the Fiqh Council of North America, an 11-member panel formed in 1986 under auspices of the Islamic Society of North America to offer legal rulings for Muslims in the United States and Canada.
The ruling was requested by Army Capt. Abdul-Rashid Muhammad, the first Muslim chaplain in the American military. Muhammad asked whether it was proper for the 15,000 American Muslims in uniform to participate in retaliation against those thought to have planned and financed the terror attacks and to eliminate their safe haven in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The fatwa made one exception to American policy, saying the perpetrators "must be brought to justice in an impartial court of law" and then given appropriate punishment to deter future terrorism. Nonetheless, the fatwa said U.S. Muslim soldiers can serve, even though in combat "it's often difficult - if not impossible - to differentiate between the real perpetrators who are being pursued, and the innocents who have committed no crime."
A Muslim citizen serving in the regular army ``has no choice but to follow orders; otherwise his allegiance and loyalty to his country could be in doubt,'' the fatwa said. The five jurists also said Muslims have a duty to speak up about the faith's anti-terrorism stand.