Last week, a group of twenty Imams from across the United States and Canada, all affiliated with the Islamic Supremem Council of Canada, issued a fatwa (religious edict) declaring that any attack on America or Canada is equivalent to an attack on the millions of muslims living in these nations. The goal of this fatwa is to delegitimize terrorist atacks by attempting to strip them of their religious camoflauge, and represents a sincere and noble niyat (intention) of loyalty and love for our homelands. The language of the fatwa itself makes an argument that I have made any times myself, that muslims are freer to practice their faith in the West (well, the US and Canada anyway) than anywhere in the muslim majority nations:

There is no single city in Canada and the United States where MASAJIDS (Mosques) are not built. In all major cities Islamic schools provide education to Muslim children about Qur’an and the Islamic traditions. Thousands of Muslims perform Hajj every year and travel to Saudi Arabia with complete freedom and respect. In the month of Ramadan, both Canadian and the United States governments recognize the occasion and greet all Muslim citizens. Muslims pray five daily prayers in mosques without any fear or restrictions. Muslims have complete freedom to pay Zakat (poor due) to the charity or a person of their choice. Muslims have complete freedom to celebrate their festivals openly, publicly and Islamically. Muslims enjoy freedom of religion just like Christians, Jews and others. No one stops us from obeying Allah and His Messenger (Peace be upon him). No one stops us from preaching Islam and practicing Islam. In many cases, Muslims have more freedom to practice Islam here in Canada and the United States than many Muslim countries.

In fact, the constitutions of the United States and Canada are very close to the Islamic guiding principles of human rights and freedom. There is no conflict between the Islamic values of freedom and justice and the Canadian /US values of freedom and justice.

As I’ve often said – America is the greatest Islamic country in the world, and President Obama made a similar point as well during his Cairo speech.

However, I do have some issues with the fatwa in a general sense, namely the packaging of it as a fatwa itself. A fatwa is a religious ruling, one that should be supported by Qur’an, hadith and jurisprudence. There are indeed some Qur’an verses quoted in the fatwa text, but these are general verses about taking a stand against wrongdoing. That’s supportive of the Imam’s intentions, but these verses are not really relevant to the (novel) theological argument being made that an attack on a nation is considered an attack on its muslim residents, directly correlated to those residents’ freedom to practice the faith. The problem with a fatwa is that it is legal; as such it opens the door to questions such as, if America were oppressive of its muslim population would it then be permissible to attack America? Does the minaret ban in Switzerland now invite attack? What about attacks on Afghanistan? The problem here is that the fatwa – if treated as a fatwa, and not as a statement of principle – can actually be used as Islamic cover by the very people it seeks to denounce.

I think the imams – whose sincere intentions I do not question – would have better served their aims by making this a press release or general statement, rather than further diluting the term fatwa. Obviously, the fatwa has absolutely zero relevance to those extremists abroad who are planning atacks on the West anyway; none of those will be swayed by the fatwa in any way. The fatwa is really aimed at the muslims in the US and Canada itself, a prophylactic against domestic extremism – but again, those like Major Malik Hasan who are infected by the jihadi meme are exposed to it online and from foreign sources, and again are thus unlikely to be swayed by the argument. The vast majority of muslims in the US and Canada are already vigilant against extremism, so the fatwa is pretty much redundant and preaching to the choir. So what then does it really achieve?

Still, it’s better for the Imams to be making this argument publically, then not making it. The more that we, the western muslim community, can advertise our freedom to be muslim here to muslims elsewhere, the safer all Americans wil indeed be. But we need to think more strategically about how best to get that message out there, than copying the Fatwa of the Day methodology used by our enemies.

Related – discussion of the fatwa at Talk Islam. In particular this comment by Abu Noor really makes the case for why the labeling of the statement as a fatwa is so problematic.

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