When Ahlam Tamimi admitted, with a smile on her face, to her part in the Sbarro massacre — 15 killed and 140 injured — what did Sharia law have to say about that?
Does Sharia commend terrorism?
In his book, Understanding Islamic Law, Raj Bhala posits that unlike the American definition of terrorism — which incorporates motivation as part of the definition — Islamic law, as defined for example in the 1998 Arab Convention, states that motivation does not matter and defines terrorism as:
Any act or threat of violence, whatever its motives or purposes, that occurs for the advancement of an individual or collective criminal agenda, causing terror among people, causing fear by harming them, or placing their lives, liberty or security in danger, or aiming to cause damage to the environment or to public or private installations or property or to occupy or to seize them, or aiming to jeopardize a national resource.
The problem with a definition that ignores motivation arises in Bhala’s own attempt to describe terrorism:
Islam takes a strong position against terrorism, and like the modern American legal regime, is grounded in Criminal Law. What would be called “terrorism” today is a crime against the public order (hirabah), i.e., an act that threatens the security of society. Such acts include highway robbery (kat’ al-tarik), but are not be [sic] limited to that example.
Is highway robbery an appropriate example of terrorism?
Going a step further, Bhala quotes a passage from the Koran (5:33), to support his contention about Islam’s opposition to terrorism:
Those who wage war against God and His Messenger and strive to spread corruption in the land should be punished by death, crucifixion, the amputation of an alternate hand and foot, or banishment from the land: a disgrace for them in this world, and then a terrible punishment in the Hereafter, unless they repent before you over power them: in that case bear in mind that God is forgiving and merciful.
The passage is at best problematic.
Is “terrorism” what the Koran has in mind when it speaks about spreading corruption? It may well describe highway robbery, but not the kind of attacks that we have in mind when we talk about terrorism.
More jarring is Bhala’s own description, where he writes “In brief, the punishment for the spreading of mischief and terrorism is severe…”terrorism,” understood in the Qur’anic sense of spreading mischief through the land, never is condoned…” Mischief is an appropriate term for harm or trouble, but seems to fall short for the topic of terrorism.
More importantly, a key element that is missing here is the focus of the attack. The Koran seems to focus internally on Muslim vs Muslim violence. In the context of Islam, when we discuss terrorism we are referring to Muslim vs Non-Muslim violence.
Bernard Lewis addresses this issue in his 2003 book The Crisis of Islam, especially in terms of the approach taken by the religious leaders who justify the terrorist attacks of Al Qaeda, fundamentalism of the Saudis and institutionalized revolution of Iran:
All these different extremist groups sanctify their action through pious references to Islamic texts, notably the Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet, and all three claim to represent a truer, purer, and more authentic Islam than that currently practiced by the vast majority of Muslims and endorsed by most though not all of the religious leadership. They are, however, highly selective in their choice and interpretation of sacred texts. (p. 138)
|Bernard Lewis. Credit: Wikipedia|
Going from generalities to specifics, Lewis addresses the problem with suicide bombers, applicable to the terrorist who blew himself up in the Sbarro restaurant:
Those who are killed in the jihad are called martyrs, in Arabic and other Muslim languages shahid…The Arabic term shahid also means “witness” and is usually translated “martyr,” but it has a rather different connotation. In Islamic usage the term martyrdom is normally interpreted to mean death in a jihad and reward is eternal bliss, described in some detail in early religious texts. Suicide, by contrast, is a mortal sin and earns eternal damnation, even for those who would otherwise have earned a place in paradise. The classical jurists distinguish clearly between facing certain death at the hands of the enemy and killing oneself by one’s own hand. The one leads to heaven, the other to hell. Some recent fundamentalist jurists and others have blurred or even dismissed this distinction, but their view is by no means unanimously accepted. The suicide bomber is thus taking a considerable risk on a theological nicety. (p38-39 emphasis added)
Beyond issues of theology, Lewis points out that Sharia law addresses who can be targeted:
Because holy war is an obligation of the faith, it is elaborately regulated in the sharia. Fighters in a jihad are enjoined not to kill women, children, and the aged unless they attack first, not to torture or mutilate prisoner, to give fair warning of the resumption of hostilities after a truce, and to honor agreements.
And because of the issue of who can be targeted, Islamic law also discusses what constitutes proper weapons:
…The medieval jurists and theologians discuss at some length the rules of warfare, including questions such as which weapons are permitted and which are not. There is even some discussion in medieval texts of the lawfulness of missile and chemical warfare, the one relating to mangonels and catapults, the other to poison-tipped arrows and the poisoning of enemy water supplies. On these points there is considerable variation. Some jurists permit, some restrict, some disapprove of the use of these weapons. The stated reason for concern is the indiscriminate casualties that they inflict. [emphasis added]
These are issues that more than theoretical. The terrorist who blew himself up at the Sbarro restaurant is dead.
The terrorist who masterminded the terrorist attack, Ahlam Tamimi, is alive and has found haven in Jordan.
None of the issues outlined above were of any concern to her:
But what about Jordan’s King Abdullah?
What are his thoughts about the Islamic attitude towards terrorism?
We can get an idea of King Abdullah’s thinking on terrorism by looking at The Amman Message:
The Amman Message started as a detailed statement released the eve of the 27th of Ramadan 1425 AH / 9th November 2004 CE by H.M. King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein in Amman, Jordan. It sought to declare what Islam is and what it is not, and what actions represent it and what actions do not. Its goal was to clarify to the modern world the true nature of Islam and the nature of true Islam.
According to the summary, the apparent consensus that was reached:
thus assures balanced Islamic solutions for essential issues like human rights; women’s rights; freedom of religion; legitimate jihad; good citizenship of Muslims in non-Muslim countries, and just and democratic government. It also exposes the illegitimate opinions of radical fundamentalists and terrorists from the point of view of true Islam. As George Yeo, the Foreign Minister of Singapore, declared in the 60th Session of the U.N. General Assembly (about the Amman Message): “Without this clarification, the war against terrorism would be much harder to fight.”
So far, so good.
In the full text, the Amman Message addresses the issue of terrorism as follows:
On religious and moral grounds, we denounce the contemporary concept of terrorism that is associated with wrongful practices, whatever their source and form may be. Such acts are represented by aggression against human life in an oppressive form that transgresses the rulings of God, frightening those who are secure, violating peaceful civilians, finishing off the wounded, and killing prisoners; and they employ unethical means, such as destroying buildings and ransacking cities: Do not kill the soul that God has made sacrosanct, save for justice. (6:151)
We condemn these practices and believe that resisting oppression and confirming justice should be a legitimate undertaking through legitimate means. We call on the people to take the necessary steps to achieve the strength and steadfastness for building identity and preserving rights.
We realize that over history extremism has been instrumental in destroying noble achievements in great civilizations, and that the tree of civilization withers when malice takes hold and breasts are shut. In all its shapes, extremism is a stranger to Islam, which is founded upon equanimity and tolerance. No human whose heart has been illumined by God could be a radical extremist.
At the same time, we decry the campaign of brazen distortion that portrays Islam as a religion that encourages violence and institutionalizes terrorism. We call upon the international community to work earnestly to implement inter-national laws and honor the international mandates and resolutions issued by the United Nations, ensuring that all parties accept them and that they be enacted without double standards, to guarantee the return of rights to their [rightful] holders and the end of oppression. Achieving this will be a significant contribution to uprooting the causes of violence, fanaticism and extremism. [emphasis added]
On the one hand, terrorism is condemned in the context of “resisting oppression,” with an emphasis on pursuing justice as “a legitimate undertaking through legitimate means.” On the other hand, the International Islamic Fiqh Academy met in Jordan just 18 months later and issued Resolution 154: Islam’s Position on Extremism, Radicalism, and Terrorism, linked to from the Amman Message site itself, which states:
There is a distinction between terrorism and legitimate resistance to occupation through legally accepted means, because the latter is for the purposes of removing tyranny and reclaiming lost rights. This is a right recognized by law and by reason, and is affirmed by international treaties…We reaffirm what has already been mentioned above in this resolution, namely that struggle (Jihad) to defend Islamic belief, and to protect or liberate one’s country from foreign occupation is not terrorism, so long as that struggle follows the rulings of Islamic law..
This appears to leave the door open for terrorism when framed as “resistance” withing the same Islamic law that supposedly condemns terrorism.
Similarly, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross writes in his analysis of the Amman Message, The Role of Consensus in the Contemporary Struggle for Islam
Most significant, the circumstances under which the use of force is justified-self-defense, the protection of sovereignty, and “in defense of all innocent people”-are never explained. Are roadside bomb attacks against coalition forces in Iraq justified defenses of sovereignty? What about suicide bombings in Israel? Some very prominent Islamic scholars would answer yes to both questions-and, unfortunately, there is reason to believe that their ranks include signatories of the Amman Message’s takfir document.
He points to King Abdullah’s comments to that same International Islamic Fiqh Academy that issued resolution 154, where King Abdullah appeared to endorse the use of terrorism against Israel:
We believe that the grief which affects us will affect you, because in Amman you are close to the grief of Iraq to the east, as the people of Iraq undergo a great struggle, and you are close to the grief of the Palestinians to the west, as the blessed al-Aqsa mosque, the first qiblah and third in the triad of Holy Places, suffers under occupation.
|King Abdullah addressing the Opening Plenary session of the
World Economic Forum in 2008. Credit: World Economic Forum
Gartenstein-Ross also notes the absence in the Amman Message of a definition of non-combatants — a point relevant to defining the approach of Sharia Law to the Sbarro massacre. He points out that while the document hints that non-combatants are not legitimate targets of war, Yusuf Qaradawi — who signed the document — has claimed that all Israelis are legitimate targets due to conscription in Israel, so that there are no “civilians” in Israel.
Apparently Qaradawi does not apply the same logic to Gaza, where little children are encouraged to sing about killing Israelis and act out attacks and killings with a goal towards training to do the real thing.
The apparent lack of a united Muslim opposition to Islamic terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians is evident elsewhere as well.
Buzzfeed ran an article last year praising Heraa Hashmi, a 19 year old student who developed a Google spreadsheet to prove that Muslims condemn terrorism. If you open her Worldwide Muslims Condemn List and do a search for Israel, you will find that other than links to articles accusing the Simon Wiesenthal Center of desecrating the Mamilla cemetery in Jerusalem, there is a broken link to Leading Muslim Scholars Condemn Racism and Intolerance at the Durban II Conference available elsewhere. The article does refer to Israel, twice. However, the condemnation to racism and intolerance is a general one.
The website created from the spreadsheet, Muslims Condemn lists 20 popular searches — none of them having to do with Israel. A search for “terrorism” gives a very long list that seemed endless. A search for “Israel” turns up 8 hits: 4 links to the Mamilla cemetery, 1 to ISIS, 1 to Climate Change and 2 to condemnations of Terrorism. A search for “Israel” and “terrorism” turns up just those 2 links. While clicking on hits tend to provide genuine links, for these 2 hits, clicking on them leads to a page giving as the “source” not a link to an article but just the text “Acommonword”
No doubt there have been condemnations, but the vast majority are directed to terrorist attacks other than those against Israeli civilians.
This tends to corroborate Raymond Ibrahim, who in his 2008 article Studying the Islamic Way of War, contradicts what Bernard Lewis writes about the Islamic attitude towards war and non-combatants:
For instance, based on the words and deeds of Muhammad, most schools of Islamic jurisprudence agree that the following are all legitimate during war against the infidel: the indiscriminate use of missile weaponry, even if women and children are present (catapults in Muhammad’s seventh century context; hijacked planes or WMD today); the need to always deceive the enemy and even break formal treaties whenever possible (see Sahih Muslim 15: 4057); and that the only function of the peace treaty, or “hudna,” is to give the Islamic armies time to regroup for a renewed offensive, and should, in theory, last no more than ten years. [emphasis added]
So where does that leave us today regarding Sharia Law and terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians in general — and particularly the attitude of Islamic law towards Ahlam Tamimi’s masterminding of the massacre at the Sbarro restaurant?
It turns out that theree is no single authoritative statement in Sharia law that clearly condemns terrorism, no matter where it occurs.
However, we know that Jordan abided by its extradition treaty with the US in 1995, when it handed over the terrorist who drove a van full of explosives into the garage of the World Trade Center in 1993. If King Abdullah, whose father King Hussein, saw to it that Jordan respected that treaty, really wants to demonstrate that Islam condemns terrorism, his choice is clear. Muslim condemnation of terrorism as long as it does not occur in Israel turns those Muslim condemnations into a sham.
In order to send a clear message that Sharia law today condemns the murder of women and children by Ahlam Tamimi and condemns terrorism in general, King Abdullah must extradite Ahlam Tamimi to the United States.
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