On Oct. 24, 2004 a petition was posted at both METransparent.com and Elaph.com titled "From Liberal Arabs to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and the chairman and members of the Security Council." Written primarily by three individuals (Jawad Hashim, Iraq's former minister of planning; Lafif Lakhdar, a Tunisian intellectual, and Shakir Al-Nabulsi, a Jordanian writer), the petition calls for an international treaty banning the use of religion for incitement to violence. In a stunning, unprecedented, and very hopeful sign, reports the Saudi newspaper Arab News today, over 2,500 Muslim intellectuals from 23 countries (but mostly from Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf states, Iraq, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority) have signed this petition. The organizers hope shortly to have tens of thousands of signatories.
The addressee and the goal are both unlikely, but the sentiments are critical. Shakir Al-Nablusi, a Jordanian academic and one of the signatories, notes that "There are individuals in the Muslim world who pose as clerics and issue death sentences against those they disagree with. These individuals give Islam a bad name and foster hatred among civilizations." The petition names names:
The signatories describe those who use religion for inciting violence as "the sheikhs of death". Among those mentioned by name is Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian preacher working in Qatar. The signatories accuse him of "providing a religious cover for terrorism." Last year Qaradawi raised a storm when he issued a fatwa allowing the killing of Israeli pregnant women and their unborn babies on the ground that the babies could grow up to join the Israeli Army. Last September, Qaradawi in a fatwa in response to a question from the Egyptian Union of Journalists said killing "all Americans, civilian or military" in Iraq was allowed.
"We cannot let such dangerous nonsense to pass as Islam," Nablusi says. The petition also names the late Egyptian preacher Muhammad Al-Ghazzali who, in 1992, issued a fatwa for the murder of Farag Foda, an anti-clerical writer in Cairo. Within weeks of the fatwa, zealots murdered Foda in his home. Other "sheikhs of death" mentioned include the Yemeni Abdul-Majid Al-Zendani, and the Saudis Ali bin Khudhair Al-Khudhair and Safar Al-Hawali. The two Saudis have described the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks against the United States as "retaliations", and thus justified under Islamic law.
Comment: Are the moderate, anti-Islamist voices in the Muslim world beginning to organize? If so, I cannot think of more cheering news. (October 30, 2004)
Nov. 1, 2004 update: The Associated Press in its coverage adds the spicy not-so-minor detail that this petition calls for the extremist sheikhs to be hauled before an international court and tried on charges of encouraging terrorism. Not mincing words, the petition declares: "Fatwas issued by these sheikhs play a key role in releasing the sadism of terrorists and their desire for death beyond any moral bounds and feelings of guilt."
Comment: Are the moderate, anti-Islamist voices in the Muslim world beginning to organize? If so, I cannot think of more cheering news.
Nov. 3, 2004 update: An English-language translation, titled "Letter from Liberal Arabs & Muslims to the United Nations Security Council & the U.N. Secretary General Requesting the Establishment of an International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Terrorists" is now available at the Middle East Transparent website.
Nov. 27, 2004 update: Jawad Hashim has sent me an improved version of the English translation, which I have posted on this site.
Nov. 30, 2004 update: The Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism has endorsed the petition and invites "all people" to sign this petition "by sending their name, profession, country of residence and nationality to Jmhashim@hotmail.com and cc: President@freemuslims.org. Write ‘petition' in the subject line."
June 7, 2005 update: The United Nations finally replied to the petition, and a scan of the letter from Under-Secretary General Nicolas Michel can be found at the website of Jawad Hashim.