al-Qaradawi and the Fatwa of Killing

The recent uprising in Egypt which led to deposing of president Hosni Mubarak brought back a highly influential religious leader back home. After thirty years of exile, Yousef al-Qaradawi, an influential Sunni cleric who is the president of the International Union for Muslim Scholars went back to his home country, Egypt. On February 18, he delivered his first public sermon in Cairo emerging as a powerful voice. For many years he has had a very popular television show on al-Jazeera called ‘Religion and Life.’ Certainly, he is one of the strongest voices in Egypt right now.

‌The uprising in Tunisia and then Egypt led to shaking other dictatorial Arab regimes in the Middle East, Algeria, Yemen, and Bahrain. Now, the strongest and bloodiest one is the protests in Libya under the rule of Mummar Ghaddafi. What makes the case of Libyan protest different from others is the role of Army and commander in chief, Mummar Ghaddafi. The regime by using the military is trying to oppress its own people. The military has opened fired on people and from bombers there has been shooting at people. All these have led to death of so many civilians. The death of so many people, more look like a massacre in Libya brought about al-Qarzawi to react to the situation differently.

Al-Qarzawi recently announced  “I ask the [Libyan] army not to listen to Ghaddafi’s orders to kill their nation…I [al-Qarzawi] advise you [the army] to kill him, whoever in the Libyan army is able to shoot at Mr. Gaddafi has to do so to rid people of him.” According to Islamic law, it is a fatwa which is issued by a distinguished Islamic cleric. All the followers of the al-Qarzawi who are addressed by this order, fatwa, are supposed to follow this fatwa; ‘not to listen to Ghaddafi’s orders’; also try to assassinate him. Ghaddafi has killed many and is going to kill so many more. There is no doubt that he should be stopped. The question is how. Can a fatwa to assassinate him by a cleric be a solution? Should we welcome this fatwa, if it is going to stop Ghaddafi?

Necessarily the fatwa should be analyzed more. Apparently, this fatwa was issued to prevent more violence by Ghaddafi’s commands. In fact, the fatwa has two parts; first, it is an order to the army people not to obey their commander; secondly, it is asking them to kill, assassinate, him. These two parts are essentially different; the first part is asking for stopping violence by disobeying the orders toward violence against civilians; the second part is encouraging a violent act in order to stop violence. Therefore, the first ‌part of fatwa is completely in harmony with all the concerns of human right activists. The second part is not clear if it is acceptable, although a strong voice inside telling us we should welcome the fatwa if it is going to stop Ghaddafi. Certainly, we need to think about this fatwa more, its consequences and implications.

Looking to the spirit of this fatwa is horrifying. A person who does not have any official position from Egypt is issuing a fatwa in which encouraging his followers to assassinate a person in another country, Libya. From where this power and authority is delegated to Qarzawi? Does he enjoy this authority from his religious position or from his Muslim followers or both? We can suppose that he gets this power from his followers who have elected him voluntarily.  The problem is that he does not consider himself accountable to these people, because he claims an expertise that people lack it. His expertise in religion gives him a legitimate power among Muslims, while he is not accountable to them because he knows something that others do not know.[1] He has access to a black box in his relation to his followers. An uncontrolled power to life and death is delegated to the hand of one individual who is not accountable to anyone, without any official position in a state power.

The main point of this critique is not to pay attention if Ghaddafi deserves this fatwa or if al-Qarzawi is a good person or not. What concerns me the most is the process in which an individual is sentencing someone to death without being qualified to do so. The case of Muammar Ghaddafi is an extreme example. Everyone agrees that we should prevent him from killing more, and he has to be put on trial as a criminal. Some people may say that this fatwa is completely a righteous decision to stop Ghaddafi. The main question, however, is the road that this fatwa opens or deepens.

Confirming the fatwa, or even being silent facing it, strengthen this way of dealing with problems in this part of the world. It might be the fastest and easiest way to handle the current crisis in Libya but along with so much uncertainty. What if referring to the same sacred texts, he issued another fatwa killing someone else or a group of people inside or outside of the Muslim world? How can we stop him, or his successor, or other similar cases, if we do not disapprove his fatwa now? As he justifies his act of violence by referring to the text, Quran, he is able to do the same next time. Even though the text of reference is a sacred one respected by millions of people, it is not the law of a state or international law. We trust al-Qarzawi, what about his successors who might enjoy the same power but not as well educated as him, or even being more easy-going with violent fatwas. We should stop this process now. Now, that everyone think the case is very clear we should demonstrate that this is not the right action from a very popular cleric in twentieth century.

To clarify my point, I will bring an example. On February 1989, the most important and popular Iranian cleric at the time, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa in which he asked Muslim people to assassinate the British writer, Salman Rushdie due to his book, Satanic Verses. The reference was again the same text, Quran. Is Ayatollah Khomeini as justified as al-Qarzawi? Our reaction to the former one is negative because we do not consider Ghaddafi and Rushdie comparable; one is obviously a criminal and the other one just an author. According to the clerics both of them are criminals and deserve death sentences without having the chance to defend themselves. In fact, Rushdie can be considered more dangerous to religion than Ghaddafi. In Khomeini’s understanding and Muslim he has targeted the core of religion itself,

I do believe that all the politicians and human right activists should approve the first part of the fatwa which is against violence. But, people should react strongly against the second part which is another act of violence, announcing the death of someone by an unsupervised power. It is hard to understand how we can prevent an act of violence by another act of violence.

Referring to a text which is sacred and respected by people but it is not the law of state or the international law.


[1] In my discussion with a Muslim who had shared the video of al-Qarzawi while issuing the fatwa, I challenged the fatwa. My friend directly told me that he knows better than us. In other words, he knows something that we do not know and this is enough for a Muslim follower.