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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 July 2005, 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK
Pakistan clerics explain 'jihad'

By Aamer Ahmed Khan
BBC News, Lahore

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Pakistan's top Muslim clerics have said it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to preach the real concept of jihad, or holy war, to young Muslims.

"The situation in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine is radicalising young people," says Mufti Rafi Usmani, one of Pakistan's highest-ranking clerics.

"And an angry young man is in no-one's control," he said.

Other high-ranking Islamic scholars have also endorsed these views.

Circumstances for jihad

Mufti Rafi Usmani heads Darul Uloom Karachi, one of Pakistan's most respected religious schools, or madrassas.

Jihad is not incumbent on all Muslims and a call for jihad can be given only under special circumstances
Mufti Rafi Usmani

"Islam does not allow killing of innocent civilians and non-combatants under any circumstances," he said in an interview with the BBC News website.

Asked to explain the concept of jihad as expounded in mainstream Islamic thought, Mufti Usmani said it had been laid down in great detail precisely to avoid any confusion.

"To begin with, jihad is not incumbent on all Muslims and a call for jihad can be given only under special circumstances," he said.

Islamic scholars - or ulema - agree that injunctions explaining the circumstances for jihad and the people's conduct during jihad constitute the core principles of the doctrine.

According to three top scholars interviewed by the BBC News website, jihad can only be called in the following circumstances:

  • If a Muslim community comes under attack, then jihad becomes an obligation for all Muslims, male and female, in that community

  • If that particular community feels it cannot fight off attackers on its own, then jihad becomes incumbent on Muslims living in nearby communities

  • If a Muslim ruler of a country calls for jihad, then it is incumbent upon the Muslims living under that ruler to join the jihad.

Jihad 'not obligatory'

Mufti Usmani says that even in such circumstances, jihad is obligatory only on as many Muslims as are required to defend the community under attack.

Mufti Akram Kashmiri of Jamia Ashrafia
Mufti Akram Kashmiri: Rising tide of Muslim anger

"If Pakistan is attacked but its army is sufficient to deal with the threat, then Pakistani civilians are under no obligation to join jihad," he said.

The second principle relates to the conduct of the jihadis. Under no circumstances are Muslims allowed to attack women, children, the old and the meek, the sick, those that are praying and civilians, say these ulema.

Muslim militants argue that if innocent Muslims are killed in enemy action then Muslims are allowed to kill innocent people in retaliation.

But clerics strongly disagree with this line of thinking, arguing that Islam does not allow Muslims to respond to "a mistake" by another mistake.

"Islam is absolutely clear on this issue. Two wrongs do not make a right," Mufti Usmani said.

"If they feel that the US or the UK are killing innocent civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan, it does not give them the right to kill innocent citizens in London or New York," he said.

Honouring commitments

Dr Sikander, who heads Jamia Binoria in Karachi, says the Muslims have their options clearly cut out under Islam if they do not agree with the foreign policy of those countries where they are living.

Jamia Binoria is credited with producing several students who later took to militancy. The founder of the now banned Jaish-e-Mohammed militant group, Maulana Masood Azhar, is also said to have attended this seminary.

[Angry young Muslims] go around to all kinds of ulema with dubious credentials to seek religious sanctions
Mufti Akram Kashmiri
Jamia Ashrafia head

Dr Sikander says that should Muslims feel that their country of residence is doing something terribly wrong, then all they can do is to leave the country.

"If an Iraqi living in London is outraged over Britain's role in what is happening in Iraq, then he should go to Iraq and fight the coalition forces there," he said.

"Nothing gives him the right to hit back at innocent civilians living in the UK."

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Pakistani clerics say that the doctrine evolves from the fundamental Islamic principle of honouring commitments.

"When a Muslim visits a Western country or if he is living there, then he is under a kind of a contractual obligation to abide by the law of that land," explains Mufti Usmani.

"Islam is so strict about honouring commitments that a commitment cannot be revoked unilaterally even in times of battle."

Mufti Akram Kashmiri, the head of Jamia Ashrafia in Lahore - another top madrassa whose students have risen to top posts in various Islamic countries - says that the existing circumstances are making it extremely difficult for the ulema to preach this message to disaffected Muslim youth.

"Angry young Muslims are no longer satisfied with this doctrine," he says.

"That is why they go around to all kinds of ulema with dubious credentials to seek religious sanctions to deal with the rising tide of anger inside them," he says.

These ulema are convinced that the solution to terrorism no longer lies in the hands of the Muslim world or the clerics.

The West, they say, must seek a resolution of all the conflicts involving the Muslim world and hit at the root causes that have spawned terrorism all over the world.


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