Guardian blogger picks up on “takfir” where we left off

March 3, 2008

Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah during an interview with Reuters in Beirut, 5 Sept. 2007/Jamal SaidiThanks to Haroon Siddique over at the Guardian newsblog for doing some work I left unfinished last week. On Feb. 26, I wrote a post about a leading Muslim seminary in India declaring terrorism to be un-Islamic and noted that the news got almost no coverage in western media. “So the statement, which was backed by several thousand Islamic scholars, looks like it will end up like the tree that falls in the forest with nobody around to hear it,” the post added. The next day, our Beirut bureau reported that Lebanon’s Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah — one of the most respected clerics in Shi’ite Islam — had denounced the practice of Muslims charging others with non-belief as “one of the most dangerous issues” faced by the Muslim world. This practice, called takfir in Arabic, is used by radical Islamists as a justification for killing other Muslims.

As soon as I saw the report, I thought this would probably be another tree falling in the forest unheard and bookmarked it to wait to see if it would be picked up. Other demands got in the way and then other blog subjects came up, so the takfir post didn’t even make it to the falling tree stage in the blogosphere. This happens more frequently than I like, but we can’t cover everything.

Now Siddique has come to the rescue with his post “Who’s listening to the Muslim moderates?” A few excerpts:

How many times have we read or heard calls for moderate Muslims to speak out about wrongs supposedly carried out in the name of Islam?

Politicians including Tony Blair and various commentators – here’s a Telegraph leader – have urged the moderate voice of Islam to make itself heard above the din of extremist preachers.

Last week, one of the most respected clerics in Shia Islam, Lebanon’s grand ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, condemned the perpetrators of an attack against pilgrims in Iraq as “murderers and animals” and called for the repudiation of a school of thought that it was permissible to spill the blood of Muslims “who embrace another doctrine, or believe in alternative political views”…

…If you do not remember reading or hearing about his comments that is probably because you did not. His words, reported by Reuters, might have been expected to be picked up by the same media which regularly feature writers bemoaning a lack of moderate Muslims. But there was no mention of his strong words in the British papers, their websites or that of the BBC.

Do you think news items like these don’t get media play because they don’t fit certain stereotypes? Of because editors don’t understand the role that the Darul Uloom Deoband seminary or Grand Ayathollah Fadlallah play? Or for some other reason?


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Sadly, all the reasons you offered for lack of media play are true. But also items like this don’t highlight conflict and drive “eyeballs” and thus are useless to the sensationalist and profit-driven media.

Posted by fern | Report as abusive

You are suggesting that there is something remarkable about condemning takfiris!

Takfirism is very much an aberation within traditional Islamic practice. Schismatic groups of jihadist murderers – from FIS to Al Qaeda – have been keen on it: particularly because it allows you to kill your (Muslim) neighbours who don’t want to be ruled by you.

But there’s absolutely nothing remarkable about muslims, or even Islamists, repudiating takfirism.

Similarly, I don’t understand why you, or Haroon, are heartened by Hizbollah’s spiritual leader deciding that it is wrong for Sunni Takfiris to murder Shias. What else do you think he would say?

I can think no senior, establishment Muslim clerics who have explicitly sanctioned the murder of other Muslims: even across the sectarian divide. There are certainly mainstream clerics who have encouraged sectarianism, though.

Posted by David T | Report as abusive

Dear Mr Heneghan,

I think there is another simple reason : the history !

My Prophet Muhammad and his successors (Califas)left me, the moslem, a big Empire conquered by jihad.

The truth should be to condemn jihad as a mean to convert and do war since the early islam (year 1)until today and also for tomorow

It is the same think with takfir : if you declare jihad to persons who don’t believe in Allah, you are ready to kill persons who don’t belive in Allah like you do !

Posted by Mohamed Pascal Hilout | Report as abusive

David T, you seem to have missed the point of this post and Haroon’s. The issue is not whether condemning takfir is remarkable, unusual, expected or anything else. The point is that media, politicians and commentators outside the Muslim world often say Muslim leaders don’t denounce Islamist violence. But many do, and when they do, the story does not get media play outside the region. In this case, we had two such denunciations in as many days, from a leading Sunni seminary in India and a grand ayatollah (therefore Shi’ite) in Lebanon. They were noticed in the Muslim world but not outside.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

Oh right.

Anybody who thinks that the majority of muslims (and even Islamists) aren’t opposed to the takfiris, just has no understanding of Muslim politics.

I think that the point that is more often made is that Islamists manage to get extremely hot and bothered about trivialities such as cartoons, but seem to avoid demonstrations, direct action, and public displays of anger over the slaughter of muslims by other muslims: in Hama in Syria, or Darfur, or elsewhere.

But Haroon’s basic point is a foolish one. He thinks it is remarkable that a Shi’ite Islamist condemns Sunni takfris. That’s about as noteworthy as – say – the Rev Iain Paisley condemning the IRA because “hey, they’re both Christian organisations”.

Posted by David T | Report as abusive

So let me get this straight … the standard for being a “moderate” in your eyes is so low that it includes a “cleric” who calls terrorist attacks on Israel the “new battle of Khaibar” (after which Muslims massacred, tortured, and sold into slavery the remaining Jews)?

Oh, that’s right, he said the opposing sect shouldn’t commit mass murder for sectarian reasons. Wow! You’re right! What better model is there to hold up to the world?

These transparent attempts to obscure and whitewash true evil have become disgusting. Mohamed Hilout’s comments were right on target. A true “moderate” would not even need to make such a statement. Denouncing jihad would preclude takfir.

Posted by DBooth | Report as abusive

[…] We mentioned your post and linked to the Deoband case on the Reuters religion blog FaithWorld at  /03/03/guardian-bl-left-off/ For information on the equally inadequate, if not downright deceptive, Deobandi statement, see […]

Posted by Guardian praises Hizballah supporter as “moderate” because he condemned attacks on Muslims; Reuters jumps on the bandwagon | Islamic Alert – Islamic Alert: Islam and Terrorism In The Daily News. Islamic Jihad, Islamic Terrorism, Islamic Blogs, | Report as abusive