It never was and may never be easy to report about fatwas for a world audience. This point was driven home once again today when a prominent Islamic scholar presented to the media his new 600-page fatwa against terrorism and suicide bombing. Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri is a Pakistani-born Sufi scholar whose youth workshops fostering moderation and understanding in Britain had already caught our attention. His effort to knock down any and every argument in favour of violence is certainly welcome. But the back story to this event is so complicated that it’s hard to report on the fatwa without simply ignoring many important parts of this back story.
Part of the problem was the PR drumroll leading up to ul-Qadri’s news conference. Minhaj-ul-Quran, his international network to spread his Sufi teachings, touted this fatwa in an email to journalists a week ago as a unique event “because at no time in history has such an extensively researched and evidenced work been presented by such a prominent Islamic authority.” Hype like this usually prompts journalists to throw an invitation straight into the trash can.
Two days later, on February 25, the pitch was changed to present this document as “the first ever fatwa against terrorism which declares terrorists as disbelievers.” Now, that’s more likely to grab a busy journalist’s attention. But once it has accomplished that, any hack with any experience covering Islam finds two big problems with this description.