But how can change come about?
The Muslim Council of Britain has said of the Paris shootings "nothing is more immoral, offensive and insulting against our beloved Prophet than such a callous act of murder...however offended we may be, [by the cartoons] the ultimate denigration of our faith comes from these murderers who have unjustifiably taken life".
Other commentators have denied that these terrorists, people who kill non-combatants for political ends, can be true Muslims. This is a subtle device that tries to draw a dividing line between the general Muslim community and terrorists, but it is inevitable that the connection will be made by simpler minds. Sadly, we can expect anti-Muslim hate crimes to increase, taking the spiral of violence up to the next level.
The Muslim community needs to take action to make the dividing line between Islam and terrorism more definite.
What action? It is commonplace for mullahs and Muslim scholars to condemn murder, but this is clearly ineffective.
However, there is one thing that the Muslim community can do.
They can issue fatwas against terrorist activity.
This is not a new idea. In 1999, the Muslim Religious Council of North America issued a Fatwa against Terrorism. In 2011 a book titled Fatwa on Terrorism was published by a leading Islamic scholar in Pakistan. So we have precedents, but these were limited: we need to ask each mullah and mosque to issue their own fatwa until the knowledge is universal and ingrained.
A fatwa is a kind of legal opinion made by a Muslim scholar. It is binding only as far as followers of the scholar who issues it are concerned - the Muslim faith is non hierarchical, and there is no central authority - so many fatwas are necessary, one for each mosque or group.
A fatwa has to have these characteristics:
- It must be derived from the Q'ran and revered commentary
- It must come from an authority figure
- It should not be opportunistic or due to political subservience
- It must be adequate to the needs of contemporary society
It is certain that the needs of contemporary society would be met if the majority of muftis issued a fatwa against Muslims killing civilians in the name of Islam. We can leave it to the scholars to derive (1) above, and to state who is an authority figure. Item (3) means that it would be a mistake for Government to order the muftis to issue the fatwa; but on the other hand, it is open for bloggers, journalists and commentators to ask muftis if they have issued the fatwa against terrorism.
Islam puts behaviour in five categories:
- Not Permitted
The effect of this fatwa, if it becomes general, is somewhat to isolate terrorists from the Islamic community. Clearly, it is not going to put an end to home-grown terrorism at a stroke. That is going to take years and many changes; but this proposal does take us a step towards that state.
In a way, it excommunicates young people who take the terror road. This will matter to some, and it will give them pause for thought. Others will not care; not all terrorists are pious, many are criminals who happen to be captured by an absolutist ideology. But it may matter to their family and friends, who may try to put a brake on the would-be terrorist's career.
The fatwa will be a useful way to identify mosques and mullahs that may be of concern. If they reject the fatwa, or argue against it, their activities may deserve increased surveillance.
This proposal will probably be criticised as an example of Islamophobia and even fascism by some on the far left. This is because "thinking" in some political activists consists of looking at what the opposition says, and saying the opposite. If the Right says "Blame Muslims", the Left says "Muslims are Innocent". Everything is divided into these absolute, mutually exclusive categories, and practical, systematic political thought is blocked. The present proposal is not blaming all Muslims for all that is wrong. There are many factors that feed in to the culture of terrorism: Western hegemony, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the situation in Israel and Palestine, unemployment, inequality, everyday discrimination and many other factors; but these are not to be taken as excuses for the Muslim community sit back, blame everyone else and take no action of its own.
This proposal is suggesting a way for the Muslim community to distance itself from accusations of condoning terrorism - an outcome that would benefit the whole of society, Muslim, Christian, or secular.
Update: >1000 Indian Muslim clerics issue fatwa against terrorism