As the U.S. geared up for military action in Afghanistan, Army Chaplain Capt. Abd Al-Rasheed Muhammad began questioning the permissibility of a fight against fellow Muslims.

Muhammad, the imam of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, sent an inquiry on the matter to the North American Fiqh Council, which deals with matters of Islamic jurisprudence. In turn, according to reports published in the Arabic-language press, the matter was referred to clerics in the Arab world.

At first, the clerics issued a Fatwa, or edict, permitting Muslim soldiers to take part in the fighting if there was no alternative. The council delivered the ruling to Muhammad. But on Oct. 30, the editor of the Arabic London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported that the clerics who signed this Fatwa had changed their minds and abrogated their previous Fatwa with a new one prohibiting participation of Muslim soldiers in the war in Afghanistan, according to reports translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

The text of the new edict has not yet been released, according to MEMRI. Meanwhile, Muslim soldiers facing duty in Afghanistan or other Muslim countries have no clear religious guidance from Islamic clergy.

Seven years earlier, according to MEMRI, when he was asked by the Arab weekly Al-Majalah following his appointment as chaplain in 1994 about his opinion on American forces fighting in Islamic countries, Muhammad said, “We are soldiers, not politicians. Obeying orders is a fundamental part of the work of the military, but I hope that America’s relations with Islamic countries and with other countries will be always good, and if we are forced to intervene, the intervention will be positive. I pray to Allah every day that we will not be forced to fight our Muslim brothers, although Muslims kill each other in their civil wars here and there, which saddens me.”

But, following the Sept. 11 attacks, Muhammad decided it was best to consult with external Islamic authorities. In his letter to the council, he outlined the goals of the coming war and said he believed there are more than 15,000 Muslim military personnel that serve in all three branches of the U.S. armed forces. He wondered if they should resign or request other duties under the circumstances.

Taha Jaber Al-Alwani, president of the North American Figh Council, explained last month to London’s Al-Sharq Al-Awsat why he consulted other Islamic clerics in the Arab world following Muhammad’s request: “When a question is referred to us, we often consult with our brothers, colleagues and teachers in the Islamic world. We send the question to several experts among the clerics, and when we receive their answers, we [usually] adopt their Fatwas as they are written and back them up with proof and explanations – because the Western mind, as you know, cannot accept anything if it is not proven and explained. Sometimes, we introduce changes in the Fatwa. …”

“Many Fatwas [on the matter] were issued at the time of the Gulf War,” he explained, “and we tried to gather and study them. At the same time, we sent [Muhammad’s inquiry] on to a group of clerics in the Muslim world, asking that they advise us about the new catastrophe.”

Al-Alwani said there were instances during the Gulf War when Muslim military personnel were advised to transfer to auxiliary corps such as supplies and transportation.

“It appeared that several Muslim military personnel’s refusal to serve in the war against a Muslim nation led to Muslim American soldiers being looked at askance,” he added. “Therefore, we made sure that the matter did not reach the Arab or Western media, and that it would remain between us and the Muslim chaplains in the U.S. Department of Defense.”

Al-‘Alwani also expressed doubts as to whether Osama bin Laden was responsible for the attacks on the U.S. In an article that appeared in the Saudi daily Al-Watan, Al-‘Alwani implied that Israel was actually behind the attacks.

According to MEMRI, Al-‘Alwani’s inquiry was directed to three Arab clerics: Yussuf Al-Qaradhawi, one of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, UNESCO representative Haytham Al-Khayyat, who was presented in the Fatwa as an Islamic scholar from Syria, and Muhammad Salim Al-‘Awa. These three also brought in Judge Tareq Al-Bishri and Islamist columnist Fahmi Huweidi.

Two weeks earlier, reports MEMRI, on his television program on the Qatar channel Al-Jazeera, Al-Qaradhawi issued a call to Arab and Islamic countries not to assist the U.S. in its war in Afghanistan. He stated that should the Taliban declare a jihad against the U.S., “Muslims must help as best they can.” Al-Qaradhawi also said that although he condemns the attacks against civilians in the U.S., “we must fight the American army if we can.”

But the resulting Fatwa appeared to starkly contrast with earlier statements by some of those who drafted it.

“All Muslims ought to be united against all those who terrorize the innocents, and those who permit the killing of non-combatants without a justifiable reason,” it said. “Islam has declared the spilling of blood and the destruction of property as absolute prohibitions until the Day of Judgment. … It is incumbent upon our military brothers in the American armed forces to make this stand and its religious reasoning well-known to all their superiors, as well as to their peers, and to voice it and not to be silent. Conveying this is part of the true nature of the Islamic teachings that have often been distorted or smeared by the media.”

It continued: “Furthermore, the questioner inquires about the possibility of the Muslim military personnel in the American armed forces to serve in the back lines – such as in the relief services sector and similar works. If such requests are granted by the authorities, without reservation or harm to the soldiers, or to other American Muslim citizens, then they should request that. Otherwise, if such request raises doubts about their allegiance or loyalty, cast suspicions, present them with false accusations, harm their future careers, shed misgivings on their patriotism, or similar sentiments, then it is not permissible to ask for that.”

“To sum up, it is acceptable – Allah willing – for the Muslim American military personnel to partake in the fighting in the upcoming battles, against whomever their country decides has perpetrated terrorism against them. Keeping in mind to have the proper intention as explained earlier, so no doubts would be cast about their loyalty to their country, or to prevent harm from befalling them as might be expected. This is in accordance with the Islamic jurisprudence rules, which state that necessities dictate exceptions, as well as the rule that says one may endure a small harm to avoid a much greater harm,” concluded the Fatwa.

But the edict prompted immediate opposition.

Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hanooti, a member of the North American Fiqh Council, stated at an Oct. 12 press conference of the American Muslim Council: “Muslims can fight provided that they get legitimacy [by religious ruling] for what they are going to do, if a certain people … or country are judicially indicted. … Up to this moment, I don’t see any evidence or proof [against the Taliban or bin Laden]. … We cannot take action without judicial indictment [of bin Laden]. I know there is a crime done. The people who did it are criminals, but who should decide about their indictment? A judge. I disagree with anyone who gives support to the action taken by the president of the United States without this kind of indictment.”

Al-Hanooti concluded: “Therefore, we cannot participate as American soldiers in a war whose legitimacy in Islamic religious law has not been established, regardless of whom we fight against, Muslims or non-Muslims.”

Ahmad Al-Raysouni, professor of Shari’ah at the University of Morocco, said: “It is not permissible to launch any attacks against Muslims, to fight them or to carry out any transgression against them. In a show of respect to Muslim creed and [the Muslim American soldiers’] feelings, the American administration, I think, will appreciate the attitude of Muslims and will avoid pushing Muslims forward to kill their fellow brothers. The U.S. administration may also consider the issue through strategic perspectives with the aim of preserving discipline and stability in the American army. However, if Muslim American soldiers are called upon to participate in a war launched against their fellow Muslim brothers, then they should decline and apologize.”

Ali Jum’ah, professor of the Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence at Al-Azhar University, saw Muslim American soldiers’ refusal to participate in the American offensive as a form of jihad: “Fighting in the cause of Allah is an obligation upon Muslims. It’s worth stressing here that jihad has a wider meaning, which is related to man’s role on earth, rather than being confined to defending one’s country, honor, property and worldly riches. A Muslim is a brother of another Muslim. So he should neither oppress him nor hand him over to an oppressor. …

“Now, it is not allowed for a Muslim who is currently recruited in the American army to fight against Muslims, neither in Afghanistan nor anywhere else. … If a Muslim is forced to participate in the military campaign, then he should take care not to kill [another] Muslim, under any circumstances. [He must not offer] help or [give] clues that might help capture his fellow Muslim brothers or ease killing them.”

A Hamas leader, Bassam Jarar, called Al-Qaradhawi to ask for a copy of the ruling, and then sent his response to the Palestinian daily Al-Quds. Jarar addressed the claim that “necessity permits things that are prohibited,” a phrase appearing in the Arabic version of the Fatwa but missing from the English version. “It is known that the necessity does not permit murder,” he said. According to Jarar, since Al-Qaradhawi sees participation in the fighting as a “necessity,” such fighting is clearly forbidden by Islamic religious law.

Jarar also said that the penalty for soldiers in the American army who refuse to fight is in any event only a few months in jail. He concluded by saying that a Muslim soldier who refuses to participate in the war in Afghanistan for the reason that it is forbidden by Islamic religious law is actually in a very strong position when he faces the American judicial system.

Later, opposition to the Fatwa came from the same clerics who issued it.

On Oct. 30, the editor of the Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported that the clerics abrogated their position with a new Fatwa, which invalidated the former one and prohibited the participation of Muslim soldiers in the U.S. armed forces in the war in Afghanistan.

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