Reactions to Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi’s Fatwa Calling for the Abduction and Killing of American Civilians in Iraq

At a convention on the subject of "Pluralism in Islam" which took place in late August, 2004 at the Egyptian Journalists' Union in Cairo, Sheikh Dr. Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood movement and one of the most important religious authorities in Islamist circles, issued a religious legal opinion permitting the abduction and killing of American civilians in Iraq in order to pressure the American army to evacuate its forces. Al-Qaradhawi stressed the fact that in his view, "all of the Americans in Iraq are combatants, there is no difference between civilians and soldiers, and one should fight them, since the American civilians came to Iraq in order to serve the occupation. The abduction and killing of Americans in Iraq is a [religious] obligation so as to cause them to leave Iraq immediately. The mutilation of corpses [however] is forbidden in Islam."

Al-Qaradhawi issued this opinion one week after prominent Muslim clerics from various countries published a statement calling for support for the forces fighting against the coalition in Iraq. This statement was signed by 93 Muslim clerics, including prominent members of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, among them Al-Qaradhawi, as well as leaders from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hizbullah.

Ten days after Al-Qaradhawi's opinion on the abduction and killing of American civilians in Iraq was issued, and after his words had already evoked heated reactions in the Muslim world, Al-Qaradhawi sent a fax to the office of the Al-Hayat daily in which he disowned "that which was said in my name in the media on the subject of the killing of American civilians in Iraq." According to Al-Qaradhawi, "some media outlets have claimed that I published a religious legal opinion to the effect that there is an obligation to kill American civilians in Iraq. These claims are unfounded. I have not published a Fatwa on this issue. At the Egyptian Journalists' Union a few days ago I was asked about the permissibility of fighting against the occupation in Iraq, and I answered that it is permitted. Afterwards I was asked concerning the American civilians in Iraq and I merely responded with the question - are there American civilians in Iraq? It is a matter of common knowledge that in Fatwas such as these I do not use the word "killing" but rather I say "struggle," which is a more comprehensive word than the word "killing" and whose meaning is not necessarily to kill. In addition, I have condemned the taking of hostages on a number of occasions in the past and have demanded that they be released and that their lives not be threatened."

On a later occasion Al-Qaradhawi explained that a civilian in Iraq is "someone who does not take part in the fighting and does not abet the occupying soldiers. [On the other hand] one who abets the occupiers - his status is identical to theirs. The occupation is fighting against Muslims and anyone who helps the occupation has the same status as the military." He further clarified that this is his position regarding Muslim civilians in Iraq as well.

It should be noted that prior to the publication of this denial, the director of Al-Qaradhawi's office, Isam Talima, affirmed that Al-Qaradhawi did indeed issue a Fatwa to the effect that there is an obligation to fight against the American civilians in Iraq, as they are considered to be invaders.

As previously mentioned, Al-Qaradhawi's ruling caused a flurry of reactions among Muslim religious figures and intellectuals.