A fatwa against terrorism issued by American Muslim clerics after the recent London bombings has been roundly applauded across the country. Yet, along with the applause comes a nagging question: Why has it taken so long for Muslim leaders to speak out?
Muslims say it hasn't; they just haven't been heard.
"From what I've seen, everybody has been involved and engaged and we're all trying to grapple with this issue," says Faroque Ahmad Khan, president of the Islamic Center of Long Island, in Westbury. Khan says that he and his colleagues discuss terrorism—as they discuss any major world issue—with their congregations.
The time since 9/11 has been "a double tragedy for Muslims," he says. Besides the impact the Muslim community felt when hundreds of their own died in the World Trade Center, there is the cloud of suspicion all Muslims live under today.
"The purpose of the fatwa is to put on record once and for all where we stand on this issue," Khan says.
Until now, there has been little in the news of such condemnations of terrorism by American Muslim groups. Rabiah Ahmed of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit advocacy group, puts the blame for the silence partly on the media and partly on her own community's ignorance of PR.
"These are things that have been said since 9/11," Ahmed explains, "but the community was not media savvy before. We've had to make up for lost time." Illustrating the spotty understanding of public outreach, Ahmed Yuceturk, an imam at the United American Muslim Association of N.Y., in Dix Hills professed complete ignorance of the fatwa.
CAIR's Ahmed says the fatwa was inspired by a similar one issued by British clerics. Previously, groups like hers issued press releases against terrorism, often weekly. A fatwa, which is a legal opinion culled from Islamic law, however, carries a religious and moral weight that a press release clearly doesn't.
Issued by a group of 18 Islamic scholars known as the Fiqh Council of North America, the new fatwa makes clear that anyone who murders innocents is a criminal, not a martyr, and that acts of terrorism are forbidden in Islam—as is cooperating with anyone involved in terrorism.
Unlike Catholicism, which has centralized leadership in the Vatican to make its pronouncements, Islam depends on a disparate global community of leaders to interpret the Quran. Obviously, interpretations vary.
Less a fatwa for the already faithful, the current words were directed more at those outside the American Islamic community, says Khan. Those within the community have already learned, he says, that "the faith does not permit or condone killing of innocents."
Unfortunately, says Ahmed, the killing gets the media attention, casting a pall on an otherwise peace-loving community. She points to under-recognized efforts like her group's "Not in the Name of Islam" petition, which has received nearly 700,000 signatures, and rallies to denounce terrorism organized by CAIR after 9/11 in cities such as Dallas.
"Hundreds of thousands of people who rally and petition and organize these condemnations and coalitions—that's not going to get as much air time as one person who commits one act of terror," she says.