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Muslim Scholars Debate Suicide Tact

AP, Sep. 16, 2001
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CAIRO, Egypt- The terror attacks in New York and Washington have lent new urgency to a debate among Islamic scholars about whether their religion sanctions suicide bombings.

Some clerics unreservedly support them, while others are flatly opposed. In between are those who justify suicide bombings by Palestinian groups under Israeli rule, but condemn the attacks in the United States.

The Palestinian militants say their attacks in Israel are part of "jihad," an Arabic word that literally means to struggle for the cause of religion.

For a Muslim, the struggle involves striving to be a better person, donating money to the poor, fulfilling obligations toward the faith and, finally, engaging in combat in defense of Islam.

Lacking a sophisticated arsenal, the Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups have turned suicide bombings into a powerful weapon in the latest Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Abdul-Moti Bayoumi, of the Islamic Research Center at Cairo's al-Azhar University, mainstream Islam's top seat of learning, says for jihad to be legal, it must fulfill several conditions.

Among them: a Muslim should not provoke the aggression; a Muslim should only fight the one who fights him; and children, women, and the elderly should be spared.

"There is no terrorism in jihad or a threat to civilians," Bayoumi said.

Based on that interpretation, Bayoumi said the suicide attacks in the United States were unjustified and therefore considered by Islam as "terror acts."

But he said the attacks against Israelis are acceptable because Palestinians don't have the high-tech weapons like Israel's.

The grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheik Abdulaziz al-Sheik, sharply disagrees. He declared in April it is "strictly forbidden in Islam" and that "the one who blows himself up in the midst of the enemies is also performing an act contrary to Islamic teachings."

Suicide bombers, the theologian added, should be buried without Islamic ritual and away from other Muslims.

The opposite view is taken by Sheik Youssef al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian clergyman highly respected among the world's 1.2 billion Muslims. While condemning the attacks in the United States, he said rulings against suicide bombings were issued by "people who are alien to Sharia (Islamic laws) and religion."

Sheik Ikrema Sabri, Jerusalem's top Muslim cleric and an appointee of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, took a similar line - bombings in Israel yes, elsewhere no.

"The issue is decided," Sabri has said in an interview. "Muslims believe in the Day of Judgment and that dying as a martyr has its reward - going to heaven - and that a martyr is alive in the eyes of God."

As'ad AbuKhalil, associate professor of political science at California State University at Stanislaus, said suicide attacks, in Israel or the United States, have nothing to do with religion.

The bombers "have to be seen as extremist lunatic fringes, as crazy as those crazies in America who go to the post office and shoot people at random," he added.

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