Jordan’s King Abdullah II launched an ambitious project in November 2004 designed to address
some of the thorniest theological issues currently facing Muslims. The project, known as
the “Amman Message,” expressly holds that non-Muslims can reasonably “expect certain
things from Muslims” in the contemporary context, in which Muslims and non-Muslims
have unprecedented contact.[i] The Amman Message was self-consciously launched against
the backdrop of the “global war on terror,” where predominantly stateless terror networks
claiming allegiance to Islam have managed to drastically alter the geopolitical landscape.
In his introduction to a volume published in 2006, True Islam and the Islamic Consensus on the
Amman Message, Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal outlines seven areas in which
he believes non-Muslims can expect certain things from Muslims. These include the rights of
women, condemnation of terrorism, freedom of religion, and Muslim citizens’ loyalty to the
non-Muslim countries in which they live. The fact that these issues generate great controversy
within the Muslim community makes even more audacious the method by which the Amman
Message seeks to address them: through forging scholarly consensus.
In an effort spearheaded by the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, a nominally non-
governmental institute that receives significant backing from Jordan’s monarchy, the Amman
Message has already produced a consensus document addressing takfir. Takfir is the practice
of declaring an individual or group previously considered Muslim to be cast out of Islam. The
question of who has the right to declare someone an apostate is not merely theoretical in
nature. The traditional punishment for apostasy from Islam is death, and some leading jihadist
ideologues have declared that fellow Muslims who disagree with them on the need to militarily
confront the non-Muslim world are in fact non-believers.[ii]
The process by which the Amman Message attempted to forge a consensus on this issue
was in itself impressive. King Abdullah sent three questions to 24 senior Islamic religious
figures designed to represent “all the branches of Islam, schools of thought, and religious
orientations.”[iii] The three questions were: (1) Who is a Muslim?; (2) Who has the right
to undertake issuing fatwas (legal rulings)?; and (3) Is it permissible to declare someone an
After the scholars to whom these questions were posed responded, King Abdullah convened
a conference in Amman from July 4-6, 2005, featuring approximately 200 Muslim scholars
from 50 countries. At the conclusion, participants affixed their signatures to a short consensus
document on takfir that synthesized the scholars’ rulings. Its general conclusion (albeit with
some caveats and questions that this article addresses) was that a broad array of Muslim
sects fall under the banner of Islam, including all four major Sunni schools, both major Shia
schools, and other smaller jurisprudential schools. The consensus document held that it was
impermissible “to declare as apostates any group of Muslims who believes in God … and His
Messenger … and does not deny any necessarily self-evident tenet of religion.”[v]
Following its ratification at the July 2005 conference, the Amman Message hit the road.
Its conclusions on takfir were again ratified two months later at a conference in Mecca. In
November 2005, two further conferences (in Jordan and Kuwait) ratified the consensus
document’s conclusions. In December 2005, Muslim heads of state meeting at the summit of
the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Mecca likewise affirmed the conclusions.
And scholars continued to affirm the document in the following year. By June 2006, it
had garnered the signatures of over 550 scholars, representing a true cross-section of
contemporary Islamic thought. The signatories were international in scope, and were not
limited along sectarian lines; they included acknowledged leaders from all four schools of Sunni
jurisprudence, Iranian and Iraqi Shia leaders, representatives of smaller Shia schools such as the
Ismailis, and representatives of the Ibadi school.
The Aal al-Bayt Institute has now moved on to a new document tackling another difficult
theological issue: jihad and the Islamic law of war. The takfir and jihad documents demonstrate
the strengths of the consensus-building process, as well as its limitations. Moreover, the work
that has gone into the Amman Message challenges the longstanding view of many academics
and commentators that Islam needs a “Muslim Martin Luther,” by posing a different model for
The Amman Message on Takfir
One distinctive aspect of jihadist movements is that they hold religion to be their raisond’être.
As Professor Mary Habeck has noted, “these extremists explicitly appeal to the holy texts …
to show that their actions are justified. They find, too, endorsement of their ideas among
respected interpreters of Islam and win disciples by their piety and their sophisticated
arguments about how the religion supports them.”[vi] This highlights why a competent
response to these movements’ theology is important. Since their recruiting efforts and prestige
depend in large part on the claim that they represent the authentic voice of Islam, successfully
undercutting the religious arguments advanced by al-Qaeda and affiliated movements would
significantly diminish their power.
Though the new document on jihad drafted by the Aal al-Bayt Institute more directly addresses
militants’ rationale for undertaking warfare, takfir is also relevant to Islamic terrorists’
arguments. The 9/11 Commission considered takfir so significant that in discussing jihadist
ideologue Sayyid Qutb’s belief that Islam is locked in mortal combat with the forces of disbelief,
it made specific note of his argument that “[a]ny Muslim who rejects his ideas is just one more
nonbeliever worthy of destruction.”[vii] Beyond that, various sects have been singled out for
vitriol by extremists for alleged heresy, and have been subjected to violence. Al-Qaeda-linked
Sunni insurgent groups in Iraq have viewed Shias as particularly desirable targets. There are
obvious tactical reasons for this—it is more difficult for coalition forces to fight insurgents when
they are attempting to police a sectarian conflict—but there are also ideological reasons. The
late Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi referred to the Shias as “the insurmountable
obstacle, the lurking snake, the crafty and malicious scorpion, the spying enemy, and the
penetrating venom.”[viii] The Ahmadi sect has also been subjected to persecution and violence
due to its alleged heresies, initiated by both governmental and also private actors in Pakistan,
Bangladesh, Indonesia, and elsewhere.[ix]
True Islam and the Islamic Consensus on the Amman Message, which addresses takfir, affirms
that Muslims across a number of jurisprudential schools should be considered part of the
Whosoever is an adherent to one of the four Sunni schools (Mathahib) of Islamic jurisprudence
…, the two Shi‘i schools of Islamic jurisprudence (Ja‘fari and Zaydi), the Ibadi school of
Islamic jurisprudence and the Thahiri school of Islamic jurisprudence, is a Muslim. Declaring
that person an apostate is impossible and impermissible. Verily his (or her) blood, honour,
and property are inviolable. … [I]t is neither possible nor permissible to declare whosoever
subscribes to the Ash‘ari creed or whoever practices real Tasawwuf (Sufism) an apostate. …
Equally, it is neither possible nor permissible to declare as apostates any group of Muslims who
believes in God, Glorified and Exalted be He, and His Messenger (may peace and blessings be
upon him) and the pillars of faith, and acknowledges the five pillars of Islam, and does not deny
any necessarily self-evident tenet of religion.[x]
By affirming that Muslims across the Sunni-Shia divide are still fundamentally Muslim (that “[t]
here exists more in common between the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence than there is
difference between them”), the document tackles the blanket proclamations seen in Iraq and
elsewhere that all Shia are heretics worthy of death.
Yet the document’s brief analysis of who is a Muslim leaves certain critical questions
unanswered. Some Muslims consider the Ahmadis heretical because the sect’s founder, Mirza
Ghulam Ahmad, used the terms nabi (prophet) and rasul (messenger) to refer to himself—
seemingly contradicting the Muslim belief that Muhammad was God’s last prophet. The
document says nothing about the Ahmadis: is it permissible, then, to declare them to be
outside the fold of Islam?
Also, some language in the document leaves great room for those who would like a more
expansive application of takfir. The document prohibits declarations of takfir on Muslims unless
they “deny any necessarily self-evident tenet of religion,” without any real discussion of what
tenets are self-evident. Some groups have a more expansive view of this than others: Qutb,
for example, would hold that his aggressive view of jihad was a self-evident tenet of the faith.
The document likewise prohibits declaring takfir on anybody who “practices real Tasawwuf”—
yet those who declare some Sufi sects (such as the North American Naqshbandis, a particular
object of extremist scorn) to be non-Muslim would argue that they do not practice “real
Tasawwuf.” Nowhere does the document delineate the difference between real and bogus
A final question about True Islam is how seriously its signatories take it. Prince bin
Muhammad’s introduction to the volume (Prince bin Muhammad is the chairman of the Aal al-
Bayt Institute’s Board of Trustees) boasts of its ratification by Muslim heads of state at the OIC
summit. He states that this means the document has been “adopted by the entire Islamic world
represented at the head of state or government level.”[xi] Yet at least 14 Muslim states make
apostasy illegal. Their citizens have been tried for apostasy not just for conversion out of Islam
(trials that are an issue in themselves), but also for making controversial remarks. In Egypt, for
example, feminist writer Nawal el-Saadawi was tried for apostasy after describing the Hajj as
“a vestige of paganism,” while university professor Nasser Abu Zeid was tried for allegedly anti-
Islamic writings.[xii] Will states that ratified the takfir document be less likely to use their courts
in this manner in the future?
Jihad and the Islamic Law of War
In 2007, the Aal al-Bayt Institute began to address another controversial jurisprudential issue,
the Islamic law of war. The institute has not yet produced a final statement on the matter,
but I have been able to review a late draft. Entitled Jihad and the Islamic Law of War, the 79-
page document has no signatories at present (presumably there will be no signatories until the
statement has been finalized). Instead, the Aal al-Bayt Institute’s name appears on the cover
as an institutional author. Though informed sources tell me that the document will still need
amendments, it already makes an interesting contribution to religious debates concerning
The jihad document is noteworthy in how it differs from the quite brief statement on takfir.
The takfir statement’s summary nature helped it become known as the Three Points. It detailed
relevant conclusions about takfir without trying to make scholars reach a consensus on the
reasoning behind those conclusions. Jihad and the Islamic Law of War is more ambitious.
Like True Islam, it can be summarized in three essential points: (1) Non-combatants are not
legitimate targets; (2) The religion of a person or persons in no way constitutes a cause for war
against them; and (3) Aggression is prohibited, but the use of force is justified in self-defense,
for protection of sovereignty, and in defense of all innocent people.[xiii] Yet unlike the takfir
document, Jihad and the Islamic Law of War features a lengthy explanation of how these
conclusions were reached—including analysis of significant Qur’anic verses that terrorist groups
use to justify their actions. The Aal al-Bayt Institute would like scholars to agree not only on
the new document’s conclusions, but also the analysis supporting them. If Aal al-Bayt can get
the signatures it would like, Jihad and the Islamic Law of War will likely be published as part
of the ongoing Amman Message project. (If Aal al-Bayt does not get sufficient signatures, the
document may be published as its own, separate enterprise.)
While takfir is relevant to the argument of Islamic terrorists, the theology of jihad is central
to their case: it is this religious concept that provides them the impetus to continue their war,
and to widen it. As noted above, Islamic terror groups appeal to holy texts in fashioning their
justifications for war. They reference a common set of Qur’anic verses and ahadith (sayings or
traditions attributed to Prophet Muhammad) that supposedly supports their case for war. For
example, verse 9:29 of the Qur’an states:
Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allah, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which
has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger … (4) and those who acknowledge not the
religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they
pay the Jizyah [a tax paid by non-Muslims to continue practicing their faith under Islamic rule]
with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.[xiv]
Qutb based his argument that jihad against Jews and Christians is an eternal, communal
obligation on this verse. He believed that Islam and the forces of disbelief were locked in
mortal combat, and only one could survive. It was not enough, in his view, if a non-Muslim
country simply decided to “leave Islam alone,” and provide Muslims the right to practice and
propagate their faith within its borders. He wrote that there could not be peace unless such
countries “submit to [Islam’s] authority by paying Jizyah, which will be a guarantee that they
have opened their doors for the preaching of Islam and will not put any obstacle in its way
through the power of the state.”[xv] Similarly, Pakistani ideologue Abul Ala Maududi wrote:
“Islam requires the earth, not just a portion, but the entire planet.”[xvi]
In contrast, Jihad and the Islamic Law of War holds that the religious identity of a people
cannot justify the Muslim community making war on them. The document offers scholarly
analysis of some of the critical verses that militants have used to justify warfare against non-
Muslims (a notable exception at this point is verse 9:29, which the current version of the jihad
document does not discuss), as well as juristic doctrines governing relations with non-believers.
For example, the document addresses the distinction between dar al-Harb and dar al-Islam
(the Abode of War and Abode of Islam) enshrined by classical jurists. Under this view, dar al-
Islam encompasses geographic areas in which sharia law has been erected, while dar al-Harb
constitutes the rest of the world, excepting states that have specifically enacted treaties with
the Muslim world. Viewing the world as a battlefield between Islam and the forces of disbelief,
classical jurists would authorize warfare to expand the dar al-Islam if there were “a reasonable
prospect of success.”[xvii]
The jihad document tackles this doctrine directly. Aal al-Bayt’s scholars note that the classical
laws of jihad assumed “that the default position between states was a state of war,” and argue
that this reflected the state of affairs in seventh century Arabia and the areas surrounding
it.[xviii] However, the document claims that the universal treaties that prevail today—such as
the UN Charter and Geneva Conventions—alter the context of international relations:
[T]he world was not always governed by the universal treaties of today. The terms Dar al-Islam
and Dar al-Harb are not terms from the Qur’an or from the teachings of the Prophet, but grew
out of the work of jurists coming to terms with the new international profile of Islam. As such,
they also coined terms such as dar al-sulh (“abode of reconciliation”) and dar al-‘ahd (“abode
of treaty”), referring to those lands not ruled by Islam but with which the Islamic state had
some sort of peace agreement. … From the point of view of Islamic law, the gradual adoption
and advancement of moral principles in international law is a welcome development, and
brings the world closer to the Qur’anic ideal of non-aggression and peaceful coexistence.[xix]
The document also delivers a particularly harsh rebuke to Osama bin Laden’s claims about war
in Islam. Bin Laden has long employed utopian rhetoric in offering his followers the prospect of
the caliphate’s reestablishment. The jihad document compares this kind of thinking to Vladimir
Lenin’s statement, “You cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs,” and insists that Islam
does not countenance utopian ideology. “When one can justify any act in the name of a worldly
utopia,” the drafters warn, “then one has passed into pure utilitarianism.”[xx]
Turning to bin Laden’s declaration of war against the West in which he instructs his followers
to kill both soldiers and civilians,[xxi] Aal al-Bayt’s volume assails his scholarly qualifications and
religious methodology, describing it as a “takfiri cut-and-paste method.” The document states:
That every top authority on Islamic law in the world rejects Bin Laden’s conclusions and his
temerity in declaring a “fatwa” is, lamentably, often never mentioned in the West. … [Bin
Laden’s] method amounts to a cherry-picking of sources to arrive at a conclusion that was
decided beforehand. It is misleading to present Bin Laden, and others like him, as men steeped
in their religious tradition who take Islam’s teachings to their logical conclusions. For all the
talk about “madrasahs”, which is simply the word for “school”, it is important to note that
the terrorists who claim to fight in the name of Islam today are almost entirely men educated
in medicine, engineering, mathematics, computer science, etc. … It is striking how absent
graduates of recognized madrasahs or Islamic seminaries (such as al-Azhar in Egypt) are among
the ranks of the terrorists.[xxii]
Like the document on takfir, the jihad document undercuts key aspects of the terrorists’
religious case. Beyond raising questions about bin Laden’s theological qualifications, its
affirmation that a people’s religious identity cannot constitute a cause for war stands in
opposition to the views of Qutb and Maududi that Islam can never be at peace with the
non-Muslim world. Yet like the takfir document, the document on jihad also leaves some
Most significant, the circumstances under which the use of force is justified—self-defense,
the protection of sovereignty, and “in defense of all innocent people”—are never explained.
Are roadside bomb attacks against coalition forces in Iraq justified defenses of sovereignty?
What about suicide bombings in Israel? Some very prominent Islamic scholars would answer
yes to both questions—and, unfortunately, there is reason to believe that their ranks include
signatories of the Amman Message’s takfir document. True Islam compiles the proceedings
of a number of institutions that affirmed the Three Points. One of these, the International
Islamic Fiqh Academy, issued a declaration on “Extremism, Radicalism, and Terrorism” that was
reprinted in the volume. While the declaration rejects terrorism, it also explicitly recognizes
“the rights of occupied peoples to armed resistance,” which it asserts “is a right recognized by
law and by reason, and is affirmed by international treaties.”[xxiii] Such language is frequently
used to justify attacks in Iraq and Israel.
Is this parsing too carefully? King Abdullah addressed the International Islamic Fiqh Academy
before it issued that declaration, and in the course of his remarks stated:
[I]n Amman you are close to the grief of Iraq to the east, as the people of Iraq undergo a great
struggle, and you are close to the grief of the Palestinians to the west, as the blessed al-Aqsa
mosque, the first qiblah and third in the triad of Holy Places, suffers under occupation.[xxiv]
So concern about the jihad document’s reference to protection of sovereignty is justified. So
too is concern about the document’s failure to define non-combatants even while intimating
that they are not legitimate targets of war. Yusuf Qaradawi, a signatory of the Three Points, has
argued that all Israelis are legitimate targets because of the country’s conscription: no civilians
Evaluating the Amman Message
The benefits of the two documents analyzed above are manifest. The takfir document,
endorsed by a broad array of scholars with towering reputations, advances a number of
relevant arguments designed to diminish the sectarian fighting that has gripped places like
Iraq, and to undermine extremists’ claim that they have the power to declare takfir on other
Muslims. The jihad document, which may ultimately garner a similarly impressive array of
signatures, condemns many of the tactics employed by terrorist organizations, as well as the
idea that Muslims are inherently at war with the non-Muslim world.
The documents’ shortcomings are also clear if one reads them critically. One failure is that they
do not clarify some of the most controversial issues—for example, the jihad document’s lack of
discussion about Iraq and Israel. Another shortcoming is that the documents frequently employ
vague language that can give rise to many questions. This can be seen in the takfir document’s
failure to specify what terms such as “real Tasawwuf” and “necessarily self-evident tenet of
religion” mean, or in the jihad document’s silence about the claim there is no such thing as
an Israeli civilian. These failures are likely inherent to the process of consensus-building that
the Aal al-Bayt Institute has chosen. More ambitious statements, though they would surely be
more welcome to Western ears, might not garner the kind consensus that the Amman Message
seeks. What the documents might have accomplished, however, should not detract from the
fact that they do make a contribution.
Surely, the Aal al-Bayt Institute has had its misfires in addition to its successes. Its penchant for
attaching unprecedented historical significance to virtually all of its output can be off-putting.
The very first sentence of True Islam’s introduction, penned by Prince bin Muhammad, reads:
“Over the course of the two years 2005-2006 CE, 1426-1427 AH, there occurred a series of
events of great historical importance to the worldwide Islamic nation (Ummah), events without
parallel for fourteen centuries, ever since the time of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib.”[xxvi]
Moreover, some of the documents released through this process have fallen flat. In October
2007, for example, the Aal al-Bayt Institute spearheaded a letter addressed to Pope Benedict
XVI and 26 other Christian leaders entitled “A Common Word Between Us and You,”[xxvii]
signed by 138 Muslim thinkers. “A Common Word” was a rambling 18-page letter designed to
demonstrate the common importance of the principles of love of God and love of neighbor
in both Christianity and Islam. Attempting to lend urgency to these commonalities, “A
Common Word” asserts that, since the two religions comprise about 55 percent of the world’s
population, the world cannot have peace if Islam and Christianity are not at peace with each
other. “The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake,” the letter states.[xxviii]
In an apt critique, the Hudson Institute’s John F. Cullinan writes that the letter is unfocused and
“limited to generalities” while simply ignoring difficult Qur’anic passages that might provide a
darker view of the religion.[xxix] Cullinan notes the basic imbalance between the signatories
and recipients of “A Common Word.” While the signatories are “establishment figures”—with
more than half being current or former government officials—the people to whom the letter
is addressed “have little or no influence on government policy (like Pope Shenouda III, head
of Egypt’s beleaguered Coptic community).” Yet the letter was accompanied by the kind of
grandiose publicity and declarations of historical importance that typically attend the rollout of
Aal al-Bayt publications.
These misfires aside, Aal al-Bayt has already succeeded in releasing one important document,
and the jihad document will also be significant upon its release. Moreover, Aal al-Bayt has
created an important mechanism for bringing together representatives of divergent Islamic
theological schools. In general, consensus-building mechanisms have not figured prominently
in discussions about reform within Islam. Instead, many scholars and analysts have pined for
a “Muslim Martin Luther”: in some circles, the notion that “Islam needs a Reformation” is
bandied about so frequently that it has become cliché.[xxx]
Calls for an Islamic Reformation have always rested on a historically flawed analogy. Martin
Luther’s rebellion against the Catholic Church challenged a central authority: in fact, many of
Luther’s contemporaries who shared his disdain for the Church’s degeneration did not question
Rome’s authority because they were “leery of anarchy.”[xxxi] In contrast, contemporary
Islam can be characterized as theologically anarchic, a situation that has been favorable to
extremists. Some young Muslims turn to the Internet—where it is difficult to ascertain clerics’
qualifications, and sometimes even their identities—to procure religious advice on jihad.[xxxii]
Al-Qaeda was able to do its own fatwa-shopping when trying to secure authorization to attack
America with weapons of mass destruction, finally obtaining a favorable ruling from Saudi cleric
Nasir bin Hamd al-Fahd in May 2003.[xxxiii]
Moreover, commentators engaged in the search for a “Muslim Martin Luther” generally
assume that Luther acted to diminish the role of religion in the political sphere. He did not. As
his authoritative biography explains, the Catholic Church was largely secularized and decadent
before Luther, and religion was disengaged enough from politics that “the Most High King of
France and His Holiness the Pope did not disdain a military alliance with the Sultan against
the Holy Roman Empire.” Luther changed this. With his influence, “[r]eligion became again
a dominant factor even in politics for another century and a half. Men cared enough for the
faith to die for it and to kill for it.”[xxxiv] Protestants brutally suppressed Catholicism in areas
where they enjoyed political control during the Reformation. For example, after England
passed a series of acts between 1534 and 1539 designed to stamp out the Catholic Church’s
remaining influence, the country’s unrepentant Catholics “faced execution and forfeiture of
The differences between contemporary Islam and the social context that produced the
Reformation led scholar Paul Marshall to state that “many of the problems of contemporary
Islam are more like Protestant problems than like Catholic problems,” and suggest that perhaps
“we should be urging an Islamic ‘Counter-Reformation.’” Marshall writes that he does not
know if a “Catholicization” of Islam is possible, but that it “might be a more useful metaphor for
renewal in Islam” than the Reformation.[xxxvi]
An approach based on scholarly consensus is not unprecedented within Islam. The theological
concept, known as ijma’ in Arabic, is rooted in a famous hadith in which Muhammad says,
“God will not allow my Ummah to agree upon an error.”[xxxvii] Though the four major Sunni
jurisprudential schools prefer to find answers to important questions in the Qur’an and the
Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad—which Muslims consider the most reliable guides to God’s
dictates—they all consider ijma’ to be a legitimate source of law. As Prince bin Muhammad
points out in his introduction to True Islam, ijma’ is distinct from democracy: rather than
simply representing the view of a majority, “[i]t is unanimous, or it is precisely not a universal
consensus (ijma’) at all.”[xxxviii] In forging such a consensus, two groups are of particular
relevance: the ulama (scholars of Islamic law), and leaders possessing political authority.
The Aal al-Bayt Institute hopes to create ijma’ on difficult theological issues via the Amman
Reintroducing ijma’ to Islamic jurisprudence could help to mitigate the “dueling fatwas”
currently prevalent in the Muslim world. It also offers another benefit that becomes clear
when one looks at some of the more controversial scholars who signed the takfir document.
Yusuf Qaradawi, for example, has sanctioned attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and against all
Israelis.[xxxix] This article has already detailed how both are problem areas for Jihad and the
Islamic Law of War because of its failure to define protection of sovereignty. The final draft
of the jihad document may well present few obstacles to those seeking to legitimize fighting
in Iraq and Israel. But what if the document reached a more satisfactory resolution of these
issues? The consensus-building process holds out the possibility of accountability: if Qaradawi
or other signatories try to backtrack from the conclusions reached in these documents, other
scholars can point out that their new positions contradict the outcome that was reached by
scholarly consensus. Moreover, other scholars can point out that ijma’ as an interpretive
principle should be given more weight than one scholar’s proclamation.
None of this is meant to diminish the role that courageous individuals will play in undermining
the violent interpretations of Islam that underlie terrorist ideology. But theological consensus is
a model for reform to which scholars and policymakers have devoted insufficient attention. The
ambitious Amman Message may help to change that.
Though the Amman Message should not be declared a panacea, it has already made a
contribution in the struggle to define Islam, and will continue to do so. There is no guarantee as
to how far its scholars will be willing to go when grappling with difficult theological issues: there
is no reason to believe that they will inevitably condemn attacks against coalition forces in Iraq
or Israeli civilians. It is quite possible that the current document is as far as the consensus of
scholars will go. Nonetheless, this does not detract from what Aal al-Bayt has already been able
Speaking of Jihad and the Islamic Law of War, al-Husein Madhany, the executive vice president
of One Nation, told me, “The reason this document is so critical is because it addresses the
kind of language and ideas used by Osama bin Laden and other vigilantes who are part of the
global network of terror. The Amman Message tries to wrestle away the underpinnings of
their claimed religious authority.” Those who are tired of the Reformation analogies that have
cluttered discourse about contemporary Islam may have an alternative model in the Aal al-Bayt
Institute and its ambitious project of forging ijma’ on contentious issues.
[i] H.R.H. Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, “Introduction,” in True Islam and the Islamic
Consensus on the Amman Message (Amman, 2006), p. xxxiv.
[ii] I have previously written about the dangers posed to Muslims who convert to other faiths.
See Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “When Muslims Convert,” Commentary, February 2005. For a
lengthy justification of this practice, see Abul Ala Mawdudi, The Punishment of the Apostate
According to Islamic Law (Syed Silas Husain & Ernest Hahn trans., 1994).
[iii] bin Muhammad, “Introduction,” p. xviii.
[iv] These questions are taken verbatim from ibid.
[v] Ibid., p. xx.
[vi] Mary Habeck, Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror (New Haven, CT:
Yale University Press, 2006), p. 3.
[vii] National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, The 9/11 Commission
Report (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2004), p. 51.
[viii] February 2004 Coalition Provisional Authority English translation of Musab al-Zarqawi
letter, obtained by United States Government in Iraq, available at http://www.state.gov/p/nea/
rls/31694.htm (accessed February 16, 2008).
[ix] See, e.g., Human Rights Watch, “Pakistan: Pandering to Extremists
Fuels Persecution of
Ahmadis,” May 6, 2007; Human Rights Watch, “Bangladesh: Government Fails to Act Against
Religious Violence,” June 16, 2005.
[x] bin Muhammad, “Introduction,” pp. xix-xx.
[xi] Ibid., pp. xxi-xxii.
[xii] “Egyptian Writer Faces Apostasy Trial,” BBC News, April 24, 2001.
[xiii] The language of these three points is taken verbatim from Jihad and the Islamic Law of
War (Jordan: The Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, 2007), p. vi.
[xiv]Interpretation of the Meanings of the Noble Qur’an 9:29 (Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali
& Muhammad Muhsin Khan trans., 15th ed. 1996).
[xv] Sayyid Qutb, Milestones (1964), p. 66.
[xvi] Sayyid Abul A‘la Maududi, Jihad fi Sabilillah (Birmingham, UK: Islamic Mission Dawah
Centre), p. 7.
[xvii] Cyril Glasse, The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam (New York: Harper and Row, 1989), pp.
[xviii]Jihad and the Islamic Law of War, pp. 26-27.
[xix] Ibid., pp. 28-29.
[xx] Ibid., p. 63.
[xxi] For an excellent compilation of bin Laden’s statements, see Bruce Lawrence, Messages to
the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden (London: Verso, 2005).
[xxii]Jihad and the Islamic Law of War, pp. 65-66.
[xxiii]True Islam, p. 143.
[xxiv] Ibid., p. 131.
[xxv] Michael Moss & Souad Mekhennet, “The Guidebook for Taking a Life,” New York Times,
June 10, 2007.
[xxvi] bin Muhammad, “Introduction,” p. xvii.
[xxvii] The document can be found online at http://www.acommonword.com/lib/downloads/
CW-Total-Final-v-12g-Eng-9-10-07.pdf (accessed February 17, 2008).
[xxviii] “A Common Word Between Us and You,” Oct. 13, 2007, p. 16.
[xxix] John F. Cullinan, “Who Speaks for Islam?”, National Review Online, October 12, 2007.
[xxx] See, for example, Mansour al-Nogaidan, “Losing My Jihadism,” Washington Post, July 22,
2007, p. B1; Salman Rushdie, “Muslims Unite! A New Reformation will Bring Your Faith into the
Modern Era,” Times (London), August 11, 2005.
[xxxi] Brian Moynahan, The Faith: A History of Christianity (New York: Doubleday, 2002), p. 349.
[xxxii] See Richard Kerbaj, “Muslim Youth ‘Shop Around for Fatwas Online,’” The Australian,
Dec. 29, 2007.
[xxxiii] Nasir bin Hamd al-Fahd, “A Treatise on the Legal Status of Using Weapons of Mass
Destruction Against Infidels”, May 2003.
[xxxiv] Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Abingdon: Nashville, TN), p. 15.
[xxxv] Moynahan, The Faith, p. 405.
[xxxvi] Paul Marshall, “Islamic Counter-Reformation,” First Things, August/September 2004.
[xxxvii] Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan, Kitab al-Fitan, Hadith no. 2320.
[xxxviii] bin Muhammad, “Introduction,” p. xxvii.
[xxxix] See, e.g., “Those Who Die Fighting U.S. Occupation Forces Are Martyrs,” Islam for Today
(no date given).
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