Twitter Battle Over al-Qaradawi’s Stance on Suicide Bombings

When can you kill civilians with suicide bombers? Also, what does it take to qualify as a "civilian" who might enjoy any level of protection from suicide bombs?

BY Immanuel Al-Manteeqi · @Al_Manteeqi | July 11, 2016

The Muslim Brotherhood’s al-Qaradawi on the Permissibility of Suicide Bombings

In this very short clip from an Al-Jazeera broadcast, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s chief jurisprudent, is asked whether it is permissible to conduct suicide bombings, even if it results in the killing of civilians. The question was posed specifically with regard to the Syrian case—and whether it is permissible for one to initiate a suicide bombing targeting the Assad regime, even if it results in the killing of civilians.[1]

Al-Qaradawi responds by stating that such actions are not permissible unless they are undertaken by a collective, that is, provided that the collective deems it necessary to undertake such suicide operations.  Al-Qaradawi goes on to explain that  such suicide operations, undertaken individually, are impermissible. He states that there is no individual obligation for someone to participate in a suicide bombing.  He is adamant that suicide bombing is not something that should be left to individuals acting alone, but should be something decided upon by the collective (by “collective” he no doubt has in mind something like an Islamic state, a Muslim majority country, or a large Islamic group).

This is an evolution of what was already a notorious and controversial position of his.  Al-Qaradawi has long argued that Palestinian suicide operations against Israeli civilian targets are permissible (although he wouldn’t call the targets “civilians”).  In justifying this position, he has argued that the category of “Israeli civilians” is simply non-existent, since (he believes) all Israelis  have to undergo military training at some point in their lives! And surely “the collective” that he is talking about in the above video would include groups like Hamas, a terrorist organization democratically elected by Palestinians in the West Bank and one that has roots in al-Qaradawi’s very organization—the Muslim Brotherhood.

To be clear, the position that al-Qaradawi  elucidates in the aforementioned al-Jazeera interview is not that there are no Syrian civilians, as there are no Israeli “civilians,” but rather that sometimes suicide bombings that result in civilian casualties may be morally justified.

Historically, mainstream Islam has condemned suicide as impermissible. The view is ultimately grounded in Q 2:195 and Q 4:29, which say the following:

And spend of your substance in the cause of Allah, and make not your own hands contribute to (your) destruction; but do good; for Allah loveth those who do good.

O ye who believ! Eat not up your property among yourselves in vanities: But let there be amongst you Traffic and trade by mutual good-will: Nor kill (or destroy) yourselves: for verily Allah hath been to you Most Merciful!  (emphases mine)

As the Islamicist David Cook notes, traditionally Muslim countries have had the lowest suicide rates in the world.[2] However, in modern times, Muslim clerics, even “respectable” ones such as al-Qaradawi and the former grand imam of al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi (otherwise known as “al-Tantawi”), have sought to justify killing oneself in certain circumstances. They make the distinction between “suicide” and “martyrdom operations” (عمليات استشهادية). The former is seen as involving killing oneself out of depression, weakness, or absence of faith. The latter is seen as involving killing oneself for the sake of defending Islam.

Clerics who attempt to justify jihad appeal to a variety of Islamic source texts. Perhaps the most convincing come from the ahadeeth. Some of the ahadeeth that are appealed to in this regard are as follows:

By Him in Whose Hands my life is! I would love to be martyred in Allah’s Cause and then get resurrected and then get martyred, and then get resurrected again and then get martyred and then get resurrected again and then get martyred (Sahih al-Bukhari 2797).

Of the men he lives the best life who holds the reins of his horse (ever ready to march) in the way of Allah, flies on its back whenever he hears a fearful shriek, or a call for help, flies to it seeking death at places where it can be expected (Sahih Muslim 1889a).

Surely, the gates of Paradise are under the shadows of the swords. A man in a shabby condition got up and said; Abu Musa, did you hear the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) say this? He said: Yes. (The narrator said): He returned to his friends and said: I greet you (a farewell greeting). Then he broke the sheath of his sword, threw it away, advanced with his (naked) sword towards the enemy and fought (them) with it until he was slain (Sahih Muslim 1902).

As can be plainly seen, using such ahadeeth to justify martyrdom operations is quite a stretch, and is certainly not obviously taught by these texts.[3] It is no wonder then that most Muslim ulema (scholars) have resisted the idea of “martyrdom operations.”

Al-Qaradawi’s Twitter Battle with the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs

The spate of recent suicide bombings in Muslim countries like Turkey, Bangladesh, Iraq and Saudia Arabia have led Abdullah bin Zayyed, the United Arab Emirates’ minister of foreign affairs, to publically decry on Twitter al-Qaradawi’s stance vis-a-vis suicide bombings. This resulted in a rare Twitter exchange between Abdullah bin Zayyed and al-Qaradawi, which culminated in a larger twitter battle between both men’s supporters. The Twitter tensions began on July 4th when Abdullah bin Zayyed juxtaposed the late Salafi and Saudi Mufti Bin Baz’s view that suicide bombings are impermissible, with al-Qaradawi’s view that they are if sanctioned by the community in extraordinary circumstances. Al-Qaradawi responded by seeming to backtrack from his statements, stating, “Consider forgiveness, enjoin that [which is good], and shy away from the ignorant. We seek refuge in God from the evil demons when their chains are rent asunder.” But Emirati tweeters quickly took to pointing out some statements and videos where al-Qaradawi allegedly declared some suicide operations to be permissible. Indeed, Abdullah bin Zayyed himself tweeted out the video that was mentioned above. However, it is not clear whether Abdullah bin Zayyed and his supporters in the Twitter battle were not caricaturing al-Qaradawi’s position here. After all, in the aforementioned al-Jazeera clip that Abdullah bin Zayyed posted, al-Qaradawi does not say that civilians should be targeted. It is not implausible that his position is that only in extraordinary circumstances, and only under the auspices of a collective, are suicide bombings permissible.

It is important to note that al-Qaradawi has a tenuous relationship with the status quo in the United Arab Emirates because the UAE has officially designated the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization that al-Qaradawi is the main jurisprudent of—as a terrorist organization. Indeed, so has Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Russia.

On this note, we should ask ourselves the following question: “If the Muslim Brotherhood has been designated