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Muslim leaders condemn French attack, but fail to grapple with root causes

Unequivocal condemnations fall short of soul-searching over the ideological motivation of Paris massacre

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi speaks to a crowd in Cairo's Tahrir Square, February 2, 2014 (Khalil Hamra/AP)
Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi speaks to a crowd in Cairo's Tahrir Square, February 2, 2014 (Khalil Hamra/AP)

Many leading Muslim clerics and thinkers unequivocally condemned the terror attack on satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo Wednesday, but have largely fallen short of criticizing the Islamist ideology that led to the attacks.

“We, scholars of the Islamic nation, strongly condemn any action that sheds the blood of innocents, spreading corruption on earth, whoever the perpetrators are and whatever their religion,” wrote Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi, a Qatar-based Sunni cleric and head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, on his Twitter account.

Citing verses from the Quran that prohibit murder, he stressed that “our holy religion respects human life and safeguards it, prohibiting and attack, which is considered a major sin. It bans the indiscriminate killing of people.”

Similar condemnations emerged from Al-Azhar University, Egypt’s top religious institution, and from Saudi Arabia, whose official news agency deplored “the cowardly terror attack, which goes against the Islamic faith as is does against all other religions.”

But while wall-to-wall condemnation emerged in official Islamic circles, there was little public soul-searching surrounding the ideological and doctrinal root causes of the violent attack.

British Muslims hold placards as they demonstrate across the street from the French Embassy in London against the publication of caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad by a French satirical weekly, Sept. 21, 2012 (photo credit: AP/Lefteris Pitarakis)
British Muslims hold placards as they demonstrate across the street from the French Embassy in London against the publication of caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad by a French satirical weekly, Sept. 21, 2012 (photo credit: AP/Lefteris Pitarakis)

In condemning the attack, Ali Al-Qaradaghi, secretary-general of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, expressed concern that the attack will “aggravate the state of strife between all divine religions.”

God in the Quran had suspended the judgment of infidels and sinners to the Day of Resurrection, Qaradaghi wrote, “therefore disagreements in opinion should be dealt with through debate and not through weapons and killing.”

“Whatever opinions the newspaper advocated, they cannot be opposed by killing and criminality,” he added. “Terror has no religion.”

Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan speaks at Cooper Union in New York, Thursday, April 8, 2010 (photo credit: AP/Kathy Willens)
Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan speaks at Cooper Union in New York, Thursday, April 8, 2010 (photo credit: AP/Kathy Willens)

Ibrahim Nagm, an adviser to Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawki Allam, warned “the French public and especially the media” not to rush and blame Muslims for the attack Wednesday, so as to avoid “a deep rupture and the spread of hatred, violence and oppression of Muslims in France,” Egypt’s official news agency reported.

Tariq Ramadan, the Geneva-based grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna and a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University, told his 1.27 million followers on Facebook that the attackers have tarnished the Islamic faith.

“Contrary to what was apparently said by the killers in the bombing [sic] of Charlie Hebdo’s headquarters, it is not the Prophet who was avenged. It is our religion, our values and Islamic principles that have been betrayed and tainted,” Ramadan wrote. “My condemnation is absolute and my anger is profound against this horror!”

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