Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden may have broken several well-settled principles of jihad and his February 1998 fatwa to declare war against the West suffered from theological flaws, Islamic scholars argue.
“The most critical departure was that Laden considered civilians, including women and children, as legitimate targets of jihad,” said Akhtarul Wasey, the head of Islamic studies department at Jamia Millia Islamia.
Jihad refers to the duty imposed by the Koran on every Muslim to struggle against
evil. As an inner struggle, it is against sin — which Prophet Mohammed referred to as jihad-e-akbar or the “greater jihad” — and as an external struggle, it is often about protecting the faith.
Jihad could have been called only by the state or a Muslim ruler, Wasey said, adding: “But the ummah (universal Muslim community) had never appointed Laden as their representative in the first place.”
Prophet Mohammed — whose way of life forms an integral part of the Muslim faith —would expressly forbid killing of non-combatants, the old, children and women, Wasey added.
In a December 1998 Al Jazeera interview, following the Qaeda’s attacks in Kenya and Tanzania embassy attacks, Laden had justified the killing of civilians.
“As far as my understanding goes, the key doctrine of Laden was (that he was) against foreign occupation. But the Soviet backed-regime he helped topple in Afghanistan was a Muslim government too,” Wasey added.
In the 1998 fatwa issued by Laden, the first point is about US occupying “lands of Islam in the holiest of places”, including Saudi Arabia. He equated US presence there with occupation, which is flawed, said Azizul Haque of Osmania University.
“A key requirement (for jihad) is a reasonable degree of assured success,” according to Ayesha Jalal, professor of history at Tufts University and author of “Partisans of Allah: Meanings of Jihad in South Asia”.