Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah’s statement responds to the so-called Islamic State philosophy and describes how such groups are misguided and should reverse course.
“Primarily [the fatwa] is really about addressing the mistakes, and it’s really warning them and advising them that what you are doing is clearly wrong,” said the Shaykh, also the president of Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies in Abu Dhabi.
Bin Bayyah was speaking about his fatwa issued last week to explain why groups such as the so-called Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, are misguided and should reverse course. The fatwa by the scholar, 79, says establishing a caliphate by force is a misreading of religious doctrine. Killing of innocents and violence, the fatwa declares, are wrong too.
Describing the group’s purpose, the Shaykh said, “We must declare war on war so the outcome will be peace upon peace.”
Commenting on the reactions to the fatwa, Bin Bayyah said he has no illusions that a fatwa will stop the violence overnight.
“These people won’t suddenly lay down their weapons and come to the peace table,” he said.
“But in the middle range and the long range, if enough scholars come on board and really begin to address these issues at this level, the level of ideas, it will have an impact, lessening the effects of the radicalization of the youth. But it is going to take time.”
Bin Bayyah was born in the North African country of Mauritania and studied in Islamic centers there.
He served as a judge of the High Court in Mauritania and had a number of ministerial positions. Now he’s a lecturer at the Aziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
An Effective Tool
Though Bin Bayyah did not expect an outright effect, analysts expected his words to help in the ideological war on ISIL.
“Within the discussion of the Islamic community and far beyond it, it is a vital voice at a vital moment for authentic teaching,” William Vendley, the secretary-general of Religions for Peace, a global multi-religion organization that works in 90 countries, told NPR.
“He’s providing a counterexample to all this violent extremism. He’s providing the counter narrative. It’s not a cure-all pill. It won’t stop everything, we know that, but without it, where are we?”
Vendley referred to the great effect of Bin Bayyah’s fatwa in May against Boko Haram, the Nigerian militant group responsible for kidnapping hundreds of schoolgirls.
He cited Nigerian officials who asserted that Christians and Muslims came together in a way they hadn’t before bin Bayyah interceded.
Others opined that fatwas from big figures such as Shaykh Bin Bayyah usually take time to be filtered down, from scholars to teachers, to local imams to people on the street.
“This isn’t going to stop a young Muslim based in Europe or the US who is going to fight for ISIS — I don’t think this will alter that person’s decision calculus,” said Peter Mandaville, a professor of Islamic studies at George Mason University.
“What it will do is give those who might otherwise sit this out an argument, something to think about. It shows that the things that ISIS does, its objectives, the methods it uses, have no basis in classical Islamic jurisprudence and teaching.”
For his part, Bin Bayyah asserted that time is worth spending because military action alone won’t work.
“The problem is that even if you defeat these ideas militarily by killing the people, if you don’t defeat the ideas intellectually, then the ideas will re-emerge,” he said.