Objection to the Recent Fatwa of Terror

Rafiq Taqi, an Azerbaijani writer accused of apostasy for insulting Muslim beliefs, was stabbed on November19, 2011 and died four days later in the hospital. Five years earlier in 2006, the Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Fazil Lankarani, in response to his followers’ question as to what ought to be done about Taqi, issued a fatwa sanctioning the killing of the writer. Now in 2011, Muhammad Javad Fazil Lankarani, the son of the late Grand Ayatollah and a clergy in Qom, in a statement posted on his website reaffirmed his father’s fatwa by expressing joy in the murder of the Azeri writer and congratulated the perpetrator(s) of the vicious act.

In an open letter written to Muhammad Javad Fazil Lankarani, Mohsen Kadivar, a leading dissident theologian who once was a classmate of the junior Lankarani in the Shi’ite seminaries of Qom condemned the Grand Ayatollah’s fatwa and the congratulatory statement of his son. In the letter, Kadivar uses original Shi’ite religious texts to convincingly debunk the permissibility of spilling the blood of others no matter how harsh their remarks might be to one’s religious beliefs. Kadivar argues that neither Quran nor the hadith offers us the evidence to support issuing such fatwas. Kadivar maintains that textual evidence and the opinion of distinguished scholars of Shi’a jurisprudence over the years do not condone the murder of human beings under any circumstances. The letter is a short theological rebuttal of the fatwa and in defense of the freedom of thought and religion in Islam.


Dear Mr. Mohammad Javad Fazil Lankarani,

I hereby ask God almighty to bless you with health and success in life. I take this opportunity to recall in good memory the years that we together enjoyed learning at the helm of teachers that are now resting in peace and the mercy of God. I hope that you as the inheritor of your late father’s position of source of emulation (marjai’yat) and jurisprudence (fiqahat), just like him, would pursue the independence of the seminaries.

The reason to take up your time is to engage in a substantive conversation pertaining to the vital issue of people’s life and the reputation of Islam and the Shi’a faith. In your statement dated November 26, 2011 posted in your website, you have expressed joy in the “terror of an evil man who would insult holyIslam and the respected Prophet” and “his excellency Grand Ayatollah Fazil Lankarani has issued a fatwa(religious decree)permitting the spilling of the blood of this infidel and heretic.” Your father’s fatwa dated November 25, 2006 in response to the question of some of his followers regarding their responsibility vis-à-vis the Azeri journalist Rafegh Taqi’s writings, is as follows: “such a person with the fore said confessions, if he is a born Muslim, he is an apostate, and if he is an unbeliever, it is a case of insulter of the Prophet and in any event, assuming such confessions, killing him would be necessary for whoever has access to him, and the person in charge of the mentioned paper that knowingly publishes such thoughts and beliefs would be subject to the same punishment.” Your statement and your father’s fatwa follow the late Grand Ayatollah Khomeini’s fawa about the disparaging book “The Satanic Verses,” the difference being that the Western author (Salman Rushdi) is still alive under the protection of the British police while the Azerbaijani author in Baku was stabbed and died five days ago in hospital.

You are undoubtedly aware that these two individuals are not the only ones who have insulted the Prophet(Peace be upon him), Quran and Islam.  There are some who on a daily basis and in different languages, in the print and Internet, insult religious beliefs in general, and propagate insult against Islam in particular. I doubt it that you and other respected jurists and mareje’h (sources of emulation) are aware of a fraction of these insults, even in Persian. One can now ask, based on the above-mentioned fatwa,if all of the producers and propagators of these insults and slanders are apostates and insulters of the Prophet? And whether in both cases the permitedness of killing them is obligatory to whoever could reach them? Thus, believers and your father’s followers and that of other maraje’h’s who argue similarly, if they wish to perform their religious duties, would have to kill such persons- or in today’s language commit terror- or hire adept persons to perform this religious duty (according to the fatwa such as your father’s).

In critiquing such fatwas of terror and the permitedness of spilling blood, one could say:

1-      The execution of the apostate and the insulter of the Prophet and permissibility of spilling their blood lack any Quranic proof. Rather, the spirit of Quran is contrary to such decrees (see this author’s book The Right of People, the article “Freedom of Religion and Belief in Islam”, pp.204-05, and its English translation inThe New Voices of Islam: Reforming Politics and Modernity – A Reader, edited by Mehran Kamrava; I. B. Tauris, 2006; London; pp. 119-142).

2-      The sayings of the Prophet and Imams in these two areas, assuming veracity of the source, cannot be evidence for issuing fatwa to commit terror and establish the permittedness of spilling the blood of human beings, because there are statutory laws that supersede the substance of these sayings. They cannot possibly withstand the formidable strength of these arguments and rulings:

Firstly, many preeminent jurists stipulate that the implementation of hudud(“the prescribed punishments”) and engaging in primary jihad are allowed when the Prophet and the infallible Imamsare present. Mohaqqiqal-Helli (Sharye-al Islam vol. 1, p.344) and Ibn Idrisal-Helli (as-Sara’er al-havili tahrir al-fatavi, vol.2, p. 25) are cases in point.

Secondly, the evidence for the two above-mentioned decrees, whether the execution of the apostate or the permitedness of spilling the blood of the apostate and the insulter of the Prophet, is the “single-source account.” The validity of the “single-source account” is the reasonable persons’ opinions. Reasonable persons of the time in vital and important issues, contrary to other affairs deemed not to be important, do not depend on the “single-source account.” One of the most important concerns is the “right to life” and the protection of people’s lives. Violating the “right to life” could only be exercised when there is conclusive evidence; that is “prooftext”(al-nass) of the Quranic verse or the “prooftext” of hadith that has been among the “wide-scale transmitted ” ones (al-mutawatur).

One cannot issue the ruling to kill based on the “single-source account.” In other words, implementing an execution decree requires definitive reliable evidence. Precaution (ihtiyat) in issues related to blood (because of the extraordinary importance of life and the due attention given to it by the “Divine Legislator”-Share’) is necessary, and without conclusive evidence (not even credible conjectural evidence) the decree to execute anybody must not be issued. According to Muhaqqiq Ardabili, “killing is a huge issue because the “Divine Legislator” gives the utmost care to the protection of life. Since life is at the center of duty and welfare, its preservation has been made mandatory, and even abandoning the protection of life is not permissible. Reason seems to support killing the other when one wants to avoid being killed himself. Nevertheless, it is better to take the absolute precaution in such affair.” (Majma’o al-faedehva al-borhan, ketab al-hudud, vol. 13, p. 90)

The great contemporary jurist Ayatollah Seyyed Ahmad Khansari has emphasized that, “as for the issue of people’s blood, the credibility of ‘single-source account’ or the pious person’s account backed by credibility of some of the scholars of ilm al-rijal (the discipline of biographical evaluation of hadith transmitters), or their modifications by reference to the reasonable persons’ position using some accounts, is not without problem. Do you not realize that in vital matters, persons of reason, particularly given the seriousness of attention paid to the issue of spilling blood, do not consider the “single-source account” to be sufficient, or in other affairs they find such accounts to be sufficient? “(jami’ al-Madarek, kitab al-hudud, vol. 7, p. 35)

In issues related to spilling the blood of human beings,Kashif al-litham too, using precaution, contends that implementing the prescribed punishments such as execution belongs exclusively to the infallible imam (kashf al-litham‘an Qavaid al-Ahkam, vol. 2, p. 405). The argument for the execution of the apostate relies on the single-source account and such account lacks credibility in validating the ruling of execution.Hence, the principle of precaution in relation to the blood of human beings imperatively disconfirms the ruling of execution. (for more explanation see “The Right of People,”  pp. 181-216)

Thirdly, the permitednessof spilling the blood of people would lead to the prevalence of lawlessness and encourages the believers to breach the law. Proving and executing a ruling that affects the life of human beings fall exclusively within the purview of a competent court. The competent court has been identified in every country’s constitution, and international standards of human rights have also transparently explained the standards and procedures. In the competent court of law, the defender and his or her lawyer have the right to defense, and the jury oversees the passing of the verdict in such an open court. Jurist (Faqih) or the sources of emulation(marja’eh taqlid) is not the competent court in the legal convention or customary practices. The punishment of execution cannot ever be carried out outside the court and without going through the three phases of primary, appeal and the supreme courts. Delegating the execution of the death penalty to the people who have no authority is in absolute contravention to the standards of human rights. On the other hand, handing over the implementation of the death penalty to private citizens amounts to anarchy and lawlessness, asituation that result in disruption of order that jurists (foqaha) unanimously characterize as corruption.

Fourthly, issuing the fatwa to assassinate, or the ruling to execute the apostate and the insulter of the Prophet inevitably leads to the distortion of the image and reputation of Islam, Shi’a faith, and associating them with violence, terror and intolerance. One of the accusations leveled against Islam and misused by the critics of Islam and those opposing it is the harsh and illogical treatment of the “others” and dissidents. The cultural arena is where the competition among opinion-makers and different religions takes place. In this marketplace of ideas, one should defend the sanctity of Islam and the faith by using cultural tools, solid logic and reasoning, well-intentioned debate and today’s relevant language. The Quran says “Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best. Indeed, your Lord is most knowing of who has strayed from His way, and He is most knowing of who is [rightly] guided” (16: 125). It is possible to scare some by issuing fatwa to assassinate and order the murder of the apostate and whoever insults the Prophet, but it would certainly not invite anybody to Islam, nor would it add anything to the credibility and stature of Islam. These harsh fatwas end up murdering some dissidents or bringing them fame, rather than increasing the attraction to religiosity. Issuing such fatwas causes the slandering of Islam. How can one believe in a religion that condemns its critics and detractors to death without granting them the right to legally defend themselves or appear before a court of law? How would such fatwas be commensurate with the guidance of the Prophet of mercy?

Citizens who are believers and object to other citizens’ insults to their beliefs should take their complaints to the competent court, have legal representation, file a motion and try to prove the action and offense of the accused in the court and demand the due punishment for him or her. If according to the law of the country in question, insulting religious beliefs is not a crime, the respectedsources of emulation(marja’ehtaqlid) or fervent followers should rectify the shortcoming by appealing to the Supreme Court or the constitutional court (depending on the case). On the other hand, they could turn the abhorrence of disrespecting others’ beliefs into a popular cultural norm by writing commentaries and articles in media outlets.

Establishing high ethical and religious values, which include tolerance and civility on the one hand, and respecting the beliefs of others and refraining from slurring, ridiculing and insulting, on the other hand, requires international cultural socialization. In addition to observing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, being attentive to common human responsibilities and duties and formulating a universal declaration pertaining to such issues seem to be needed. According to such a declaration, one cannot insult people’s deeply-held religious beliefs, at the same time, scholarly critique and debating these ideas must be allowed. Moreover, nobody can be punished for criticizing a religious belief. Religious conversion and promoting and propagating different religions would be allowed and cannot be subject to punishment. Under no circumstances, assassination of somebody who has transgressed these codes can be defended.

Therefore, if we wish to fight the insult to and ridicule of religious beliefs in the contemporary world, at first we should recognize freedom of religion; secondly, respect others’ religious beliefs; thirdly, we should not accept this-worldly punishment for religious conversion or the propagation of other religions; fourthly, we should pursue the punishment of those who insult religious beliefs through proper legal recourse, and avoid handing the sword over to the intoxicated zealot.

Contrary to you, I am not joyful of the killing of this rude Azeri citizen, but I am ashamed of his vicious and cowardly murder in the name of Islam, Shi’a faith, marja’iyat and fatwa, even if his writings are full of discourteous remarks and insult to the Prophet and Islam. I regard what you have encouraged to be the worst manner in defending Islam and Shi’ites in today’s world. We are the followers of leaders who have been exemplars in ethics, dignity and compassion. Revision in the foundations of humanism, cosmology, epistemology, ethics, and hermeneutics affirms that the ijtihad (independent legal reasoning in Islam) which results in such fatwas is nothing but the repetition of the sayings of those from the past “out of the context and time” in which they lived, and whatever its name, the outcome is not the ijtihad of the school of the family of the Prophet.

In the spirit of an intellectual exchange, if you reply to my well-intended critique, you would launch an auspicious dialogue that is in the tradition of the Ja’fariate School of fiqh. Otherwise, I would be grateful if you reflect on this critique of your former fellow student.

What made the master of all the martyrs Imam Hussein to sacrifice his life and his beloved ones’ lives was to save the compassionate school of the Prophet from transmuting into a school of Ummayad atrocity. The wise and knowledgeable faqih of our time would engage in enjoining good and forbidding evil, the supreme example of which in our time is to fight religious despotism and the guardianship of the unjust ruler, rather than distorting the shining image of the merciful Islam.

Mohsen kadivar
November 28, 2011



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