Calgary Herald | Calgary imam declares ‘fatwa’ on ISIL


Updated: Calgary imam declares ‘fatwa’ on ISIL

Calgary Herald | March 11, 2015

Canadian imams are staring down threats from terrorist groups, as well as stigmatizing rhetoric from the federal government, to formally condemn the lure of the Islamic State group (ISIL).

“There is still recruitment going on in Canada,” said Imam Syed Soharwardy, who led 38 imams to sign a formal edict against Canadian recruitment by the Islamic State group. “This is not stopping, this is not reducing; so that’s why we had to take this initiative, to educate people.”

Soharwardy, founder of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, presented the fatwa at a Wednesday news conference. The six-page letter mentions a slew of brutal actions by ISIL, such as killing civilians, mutilating bodies and disturbing graves.

“That is why we consider them as non-Muslims, because of their consistent and constant violations of Islamic jurisprudence, teachings of the holy Qur’an and teachings of the holy prophet,” said Soharwardy.

The fatwa compares ISIL’s supporters and tactics with the “khawarij,” an Arabic word for “outsiders” that refers to a violent, heretic spinoff of Islam that emerged shortly after the religion’s 7th-century founding.

The letter cites a Hadith, a saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, warning that Islam will be distorted by people with “beautiful words but evil deeds” who “will leave the religion as an arrow leaves its target.”

Soharwardy, who estimates Canada has 1,000 imams, said he contacted “four or five” imams who also supported the letter but were afraid of reprisals for making their opposition to ISIL public.

“Some of them just refused to put their names, because of their safety,” said Soharwardy. “Because ISIL is a very dangerous organization. I have my safety concerns too. But, the thing is if we all said ‘I’m frightened by [ISIL],’ then who is going to do the right thing?”

Iman Syed Soharwardy declares a fatwa on the terrorist group ISIL during a press conference at the Genesis Centre in Calgary on Wednesday March 11, 2015.
Iman Syed Soharwardy declares a fatwa on the terrorist group ISIL during a press conference at the Genesis Centre in Calgary on Wednesday March 11, 2015. GAVIN YOUNG / CALGARY HERALD 

Wednesday’s fatwa was signed by 38 imams, with all but one located in Canada. The fatwa only mentions ISIL and not other violent groups Canadians have joined abroad, like al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. Groups of imams have issued fatwas against ISIL in the past year in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the U.K.

Umear Riaz, an imam with the Dawat-e-Islami mosque in Castleridge, attended Wednesday’s fatwa publication to show his support.

“It is really hard because a lot of people ask questions, especially about this situation. A lot of people judge you in the same scenario because [ISIL] calls themselves Muslim and I’m a Muslim so they think everyone’s the same way,” Riaz said.

Soharwardy also took aim at the Prime Minister’s rhetoric, citing Stephen Harper’s remarks that the “international jihadist movement” has “declared war” on Canada.

“Anybody who fights against ISIL is a jihadi. So why are you using Islamic terminology for a terrorist organization we already condemn?” said Soharwardy, angrily waving the six-page fatwa.

“Stephen Harper is not treating Muslims with equal eyes, with equal respect,” he said. “If people stop connecting Islam with these terrorists, I would say that terrorism can go on the decline. Because it will help people who feel isolated, who feel marginalized, to be part of the Canadian society.”

Soharwardy called on the federal government last December to launch an inquiry into the recruitment of Muslim radicals, in his testimony at a Senate committee.

The imam has also designed a checklist to weed out new converts who aspire to join terrorist groups, after imams nationwide observed a spike of new Muslims since last October’s terrorist attacks. However, the vast majority of converts are not radicalized.

Soharwardy has issued fatwas in the past, including a 2010 edict against terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists and a 2012 fatwa targeting honour killings.

Though not legally binding, a fatwa carries substantial weight within Islam, particularly with followers of the Shia branch of the faith. ISIL follows a radical version of the Sunni branch of Islam.


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