Islamic Clerics and the Call to Jihad
Competing Legal Opinions Can Urge Violence, or Just Resistance

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Baakr Abd Al Ras-sak Al Samari
Muslim cleric Baakr Abd Al Ras-sak Al Samari delivers the "sword sermon" at a mosque in Baghdad, Feb. 14, 2003
Screen capture courtesy Middle East Media Research Institute

video icon View part of Baakr Abd Al Ras-sak Al Samari's "sword sermon"

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April 9, 2003 -- Around the Muslim world, mainstream Muslim clerics are calling on their followers to make jihad, or holy war, against American troops. In general, these pronouncements are not calls to violence, but of resistance to what they see as an American invasion of an Islamic nation, Iraq.

However, those calls to jihad can be interpreted as a call to take up arms and fight -- and there are competing voices in the Islamic world, urging different courses of action. NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports.

In mid-February, as American troops prepared to attack Iraq, Iraqi cleric Baakr Abd Al Ras-sak Al Samari stood before hundreds of Sunni Muslims inside a Baghdad mosque. In a videotape obtained by the Middle East Media Research Institute, the cleric calls the men to be "jihad warriors for Allah."

He then unsheathes a long sword and waves it above his head, and calls on the faithful to cut off the heads of the enemies of Allah.

"The scene is predictable, taking place as it did in Baghdad," says Bradley Hagerty. But what disturbs some moderate Muslim intellectuals is that clerics in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and even Russia are urging young men to join in jihad.

Clerics with most the respected institution of religious learning in the Muslim world -- Al Az-har in Egypt -- have called all Muslims to make jihad against invading American forces. The call came in the form of a fatwa -- a religious legal opinion about a specific issue.

Other clerics have also issued fatwas, but remain ambiguous about the use of violence. Still more have made it clear that jihad does not mean taking up arms -- and because the fatwas are ambiguous about the meaning of jihad, Muslims have a lot of latitude in their responses.

In Depth

click for more NPR reports by Barbara Bradley Hagerty

click for more April 1, 2003: Alleged Saddam Statement Calls for Holy War

Other Resources

The Middle East Media Research Institute

Fatwa Online, a collection of fatwas from Muslim clerics worldwide