‘Who is a civilian?” The Muslim Brotherhood’s chief jurist, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, was asking the question rhetorically. It was 2004 and the sheikh, globally renowned as Sunni Islam’s most influential sharia scholar, felt obliged to dilate on Muslim law’s distinction between civilians and combatants. After all, a couple of his edicts had caused some confusion.
Two days after the atrocities of September 11, 2001, Qaradawi declared, “We, in the name of our religion, deny the act and incriminate the perpetrator.” Although he expressed skepticism that Muslims were behind the attacks on the United States, his pronouncement was taken as an implied condemnation of al-Qaeda.
An apparent rebuke from a figure of such stature elated American progressives, who look upon the Brotherhood as a cure, rather than an incubator, for violent jihadism. For once, the Left could feel comfortable forgetting that Qaradawi is a rabid anti-Semite whose gory enthusiasm for the Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch, the Hamas terrorist organization, is most notable for its paeans to suicide bombing — or what the sheikh prefers to call “martyrdom operations.”
But the treacle that Brotherhood eminences serve up for voracious Western consumption is rarely repeated in speeches to their core Arabic audience, swelled to the millions by the popularity of media mogul Qaradawi’s weekly al-Jazeera program, Sharia and Life. This is the audience to which Qaradawi typically spouts such venom as: “The Israelis might have nuclear bombs but we have the children bomb, and these human bombs must continue until liberation. Calling for peace at this time is treason.”
It was to this audience that Qaradawi and one of his esteemed creations, the International Union of Muslim Scholars, directed their 2004 fatwa calling for the killing of American troops in Iraq. “Resisting occupation troops in Iraq is a duty on able Muslims in and outside the war-torn country,” proclaimed the IUMS.
Qaradawi’s starkly different treatment of the two episodes — 9/11 and the Iraq invasion — was easy enough to reckon if one grasped his sharia calculus. The U.S. is not a Muslim country and Iraq is; attacks on the former are to be discouraged unless they help the cause of global Islamization, while driving infidel invaders from the latter is compulsory.
What generated confusion, though, was Qaradawi’s position on civilians. The rationale for his 9/11 condemnation seemed to center on the mass killing of civilians at the World Trade Center. But Iraq, where Qaradawi and his fellow sharia scholars were urging jihadist terror, had been entered not only by American troops but also by legions of civilians supporting the democratization mission. Did the fatwa apply to them, too?
It most certainly did. As Qaradawi had emphasized in 2003, right after the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime, it was not merely the American fighters but the American presence in an Islamic realm that caused offense. “The American aggression on the whole region,” he claimed, was designed “to impose the total American hegemony on us.” Consequently, a Muslim “who launches attacks against the American presence is really carrying the spirit of true defenders. When one dies while carrying out such attacks, then he is a martyr.” Thus, as Qaradawi now clarified, there are no American “civilians” in Iraq:
I said that I forbid the killing of civilians. I said that it is permitted to kill only those who fight. Islam forbids killing women, youth, and so on. I said so openly, but I asked, “Who is a civilian?” When engineers, laborers, and technicians enter with the American army, are they considered civilians? Is a fighter only the one inside the tank or also the one servicing it? I am speaking of the interpretation of the word “civilian.”
As if these questions did not answer themselves, Qaradawi made the obvious explicit in speaking for the IUMS on the eve of the third anniversary of the 9/11 attacks: “Fighting American civilians in Iraq is a duty for all Muslims. . . . Americans in Iraq are all fighters and invaders. There is no difference between a civilian and a military American in Iraq.”