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March 31, 2003

Muslim clerics divided on jihad against Americans

DUBAI, March 26: The calls for jihad against Americans have grown since the start of the US-led war on Iraq but Muslim religious scholars are divided on whether and how to wage a holy war against the invaders.

Sunni Muslims from Saudi Arabia outside the official religious establishment had in early March called for jihad against the "crusaders" and anyone who helped the Americans or the British in taking on Iraq.

Sheikhs Ali al-Khudhair, Nasser al-Fahd and Ahmed al-Khaldi, known to have a penchant for Osama bin Laden and sought by Saudi authorities, have issued fatwas, or religious edicts, on the Internet declaring that "whoever assists the US cause is an atheist and apostate".

Toning down the message, 32 Saudi religious moderates acknowledged in a statement published in mid-March that "any co-operation with the United States in its aggression against Iraq would be a grave sin". But they stressed that the decision to issue the call to jihad "should be made by people versed in religious studies".

They also said they opposed "the bloodshed of our Muslim brothers or foreigners living in the country (Saudi Arabia) under such a pretext".

Saudi Arabia's top mufti, Sheikh Aziz al-Sheikh on Monday urged the faithful to prove their patience and "obey their leaders whatever the circumstances".

Yasser al-Serri, the director of the Islamic Observatory in London, an agreed that "it is the duty of all Muslims to defend themselves against the aggressor.

"Today, America is in the process of attacking a Muslim country. Any Muslim is obliged to hit the aggressor and the bases used to stage this attack. (But) that does not necessarily mean defending the dictator, Saddam Hussein." The head of the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe, also based in London, the Iraqi Ahmed alRasui, urged Muslims to resist the urge for vengeance. —