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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

March 11, 2003

Scholars Urge Jihad In Event of Iraq War
Martin Kimel pointed to this WashingtonPost.com article and says he has fears that this jihad may come to pass if America attacks Iraq. I, on the other hand, suspect this is more heroic blather than a serious reality. The massive attack planned is sufficient to cool the heels of the most rabid

AMMAN, Jordan, March 10 -- Islamic scholars at Cairo's Al-Azhar University, the preeminent seat of Sunni Muslim learning in the Arab world, have declared a U.S. attack on Iraq would threaten all Arabs and Muslims and urged a jihad to defend their interests.

The statement, published in Egyptian newspapers today, said the U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf region in preparation for a likely invasion of Iraq is part of a new "crusade," a highly emotive word in the Arab world, where the medieval Crusades still frame relations with the West.

"According to Islamic law, if the enemy steps on Muslims' land, jihad becomes a duty on every male and female Muslim," said the statement by the Islamic Research Academy, the center of religious scholarship at the 1,000-year-old university. It calls upon "Arabs and Muslims throughout the world to be ready to defend themselves and their faith."

Although commonly translated as "holy war," jihad has a far broader meaning in Islamic law. While it can serve as a call to arms, and is often articulated that way, it is also commonly used to invoke a more spiritual, inward-looking devotion. In that light, some scholars said the statement was not necessarily advocating violence.

"The meaning of jihad means a lot of things, not just fighting," said Abbas Ahmed, a spokesman for Al-Azhar. "It's not necessarily war." But he added that any attack on Iraq would, in fact, "be a strike on Islam."

Whatever the interpretation, the statement seemed likely to reverberate across the Arab world given Al-Azhar's prestige as a source of spiritual guidance and Egypt's role as a U.S. ally.

Fears have arisen throughout the region that a U.S. invasion of Iraq could unleash tumult, and from North Africa to the Persian Gulf, the expected war is increasingly framed as targeting Islam. The statement by scholars at Al-Azhar, seen as a beacon by many orthodox Sunni Muslims, joined a chorus of Islamic voices urging resistance to a U.S. attack
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