Counter-Terrorism: The Islamic Pope

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January 21, 2009: One of the less publicized counter-terrorism efforts is the one by Islamic scholars and clerics to neutralize the effects of self-proclaimed "religious authorities" issuing defective (in terms of law or interpretation) fatwas (religious edicts). This has become a serious problem with the availability of satellite television and radio, which can spread a bad fatwa (like one that accuses someone of being a heretic and calls on all Moslems to try and kill the poor guy). This was never a problem in pre-radio days. Back then, a fatwa was simply a religious interpretation (or just opinion) given to a small group of people, or an individual. But now, a inspiring (and often unscrupulous) preacher can get on satellite TV or a radio show and issue all manner of religiously incorrect, and dangerous fatwas.

The government of Saudi Arabia is trying to counter this by getting large numbers of religious scholars to agree on some standards for who can issue a fatwa, and what a fatwa can do. This is no small matter to Islamic scholars, and the Saudis are spending a lot of money to transport (to Saudi Arabia) and house (in fine style) the most respected Islamic scholars for conferences on the fatwa issue.

Islam has not central power than can decide doctrinal or religious issues. There are many sects, and some are murderously hostile to each other. Westerners like to say that what Islam needs is a Martin Luther (the Christian cleric who got the Protestant Reformation going 500 years ago). But in this case, what Islam really needs is a pope, someone who has the final word on all these religious arguments. When Islamic radicals get to arguing over these matters, their final argument is often murder, not theology.

 

 

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