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What Is Wrong With 126 Moderate Ulema's 'Open Letter To 'Khalifa' Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’, And Why It Will Not Work? This Moderate Fatwa Does Not Leave Any Leg For Moderate Islam To Stand On

By Sultan Shahin, Founder-Editor, New Age Islam

1 September 2015


As many as 120 ulema from around the world belonging to most schools of thought have sent an Open Letter to Dr. Ibrahim Awwad Al-Badri, alias ‘Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’, And To the Fighters and Followers of the Self-Declared ‘Islamic State.’

Written in over 14, 000 words, this is a valuable document. It shows what is wrong with self-styled Khalifa Baghdadi's rulings. But, more importantly, it also shows what is wrong with moderate Islam at the present juncture; why this refutation will not work, and other such refutations do not work; and why our children will keep running away to ISIS and other terror centres. In fact, read between the lines, this moderate fatwa does not leave any leg for moderate Islam to stand on.

No 16-year-old is going to read the whole 14,000-word document. But she/he will be mightily influenced by bits like this that will be seized upon by the apologists of violent Islamist ideologies:

"... everything in the Qur’an is the Truth, and everything in authentic Hadith is Divinely inspired."

This is confirmation from moderate ulema that what terrorist ideologues have been telling their pupils is correct. This is precisely their argument. No difference between Quran and Hadees; they are both divinely inspired. One verse of the Quran is as good as the other. One Hadees narration supposedly from the Prophet (saw) is as good as the other. All immutable, universal, eternal guidance for all time to come. The fatwa does say in one place that "it is not permissible to invoke a specific verse from the Qur’an as applying to an event that has occurred 1400 years after the verse was revealed." But it is not this that will be emphasized by the terror ideologues. What will be stressed is the consensus among the ulema of all schools of thought, including those who consider themselves moderate, that both Quran and Hadees (even though collected scores and hundreds of years after the demise of the Prophet) are divinely inspired and all of it represents "truth." This will only reassure our 16/20-year-old kids that what they are learning in the terror manuals is correct and has universal acceptance of all ulema including the moderates.

Similarly in the chapter 13 - Coercion and Compulsion - of the Open Letter, the moderate fatwa says: "It is known that the verse: ‘There is no compulsion in religion’ was revealed after the Conquest of Mecca, hence, no one can claim that it was abrogated." Then the fatwa goes on to criticise Baghdadi for using coercion. But the important thing is that even the moderate fatwa has accepted the basic premise of Baghdadi and the like that peaceful Meccan verses revealed before the conquest of Mecca have been abrogated or, at least, may have been abrogated, and it is the militant verses relating to war that should now prevail.

In any case it is wrong that "the verse : ‘There is no compulsion in religion’ was revealed after the Conquest of Mecca." It was actually revealed before the conquest and in Madina when some  Muslims wanted to take back their children from the custody of Jews on their expulsion from Madina and convert them to Islam. So according to these moderate ulema, and for those who know the actual shaane nuzool (context), this verse too is abrogated. Does moderate Islam have any leg to stand on any more?

[Context of this verse from Quran Tafsir ibn-Kathir: "It was reported that the Ansar were the reason behind revealing this Ayah, although its indication is general in meaning. Ibn Jarir recorded that Ibn `Abbas said ﴿ that before Islam "When (an Ansar) woman would not bear children who would live, she would vow that if she gives birth to a child who remains alive, she would raise him as a Jew. When Banu An-Nadir (the Jewish tribe) were evacuated ﴿ from Al-Madinah some of the children of the Ansar were being raised among them, and the Ansar said, `We will not abandon our children.' Allah revealed, ﴿لاَ إِكْرَاهَ فِى الدِّينِ قَد تَّبَيَّنَ الرُّشْدُ مِنَ الْغَيِّ

(There is no compulsion in religion. Verily, the right path has become distinct from the wrong path.)'']

In point 16. Hudud (Punishment), the moderate fatwa in the form of Open Letter establishes a general rule: "Hudud punishments are fixed in the Qur’an and Hadith and are unquestionably obligatory in Islamic Law." Having accepted the basic premise of the Baghdadi tribe it goes on to criticise its implementation in the so-called Islamic State. It says: "however, they are not to be applied without clarification, warning, exhortation, and meeting the burden of proof; and they are not to be applied in a cruel manner." And so on. But once you have accepted the basic premise of  Hudud (Punishment) based on 7th century Bedouin tribal Arab mores being "unquestionably obligatory in Islamic Law" what difference does actually remain between moderation and extremism.

In point 20, moderate ulema seem to be justifying the destruction of idols. Read the following from the Open Letter:

"Your former leader, Abu Omar Al-Baghdadi said: ‘In our opinion, it is obligatory to destroy and remove all manifestations of shirk (idolatry) and to prohibit all means that lead to it because of Muslim’s narration in his Sahih:  on the authority of Abu Al-Hiyaj Al-Asadi, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib said: “Should I not tell you what he [i.e. the Prophet saw]  sent me to do: not to leave a statue without obliterating it nor a raised grave without levelling it.”’ However, even if what he said were true, it does not apply to the graves of Prophets or Companions, as the Companions were in consensus regarding burying the Prophet (saw) and his two Companions, Abu Bakr and Omar, in a building that was contiguous to the Prophet’s Mosque."

The impression is unmistakable that the moderate ulema are only opposed to the destruction of "the graves of Prophets or Companions," and not quite to the supposed obligation to destroy and remove all manifestations of shirk (idolatry). This is not a very good sign of maintaining inter-faith relations in contemporary world where all civilised countries respect each other's right to practise their religion.

 In point 22 of the Open Letter, titled,  The Caliphate, the moderate ulema again concur with the basic proposition of the Baghdadi clique: "There is agreement (Ittifaq) among scholars that a caliphate is an obligation upon the Ummah. The Ummah has lacked a caliphate since 1924 CE." Then it goes on to criticise Bghdadi for  lack of consensus from Muslims, etc. and accusing him of sedition, fitna, etc in fairly strong language. But the problem is the same. Moderate ulema agree with Baghdadi on the basic premise of the so-called obligation of the umma to have a Caliphate. This is absurd in this day and age. Clearly both Baghdadi group and moderate ulema are equally outdated, seemingly continuing to live in the 7th century CE.

But on one issue, Baghdadi emerges as more humane and civilised than these moderate ulema, if that is possible. In point 23 - National affiliations, the Open Letter to Baghdadi says: "In one of your speeches you said: ‘Syria is not for Syrians and Iraq is not for Iraqis54.’ In the same speech, you called on Muslims from across the globe to immigrate to lands under the control of the ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and the Levant. By doing so, you take the rights and resources of these countries and distribute them among people who are strangers to those lands, even though they are of the same religion. This is exactly what Israel did when it invited Jewish settlers abroad to immigrate to Palestine, evict the Palestinians and usurp their ancestral rights and lands. Where is the justice in this?"

Something doesn't become wrong just because Israel is doing it. In fact Israel is doing many things right and Muslims would do well to follow it. In this case, it is not only Israel but the entire civilised world, that shares "the rights and resources" of their countries and distributes them "among people who are strangers to those lands" but have immigrated either as economic migrants or political asylum seekers. Indeed, even students acquire permanent residence permits in some countries in less than two years, without having contributed anything to the economy. On the other hand, in the barbaric Arab countries, including the land of "puritan Islam," now called Saudi Arabia, even if you serve the country for half a century you cannot expect to get so much as a green card or permanent resident status, and then, of course, you will be thrown out once you have outlived their need. If Baghdadi is giving resident status, for whatever it is worth,  to those he is calling to work or fight for him, he is being civilised, considering he is an Arab ruler, and no Arab ruler of any persuasion, whether Islamist, secular, leftist, or nationalist, is known for this kind of civilised behaviour. And here are moderate ulema criticising him for that. They apparently support Arab barbarism in this matter.

This is not to say the Open Letter is entirely useless or totally counter-productive. It is good as far as it goes. It does criticise Baghdadi and his clique, and quite vehemently, at least, for faulty implementation of Islamic principles, even if it agrees with him on the basics in several areas. But to expect the Open Letter to stem the tide of gathering support for the so-called Islamic State will be futile.

Extremism has been endemic in Islam, present almost from  the beginning of Islamic history. Muslims fought among themselves and quite vehemently even before the creation of Hadees and Sharia, which they now consider divine. Muslims have still not found an antidote to militant verses in the Quran that are now available to anyone with access to internet. Calling all verses of the Quran as of eternal value is not going to solve the problem. Calling Hadees and Sharia divinely inspired is no answer to the questions of the day.

Muslims will just have to  abandon the theology that leads to violence and supremacism and look for a new theology, a coherent theology of peace and pluralism, consistent in all respects with the teachings of Islam, and suitable for contemporary and future societies.

Related Articles:

Open Letter to Dr. Ibrahim Awwad Al-Badri, alias ‘Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’, And To the Fighters and Followers of the Self-Declared ‘Islamic State’

URL of Part One:

URL of Part Two:

URL of Part Three:



In a series of eight comments Quran exegete Muhammad Yunus supports the points made above

 1: The Notion That Hadith Is Divinely Inspired Is A Myth

The notion that Hadith is divinely inspired is a myth as exploded in my following referenced article that concludes as below:

“The above illustrations are more than enough to establish that the Hadith could not be divinely revealed – parallel or complementary or even remotely synergetic to the Qur’an as the article claims. Any further elaboration, which can no doubt be added, will, however, be like killing the scarecrow and tax the readers. Indeed we need the Hadith to know the ways the Prophet performed the Islamic rituals like prayer, fasting and hajj but we cannot consider it divine or even indirect revelation (Wahi) because then we will make a gross error by elevating what is fallible and historically derived, era specific to the level of divinity – an open shirk.

Hadith Is Not a Divine Scripture of Islam – a la Qur’an

Hence Those Who Claim Divinity of the Hadith in Parallel To

Qur’an Stand As Mushrikin in Divine Court – Though God Knows Best


2:  Hudud Punishments Being Obligatory Is Fallacious

The statement “"Hudud punishments are fixed in the Qur’an and Hadith and are unquestionably obligatory” is fallacious on two counts:

1.    The hudud punishment is prescribed in the Qur’an only as an exemplary punishment with forgiveness clause that allows for flexibility in the punishment. Accordingly Caliph Umar prescribed jailing for minor offences and reserved the Hudud punishment for only major crimes.

2.    The ‘exemplary’ character of Hudud punishment underscores a climate of lawlessness that marked the Prophet’s era as noted in the following authenticated exegetic work as follows:

     “The social setting of the revelation was far from secure. There was no civil administration, no police force, no court of law, no trial for crime, no jail, and no institution for punishing the criminal. So the criminals had almost unlimited power. They could bully, beat up and rob any unprotected soul, commit major crimes, spread terror in the community and roam about in broad daylight, or disappear in the desert wilderness - depending upon their clan clout. The Qur'an had to stop this outrage. There were past examples of rulers inflicting severe punishment on those who defied them and of communities suffering awesome punishments because of their errant ways. The Qur’an reminds its audience of these punishments (5:33), and commands amputating of hand for stealing (5:39) as an exemplary punishment. It, however, leaves a forgiveness clause (5:39), thereby allowing flexibility in the mode of punishment. [Chapter 41.1, Essential Message of Islam]

3:  Is it obligatory to destroy and remove all manifestations of shirk or idolatry?

Those who quote Imam Muslim to issue the opinion that “it is obligatory to destroy and remove all manifestations of shirk (idolatry) and to prohibit all means that lead to it” can also issue opinions accommodating the following heinous traditions that contradict the Qur’anic message but are reported as Sahih hadith by Imam Bukhari:

Deeply misogynistic practices:

Allowing a man to marry a woman temporarily by giving her even a garment [Hadith No.139/Vol.6], Allowing coitus interrupts as well as sex with female captives of war [Hadith No.137/Vol.7], Fondling a female pregnant slave [chapter 113/Vol.3], (The Prophet) Solomon, went round (had sexual relations with) one hundred women (his wives) in one night [Hadith No.169/Vol.7]. The angels curse a woman till morning who declines her husband’s invitation to sleep with him. [Hadith No.121, 122/Vol.7]. The majority of the dwellers of hell-fire will be women as they frequently curse their husbands, are ungrateful to them due to deficiency in intelligence and religion, and have power to lead a cautious sensible man astray [Hadith No.28, 301/Vol.1, Hadith No. 541/Vol.2]. A woman (`that is sterile or discontented or impudent') can be a bad omen [Vo.7/ Hadith No.649, 666.]

Projects the Prophet as a sexually obsessed person:  

The Prophet embedded all of his nine to eleven wives in round during the day and night (Hadith No.268, 270, 282/Vol.1, Hadith No. 34/Vol.3, Hadith No.6, 142/Vol.7). He shared bath from a single pot with his youngest wife Aisha (Hadith No. 272, 298/Vol.1), and fondled his wives when they were in menses by getting them to wear the Izar (dress worn below the waist) (Hadith No. 298, 299, 300/Vol.1).

 Traditions Inducing Terrorism.

The Prophet ordered most barbaric punishment to some men of Ukul and Uraina tribes for theft, murder and apostasy and authorised killing of any person who left Islam and burnt and cut-down the palm trees of Bani al-Nadir as already quoted earlier He killed the men and distributed the women, children and property of Banu Quraizah among the Muslims (Hadith No. 280/ Vol.1), and exiled all the Jews from Medina (Hadith No. 280/ Vol.1, 362/ Vol. 5).

Traditions Fomenting Inter-faith Hatred.

The Prophet cursed the Jews and the Christians during the last hours of his life for they built the places of worship at the graves of their Prophets [Vol.1/ Hadith No. 427], he cursed the Jews for they melted it and sold the fat of animals [Vol.6/ Hadith No.156], though trading and eating of fat was forbidden to them [Vol.3/ Hadith No. 426,427,438].

Scientifically Untenable Traditions

The sun goes down every day under the Throne (of God) and takes permission to rise again [Vol.4/ Hadith No.421]. A human is put together in the womb of the mother in forty days, and then he becomes a clot of thick blood for a similar period, then a piece of flesh for a similar period... [Vol.4/ Hadith No.430], Fever is from the heat of hell [Vol.7/ Hadith No. 619, 620, 621, 622/Volume 7], Cupping operations or branding (cauterization) offer best for healing of wounds [Vol.7/ Hadith No. 584, 585 and 587, 605], One should run away from the leper as one runs away from the lion. [Vol.7/ Hadith No.608/], No contagious disease is conveyed to others without God's permission, and there is no evil omen in the month of Safar, nor Hama. [Vol.7/ Hadith No.665(A)] , Vol.4/ Hadith No. 518, 527, 528.

Era / Location specific Ahadith:

Forbidding Muslims from carrying the Qur’an to a hostile land [Vol.4, Hadith No. 233], keeping agricultural implements at homes [Vol.3, Hadith No. 514], taking the price of a dog [Vol.3, Hadith No. 439, 440], or selling fruits until they are ripe and red [Vol.1, Hadith No. 565].

It is these people who find a way out of the noble paradigms of the Qur’an and bring evil in religion by way of hadith. There matter rests with God for not verbal invective can fit their moral vulgarity and religious counterfeiting.


4: Is a caliphate an obligation upon the Ummah?

The agreement (ittifaq) among the scholars “that a caliphate is an obligation upon the Ummah.” Is not consistent with the Qur’anic message on the method of governance, which is captured as below in my exegetic work under posting at NAI:

“Therefore, in true sense, there is no political model of an Islamic state. The Islamic caliphate under the Prophet’s companions cannot be regarded as a model as it was governed in purely religious lines. It is impossible to recreate this model, as much as it is impossible to have the Prophet’s companions and witnesses of the revelation come alive to lead a religio-political state. Even otherwise, in today’s multi-religious world a religio-political state is antithetic to historical need rather than a historical necessity. Thus the present religious title of many of the countries with predominantly Muslim population, and the religio-political division between the Muslim and the non-Muslim world is purely a construct of history, nostalgic, anachronistic, and not rooted in the Qur’anic message. [Ch. 42.5, Essential Message of Islam]


5: "Muslims will just have to  abandon the theology that leads to violence and supremacism"

I am in complete agreement with Sultan Shahin Sahab’s concluding remark:

"Muslims will just have to  abandon the theology that leads to violence and supremacism and look for a new theology, a coherent theology of peace and pluralism, consistent in all respects with the teachings of Islam, and suitable for contemporary and future societies."

The following remarks in the concluding part of my referenced book echo his views in loud and clear manner:

It has been long overdue for Muslims to make an objective and honest assessment of their secondary theological literature, notably the Hadith sciences. There can be no doubt that they are essential to understanding how the Prophet and early Muslims complied with various Islamic rites and rituals, including Salat, Zakat and hajj. But the truth remains, their evolution is purely a construct of history, and accordingly they are conditioned and corrupted by a wide array of factors impacting across some two to three hundred years as analyzed earlier (Enc.4). Considering the canonized Hadith as we have in our hands today, on their face value as truths supplementing and complementing the Qur’an as many orthodox scholars advocate, or indirect inspiration as the classical theory of Islamic law suggests,5  may lead to the following, to the great detriment of the Muslim community:

·         The vast majority of Muslims, lay or educated, will have neither time, nor the necessary books, nor the scholarship to explore their expansive domains.

·         Different individuals, agencies, groups and states, will be able to pick conveniently from their theological sources to legitimize their views and deeds in the whole range of matters concerning their societies. Such matters could be of social, political or theological nature, or pertain to statecraft, educational curriculum and women’s status, for example. Likewise, they will be able to enter into polemics, and have their clerics pass fatwas against conflicting views on all such matters.

·         They will be questioning the completeness of the Qur’an as a font of guidance and divine criteria of right and wrong, despite its claim to be a book of wisdom that makes things clear with all kinds of illustrations and elaboration (Notes 7-10/Preface).

·         Their theologians will continue to nurture and perpetuate the thought process, scholastic disposition, and paradigms that were normative in the early centuries of Islam and characterize the Hadith literature, that is revered and taught by them, and thus keep those Muslims under their direct influence, intellectually rooted in that era, with grave consequences.

·         The modern Kharijites6 and Qaramites7 of Islam – the violent extremists, active in many countries of the world, will reduce Islam, in the eyes of the non-Muslims exposed to a patently biased media,8 to a cult of terrorism and suicide bombing, creating enormous difficulties for the common peace loving and law abiding Muslims settled in predominantly secular and non-Muslim societies.

Therefore, as suggested by some of the eminent Muslim scholars, Muslims must endeavour to take guidance directly from the Qur’an.9 The best way to accomplish this, as the Qur’an advocates, is to probe into it,10 and seek the best meaning,11 as attempted in this work.

Furthermore, Muslims must endeavour to cultivate an exemplary moral conduct and behaviour (uswatun hasana) to do full justice to the heritage of their Prophet (33:21/Ch. 15), and to excel in all good things (that includes lawful pursuits) as enjoined by the Qur’an (2:148/Ch. 16; 5:48/Ch. 9.4).

There is also a pressing need to substitute the predominantly theological content of the curriculum of traditional religious schools (madrasas) with a focused study of the Qur’an and a comprehensive study of the ever expanding fields of universal sciences and diverse faculties of knowledge that are nothing but the manifestations of the Words (kalimat) of God (18:109, 31:27/Ch. 2.1), that cannot be divided between Islamic and non-Islamic domains (Concluding paragraph, Ch. 10.2).

As for the theological discourses, notably the Hadith literature, Muslims must not accept them blindly, and cite them freely, without knowing their background and the classification.12 The Hadith remains a critical part of Islamic religion, in so much as it preserves the legacy of the Prophet, no less his companions. However, since this is a very technical field, it should be reserved for enlightened specialists who have attained sufficient maturity, knowledge, and training to distinguish between weak and reliable Hadith, and not to confuse them with the Word of God. [Afterwords, 1.3]


6: Baghdadi, ‘You have lost your claim to the religion of Islam’!

The Muslim Ulama must bite the bullet and not beat about the bush as already commented in these words under a different thread: 

 "The religious scholars and academics from across the Muslim world have done a commendable job by challenging different facets of ISIS's atrocities as un-Islamic or diametrically opposed to the Qur'anic message. But the Ulama and ideologues of ISIS can table their own views, logic and interpretations to justify their heinous crimes. Besides, the detailed and highly technical letter is wanting in bewilderment and thunder-bolt effect of a child's outburst in the classical fable that "the King has no clothes." 

In one word, if a person throws an infant from the roof of a high rise building, or rapes a woman who is the first in the line of prohibition or suicide bombs a mosque or a church when people are worshiping or acts God by meting out a punishment to a human being (burning alive) that God alone can inflict if He wishes, he must be told upfront: Look Mr... ‘You have lost your claim to the religion of Islam’! ‘You are a Kahrijite! and those who follow you stand to earn God's wrath and not pleasure and like the early Kharijites of Islam, bound to perish."  


7: Search Your Souls; Does Islam allow compulsion in religion?

All the readers of New Age Islam who may read these comments are called upon to search their souls and ask this fundamental question: have they descended from a generation of Muslims whose mothers were converted into Islam under the threat of sword or whose mothers,  as in the Prophet’s era, were free to accept or reject Islam as testified by the Qur’an in these words:

“And if any of your wives should go over to the pagans, and then you have your turn (as many converted wives of the Meccan pagans left their pagan husbands and came over to Medina), then pay to those whose wives had left the equivalent of what they had spent (on their dower). And heed God in Whom you believe” (60:11).

Note: In essence, the verse calls for compensating those men who converted to Islam and allowed their pagan wives to go over to their pagan tribes. Had there been any coercion in religion, the pagan wives could never enjoy this option. Their husbands would have coerced them to convert, rather than leave them, in many cases to mutual grief.”

The ISIS policy to covert non-Muslim women under threat of life to Islam amounts to forcing Islam upon such women and thus giving rise to a generation of Muslims born after the forced marriages/ conception of their mother who entered Islam to save their lives and were thus forced to take a spouse to produce children or to satisfy the sexual need of its soldiers under the cloak of Islam.


8: The violent extremists are no more than poisonous sediments of history

The truth as articulated in the concluding paragraph of my referenced jt. publications is: 

"... the violent extremists – the modern Kharijites6 and Qaramites,7 of Islam are no more than poisonous sediments of history, and like their counterparts of almost a millennium ago, they are bound to be increasingly marginalized, and eventually jettisoned from the world of Islam."

Hence the earlier the Muslim scholars and Intelligentsia take the following on board the better:

“Call for international Fatwas to declare the terrorists who advocate wanton killing of innocent people in the name of Islam as ‘Terrorist Apostates’, like the Kharijites of early Islam.” – Oct. 2013

“Open warning of dire perdition to the Neo Khwarijite (hatred inspiring and terror mongering) Ulama of Pakistan – the ideologues of TTP, Jaishe Muhammad and their likes.” – June 2014.

This article was published pseudonymously as it had the following highly sensitive and threatening concluding remarks.


 Declare The ISIS As The Kharijites (Those Who Seceded From Islam) As This Article Demonstrates And Declares: Global SOS To The Ulama, Muftis, Intellectuals And Scholars Of Islam – Feb. 2015


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