Spanish Muslims decry Al Qaeda
Last Thursday, Spain's Islamic Commission issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden and his followers.
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According to Escudero the fatwa - issued on the eve of the anniversary of the March 11 attacks - serves "as a call to conscience" for Muslims here. Some religious leaders in Morocco - the country of origin for most of the suspects in the March 11 bombings - and Libya have supported the Spanish Commission's edict.Skip to next paragraph
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But there have been few signs of change among the Sunni preachers in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere who have backed bin Laden in the past - and who reject groups like the one in Spain. For tafkiris, or rejectionists, such as bin Laden's followers, Muslims who work with what are regarded as infidel regimes like Spain are themselves rejected as unIslamic.
And in the broader Islamic world, where the terrorist bombings like the one in Madrid are rejected, there is still a high degree of support for the political causes that allegedly motivate such attacks. This takes the edge off any specific condemnations of bin Laden.
"It would be wrong to say that the issues close to the hearts of terrorists like bin Laden don't matter to Muslims in general," says Toby Craig Jones, who tracks militant Islamic groups for the International Crisis Group, a think tank based in Brussels. "Militants like bin Laden tap into popular frustration with issues of concern to Muslims across the world ... and people easily disconnect that from his methods."
Moreover, some local experts on Islam question whether the fatwa will have significant impact. Waleed Salah, professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at the Autonomous University of Madrid, sees the statement as a nice symbolic gesture that will probably have little real impact.
"Those who embrace violence make up a tiny minority of the Muslim population," he says. "And it is difficult to correct those on the margins. This kind of statement won't affect them."
Professor Salah questions whether the declaration's true purpose may be to protect the group that issued it rather than to prompt genuine change. "This is a way for the Islamic Commission to distance itself from the people responsible for the attacks, to demonstrate their innocence," he says.
Mr. Jones agrees. "These sorts of statement are targeting a Western audience, so that Western audiences pick up on it," he says. "What's going on in Spain is so far out of the mainstream that it won't have much impact in the Muslim world."
The Islamic Commission, however, has plans to send the fatwa to Muslim organizations elsewhere, as well as to the religious authorities in Muslim states.
Although Escudero, the fatwa's primary author, was reportedly singled out as a target on the Abu Maysara al-Iraqi webpage, he maintains that he is not frightened by the threat. "I'm a Muslim," he says. "A Muslim only fears God. And his protection is with God."
Regardless of what lies ahead, the Commission's edict - and the response it has provoked - has confirmed a notable rise in efforts by mainstream Muslim groups in Europe to distance themselves from extremists who claim to share their faith. Indeed, on Friday, the imam of Madrid's Islamic Cultural Center, Moneir Mahmoud, thanked the Spanish people for "responding with maturity and exemplary prudence to a massacre that has wounded us all."
• Dan Murphy contributed to this report from Baghdad.