Muslims Who Condemn Al Qaeda

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Perhaps the best weapon so far has been fired at Osama bin Laden - a public shaming from prominent Muslims.

It's taken a long time since Sept. 11, 2001, but a leading Islamic body - one elected by Muslims - issued a religious edict on March 10 that states the terrorist actions of his Al Qaeda group "are totally prohibited and are the object of strong condemnation within Islam."

Many moderate Muslim clerics have been cowed by radicals into not making such shaming statements. But on the first anniversary of the Madrid train bombing that killed 191 people, the Islamic Commission of Spain mustered the courage to issue this moral shunning of Al Qaeda, its jihadist ideology, and its leader. Its challenge to the group's legitimacy could further isolate Al Qaeda, open splits among its ranks, retard recruitment, and allow it to be penetrated.

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The fatwa - or moral order - goes far beyond the few Muslim criticisms of bin Laden in the past. It has the potential to open a healthy wider debate among the world's one billion, largely peaceful Muslims about any Koranic justification for violence against innocent people.

A public theological debate over Islamic terrorism (if there is such a thing) would be the best way to end such acts. While steps such as the Iraq war and moves toward democracy in the Middle East may help prevent another Sept. 11, even President Bush has acknowledged that the US cannot extinguish the threat of terrorism. "You can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world," he said on NBC's "The Today Show" last year.

Most Muslims know Al Qaeda has hurt the faith. They can reverse that by speaking out against its terrorism.

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