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Nuclear Weapons in Iranian Religious Discourse

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Violation of rights by the United States in this region is not limited to some isolated cases. In the case of our own country, they denied so many realities regarding our nuclear program…they twisted the truth beyond recognition and spread many lies…Our nation says that it seeks to achieve nuclear technology and that it seeks to have the capability to use nuclear energy for peaceful, civilian purposes. They say that the Iranian nation is trying to develop a nuclear bomb. Why do they tell these lies?

On numerous occasions, the Iranian people and government officials have announced that they do not seek to develop nuclear weapons and that nuclear weapons have no place in the needs of the nation and the military system of the country. We announced that it is haraam and prohibited to use nuclear weapons from an Islamic point of view and that having such weapons causes a great danger and needless trouble. We are not after nuclear weapons, and neither do we wish to have them…And they have been saying these things in order to justify their false claims. Is that not an injustice?

– Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei. “Supreme Leader’s Address on the Anniversary of Imam Khomeini’s Demise.” June 4, 2009

The saga over Iran’s nuclear aspirations has lasted over ten years. And, as the above quote demonstrates — the dynamics on both sides are clear. However, throughout the debate on the issue, one thing has remained constant: The Iranian leadership, and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, have claimed the production, possession, and use of nuclear weapons (and all WMD’s) to be haram, or, prohibited in Islamic law. Because, as the reasoning goes, the use of such weapons indiscriminately harms civilians, and also land and property, which Islam prohibits.

While the veracity or non-veracity of this claim will never influence Western policy towards Iran, Khamenei has adduced this religious argument in several key venues, including in meetings with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, former IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradeiregional ambassadors, and at domestic conferences and international summits. Moreover, there are indications that Khamenei’s “nuclear fatwa” has been discussed among US government policy makers engaged in negotiations with Iran.

However, contrary to Khamenei’s claims, not only does Twelver Shia Islamic law — which serves as the basis of law in Iran, and the worldview of the Islamic Republic’s religious leadership — not prohibit the use of weapons, and tactics of warfare that kill indiscriminately, but high-ranking religious clerics, some with close ties to Khamenei, have issued fatwas specifically authorizing the possession and use of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Case in point, below is a fatwa from a high-ranking Ayatullah based in the Iranian city of Qom:

Ayatullah Mohaqeq Kaboli (1928 – Present). “Ruling on Weapons of Mass Destruction,” Ahkam Sharai’

با عنایت به روایت شریفه «ان النبی(ص) نهی ان یلقی فی بلاد المشرکین» که در متون مختلف فقهی جهت حرمت استفاده از سم علیه بلاد مشرکین مورد استناد قرار گرفته است مرقوم فرمایید: آیا در خصوص تسلیحات کشتار جمعی مانند بمب های اتمی و شیمیایی و میکروبی هم همین حکم می تواند جاری باشد؟

نهی از القاء سم به بلاد مشرکین شامل عساکر حربی نمی شود، مراد از آن این است که القاء سم به بلاد مشرکین موجب قتل زنان و کودکان و پیرمردان می شود، و اما القاء سم به عساکر حربی و استفاده از تسلیحات کشتار جمعی مثل بمب های هسته ای و شیمیایی و میکروبی جهت شکست عساکر حربی بلامانع است

Question: With regard to the narration that the Prophet “prohibited the deployment of poison in the lands of the polytheists (mushrikeen),” which has been mentioned in various religious texts to prohibit the use of poison (in conflict)…in regards to weapons of mass destruction (today), such as a nuclear, chemical, or biological bomb, does the same ruling apply?

Answer: The prohibition on deploying poison in the lands of the polytheists does not include against hostile forces, it is meant to prohibit the killing of women, children, and old men…the use of weapons of mass destruction, such as a nuclear, chemical, or biological bomb, in order to defeat hostile forces, is permitted.

As alluded to above, the Twelver Shia religious tradition does address the use of weapons that cause indiscriminate harm — especially the use of poison (ilqaa al-samm), common during antiquity — which in the modern day has been analogized with WMD use. However, while limits were put on such tactics of warfare — they were never fully prohibited in scholarly literature, much less deemed a “sin” — as the Iranian leadership claims in Islam’s name today. The following anecdote — from an esteemed Twelver Shia scholar of the classical Islamic period — will better help to frame this reality:

إذا نزل الإمام على بلد، جاز له محاصرته بمنع السابلة دخولا وخروجا، وأن ينصب عليهم المنجنيق، ويرميهم بالحجارة، ويهدم الحيطان والحصون والقلاع وإن كان فيهم نساء أو صبيان للضرورة، ولو لم يحتج إلى ذلك فالأولى تركه، ولو فعله جاز. ولو كان فيهم أسارى مسلمون، وخاف الإمام إن رموهم على الأسارى جاز رميهم، ويجوز إلقاء النار إليهم وقذفهم بها، ورميهم بالنفط مع الحاجة، ويكره لامعها. ويجوز قتالهم بجميع أسباب القتل، من رمي الحيات القواتل والعقارب، وكل ما فيه ضرر عظيم، وتغريقهم بالماء وفتح الأنهار عليهم، ويكره مع القدرة بغيره. وهل يجوز إلقاء السم في بلادهم؟ الأولى الكراهية

If the leader (imam) descends upon a territory, it is permissible for him to surround it, to prevent means of entry and exit. He can train catapults on them, and launch stones, to destroy walls, fortresses, and castles. This can even be done if there are women and children inside, due to necessity. However, if these (methods) are not depended upon, then it is best to leave them, but it is still permissible. If there are Muslim captives inside, and the leader fears that they will be hit, it is still permissible to launch stones.

And, it is permissible to set fire, and launch it at them, and stones (covered with) oil. But, it is disliked. And, it is permissible to fight them with every means of killing, including launching poisonous snakes, and scorpions, and everything that brings great harm. And, flooding them with water, and opening rivers upon them. However, it is disliked if the ability exists (to accomplish the objective) otherwise. And, is it permissible to deploy poison in their lands? (The answer is), it is disliked.

– Allamah al-Hilli (d. 726 AH/1325 CE). Tahrir al-Ahkam

Despite the existence of this material, however, how modern religious clerics, and classical Shia Islamic law conceives of WMD use has never been thoroughly researched. Modern fatwas, which directly sanction nuclear weapons use — some by high-ranking religious figures in Iran, with close intellectual and physical links to Khamenei — have never been collected, translated, or analyzed. They were not easy to find. However, they demonstrate a clear consensus on the issue that has emerged in broad swaths of the Shia clerical community, and belie the claims by Khamenei that nuclear weapons are unconditionally “haram,” — seemingly one of his last remaining lines of defense with the world community.

What is this consensus? As will be seen — while the Iranian leadership no doubt considers the use of WMD’s against civilian populations to be religiously dubious (as Khamenei has articulated with confidence) — the same cannot be said for their use against military targets, including American and Western bases, troops, and strategic interests in the Middle East, and those of allies. Moreover, none of the modern or classical religious material addresses or prohibits the possession of weapons for purposes of deterrence. And, in fact, this unconditional use of weaponry for purposes of national defense was even expressed by Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, in his own fatwa:

Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini (d. 1989 CE). Tahrir al-Wasilah, Kitab Amr bi al-Maruf wa Nahi an al-Munkar, Fasl fi al-Difaa (1964)

مسألة 1 – لو غشي بلاد المسلمين أو ثغورها عدو يخشى منه على بيضة الاسلام و مجتمعهم يجب عليهم الدفاع عنها بأية وسيلة ممكنة من بذل الأموال والنفوس
مسألة 2 – لا يشترط ذلك بحضور الإمام عليه السلام وإذنه ولا إذن نائبه الخاص أو العام، فيجب الدفاع على كل مكلف بأية وسيلة بلا قيد وشرط

1. If a Muslim country is invaded or overtaken by the enemy, and the territory of Islam and its society are feared for, it is obligatory to defend it through any means possible, from wealth and lives.

2. This does not depend upon the presence of an Infallible Imam, or the permission of his deputy — defense is obligatory upon every capable person, through any means, without restriction or condition.

Finally, the nuclear weapons debate has also been manifested in the Islamic Republic’s intellectual history, and was addressed even prior to the 1979 Revolution. And, through understanding this historical rhetoric, we can better contextualize contemporary Iranian government statements on their nuclear intentions. In 1972, Ayatullah Morteza Motahhari — a populist and highly revered religious personality, close confidant of Khomeini, and one of the “intellectual forefathers” of the Islamic Revolution — explicitly stated that Muslims should work to possess an “atomic bomb.” Despite this, in a 1970 work — published just two years earlier — Motahhari denounced the American bombing of Hiroshima, and warned against the consequences of nuclear proliferation.

Therefore, we can deduce that the Iranian religious establishment (including Khamenei) conceives of and addresses WMD’s on different “tracks:” Approving of them for defensive purposes against perceived military aggressors, while disapproving of them against cities and civilian populations (helping to explain the IRI’s prolific rhetoric against the American bombing of Hiroshima, the Cold War arms race, and Iraq’s use of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War). And, in fact, this “dual-level” use of rhetoric is a key finding that helps to reinforce the consensus — already articulated directly in the religious rulings — that the IRI religio-political establishment believes WMD’s to be licit, so long as they are used in defensive postures, against military entities alone. Therefore, we can conclude that Khamenei is indeed seeking to deceive the world community — but through language that is very much a part of the Islamic Republic’s historical, intellectual discourse.

Ayatullah Morteza Motahhari (d. 1979 CE). Islam va Muqtaziyat-i Zaman (“Islam and the Circumstances of the Time”) (1351/1972)

مثال ديگر : قرآن مى گويد : (( اعدوا لهم ما استطعتم من قوة و من رباط الخيل )) در مقابل دشمن تا آخرين حد امكان نيرو تهيه كنيد زمانى بود كه چهار تا آهنگر مى توانستند آن وسائل نيرو را با همان معلومات تجربى زمان خودشان تهيه كنند , ولى يك زمان ديگر انجام اين وظيفه معلومات بسيارى مى خواهد , علم ساختن بمب اتمى هم لازم است , پس براى آنكه آن وظيفه انجام داده شود واجب است كه اين[ مبحث] هم خوانده شود[ شايد بگوييد] مگر پيامبر گفت (( ايها الناس ! برويد اتم شناسى ياد بگيريد )) تا ما امروز ياد بگيريم ؟ مى گوييم پيغمبر چنين چيزى نگفته , لازم هم نبوده بگويد ولى پيغمبر چيزى گفته كه اگر بخواهيم به آن عمل كنيم , بايد اين مقدمه را هم انجام بدهيم , چون روح اين حكم آن است

The Koran states: Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies, of Allah and your enemies. (8:60)

The use of force against the enemy is required as much as possible. There was a time when a few blacksmiths could build the tools needed, using the empirical knowledge of their time. But, today it takes more knowledge. The knowledge to build an atomic bomb is necessary. You may say, the Prophet didn’t say, ‘O people, go, learn about atoms!’…But, we should do this, because it is in the spirit of that rule.

Ayatullah Morteza MotahhariSayri dar Sirah-i Aimmah-i Athar (“A Glance at the Biographies of the Pure Imams”) (1350/1970)

روزى نيست كه وسائل مخرب به صورت نيرومندتر , مهيب تر و وحشتناكتر پيدا نشود . از حدود بيست سال پيش , از وقتى كه بمب اتمى در هيروشيما افتاد تا امروز نگاه كنيد ببينيد قدرت تخريبى صنعتى بشر چند برابر شده است ؟ رسيده به مرحله اى كه مى گويند دنياى امروز ديگر غالب و مغلوب ندارد , اگر جنگ سوم جهانى پيش بيايد , صحبت اين نيست كه آيا آمريكا غالب است يا شوروى , يا چين . اگر جنگ سومى پيش بيايد آنكه مغلوب است زمين و بشريت است , و آنكه غالب است هيچ است

Everyday, worse and more destructive weapons have appeared. It was only about 20 years ago when the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima, but look today at how the destructive power of human industry has multiplied…If there is a Third World War today, the loser will be earth and people, and the winner no one.

Clearly, these excerpts that sanction the development and use of WMD’s — including fatwas from modern Iranian clerics; rulings from classical Shia Islamic law; statements from Khomeini, the founder of the IRI; and leading intellectual figures of the Iranian Revolution — significantly contextualize and challenge Khamenei’s assertions about Islam’s alleged nuclear weapons ban, and Iran’s military intentions. And, throughout this post, I will attempt to continue to contextualize these statements by Khamenei, and offer an intellectual rebuttal to a topic that has not been adequately challenged.

In this post, I will present and analyze all of the modern fatwas that sanction the use of weapons of mass destruction and their implications for gauging Iran’s nuclear ambitions; explore how nuclear weapons have been manifested in the worldview and history of the IRI, including how Khomeini addressed them; and also further explore how Shia Islamic law conceives of warfare, and by extension, modern WMD use.

Modern Fatwas, and Weapons of Mass Destruction

Ayatullah Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei (d. 1992 CE). Minhaj al-Salihin

يجوز قتال الكفار المحاربين بكل وسيلة ممكنة من الوسائل والادوات الحربية في كل عصر حسب متطلبات ذلك العصر ، ولا يختص الجهاد معهم بالادوات القتالية المخصوصة

نهى رسول الله ( صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم ) أن يلقى السم في بلاد المشركين . نعم ، إذا كانت هناك مصلحة عامة تستدعي ذلك كما إذا توقف الجهاد أو الفتح عليه جاز ، وأما إلقاؤه في جبهة القتال فقط من جهة قتل المحاربين من الكفار فلا بأس به

It is permissible to fight “disbelieving war makers” (al-kuffar al-muharibeen) with every possible means and tools of warfare, in every age, according to the requirements of that era. Jihad with them is not limited in the tools of warfare…

Yes, the Messenger of Allah prohibited deploying poison in their lands, but if there is a public interest which requires it, such as to stop aggression, or achieve victory, then it is permissible. As for deploying it on the battlefield, on the front of the “disbelieving war makers,” then there is no harm in it.

As has been demonstrated, commentary upon warfare in Islamic law is not limited to the past, and figures within the modern Shia clerical structure have also addressed the issue. And, as aptly articulated above, a consensus has emerged: It is not the “tools of warfare” (such as nuclear or chemical weapons in and of themselves) that are subject to religious regulation — but rather, the “population” that weapons target. And, while the targeting of civilians is considered religiously impermissible (or, haram) by most clerics (though, it can be done as a “last resort” in order to “halt conflict” or “achieve victory”), their use against military targets has been deemed unconditionally permissible.

This understanding has been articulated by several contemporary Ayatullahs, some with close ties to the Iranian leadership (as will be explored). Presented below are the remaining, extant fatwas from modern Shia clerics that implicitly and explicitly sanction WMD’s (however, undoubtedly, there are many more that are not published or in works that are not easily accessible). These fatwas — beyond their literal meanings — are significant for the diversity of the clerical figures that articulated them. Whether from Najaf or Qom; traditionalists or reformists; or independents or regime loyalists — the same religious dynamics have been expressed, which shows the degree of clerical consensus on the issue, beyond the statements of Khamenei.

Ayatullah Muhammad Sadiq Rohani (1926 – Present). Istifta’at

س 1026 : با عنايت به روايت شريفه «ان النبي(صلي الله عليه وآله) نهي ان يلقي السم في بلاد المشركين» كه در متون مختلف فقهي جهت حرمت استفاده از سم عليه بلاد مشركين مورد استناد قرار گرفته است ،آيا در خصوص تسليحات كشتار جمعي مانند بمب هاي هسته اي و شيميايي و ميكروبي هم همين حكم مي تواند جاري باشد؟

باسمه جلت اسمايه
بما ذكرناه جواز استفاده از همه اموري كه فتح متوقف بر آن ها باشد ظاهر مي شود; و به واسطه، در جنگ مسلمين با اسراييل از من استفتا شد; من همه اين امور را در صورت توقف فتح بر آن ها اجازه داده ام

Question: With regard to the narration that the Prophet “prohibited the deployment of poison in the lands of the polytheists (mushrikeen),” which has been mentioned in various religious texts to prohibit the use of poison…in regards to weapons of mass destruction (today), such as a nuclear, chemical, or biological bomb, does the same ruling apply?

Response: As we have said before, the permission is given for all things on which victory depends. Through a mediator, I was asked for my decree about the Muslims’ war with Israel, and I have permitted all such things if victory depends on them.

Ayatullah Hossein Ali Montazeri (d. 2009 CE). “On Nuclear Weapons.” October 14, 2009 (22 Mehr 1388)

‏ ‏به كارگيرى اين گونه سلاح ها اگر تنها در برابر نظاميان متجاوز نباشد و مردم‏ ‏بى گناه – هرچند از نسل هاى آتى – را قربانى نمايد، عقلا و شرعا جايز‏ ‏نيست . و با توجه به وسعت دامنه كشتار و تخريب سلاح هاى هسته اى ،‏ ‏مصداق اهم و مهم بودن در مورد سوال روشن نيست

Employing nuclear weapons is rationally and religiously impermissible — if used against innocent people, even those in future generations — (though) not if against an invading military. However, due to the extent of destruction and massacre caused by nuclear weapons, the “priority of importance” in this question is unclear.

Ayatullah Muhammad Taqi Bahjat (d. 2009 CE). “Methods of Fighting the Enemy,” Jami al-Masa’il

جايز است محاربت دشمن به هر قسمى كه اميد فتح يا نجات در آن باشد از آنچه اهون از قتل نفس باشد از اموال؛ و اگر در بين آنها كسانى باشد كه جايز نيست قتل آنها مثل زنها و اطفال ، خوددارى از مهلكات آنها مىشود مگر آنكه متوقّف باشد فتح بر آن . و در القاء سموم در بلاد كفّار، شبهه حرمت است ، و آن شبهه آكد است در غير صورت اختصاص بلد به كسانى كه جايز است قتل آنها و متوقّف است فتح بر القاء سمّ

It is permissible to fight the enemy with every kind (of warfare) in order to secure victory, or save lives and property. And, among those who it is not permissible to kill, such as women and children, these (methods) should be refrained from, unless victory depends upon it. As for deploying poison in the lands of the unbelievers, it is highly disliked, but permissible in order to stop killing, or achieve victory.

Ayatullah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr (d. 1999 CE). Ma Wara al-Fiqh

استعمال السم وغيره
قد ورد النهي عن استعمال المبيدات العامة حتى ضد الجيش المقاتل، فضلا عن الاخرين، كالماء والنار والسم وغير ذلك مما هو متوفر احياناً
ففي معتبرة السكوني عن ابي عبد الله عليه السلام: قال: قال امير المؤمنين عليه السلام: نهى رسول الله (ص) ان يلقى السم في بلد المشركين
اقول: النهي دال على التحريم، ما لم تحصل مصلحة عظيمة، لا تكون الا نادراً. والرواية وان كانت دالة على خصوص السم، الا انها شاملة لكل المبيدات العامة، بحيث يذهب البرئ بذنب المجرم والاعزل بذنب المسلح، حتى لو كان مسلحاً كالذري او غيره، وذلك بالتجريد عن الخصوصية فقهياً

It has been stated that it is prohibited to use hazardous weaponry, whether against an aggressive army, or others. This includes (flooding) with water, (launching) fire, poison, and other means that might exist.

This is because of the hadith that the Messenger of Allah prohibited the deployment of poison in the lands of the polytheists.

I say: This prohibition indicates it is haram, except if there is a great public interest (maslaha adheema) — but that is rare. While the hadith only specifies poison, its meaning includes all kinds of hazardous weaponry — including nuclear or others — because they kill the innocent along with the guilty, and the unarmed with the armed.

Ayatullah Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi (1945 – Present). Al-Wajiz fi al-Fiqh al-Islami

يجوز استخدام كل الاسلحة التي يرجى بها الفتح إلاّ مـا يُستثنى
يستخدم من الاسلحة بقدر ما يحقق الفتح ، وبأقـل قدر من الدمـار والقتـل
لا تُستخدم الاسلحة التي تفسد الأرض او تبيد الأبرياء ، وتُتَجَنَّب اسلحة الدمار الشامل ؛ كالاسلحة الذرية والبيولوجية والكيماوية ، إلاّ عند الضرورة مثل
أ- ما إذا استخدم العدو تلك الاسلحة
ب- اذا استوجبت الضرورة ذلك ، كأن يكون عدم استخدامها أشد ضرراً وفساداً ، ولم تكن مندوحة للمسلمين غيرها

1. It is permissible to use all weapons in order to secure victory, with exceptions.
2. The use of weapons should be done as much as possible to achieve victory, while minimizing destruction and killing.
3. Weapons that corrupt the earth or kill the innocent should not be used. And, weapons of mass destruction, like nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, should be avoided, except due to necessity, (such as): A. If the enemy uses those weapons. B. If it is judged that there is a necessity for it, for instance if (such weapons) would not be used, then it would increase harm and corruption (against Muslims), which would not have been inevitable otherwise.

Although some of these fatwas only implicitly sanction WMD use — one Ayatullah stands out from among the rest: Muhammad Sadiq Rohani. Rohani is widely respected, and viewed as an independent and academically-minded jurist. Despite some political differences, he is known to ideologically support the Iranian regime, though is intellectually independent from them. Based in Qom, his modern jurisprudential work, a 26-volume tome entitled Fiqh al-Sadiq, is highly regarded. Given his perception as an independent, traditionalist, and intellectual — but also a tacit IRI supporter — it is likely that Rohani has been approached by IRI figures for religious rulings about nuclear weapons. And, indeed, this is what his fatwa intimates. It is notable that Rohani stated he had been “approached by an intermediary,” (due to his political, but not intellectual fallout with the regime, this likely indicates contact with a regime member) and framed his answer in regards to Israel — clearly within the IRI’s political purview (and not a typical answer within the purview of Islamic law alone). Moreover, he intimates that he has issued several past, similar fatwas on the issue. While it cannot be known for certain, the best estimate is that this fatwa was issued between 2007-2009. Along with the fatwa’s content and context, Rohani’s clerical and intellectual status almost certainly belies the notion that Khamenei is unaware that one of Qom’s most respected clerics has sanctioned WMD use — against Israel no less, which would certainly include civilians as well.

The biographies of the other scholars, and their links to the Iranian leadership, are also telling:

  • Abu al-Qasim Al-Khoei — until his death in 1992 — served as the primary marja al-taqlid (scholar of imitation) for the world’s Twelver Shia Muslim community. He was based in Najaf, Iraq, rather than in Iran, and was only loosely affiliated with the Iranian religious hierarchy. However, his religious verdicts are still highly regarded, studied, and relied upon in Shia clerical circles. His risalah — which includes the above ruling — has been endorsed by Ayatullah Vahid Khorasani, the most senior Iranian religious scholar, and one of among six clerics whose religious credentials have been approved by the Iranian leadership.
  • Muhammad Taqi Bahjat — prior to his death in 2009 — was similarly on the list of “approved clerics,” and upon his death, was eulogized by Khamenei, who called himself a “devotee of this great personality,” and allegedly visited him often in Qom.
  • Hossein Ali Montazeri was a close disciple of Khomeini and his potential successor, until he later fell out with him, and subsequently Khamenei, and became a self-styled religious reformist and critic of the regime. His fatwa is significant given his former prominence, close ties to Khomeini, and access to clerical circles — not to mention his insistence on the permissibility of nuclear weapons use, despite being a reformist. Although Montazeri oscillated about the jurisprudential details of the ruling (the “priority of importance” in deducing a religious ruling, while weighing competing interests), the verdict is clear: Nuclear weapons are religiously permissible so long as they are used against a military force, but not against civilians.
  • Mohaqeq Kaboli, an ethnic Hazara from Afghanistan, studied under Khomeini in Najaf during his exile, and currently teaches in Qom. While relatively unknown (comparatively speaking), he is one of many “grand Ayatullahs” who have emerged in recent years, is a regime loyalist, and clearly is aware of the juristic dynamics in Qom, which are undoubtedly reflected in his fatwa on nuclear weapons.
  • Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr — father of Iraqi cleric and politician Muqtada al-Sadr — was a highly-revered, populist Iraqi ayatullah, who was assassinated by Saddam Hussein in 1999. Although he maintained intellectual and physical independence from the IRI, his ruling on WMD use — which states that it’s prohibited, except if there is a “great public interest” — simply demonstrates another religious dynamic in the nuclear weapons debate. What does a “great public interest” constitute? The saving of lives at war? The defense and maintenance of a country’s religious system? As demonstrated by this fatwa — the notion that WMD’s are unconditionally haram has caveats. Al-Sadr also pronounced a second fatwa authorizing WMD use, which will be explored in the last section of this post.
  • Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi is an Iraqi “Grand Ayatullah” that is broadly aligned with the “Shirazi school,” a familial, clerical dynasty that has come to be defined by their religious and political opposition to the Islamic Republic, and the leadership of both Khomeini and Khamenei. Al-Modarresi’s rationale for the possession of nuclear weapons — which endorses them as an “equalizer” in warfare, and a deterrent to minimize harm to the Muslim community — adds another dynamic to the theological justification for nuclear weapons. Moreover, given Al-Modarresi’s political allegiances (which put him in a camp separate from religious reformists, Iraqi traditionalists, or “quietists”) simply shows the degree of religious consensus on the nuclear weapons issue in Shia clerical circles, above and beyond any political posturing that might be present.

Khomeini, Khamenei, and Iran’s Shia Clerical Community

If Khamenei is seeking to deceive others about Islam’s posture towards WMD’s, then he is doing a good job. Despite the fatwas translated above — popular religious opposition to nuclear weapons remains very high. The nuclear weapons debate is not a “hush-hush” topic in Iran, and in the press, academia, and religious discourse, his rationale is supported. In short, despite offering key insights into the debate over Iran’s nuclear aspirations, the fatwas that permit the use of nuclear weapons are not popularly known.

Moreover, Khamenei’s rhetoric against nuclear weaponry is not a new phenomenon. As President of the Islamic Republic in the 1980s, Khamenei addressed both WMD’s, and nuclear energy on numerous occasions. And, in a September 1992 speech, as newly-minted Supreme Leader, Khamenei dismissed nuclear weapons on several grounds, with reasoning and rhetoric reminiscent of that today:

مدتى است كه بلندگوهاى آمريكايى و صهيونيستى در تبليغات جهانى دارند جمهورى اسلامى را به نظاميگرى و افزايش سلاح متهم ميكنند . ميگويند جمهورى اسلامى دارد سلاحهاى جمعى و اتمى درست ميكند واز فلان جا كلاهك اتمى آورده اند ! اينها حرفهايى است كه اگر هر عاقلى در دنيا تأمل كند مى فهمد دروغ است . آيا بمب اتمى چيزى است كه بتوان آنرا بى سر و صدا از كشورى به كشور ديگر منتقل كرد ؟ خود آنها مى فهمند كه دروغ است ولى شايعه درست ميكنند , براى اينكه چهره ء نظام اسلامى را بنحوى معرفى كنند كه گويى با صلح و استقرار آن در دنيا مخالف است . يكى از تلاشهاى خباثت آميز آمريكا و صهيونيزم عليه جمهورى اسلامى همين است . من عرض ميكنم شما اشتباه كرديد كه خيال كرديد قدرت جمهورى اسلامى در اين است كه بمب اتمى فراهم بكند يا در داخل بسازد . قدرت ما اينها نيست . اگر قدرت ما به اينها بود كه جمهورى اسلامى مثلا يك بمب اتمى درست بكند , صدها مثل آنرا كشورهاى بزرگ دارند . اگر كسى ميتوانست با بمب اتمى بر ديگران پيروز بشود , آمريكا و شوروى سابق و بقيه قدرتهاى خبيث دنيا بايد تا حالا صدبار جمهورى اسلامى را از بين برده بودند . چيزى كه به يك نظام قدرت ميدهد بمب اتمى نيست , قدرت نظام اسلامى كه امريكا و شوروى سابق و بقيه قدرتهاى ريز و درشت عالم تا به امروز نتوانسته اند و نخواهند توانست با او مقابله كنند , قدرت ايمان نيروهاى حزب ا . . . است . جمهورى اسلامى بايد اين نيرو و اين قدرت عظيم را حفظ كند , شما جوانها بايد دائم در صحنه باشيد . بايد بطور دائم نشان بدهيد كه جمهورى اسلامى آسيب ناپذير است

The loudspeakers of American and Zionist propaganda for some time have accused the Islamic Republic of seeking militarism and more weapons. They say the Islamic Republic is making weapons of mass destruction, atomic weapons, and has imported nuclear warheads from some country. These are things that any sane person in the world understands is a lie. Is an atomic bomb something that can be transferred from country to country secretly? They understand these are lies but make rumors so as to make it seem like the Islamic Republic is against world peace.

This is one of the evil campaigns of the U.S. and Zionism against the Islamic Republic. I say, you’re wrong to assume the Islamic Republic’s power depends on buying nuclear weapons or building them inside the country. Our power does not lie in that. If our power depended on making nuclear bombs, then great countries would have hundreds of such bombs. If someone could win with the atomic bomb, then the US and Soviet Union and other powers of evil in the world would have already destroyed the Islamic Republic many times over.

An atomic bomb does not give power to a regime. The power of the Islamic regime that America, the former Soviet Union, and other world powers, large and small, could never defeat and never will, is the power of faith among Hezbollahi forces.

The Islamic Republic must preserve this enormous power and energy. You, the young generation, must be aware and make your presence felt, you must constantly show the world that Islamic Republic is invulnerable.

– Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei. “Ray of Light: Statements of the Supreme Leader in Urmia, West Azerbaijan.” Shahrivar 1371 (September 1992)

Moreover, in a 1987 speech as President of the Islamic Republic, equally reminiscent of today, Khamenei lauded domestic progress in nuclear energy as key to safeguarding the independence of the country:

ما در زمينه انرژى اتمى همچون ديگر زمينه هاى علمى و تحقيقاتى عقب نگاه داشته شديم و شايد فكر مى شد كه ملت ما به دليل وجود نفت و گاز فراوان نيازى به ساير منابع انرژى ندارد كه اين يك برداشت غلط بود . شايد نياز مصرفى ما به انرژى نسبت به ديگر كشورها بسيار كمتر باشد . اما در رابطه با انرژى اتمى اين نياز احساس مى شود كه براى رشد و شكوفايى در اين زمينه از علم در كشور ما تلاش شود و اين خواست امروزه ماست . بيش از يك قرن بر روى ملت ما كار شده بود كه ملت را از استقلال و روى پاى خود ايستادن منصرف كنند و اين ملت را به ناتوانى در همه زمينه ها بكشانند . اين خيانت بزرگى بود كه به ملت ما و تاريخ بشريت روا داشته اند چرا كه اگر اين تلاش ها براى نااميد كردن ملت هاى جهان صورت نمى گرفت شايد ما هم اكنون در اين سطح قرار نداشتيم . نياز ما به تكنولوژى هسته اى بيشتر از اين نظر مورد اهميت است كه ملت ما تلاش مى كند وارد صحنه صنعت مدرن و نو شود و ورود به اين مرحله نياز به كار مستمر و خستگى ناپذير همه برادران و اساتيد فن و سرمايه گذارى گسترده در همه زمينه ها دارد. كار علمى شما سلاح برائى است كه براى آينده سياسى علمى و فنى اين ملت فوق العاده اهميت دارد. يكى از وظايف مهم هر ملتى اين است كه ذخاير ارزشمند خود را حفظ و بهترين بهره بردارى را از آن بكند . از بارزترين ارزش هاى يك ملت شناخت استعدادها و خلاقيت هاست . ذخيره استعدادها و ذهنيت هاى خلاقى كه در هر جامعه وجود دارد جزو بالاترين و پرارزش ترين ذخاير يك ملت است .

We have been held back in the field of atomic energy, just like in other scientific and research fields. Maybe there used to be this mindset that since our nation is rich in oil and natural gas, there is no need for other energy sources, but this is a wrong assumption. Our need for energy consumption might be lower than many other countries, but we feel that atomic energy is needed for the growth and development of science in our country.

For more than a century, they worked against our nation to dissuade it from gaining independence and self-sufficiency, to make it weak in all fields. This is a big treason they committed against our nation, and human history, because maybe we would have been in a different situation today had they not made such efforts to dishearten world nations.

Our need for nuclear energy is important because our nation is trying to embark on the path to modern industries and such a move requires ceaseless effort of our brothers and experts, and a large scale investment in all areas. Your scientific work is like a very effective weapon which is of the utmost importance for the political, scientific, and technological future of this nation.

One of the important duties of every nation is to preserve its precious resources and to make the most of them. One of the most prominent values of a nation is its ability to discover human talents and creative minds. These are some of the greatest resources a nation can have.

– Hojjat al-Islam Ali Khamenei, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. “Speech to the Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI).” 29 Bahman 1365 (February 18, 1987)

ِHowever, it must be noted that despite this prolific rhetoric against WMD use, especially in the context of the Iran-Iraq War, throughout this period there is no record of Khamenei utilizing religious language or arguments — which has seemingly only begun in the last decade, with escalating international attention over Iran’s nuclear aspirations. All of Khamenei (and even Khomeini’s) rhetoric was purely secular and strategic in nature. For instance, in an April 1985 interview, Khamenei denounced the Iraqi use of chemical weapons as an “illegal action” — however, the secular term “ghayr qanuni” (lit. “not lawful”) was used, rather than religious phrases with equivalent meanings, such as “haram,” or the lesser “mamnu’.”

و اين بدان جهت است كه از پيش به كار بردن سلاح هاى شيميايى يك عمل غير قانونى و محكوم شده در سراسر دنيا است

The use of destructive, chemical weapons is an illegal action (amal ghayr qanuni) that has been condemned around the world.

– Hojjat al-Islam Ali Khamenei, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. “Interviews with Journalists After a Meeting with the Press Office of the High Defense Council.” 14 Farvardin 1364 (April 3, 1985)

However, as is known, since 2003 these same strategic arguments against nuclear weapons have remained — but Khamenei has increased the rhetoric through religious overtures as well. While, as noted in the introduction, the “religious argument” has been adduced in several key venues, such as in meetings with the UN and IAEA, in actuality the use of this religious language has not been all that prolific. In fact, a survey of Khamenei’s speeches indicates that since 2003, the “religious argument” against WMD’s — by labeling them as “against Islam,” “sinful,” or “haram” — has only been used roughly around a dozen times. However, Khamenei has indeed used it as leverage on the world stage, with his most extensive religious commentary provided in a 2010 speech:

اين حرف تكرارىِ از دهن افتاده‌ى مهملى كه راجع به ساخت سلاح اتمى به جمهورى اسلامى نسبت ميدهند، نشان‌دهنده‌ى نهايت ناتوانى اينها حتّى در زمينه‌ى تبليغات است. جمهورى اسلامى هيچ اصرارى هم ندارد كه در دفاع خودش در اين قضيه خيلى احساسات به خرج بدهد؛ نه، ما اعتقاد به بمب اتم نداريم، به سلاح اتمى نداريم؛ دنبالش هم نخواهيم رفت. برطبق مبانى اعتقادى ما، مبانى دينى ما، به كار بردن اينگونه وسائل كشتار جمعى اصلاً ممنوع است، حرام است؛ اين، ضايع كردن حرث و نسل است كه قرآن آن را ممنوع كرده؛ ما دنبال اين نميرويم

The old, idle talk about Iran making an atomic bomb shows that even in terms of propaganda the enemies of the nation have resorted to repeating themselves out of sheer weakness…We do not believe in atomic weapons, and would not go after them. According to our beliefs and religious principles, employing weapons of mass destruction is prohibited, and religiously impermissible (haram). They lead to the destruction of land and people, which the Koran forbids. We do not go looking for this.

– Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei. “Speech for the Ceremony of the Launching of the Jamaran Destroyer.” 30 Bahman 1388 (February 19, 2010)

Based on this rhetoric and reasoning which has emerged over the past decade, Iranian-educated Shia scholars have also attempted to support Khamenei’s position, and have analyzed Islamic source material to prove the religious impermissibility of nuclear weapons, based on the concept of harm (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11). Further statements of prohibition have come from high-ranking Ayatullahs, among them Javadi Amoli, Fazel Lankarani, and Makarem Shirazi — all of whom have been part of the Iranian regime’s religious establishment.

And, it is actually Makarem Shirazi – an extremely close Khamenei confidant (who is also on the Iranian list of “approved” religious clerics, referenced previously) — who has been most prolific and consistent in the religious opposition to WMD use. His statements on the topic, which date back to the 1960s, appears to support the notion that within the high-ranking clerical community, there is a faction that truly, religiously opposes WMD use, and which existed even prior to the Islamic Revolution. If Khamenei does in fact believe in their blanket prohibition, it would not be a stretch to claim that he follows the “Makarem Shirazi school” of Islamic jurisprudence — which seemingly combines a mixture of feigned traditionalism and recourse to the Shia legal tradition, along with a heavy dose of political expediency, and pride in the foundations of the Islamic Revolution. For instance, Shirazi stated in a 1988 commentary of the Koran:

نَهَى رَسُولُ اللهِ اَنْ يُلْقَى السُّمُّ فى بِلادِ الْمُشْرِكينَ: «رسول خدا(صلى الله عليه وآله) نهى كرد از اينكه سمّ در شهرهاى مشركان افكنده شود.» بنابراين به كار بردن گازهاى سمّى، داروهاى سمّى و هر نوع سلاح شيميايى ممنوع است

The Prophet prohibited the deployment of poison in the lands of the polytheists, therefore employing poisonous gases, poisonous drugs, or any kind of chemical weapon is prohibited.

– Ayatullah Naser Makarem Shirazi (1924 – Present). Tafsir Payam-i Qur’an (1988)

Moreover, in a 1962 popular theological work, Shirazi expounded on mathematics and science, and discussed the development of nuclear weapons. After describing their use during World War II (and vividly citing death toll numbers and the scale of destruction), he then went on to state:

نمونه‌اى از قدرت اتم: متأسّفانه اين نيروى عظيم اتمى- كه منافع زيادى براى بشر در بر دارد- مورد سوء استفاده بشر بى‌خبر از آفريدگار اتم قرار گرفته و جاه‌طلبانه آن را در راههاى

اين بود اوّلين بهره بردارى انسان متمدّن از اين نيروى شگرف طبيعى! امروزه خدا مى داند كه دولت هاى زورمند عصر حاضر چه سلاح هاى مخرّب اتمى در انبارهاى خود در اختيار دارند؟! عجيب اين است كه با وجود اين وضع وحشتناك و تسليحات روزافزون، همه از استفاده مُسالمت آميز نيروى اتم، دم مى زنند و همواره شعارهاى مبتذلى (مانند: اتم در خدمت صلح) را تكرار مى كنند! در صورتى كه همه مى دانيم كه با اين مسابقه وحشتناك تسليحات اتمى، تحقّق اين آرمان انسانى، جز خواب و خيالى بيش نيست

Unfortunately, the power of the atom has been abused by humans in many ways…this was the first civilized, human exploitation of natural resources. Today, God only knows what destructive weaponry superpowers have in their arsenals. It is strange that despite this terrible situation, with the growing number of arms, they repeat slogans like, “Atoms for peace.” We all know that the nuclear arms race is a terrible realization of human aspirations, and (its claim to progress) is no more than an illusion.

– Ayatullah Naser Makarem Shirazi. Afaridgar-i Jahan (“Creator of the World”) (1341/1962)

Finally, Shirazi even addressed the topic of nuclear weapons with regards to “Imam Mahdi” — the “Shia messiah” who will return at the “end times” to implement ideal Islamic rule over earth. Throughout the Western debate over Iran’s nuclear intentions, some commentators have sought to implicate the Iranian regime by tying this messianic, eschatological belief into a possible quest for WMD development. However, regardless of the IRI’s nuclear intentions — this belief has little to do with their decision-making calculus. And, this was aptly expressed by Shirazi, who — instead of claiming that Iran needs to possess nuclear weapons in order to “lay the groundwork” for the Mahdi’s return — incredulously claimed that the Mahdi would possess superior weapons, and moreover be able to neutralize lesser weaponry. In one work, Shirazi even speculated that the Mahdi would possess “unknown and mysterious rays beyond all current weapons…which might operate in mysterious psychological or intellectual ways” that would “thwart the superpowers and leave them sterile.” Crazy? Yes. But it goes to show that the connection between the theological belief in the Mahdi and end times, and real world, strategic decision making, is tenuous at best.

سؤال 1508- امام زمان (عج) پس از ظهور، چگونه با سلاحهاى شيميايى و بمبهاى اتمى و سلاحهاى سنگين ديگر مبارزه خواهند كرد؟
جواب: از بعضى قرائن استفاده مى‌شود كه آن حضرت وسائل و ابزارى ما فوق سلاحهاى آنها در اختيار دارد، كه آنها را از كار مى‌اندازد

Question: How will Imam Mahdi, after His emergence, fight with chemical weapons, atomic bombs, and other heavy weaponry?

Answer: Some evidence suggests that His Eminence will have at his disposal tools and instruments which are superior to their weapons, and will disable them.

– Ayatullah Naser Makarem Shirazi. Istifta’at Jadid

Khomeini and Nuclear Weapons

However, much of Khamenei’s contemporary and historical rhetoric (and perhaps that of Shirazi as well) ultimately has its roots with Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic. Both during the 1980s as president, and today, Khamenei’s speeches and language highly mirrors that of Khomeini. Therefore, it is pertinent to understand Khomeini’s views of nuclear weapons, which can actually contextualize these above remarks. While these statements might seem progressive and non-threatening, as will be seen, the Iranian regime and religious establishment can often employ rhetoric on different “tracks” and “levels.”

While there is no fatwa on record, Khomeini — impacted by his experiences with the Soviet Union, and Iran-Iraq War — did not speak highly of nuclear rivalries, and chemical weapons (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7). In fact, based on official archives of his speeches and correspondence, Khomeini specifically addressed nuclear weapons, both before and after the Islamic Revolution, on no less than five different occasions. This does not include when he spoke about the US-Soviet arms race in general. Despite this, to my knowledge, his words on the subject have never been adduced in the public domain (although English translations do exist), nor even widely disseminated in their original Farsi.

In a 1983 speech to the Iranian parliament, on the independence day of the Islamic Republic, Khomeini denounced the “havoc and competition” between the United States and Soviet Union, and claimed that the race for nuclear weapons stems from a “satanic and unrestrained soul.” In ending, he called upon an “invisible hand to come out and save humanity:”

که علم و تخصص بدون تهذیب و تربیت، بلایی است که امروز بشر مبتلای به آن است و می رود تا عالَم را به آتش کشد. و مسابقه و رقابت دو ابرقدرت در مجهز شدن به سلاحهای مدرن اتمی و هسته ای که از مبادی شیطانی و نفسانی سرچشمه می گیرد، چه مصیبتهایی برای بشریت دارد؛ مگر آنکه دستی از غیب بیرون آید و بشریت را نجات دهد

Knowledge and specialization without self-purification and training is a blight that has afflicted humankind today, and is on the verge of setting the world on fire. What havoc can the competition and rivalry of the two superpowers and their arming themselves with modern atomic and nuclear weapons, that originate from a satanic and unrestrained soul, wreak upon humankind, unless some invisible hand comes out and saves humanity?

– Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini. “Six Reminders to the Nation, the Government, the Parliament, and the Judiciary.” 12 Farvardin 1361; April 1, 1983. English translation adapted from Sahifeh-ye Imam, vol. 17, p. 365

Khomeini is also on record lamenting the use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq War and their effect on Iranian youth; Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against civilians in Halabjeh; the dangers of a “third world war;” and the American bombing of Hiroshima, which “set fire to the world” and “turned it upside down,” despite the United States claiming nuclear technology as “progress” and an “achievement.”

However, in his most extensive commentary on the subject, a November 1982 speech to local religious leaders and war refugees, Khomeini denounces the production and potential use of nuclear weapons, but paradoxically also calls for the “destruction of America” as the solution to global nuclear proliferation:

The problem that threatens the world today is the problem of these two superpowers, that have kept the whole world under their wings, and are exploiting them. They are busy with plans to make certain weapons, which are dangerous to the future of humanity…

If, God forbid, there is a war between these two superpowers today, they will destroy the world. These are the problems of the world today…

Today, the masses, writers, and orators must think about the future of the world and enlighten people about this danger that threatens the whole of humankind. They must enlighten all the masses of the world that this great danger is looming ahead and if the superpowers are allow to remain in the current situation, in which they are busy making big atomic and conventional weapons, it is possible that they will bring destruction to the world, and nations will have to bear the major losses.

Every person, wherever he is, writers, intellectuals, and theologians…and scientists must enlighten people about this danger so that perhaps…they can confront these two powers and prevent the making of these weapons.

There are rumors making the rounds…(about) the elimination of these nuclear weapons, of wanting to arrive at a consensus to prevent the construction of these nuclear weapons, and these enormous missiles that have been produced recently…with a single press of the button the world can be destroyed.

Today, the people of the world must pay attention to this great problem…there are certain strata that are holding demonstrations against these weapons, but the entire people must revolt in order to be able to do something…

Moreover, if God forbid, something happens all of a sudden, then there will neither be any nation in place nor any human being — except a few. The world must think about it…

The world must destroy America; otherwise, as long as they are existing, these tragedies will be present in the world, if not here, then somewhere else. Right now, in many places all over the world, America has started fires and the wars that are now in progress…they are threatening the world. They will never halt the production of these weapons that they claim to halt and to limit. They are lying and they never speak the truth. Therefore, we must cry out against them as much as we can.

– Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini. “Superpowers, the Root of World Problems.” 13 Aban 1361; November 4, 1982. English translation adapted from Sahifeh-ye Imam, vol. 17, pp. 74-75, 79

However, there are indications that despite Khomeini’s rhetoric — like the modern fatwas — he was not opposed to types of weaponry in and of themselves, but rather the populations they targeted. For instance, in a 1982 speech Khomeini decried the use of “cluster and incendiary” bombs against Lebanese civilians. In a 1984 speech, he even equated the use of “incendiary bombs” to “weapons of mass destruction:”

مدعیان صلح طلبی و انساندوستی با تمام توان سعی در افروختن آتش فتنه و جنگ در همه جا بخصوص در ایران می‌نمایند و با اسلحه‌های کشنده و بمبهای آتشزا و شیمیایی به دشمنان اسلام کمکهای بیدریغ می‌کنند

Those pretending to love peace and defend human rights struggle to foment the fire of sedition and war everywhere, particularly in Iran. They unsparingly supply the enemies of Islam with weapons of mass destruction, and incendiary and chemical bombs.

– Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini. “Inauguration of the Second Term of the Majlis.” 7 Khordad 1363; May 28, 1984

However, in 1980, Khomeini authorized the use of napalm — an incendiary device — to save a battalion of Iranian troops under siege. Khomeini’s communication, a phone call with president Abolhassan Banisadr, which urged that the troops be saved “no matter what the consequences are,” is telling, and aligns with the modern fatwas permitting the use of all types of weaponry, if they are used to secure victory, save lives, or as a “last resort” in combat. This reasoning, and these gaps in his public statements, explain how — despite Khomeini’s seemingly harsh rhetoric against WMD’s — there could have been the nascent development of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons programs under his watch.

تلفن از آقای بنی صدر: «یک گردان (تقریباً سیصد نفر) از ارتش ایران، اکنون در یک گردنه کردستان در محاصره‌اند، و تا به حال ۶۵ نفر زخمی شده‌اند. دو راه وجود دارد: یا باید بمب ناپالم بزنیم – که تقریباً عواقب تبلیغاتی سوئی دارد – و یا اینکه در محاصره باشند – و احتمال از بین رفتن همه این گردان وجود دارد – تکلیف چیست؟ … – انصاری‌

بسمه تعالی
باید این محاصره شدگان را نجات داد؛ هر عواقبی دارد مانع ندارد

Banisadr: “A battalion of 300 soldiers is under siege in Kurdistan, and 65 of them are wounded. There are two options: We can drop napalm bombs, which will carry negative propaganda consequences, or the battalion can remain under siege and most likely perish. What should we do?”

Khomeini: “The besieged should be saved no matter what the consequences are.”

– Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini. “To Remove the Siege of the Armed Forces in Kurdistan.” Date unspecified (most likely 1980). English translation adapted from Sahifeh-ye Imam, vol. 9, pp. 336-337

This reasoning — which permits all types of weaponry for national defense — was also articulated by Khomeini in one of his most prominent legal works. It is notable that Khomeini authorized defense “through any means, without restriction or condition” — clearly setting a precedent which could allow for WMD development or use. And, in actuality, this articulation by Khomeini broadly aligns with historical Shia jurisprudence, and demonstrates the scholarly consensus on the issue:

مسألة 1 – لو غشي بلاد المسلمين أو ثغورها عدو يخشى منه على بيضة الاسلام و مجتمعهم يجب عليهم الدفاع عنها بأية وسيلة ممكنة من بذل الأموال والنفوس
مساءله 1 – اگربلاد مسلمين و يا حدود و مرزهاى آن تحت سلطه دشمن قرار گيرد به طورى كه خوف آن رود كه بيضه اسلام و مجتمع اسلامى از بين برود بر همه واجب است به هر وسيله اى كه ممكن باشد از قبيل بذل مال و جان از كيان وعظمت اسلام دفاع نمايند

مسألة 2 – لا يشترط ذلك بحضور الإمام عليه السلام وإذنه ولا إذن نائبه الخاص أو العام، فيجب الدفاع على كل مكلف بأية وسيلة بلا قيد وشرط
مساءله 2 – وجوب دفاع از اسلام مشروط به حضور امام معصوم عليه السلام و اجازه او و يا اذن نائب خاص و يانائب عام او نيست ، پس بر هر مكلف واجب است به هر وسيله كه شده بدون هيچ قيد و شرطى دفاع نمايد

1. If a Muslim country is invaded or overtaken by the enemy, and the territory of Islam and its society are feared for, it is obligatory to defend it through any means possible, from wealth and lives.

2. This does not depend upon the presence of an Infallible Imam, or the permission of his deputy — defense is obligatory upon every capable person, through any means, without restriction or condition.

– Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini. Tahrir al-Wasilah (Farsi), Kitab Amr bi al-Maruf wa Nahi an al-Munkar, Fasl fi al-Difaa

The Shia Clerical Community

Despite all of this evidence, however, clerics and politicians loyal to Khamenei have still sought to use religious arguments to bolster his stance on the nuclear issue. On the foreign policy level, in 2010 Iran hosted the “Tehran International Conference on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation.” Moreover, internally, a Fall 2013 conference (although it has been delayed once already) entitled “The Conference on the Ban of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Islamic Jurisprudence” is scheduled in the “holy city” of Qom. However, smaller conferences have also been held, including one in May 2012, intended to advance and propagate the Iranian regime’s position that WMD’s are prohibited in Islamic law. One of the main presenters, a mid-ranking Iranian cleric and IRI apologist, offered deeper insights into how some regime supporters seek to publicly defend Khamenei’s religious verdict:

ضمن اینکه اساسا دلیل پیروزی ما تاکنون جنگ نامتقارن بوده است، دشمن چون خودش از سلاح های کشتار جمعی استفاده می کند، تصورش این است که ما بر اساس جنگ متقارن می خواهیم به این سلاح دست یابیم، در حالی که پیروزی و ماندگاری ما مرهون جنگ نامتقارن است، یعنی دشمن سلاح اتمی دارد، ما الله اکبر داریم، او سلاح میکروبی دارد، ما نماز شب داریم، او سلاح شیمیایی دارد، ما بسیجی مخلص داریم … در حالی که وقتی ما می گوییم مردانه می جنگیم، این تقیه نیست، اصلا اگر ما مردانه نجنگیم، چه تفاوتی با صدام و آمریکا و فاجعه آفرینان هیروشیما داریم؟

Our success has been due primarily to asymmetric warfare. The enemy has weapons of mass destruction, but we will win due to our asymmetric warfare. We have God, they have biological weapons. We have the evening prayer, they have chemical weapons. This has been shown by the 33-day war, and the 8-year war. Our approach is fighting asymmetric wars, it is not because of nuclear weapons, but because of ideology, morality, and spirituality in our school of thought. The spirituality of the debate is more than the destruction of an atomic bomb…How would (our possession of a WMD) make us any different than Saddam, or America, which caused the catastrophic (event) of Hiroshima?

– Hujjat al-Islam Mohammed Bagher Zadeh. “The Incompatibility of Nuclear Weapons in International Conflict with Religious Principles.” 4 Khordad 1391 (May 24, 2012)

Moreover, as demonstrated by the above remarks (which were only delivered to a group of Iranian clerics, not an international audience) — very little of the Iranian rhetoric has been “externally” focused. Rather, like Khomeini’s speeches, much has been geared towards internal, religious, Farsi-speaking audiences, and articulated by the establishment (not from reformists). Within much of the religious establishment, the sentiments expressed have been uniform, and clear:

بیشترین خشونتها در جنگ زائیده سلاح هایی است که نه تنها با کرامت انسان و اصول عدالت ناسازگار است بلکه عرف عام حاکمیت ها در عرصه شعار آنرا محکوم می کند. به کارگیری سلاح های غیرمتعارف همانند، هسته ای، میکروبی و شیمیایی، از منظر آموزه های اسلامی از جهات گوناگون ممنوع است

A higher level of violence in conflict, resulting from weapons, is not only against human dignity, but is inconsistent with principles of justice, and also common sense…the use of unconventional, nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, from the perspective of Islamic teachings in many facets, is prohibited.

– Mohammed Rahmani, Iranian Shia scholar and academic. “Prohibition of the Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Religious Law.”

Despite this, however, these propagandistic arguments have their limits, and their shortcomings and contradictions are readily apparent. Returning to the topic of “napalm” — despite its use in the Iran-Iraq War, and Khomeini’s explicit approval of it as a means of military defense — some high-ranking Iranian clerics, in their rhetoric on the nuclear issue, have derided its use. This simply goes to show that despite the existence of a “liberal faction” within the Iranian clerical establishment that employs rhetoric against WMD use, and advocates for Islam’s “peaceful” stance towards “harmful” weaponry — history shows that when pressed, the Iranian regime has felt no qualms using them:

و قال العلّامة الحلّي في تبصرة المتعلمين: «ويجوز المحاربة بسائر أنواع الحرب، إلّا القاء السمّ في بلادهم». ثمّ ها هو الإمام علي عليه السلام في صفين بعد الاستيلاء على المشرعة لا يمنع جيش معاوية عن الماء وإن كان معاوية قد فعل ذلك قبل ذلك. إلى هذه الدرجة الرفيعة من الرحمة والشفقة تبلغ رحمة الإسلام، بينما لا تتورع الدول الكبرى عن قصف الشعوب المقهورة، بقنابل النابالم، وغيرها من أسلحة الدمار الشامل. ومن الذي يمكن أن ينسى‌ ما فعلته الولايات المتحدة في الحرب العالمية الثانية حينما قصفت «هيروشيما»، و «ناكازاكي» بالقنابل الذرية، فأبادت ما يقارب نصف مليون نسمة وحذف ذينك البلدين من الخارطة الجغرافية، بذريعة التعجيل في إنهاء الحرب، كما قال «ترومن» رئيس الجمهورية الإمريكي الأسبق عام 1945 م

Allamah al-Hilli stated in Tabsirat al-Muta’alimeen: “It is permissible to fight with any tools of warfare, except the deployment of poison.” And, there is the example of Imam Ali, after his victory at the Battle of Siffin, he did not prevent Muawiyah and his troops from water, despite their actions.

This high degree of mercy and compassion conveys the mercy of Islam, however, the superpowers (today) have no qualms bombing oppressed people with napalm bombs, and other weapons of mass destruction. And how can it be forgotten what the United States did in World War II, when it bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs, which wiped out nearly half a million people and deleted those countries from the map on the pretext of accelerating the end of the war, as Truman said in 1945?

– Ayatullah Jafar Sobhani (1930 – Present). Rasail wa Maqalat

While the Ayatullah above might have some misunderstandings about modern Japanese geography and history (Japan is in fact still “on the map”), this account also demonstrates the contradictions and half-truths advanced by many of Khamenei’s clerical supporters on the nuclear issue. Even this use of classical Islamic law is incorrect, and demonstrates the selective quoting often consciously employed in the writings of those who argue against WMD use, from an Islamic perspective. For instance, Al-Hilli (quoted above) did not consider the use of poison in conflict to be prohibited, but only “disliked” — the original excerpt at the beginning of this post, which sanctioned violent and indiscriminate methods of warfare (like flooding cities, or launching snakes and scorpions), was also from him.

Moreover, although high-ranking clerics like Makarem Shirazi seemingly denounced WMD’s, even prior to the Islamic Revolution — other, equally high-ranking religious figures did not. For instance, Morteza Motahhari — a highly-regarded and populist Iranian Ayatullah who was close to Khomeini, and a prolific writer whose works are considered to encompass the foundations of modern Iranian religious, Revolutionary thought — explicitly stated in a 1972 theological work that Muslims had an obligation to learn how to build nuclear weapons:

مثال ديگر : قرآن مى گويد : (( اعدوا لهم ما استطعتم من قوة و من رباط الخيل )) در مقابل دشمن تا آخرين حد امكان نيرو تهيه كنيد زمانى بود كه چهار تا آهنگر مى توانستند آن وسائل نيرو را با همان معلومات تجربى زمان خودشان تهيه كنند , ولى يك زمان ديگر انجام اين وظيفه معلومات بسيارى مى خواهد , علم ساختن بمب اتمى هم لازم است , پس براى آنكه آن وظيفه انجام داده شود واجب است كه اين[ مبحث] هم خوانده شود[ شايد بگوييد] مگر پيامبر گفت (( ايها الناس ! برويد اتم شناسى ياد بگيريد )) تا ما امروز ياد بگيريم ؟ مى گوييم پيغمبر چنين چيزى نگفته , لازم هم نبوده بگويد ولى پيغمبر چيزى گفته كه اگر بخواهيم به آن عمل كنيم , بايد اين مقدمه را هم انجام بدهيم , چون روح اين حكم آن است

The Koran states: Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies, of Allah and your enemies. (8:60)

The use of force against the enemy is required as much as possible. They (the Muslims during the lifetime of Muhammad) could do that with the same means and power that (the enemy) had at that time…but now, it takes more knowledge. The knowledge to build an atomic bomb is necessary. (You may say), the Prophet didn’t say, “O people, go and learn about atoms!” But, the Prophet has said something (about warfare) that if we want to follow it, we should do this, because it is in the spirit of that rule.

– Ayatullah Morteza Motahhari (d. 1979 CE). Islam va Muqtaziyat-i Zaman (“Islam and the Circumstances of the Time”) (1351/1972)

Despite this explicit pronouncement, however, in another work published just two years before in 1970, Motahhari denounced the American bombing of Hiroshima (as have Khamenei, Khomeini, and Shirazi), and warned against the consequences of nuclear proliferation. Therefore — we can see that despite rhetoric against WMD’s in Iranian discourse — there are contextual and ideological factors that constrain the true meaning of this rhetoric. Either Motahhari contradicted himself — or, the Iranian religious establishment conceives of and addresses WMD’s on different “tracks:” Approving of them for defensive purposes against perceived military aggressors in geographical theaters of war where civilians are unlikely to be present, while disapproving of them against cities and civilian populations, most pointedly manifested in the event of Hiroshima, the Iran-Iraq War, and the Cold War arms race.

روزى نيست كه وسائل مخرب به صورت نيرومندتر , مهيب تر و وحشتناكتر پيدا نشود . از حدود بيست سال پيش , از وقتى كه بمب اتمى در هيروشيما افتاد تا امروز نگاه كنيد ببينيد قدرت تخريبى صنعتى بشر چند برابر شده است ؟ رسيده به مرحله اى كه مى گويند دنياى امروز ديگر غالب و مغلوب ندارد , اگر جنگ سوم جهانى پيش بيايد , صحبت اين نيست كه آيا آمريكا غالب است يا شوروى , يا چين . اگر جنگ سومى پيش بيايد آنكه مغلوب است زمين و بشريت است , و آنكه غالب است هيچ است

Everyday, worse and more destructive weapons have appeared. It was only about 20 years ago when the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima, but look today at how the destructive power of human industry has multiplied…If there is a Third World War today, the loser will be earth and people, and the winner will be no one.

– Ayatullah Morteza Motahhari. Sayri dar Sirah-i Aimmah-i Athar (“A Glance at the Biographies of the Pure Imams”) (1350/1970)

In ending, however, some of the modern clerical class has been more direct in their discussion of Islamic law, and not minced words about how Islam conceives of WMD use. The following quotation, from a mid-level Iranian cleric, conveys the religious consensus on the issue:

در برخي روايات، به جنبه‌هاي ديگر تخريب محيط سالم زيستي انسان اشاره شده است. علي (ع) در زمينه به کارگيري سلاح‌هاي شيميايي براي مقابله با دشمن فرمود: «پيامبر از پرتاب سمّ در بلاد مشرکان نهي فرمود». در تعبير مشابهي از آن حضرت آمده است: «رسول خدا از انداختن سمّ در بلاد مشرکان نهي فرمود». با استناد به همين روايت، برخي از فقها به عدم جواز استفاده از سمّ (سلاح‌هاي شيميايي) براي مقابله با دشمن در بلاد مشركان فتوا داده‌اند. البته در ميدان کارزار، به‌ويژه اگر پيروزي مسلمانان در برابر محاربان منوط به استفاده از آن باشد، مانعي نديده‌اند

Concerning the use of chemical weapons to defeat the enemy, Imam Ali reported that the Prophet said, “It is prohibited to deploy poison in the lands of the polytheists.” According to this narration, some scholars do not permit in their fatwas the use of poison (chemical weapons) in order to fight the enemy in the lands of the polytheists. But on the battlefield, especially if its use ensures Muslim victory against the enemy, then there is no obstacle.

– Hujjat al-Islam Qasim Shabanniya. “Human Rights in Light of the Objectives of Islamic Government.”

WMD’s in Shia Islamic Law

Despite the clear possibilities of contextualizing some of the religious rhetoric on the nuclear issue — there are still apparent conflicts between the high-ranking Ayatullahs who have permitted WMD use, and popular perceptions among Khamenei’s clerical loyalists that denounce and dismiss them from the viewpoint of Islamic law. Therefore, is there religious evidence to support the perception that Islam bans weapons of mass destruction? The fact is that, unlike some of the treatments adduced thus far, there were some historical, Twelver Shia scholars who were not as incendiary, and did not sanction the indiscriminate use of weapons and tactics.

ويجوز قتال الكفار بسائر أنواع القتال الا القاء السم في بلادهم فان ذلك مكروه لان فيه هلاك من لا يجوز قتله من الصبيان والنساء والمجانين

It is permissible to fight the unbelievers with any means of warfare, except the deployment of poison in their lands, that is disliked. Because that can lead to destruction of those who it is not permissible to kill, including children, women, and the insane.

– Muhammad ibn al-Hassan al-Tusi “Sheikh al-Tusi” (d. 460 AH/1067 CE). Al-Iqtisad

ويجوز قتال الكفار بسائر أنواع القتل وأسبابه، إلا بتغريق المساكن، ورميهم بالنيران، وإلقاء السم في بلادهم، فإنه لا يجوز أن يلقى السم في بلادهم

It is permissible to fight the unbelievers with any means and causes of killing, except flooding their homes, launching fire, and the deployment of poison in their lands. It is not permissible to deploy poison in their lands.

– Ibn Idris al-Hilli (d. 598 AH/1201 CE). Al-Sara’ir

Therefore, there were some classical Shia scholars who did not consider it simply “disliked” to use such weapons and tactics, but haram. In this reading of Shia law, these tactics would be religiously impermissible, and sinful, as Khamenei has claimed. However, even the above treatments discuss the use of indiscriminate weaponry in targeting non-combatants — not hostile, military entities. Broadly, upon analysis, the only sentiment that can be gleaned is that it is best to avoid indiscriminate use of weaponry that has the potential to target civilians (the “flooding of homes,” for instance, is certainly within a civilian, rather than military context). However, even this is contentious, and the overwhelming attitude in classical Shia discourse is that under normal circumstances, it “disliked,” and best to avoid the use of weapons against civilians, but if military objectives can only be accomplished by employing them, then it is permissible:

ويكره بإلقاء النار ويحرم بإلقاء السم ، وقيل : يكره ولو تترسوا بالصبيان والمجانين أو النساء ولم يمكن الفتح إلا بقتلهم ، جاز . وكذا لو وأموالهم بأن لهم الجنة يقاتلون في سبيل الله فيقتلون ويقتلون

It is disliked to use fire, and haram to deploy poison. ِAnd some say it is only disliked (makruh). But if they use children, the insane, and women as shields, and there is no way to achieve victory without killing them, then it is permissible. “Allah hath purchased of the believers their persons and their goods; for theirs (in return) is the garden (of Paradise): they fight in His cause, and slay and are slain.” (Koran 9:111)

– Ibn Fahd al-Hilli (d. 841 AH/1437 CE). Al-Muhadhab al-Bara

Classical Source Material

Ostensibly, classical and modern Shia scholars have deduced their rulings about warfare from hadith literature — which contains primary sayings from the Prophet Muhammad, and the 12 Shia Imams. Like their Sunni counterparts — the Twelver Shia also have their own books of hadith and law. And, two hadiths from Shia source material informed the classical debate on weapons use.

علي بن إبراهيم، عن أبيه، عن النوفلي، عن السكوني، عن أبي عبدالله عليه السلام قال: قال أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام: نهى رسول الله صلى الله عليه واله أن يلقى السم في بلاد المشركين

The sixth Imam, Jafar al-Sadiq — reported from the first Imam, Ali ibn Abi Talib — that the Prophet prohibited the deployment of poison in the lands of the mushrikeen (polytheists).

– Muhammad ibn Yaqub al-Kulayni (d. 329 AH/940 CE). Al-Kafi

As has been referenced, this account that the Prophet Muhammad prohibited the “deployment of poison” forms the backbone of the modern, clerical debate about WMD use. It was recorded in one of the earliest and most well-known books of Shia hadith. Moreover, it is considered to have a relatively strong isnad — or, chain of narrators — and has been referenced in classical Shia works on the subject. It also closely resembles a hadith from Sunni sources, with nearly similar wording:

حدثنا أحمد بن النضر العسكري ، ثنا مصعب بن سعيد ، ثنا بقية بن الوليد ، عن إسحاق بن ثعلبة ، عن مكحول ، عن سمرة بن جندب ، أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم ” نهى أن يلقى السم في آبار المشركين

Samurah ibn Jundub reported that the Prophet prohibited poisoning the wells of the mushrikeen.

– Sulayman ibn Ahmad al-Tabarani (d. 360 AH/970 CE). Musnad al-Shamiyin

However, in Shia jurisprudence, scholars have disagreed over the meaning of the word “prohibit” (nahi). Some consider it to be synonymous with haram (prohibited, and sinful), while others consider it simply to be “disliked,” (makruh) or “not optimal.” This explains the differences among classical Shia jurists as to whether enemy lands could be “poisoned” — despite the hadith on the subject that seemingly prohibits it.

Although Khamenei is by and large a politician, rather than a religious jurist (while he does show familiarity with Islamic source material, he has not even authored his own risalah), according to one account, he has explored the religious dynamics of WMD use (beyond simply articulating that they are haram, with no underlying jurisprudential explanation). According to Mohsen Esmaeili, a member of the Guardian Council — who wrote an article on the religious lessons (dars al-kharij) of Khamenei that he attended — allegedly, the issue of ilqaa al-samm (poisoning) was addressed, and Khamenei argued against its religious permissibility. This would conform with the earlier quotation from Shirazi, and be in opposition to the Ayatullahs who permitted it, and analogized it with WMD use today. However, unlike his contemporary statements on the subject since the Iranian nuclear issue rose to international prominence in the early-2000s — Esmaili claimed that Khamenei simply said WMD’s have “legal problems” (ishkal sharai’), not that they are “unconditionally impermissible” (haram) or “sinful.” In clerical parlance, this expression does not convey absolute religious prohibition, as will be explored below.

The veracity of this claim cannot be confirmed (because the complete text or audio of Khamenei’s religious lessons are not readily available, much less from 1990, the year in which Esmaeili claims Khamenei addressed the issue, which would in fact be Khamenei’s earliest mention of the nuclear issue in a religious context). A truncated record of Khamenei’s religious lessons does exist — even on the topic of warfare (jihad) — but it makes no mention of poisoning, as Esmaeili has claimed. A lengthy compilation of Khamenei’s speeches to military commanders in the 1980s contains no such reference either. However, Esmaeili’s explanation is telling. Not only does he concede that religious scholars might use the nuclear issue as a “political or social slogan,” but also limited himself to saying that Khamenei prohibited poison in “Muslim” lands — not the “land of polytheists” (i.e. non-Muslims) typically addressed in the jurisprudential debate on the issue. We must also note that Esmaeili, in seeking to adduce the support of clerics and classical Islamic law for Khamenei’s fatwa, clearly ignores the voices that permit the use of “poison:”

ایشان به كیفیت جهاد كه رسیدند (فقها مبحثی دارند راجع به بحث كیفیت جهاد ‌و این‌كه چه كارهایی در جهاد جایز است و چه كارهایی حرام) به بحث «إلقاء سمّ» در بلاد مشركین پرداختند كه بحث معروفی هم هست. در همان سال ۱۳۶۹ ایشان نظر خودشان را در بحث سلاح‌های هسته‌ای اعلام كردند و القاء سم در بلاد مسلمین و استفاده از سلاح‌های مخرب و كشنده‌ی شیمیایی و هسته‌ای را به دلایل فقهی دارای اشكال دانستند و همان موقع ادلّه‌ی فقها را كاملاً بررسی كردند و به عنوان یك نظر فقهی جدی و نه یك شعار سیاسی و اجتماعی آن را ارائه دادند. ما الان بعد از بیست سال ملاحظه می‌كنیم كه ایشان دوباره بر همان مواضع تأكید دارند و هر وقت بحثی در این باره پیش آمده، ایشان تأكید فرموده‌اند كه از دیدگاه فقهی و شرعی با مسأله‌ی سلاح‌های هسته‌ای مشكل داریم. این از جهت ثبات در تصمیم‌گیری‌های ایشان هم مهم است

When he (Khamenei) arrived at the topic of jihad (religious scholars research the characteristics of jihad, its meritorious actions, and forbidden actions in jihad), he talked about the issue of “deploying poison” (ilqaa samm) in the lands of the polytheists (mushrikeen), and this is a well known issue. In the same year, 1369 (1990), His Eminence declared his position on nuclear weapons, and deploying poison in Muslim lands. Based on the compelling jurisprudential (fiqh) evidence, His Eminence believed that to take advantage of destructive and deadly chemical and nuclear weapons, had problems/doubts (eshkal).

This has been analyzed and inspected by scholars looking at religious evidence, from a serious jurisprudential perspective, not as a political or social slogan. We now observe that after twenty years, the Supreme Leader has returned to the topic, and repeatedly emphasized that there are problems (moshkel) both jurisprudentially and religiously, regarding the ruling of nuclear weapons. The importance here is his consistency in decision making.

– Mohsen Esmaeili, Guardian Council Member. “Memories of the Religious Lessons of Ayatullah Khamenei.” 11 Azar 1391 (December 1, 2012)

On a further linguistic note, the Arabic translation of Esmaeili’s article (no longer extant), used the more specific “ishkal sharai’” to denote Khamenei’s alleged characterization of nuclear weapons. Others have translated the Farsi eshkal as “ambiguities,” rather than “doubts” or “problems.” Though, regardless, the meaning and intent are clear: Nuclear weapons occupy a religious category below that of being “haram” or “sinful.”

To better understand the meaning behind the concept of “legal problems,” a well established tenet of Shia Islamic law (usul al-fiqh) is that every conceivable action in life is by default halal — or lawful. That is, until there is definitive mention in the Koran, or other textual evidence (like in a hadith), that an action is haram (prohibited). One of the foremost Shia scholars of the classical Islamic period stated:

اعتقادنا في ذلك أن الأشياء كلها مطلقة حتى يرد في شئ منها نهي

Our belief is that all things are permitted, until there is evidence of its prohibition.

– Ali ibn Babawaih al-Qummi “Sheikh al-Saduq” (d. 381 AH/991 CE). Al-Itiqadat fi Deen al-Imamiyyah

For an Ayatullah, the default state of affairs in the world is that everything is permitted for a human to do — unless religious texts specifically and unconditionally prohibit it (such as murder, or the drinking of alcohol). Therefore, in the minds of Shia jurists — given that all actions have originally been sanctioned as halal by God — strong evidence must exist to declare something to be haram, or else they are unjustly prohibiting something that God has deemed licit. This is especially true with a modern issue of ijtihad, such as nuclear weapons — as its religious ruling would rest upon human interpretation, rather than a clear legal text from the Koran, or a hadith.

Moreover, in Islamic law, when there is a conflict between this principle, and unclear legal texts that might be hinting an action to be haram (like the disagreement that exists in the scholarly texts about the use of indiscriminate weaponry), most modern Shia jurists resort to saying that the action should be abandoned out of precaution (ihtiyat) for committing that sin. Commonly, this concept is known as “obligatory precaution” (ahwat wujuban or ihtiyat wajib). And in fact, this is what Khamenei’s assertion that nuclear weapons have “legal problems” alludes to. It is a statement of precaution, not prohibition. The precaution, in this case, being that one must be absolutely certain that such weapons are not directed towards innocent civilians. If that can be ensured — as the fatwas have made clear, such as against a military entity alone — then their use is permissible. However, by labeling an action as something which is doubtful, and should be avoided based on precaution — it is impossible for a religious scholar to then deem such action as haram — or sinful, as Khamenei has sought to articulate (at least in the past decade) with nuclear weapons.

And, this understanding of WMD’s in Shia jurisprudence has been explicitly expressed. Iraqi Ayatullah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr — whose fatwa, translated in the first section of this post, authorized the use of nuclear weapons if there is a “great public interest” — also addressed WMD’s in another fatwa, this time deeming them “haram based on precaution…except if there is an absolute necessity:”

يجوز قتال الكفار بكل وسيلة ممكنة من الوسائل، وبالاسلحة الحربية المناسبة مع أي عصر، ولا يختص الجهاد معهم بالاسلحة القديمة، بل يحرم استعمالها تجاه الجيش المسلح بالسلاح القوي، لانه يعني عدم المكافئة بين الطرفين أو الفشل الذريع للمسلمين

يحرم على الأحوط إلقاء السم على الكفار، ويلحق به على الأحوط إلقاء المرض فيهم بالقنابل الجرثومية أو غيرها ما لم تدع الضرورة القصوى إلى ذلك

It is permissible to fight disbelieving war makers (al-kuffar al-muharibeen) with every possible means, and with the weapons of war appropriate to any era. Jihad with them is not limited to “old weapons.” It is prohibited (to use old weapons) against an army that is armed with powerful weapons, because this would mean there is lack of equivalence between the two sides, which would be an utter failure for the Muslims.

It is prohibited based on precaution (haram ala al-ahwat) to deploy poison against the disbelievers (kuffar), and this precaution includes deploying disease among them, with germ/biological bombs, or other (weapons) — except if there is an absolute necessity (darurah) to do so.

– Ayatullah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr (d. 1999 CE). Fiqh al-Mawduat al-Hadithah. See also Minhaj al-Salihin, vol. 2

Simply, from the standpoint of Islamic law alone, in multiple facets — which Khamenei has adduced time and again — the declaration of WMD’s to be unconditionally haram is a juvenile and highly dubious claim to anyone acquainted with Shia Islamic legal methods. And, as the fatwas translated previously demonstrate — it seems the Shia clerical community knows this as well.

Finally, there is one further hadith in the Shia canon that has been adduced in classical treatments of warfare. While it is considered to have a weak chain of narrators, and is thus considered of disputable “authenticity” in religious circles — seemingly, it has nonetheless informed scholarly opinion.

علي، عن أبيه، عن القاسم بن محمد، عن المنقري، عن حفص بن غياث قال: سألت أبا عبدالله عليه السلام عن مدينة من مدائن أهل الحرب هل يجوز أن يرسل عليهم الماء وتحرق بالنار أو ترمى بالمجانيق حتى يقتلوا وفيهم النساء والصبيان والشيخ الكبير والاسارى من المسلمين والتجار فقال: يفعل ذلك بهم ولا يمسك عنهم لهؤلاء ولا دية عليهم للمسلمين ولا كفارة

The sixth Imam, Jafar al-Sadiq, was asked about a city, from the “cities of war,” is it permissible to flood it with water, burn it with fire, and use catapults, until it causes the death (of its inhabitants) — even though inside are women, children, old men, Muslim captives, and traders?

He replied: “Do those things to them, and do not withhold (the assault) because of them, and there is no blood money (diyah) for the Muslims among them, nor any compensation (kaffarah).

– Muhammad ibn Yaqub al-Kulayni (d. 329 AH/940 CE). Al-Kafi

The rationale in the above hadith — which permits the indiscriminate use of weapons to achieve military objectives, even against cities with civilian and Muslim populations — was the exact rationale articulated by the Shia clerical community in 2006, to sanction Hezbollah’s use of unguided ordinance in targeting civilian areas. If they kill “the enemy,” then great…if they hurt Muslims, well…they will go to paradise. Such concerns have been discussed among Shia clerics, and these religious arguments have been adduced. Theoretical arguments about WMD’s — from a religious perspective — can only be considered within the same context.

Conclusion

After translation of this modern and classical religious material, is there any saving grace for Khamenei? Clearly, the claim that nuclear weapons are unconditionally haram – employed time and time again by Iran’s political and religious leadership — was not only never seriously considered by the world community in the first place, but is also demonstrably false. Not only is this claim tenuous based on classical Islamic law and jurisprudence, but even living religious clerics within Iran’s borders, and with close ties to the Iranian leadership (not to mention historical personalities), have explicitly advocated for the production and use of WMD’s. Simply, it is impossible to take Khamenei’s rhetoric at face value. In other parlance: Khamenei lied.

However, there might be one consolation: Religion is not the final determinant of Iran’s politics. Pragmatism is the name of the game in Iran, and religious rulings can be openly flaunted and violated when political considerations call for it. As the quotes from Khomeini demonstrate, the Iranian political experience after 1979 is rooted in factors beyond Islamic law — including experiences and outcomes from the Cold War, the Iran-Iraq War, and Iranian culture. Iranian politics is rooted as much in these sources and contexts, as it is in Islamic law. To believe that every political decision in Iran is based on recourse to Islamic legal precedent is simply not the reality. We might note that “anti-colonialism” — a pillar of the IRI’s worldview — has no basis in Islamic law or history, as Islam, for the better part of a millennium, was one of the most hegemonic and “colonistic” forces the world has ever known. Simply, there exists little religious precedent for many political, social, and legal occurrences in modern Iran. However — the fatwa issue does not seem to fit into this mold, by paying lip service to Islam or seeking to appease an internal audience. Khamenei has used this religious argument with the international community, and there does not seem to be any discernable motive behind his use of this rationale. Simply, there is no conceivable explanation for why Khamenei would be seeking to deceive the world community through religious rhetoric — unless he was really seeking to do so.

Moreover, even if Khamenei and the Iranian leadership are truly opposed to the production and use of WMD’s, and religiously, politically, economically, and rationally oppose them in every way, shape, and form — as has been claimed many times — the disconcerting truth is that this case has not been made as strongly as it could have. As the quotes from Khomeini demonstrate (which have never been adduced in English before, and rarely even discussed in Farsi), Iran does have a unique history and outlook, that in many ways is not broadly rooted in Islamic law. A convincing historical narrative could be made to argue that since the inception of the Islamic Republic, its religious leadership has confronted the reality of nuclear weapons, and found them to be dangerous to the security of the world. Past condemnations about weapons use at Hiroshima, Halabjeh, and in the Iran-Iraq War, from the IRI’s founder, could form not only a compelling national story, but also narrative to pitch to the world community. However, strangely, Khomeini’s statements, by and large, have been neglected in internal and external Iranian discourse on their nuclear program. The same holds true for Khamenei’s denouncements of WMD’s during the 1980s (which have not even been cited in Farsi on the Internet, much less adduced by Khamenei or the Iranian government themselves). Rather, the only consolation the world community has been given is flimsy assurances of a “fatwa” from Iran’s contemporary leader, Khamenei (which actually turns out to have little basis or support). And, this lack of desire to put in a full effort is telling.

In the end, as has been seen, it is clear that there is more behind Iran’s religious claims about nuclear weapons than meets the eye. However, Khamenei has stated with conviction time and again that Islam prohibits these weapons, against civilian populations. In a 2006 speech, he stated emphatically:

يعنى ممكن است يك كشور از لحاظ رفتارهاى اجتماعى اش منضبط، مؤدب و با اخلاق باشد، ثروت و علم را هم به دست بياورد، اما در عين حال همين ثروت و علم، و همين انضباط مردمى خودش را براى نابود كردن يك ملت ديگر به كار گيرد. اين غلط است؛ اين در منطق ما درست نيست. علم خودش را به كار بگيرد براى ايجاد سلاحى مثل بمب اتم كه وقتى يك جايى فرود افتاد، ديگر با گناه و بى گناه و مسلح و بچه ى كوچك و شيرخوار و انسانهاى مظلوم را نگاه نمى كند و فرقى نمى گذارد و همه را نابود مى كند. علمى كه در اين راه به كار بيفتد و كشورى كه اين را داشته باشد و تحولى كه بخواهد به اينجا منتهى شود، مورد تأييد ما نيست و ما چنين تحولى را دوست نمى داريم

How can a country whose social behavior is disciplined, which is courteous and has proper etiquette, and wealth and knowledge (i.e. science), at the same time use this wealth and science, and the discipline of its people, to work to destroy another nation? This is wrong, and not true in our logic. (Why would) science be used to create a weapon like a nuclear bomb? When it falls, it lands where there are (equally) the innocent and the guilty — both the armed, and also children, infants, and oppressed people. It does not consider what it destroys. For science to be used in this way is a failure, this is not the kind of change we want as a country. We do not approve of this and do not want such developments.

– Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei. “Address at Semnan University.” November 9, 2006

And, to this assertion, I have my own response to Khamenei: There is no doubt that you consider the use of nuclear weapons against civilian populations to be inhumane. Iranian culture; broad religious themes; and some readings of classical Islamic law are on your side. But what about their use against militaries, or for purposes of deterrence? As classical Shia law and legal reasoning demonstrates, and as has been articulated by high-ranking religious scholars within your own country — with clear intellectual and physical ties to yourself and your religio-political establishment — it is clear that you do not consider the use of WMD’s against American bases, troops, strategic interests, and allies in the Middle East to be haram. Even if you do know these religious dynamics, but don’t endorse them, your blanket use of religious rhetoric — which is not only demonstrably false, but was also never taken seriously by the world community — simply shows another side of your dangerous incompetence and ineptitude. Now the world community knows the context and truth behind your rhetoric. And, as freedom-loving and rational citizens of the world have done time and time again in response to your regime’s irresponsible actions and discourse, many will undoubtedly be asking (to quote yourself): “Why do they tell these lies…is that not an injustice?”

  1. September 7, 2013 at 4:28 pm | #1

    This is such a fantastic article in many ways. It is rigorous not polemical and very broadly and accurately researched. Thank you for this.
    However, I am still left wondering why any of this should be a negative assessment of the anti-WMD Fatwa by the current supreme leader of Iran? I understand that the author is not convinced by the theological and juridicial foundations of the Fatwa; but what stops him/her from considering this as a potntial new shift or even an opening in the Islamic/ideological/political evaluation of weapons of mass destruction? Does he/she think that change is impossible and ideological constructs do not evolve? Isn’t it a good thing that out of all the clergy that the author discusses above, currently one is the supreme leader of Iran who is least aggressive (at least in his rhetoric and mentality, and at least with regard to the production and use of WMD)?
    This is by no means an apology for the Islamic regime in Iran, but an invitation to give possibilities a chance of realisation, as much as we are ready to criticise realities of present and past.
    Once again, thank you for such an informative piece. Keep up the good work.

  2. September 7, 2013 at 5:41 pm | #2

    Derren,

    Thanks so much for your comment — the first substantive one on my blog to date. I appreciate your thoughtful and articulate questions.

    I might stray from your original questions, but below will sum up my thoughts on some of the “caveats” inherent in the subject.

    The points you mentioned are frequently raised. Chief among them, as you alluded to, is Khamenei’s political/religious status above and beyond other scholars, and the perception among some hardliners that his religious opinion is more binding than that of others. Therefore, despite what other Ayatullahs might believe about WMD’s, that Khamenei’s opinion ultimately reigns supreme. Some would even argue that the entire appointment of Khamenei to the Supreme Leadership was based on the expediency/survival (maslahat) of the “Islamic System,” — finding a religious figure with enough pragmatism to lead a modern country beyond strict concern for Islamic law — and therefore the Iranian leadership threw religion to the wind a long time ago. Thus, to analyze “religious opinion” on WMDs is paradoxical, given that the Iranian regime has operated on the basis of “maslahat” (i.e. abandoning the strictures of Islamic law when it benefits the overall survival of the Iranian government) for the past 20+ years. And, this is certainly the case in some respects. However, regardless of pragmatism, I still see Khamenei as part and parcel of the Shia clerical tradition — not above, or separate from it. Moreover, it is this tradition he has invoked — not his own authority — when seeking to convince the world community of his peaceful intentions.

    However, if we simply look at what Khamenei has stated on 15+ occasions — that WMD’s are “haram” in Islamic law — it simply doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. Unfortunately, this has never been analyzed, so I simply sought to bring that to light. Open source research like this rarely lends definitive insight on its own, but when combined with other sources it can be valuable. Though, in this case it accomplishes three things: 1) It’s educational; 2) It can help cast doubt on Khamenei’s already questionable rhetoric on the world stage, and supplement/augment other channels/inquiries/and “hard” findings which likewise cast doubt on his peaceful intentions; 3) It can provide some tools to better understand IRI discourse in general, and its inner workings.

    However, there is a difference between intellectual postures, and reality. Perhaps Khamenei is not planning WMD production — maybe he doesn’t feel it “expedient” to do so at this time. But, that does not mean he *intellectually* opposes them — and that is the claim that I sought to analyze and rebut. That is, Shia Islam and Khamenei’s intellectual posture towards WMD’s, which he has cited explicitly as the basis for his peaceful military intentions. Therefore, once doubt is cast on this assertion, and his rhetoric and discourse is contextualized (and debunked) — by deduction, does that mean doubt can be cast on his real world, military intentions?

    However, beyond nuclear weapons *use* — which Khamenei has almost exclusively spoken about in his disavowal of WMDs — one thing that stands out to me is deterrence. Islamic law does not mention or prohibit the possession of weapons for purposes of deterrence. And, this point was explicitly made in 2004 by an Iranian parliamentarian from Isfahan, and a religious scholar (hujjat al-Islam) named Mohammed Taqi Rahbar. See: http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1342709.html

    But, getting to your point about Khamenei as an individual and his posture on WMDs — which you termed “new shift or even an opening in the Islamic/ideological/political evaluation of weapons of mass destruction” — I do not believe this to be the case. It does seem on some level that Khamenei truly abhors the notion of WMDs — he expressed as much when he was President during the 1980s in response to Iraqi chemical attacks. However, it is a matter of public record that in the ending stages of the war, the Iranians did embark upon CW production. This was admitted by Iranian diplomats at CWC conferences in the 1990s (for a compilation of such statements, see the book: “Iran’s Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Capabilities: A net assessment.”) However, even this has been denied publicly by Khamenei in recent years (he has stated that Iran *never* embarked upon CW production) — therefore, at least on some levels, he is engaging in subterfuge with the public. This is just fact. So, beyond Shia Islamic law, simply on the level of historical fact (from within the IRI), Khamenei and the Iranian leadership have been articulating something that does not line up with reality. Why should that not extend to other issues as well?

    But, back to the point about Khamenei “abhoring” WMD use — I believe this to be the case. I don’t think the IRI leadership takes the notion of WMDs, or indiscriminate weaponry, lightly from a religious and moral perspective. During the Iran-Iraq War, the Iranians waited a considerable amount of time before retaliating for Iraqi attacks on Iranian cities. But, they eventually did so, by announcing city bombardments a day in advance on Iraqi radio, and urging civilians to leave. Again, showing that they dislike civilian casualties, but have no qualms retaliating tit-for-tat, or targeting military entities alone. During the 1980s, certain Iranian military leaders predicted they would develop CW capabilities, in the same mold as their decision to eventually retaliate for attacks on cities. This was actually expressed by Hassan Rouhani, in a 1985 press report — who said he had “deep concern” the Iranians would be “forced” to develop CW capability in response to Iraqi attacks. Meaning, they had qualms and “concerns,” but if they would be “forced” to do so given the circumstances, they would.

    So, the Iranians do not relish WMDs — nor do the fatwas of Shia scholars accede that (most deem them haram/prohibited, *except* if there are exceptional circumstances). Moreover, above and beyond this, a key finding from my research was that Iranian religious scholars have a history, predating 1979, of addressing nuclear weapons on “dual levels.” They would, for instance, denounce the American bombing of Hiroshima (which is perceived as having just targeted civilians) while conceding the permissibility of nuclear weapons if they target military entities alone. For instance, Khamenei, and nearly every pro-regime Iranian cleric has come out with some statement about Hiroshima in recent years, in their public rhetoric seeking to demonize WMDs. How can we be sure they are not utilizing these “dual tracks,” however? Moreover, Khamenei hasn’t even adduced his own statements about WMDs from the 1980s, from which a convincing anti-WMD narrative could be formed, which in my opinion casts doubt on his true commitment to non-proliferation. If I were him, I’d be leveraging these statements as much as possible. Simply, the vast majority of Shia Islamic scholarship accedes that WMD’s can be used under exceptional circumstances — which includes the survival of an Islamic state during military conflict — a point endorsed even by a few, rank-and-file pro-Khamenei clerics.

    And, this is all that I sought to bring to light. Khamenei’s claims of “Islam’s” posture towards WMD’s — in terms of scholars, the minutiae of Islamic law, the Iran-Iraq War, and other discourse — just doesn’t hold up. Yet, it is the Shia religious tradition he has adduced time and again (quite irresponsibly, I tried to show) to try to allay the world community’s concerns. This “fatwa debate” has been subject to almost zero intelligent analysis, so I sought to remedy that through my research. Is it the be-all-end-all of discerning Khamenei’s intentions? Not even close. It is a relatively fringe issue. But, nonetheless one that is important to understand given Khamenei’s rhetoric, and the IRI’s identity as a Shia Islamic state. To those in Iran who actually have knowledge of Islamic law, I am quite sure Khamenei’s rhetoric against WMDs appears comical on some levels. It certainly did to me, as someone with knowledge of this religious history. One high-ranking scholar in Iran has even called Khamenei a “sultan” (a derogatory term for an illegitimate ruler, who often ignored the precepts of Islamic law) for declaring WMDs to be haram (though, this itself I believe to have been said out of deceit). And, that’s all I sought to highlight. It doesn’t mean Khamenei is producing WMDs currently — but does he intellectually oppose them *unconditionally*, under every circumstance, as he has claimed? Likely not, and that is what “Iranian religious discourse” shows us.

    In ending, you are right, there are some tenuous aspects to this religious discourse and history, and how it aligns with Khamenei in the modern day. Moreover, given the sheer amount of information that has never been adduced before in regards to this subject, there is so much previously “unknown” information that my treatment might seem to just be “flooding the zone” and seeking to implicate Khamenei in something that has only a loose connection to the real world decision making structures in the IRI. But, there is enough here to raise some questions. Along with some hard findings, this “open source” treatment can be “icing on the cake” and moreover help to contextualize Khamenei, and shed light on Iranian discourse in general. And, essentially that’s all I can do and all I sought to do.

    Thanks again.

  3. September 8, 2013 at 5:23 pm | #3

    Dear Selfscholar,

    Thank you so much for replying to my comment. I am astonished to hear that this is the first “more substantial” comment on your fantastic blog! It is a shame that people pay for so much rubbish written on news websites and newspapers and don’t get to read such worth analysis for free here on your blog! I also think that it is an underestimation to call your very well informed and informative analysis an “open source” treatment of the subject! I mean, you really delve deep into the historical, religious and intellectual trajectory of the making of the Fatwa against WMDs and you do this in three different languages (at least). I had never seen such sophisticated analysis about this issue anywhere and am still puzzled by the fact that others are apparently not aware of your scholarship. It’s a shame!

    As for your reply to my reply, I do again agree with you when you find Khamenei’s Fatwa problematic in some ways. However, I still think that since we don’t believe in any absolute truth or at least we don’t believe that we can discover absolute truth even if it exists; then I am more than willing and happy to give the new interpretations of the religious text and tradition a chance; I mean those that are more prone to peace than war. You see … here I think Khamenei as the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic is taking an initiative towards peaceful diplomacy. You may not like him personally (which is the sense/mood I get from your writing, even despite your very objective and scholarly approach) but that does not have to mean that his approach towards WMDs is necessarily dubious or even a lie. All I am saying is that people make choices, they interpret the world around them including what they believe (or pretend to believe) to be sacred, like their Islamic tradition. They make decisions that are followed by certain actions. And all of this happens in a mutually constitutive relationship with other actors who experience, interpret, decide and act as well. Now if an influential person, say the supreme leader of a country as important as Iran, takes a particular path towards understanding and interpretation of tradition that is more conducive to peace and diplomacy than wars and confrontation, then maybe the question could be to see how we can strengthen this approach and make it more pronounced? I am not at all against critical analysis, especially critical analysis of politicians’ decisions and actions. Khamenei once said that he was not a politician. But I think he is and as one, and so far as the question of WMD is concerned, he has made some valid and potentially constructive choices. I am interested to see how this could develop into a more sustainable, legitimate, valid, objective, and even more popular official stance in the region. It seems to me that you are in a way challenging the integrity and validity of Khamenei’s Fatwa. But are you also ready to give it a chance to become what you say it pretends to be? Is it of any importance to you who is the actual “figure” behind this particular ruling? I am interested to know how much your personal dislike of the person of Khamenei (and perhaps the Islamic Republic) has influenced the “approach” that you took in this article. I am not at all contesting your treatment of the primary material which I found very objective and immensely informative. However, I am also interested to know if you could offer “a way forward” beside critical analysis (which in itself is a massive way forward) to tackle the issue of WMDs in the region?

    In fact with the tragedy of chemical weapons attacks unfolding and escalating in Syria, wouldn’t we now be in a position to think more imaginatively about the potentials of an Islamic Fatwa (let’s not say Khamenei’s only, but a collective Islamic one) against the production, stockpiling and use of all WMDs?!

    Once again, many thanks for your message and for the very sophisticated scholarship.

    Best,
    D.

  4. September 8, 2013 at 6:55 pm | #4

    Derren,

    Thank you again for the intriguing comments and questions. You raise a lot of challenging points. You are on the money with most of your assertions…

    Unfortunately, most humans do not have a penchant for reading in-depth, nuanced research : ) I personally enjoy it, and find it challenging to find the truth, and bring knowledge “into existence,” but unfortunately its application will remain limited. This situation is especially aggravated when academics and analysts fail to perform their jobs and do not explore pertinent topics, fulfill the research potential on them, and successfully communicate their findings. It is an endemic problem I have found. The sciences seem to be the exception…because they build products from their research, it is a means to an end. Liberal arts people (i.e. historians or political scientists) publish research mostly (not always, but mostly) as an end in its own right…which is clearly not working in any way. But, given that real world decisions often don’t take analysis into account…it’s not that critical. But, it is an indictment of some things…

    As to your questions:

    Your quotation: “I am interested to know how much your personal dislike of the person of Khamenei (and perhaps the Islamic Republic) has influenced the “approach” that you took in this article.”

    You are absolutely right. My analysis is not fully objective. I believe in “activist scholarship” — using the tools of wholly factual research and analysis to advance an agenda. In my case…in my pieces I aim to advance my own understanding of American exceptionalism and values, Western human rights, and defense of freedom and liberty. It is my belief, based on experience and research, that the Iranian regime stands in utter contrast to these ideals. But, it is these ideals which have shaped the scientific, technological world we inhabit today — therefore I defend them. Pure, unbiased analysis has its own place…but this is not that. There is a starting point for this piece…namely that I believe Khamenei to be a deceitful and dangerous individual. This is a “hit piece” — it seeks to discredit Khamenei’s public rhetoric and truthfulness. It is a factual and largely objective one, but still one at that, conceived and written with that in mind, with the desire through it to play a small role to advance objective truth, and eventually liberty for the Iranian people.

    Your quotation: “You see … here I think Khamenei as the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic is taking an initiative towards peaceful diplomacy. You may not like him personally (which is the sense/mood I get from your writing, even despite your very objective and scholarly approach) but that does not have to mean that his approach towards WMDs is necessarily dubious or even a lie.”

    Unfortunately, Khamenei, since the Islamic Republic’s inception has been in leadership roles where he has been accessory to several unsavory events and actions, that moreover contravene international law. The starting point, as I mentioned, is one in which Khamenei’s actions are perceived negatively, and in contradistinction to the prevailing Western order of things.

    Your quotation: “Maybe the question could be to see how we can strengthen this approach and make it more pronounced?…I am interested to see how this could develop into a more sustainable, legitimate, valid, objective, and even more popular official stance in the region.”

    That is absolutely a great question, and a good approach. Not to make this about myself — but this is my own personal approach that I have taken on several topics. I.e. harnessing the fringes of Islamic law to scholastically argue for a more inclusive view of how Islam looks at religious freedom, women’s rights, etc. For instance, delving into Islamic scholarship to find how to constructively argue for not killing apostates, or punishing blasphemers. And, I have done that…anyone who knows a topic in-depth should be like a lawyer, able to argue both sides. Certainly, that is possible with the WMD issue in Islamic law as well…I could easily argue that Khamenei doesn’t want WMDs…he could do the same thing to a greater degree that he has done (i.e. quoting himself, or Khomeini from the 1980s). But, he hasn’t done so. It could be really convincing. But, ultimately, based on my preexisting knowledge of the subject, not something I believe to be true…

    The problems with “strengthening” this approach is that A.) No one reads religious scholarship in the Muslim world any more than in the Western world…the world will keep going regardless of what someone writes. It’s been that way for 1,400 years in Islamic history…trust me, no one in the Middle East cares about Islamic scholarship in redefining the way they think…they just don’t have the penchant for it, nor do most humans. B.) A more pointed reason is that unlike religious freedom, which is a “universal good,” the WMD debate isn’t that way. As Westerners, we must accept a worldview that accedes to the legitimacy of WMD possession for “rational actors,” (i.e. Western nations); ignoring India, Pakistan, and DPRK as best we can; while denying that right to “irrational” actors such as the IRI or Syria. It’s certainly not an ideal situation if you are a theorist, but it’s a worldview we must come to accept if we wish to see Western ascendency and its byproducts maintained in the world today. It’s an unspoken truth. So, I don’t see any point arguing against WMDs…because no one would listen, and they do not contradict the Western order of things in their own rights…

    Your quotation: “In fact with the tragedy of chemical weapons attacks unfolding and escalating in Syria, wouldn’t we now be in a position to think more imaginatively about the potentials of an Islamic Fatwa (let’s not say Khamenei’s only, but a collective Islamic one) against the production, stockpiling and use of all WMDs?!”

    This has certainly been done in other subjects, by Al-Azhar, or the “Amman Message.” But, the problem is no one really cares about such things…especially in the Sunni world where there is almost no religious, clerical class today like there is in Iran, and people feel free to interpret religion as they like, then I don’t see it coming to fruition. Case in point, one of the most eloquent, well-researched pieces on WMDs in Sunni Islamic law (just an extensive and well-written piece of scholarship in general, which is very rare) was written by an individual from a Gulf country, in Arabic. And, he winds up arguing for their necessity for Muslim governments. But, this is rare. In cyberspace, some of the most ardent defenders of WMDs in the Middle East do not consider religion in their arguments at all…just “sovereignty,” etc. So, Islamic law ultimately matters very little at the end of the day, Iran included. Though, Iran is a bit more of a pertinent case, given their formal, hierarchical clerical system, which does have a very clear, somewhat united intellectual history and worldview.

    The world will keep turning, and we will keep doing our thing, they will keep doing their’s…no one will pay attention, and I think the Western world will ultimately remain on top : )

    Thanks for the intriguing questions.

  5. September 8, 2013 at 8:28 pm | #5

    You say:
    “…trust me, no one in the Middle East cares about Islamic scholarship in redefining the way they think…they just don’t have the penchant for it, nor do most humans.”

    Finally …. I disagree with you on something! Per adventure, you might like to take a look at Theology of Discontent by Hamid Dabashi to see a totally different and most accurate picture of the status and influence of Islamic ideology (whether in terms of scholarship or politics) in today’s Middle East but also globally.
    You are again absolutely right to say that no one would listen anyway. I am totally with you on that. I have no illusion about changing anything. There is so much at work in bringing about the state of constant fearmongering and conflict that we are in … and many people are making careers out of it, like you correctly say. Then again, I’m wondering why you even wrote this rather detailed and well-researched (and long) piece on an almost anonymous blog. And why did I read it (all), and then commented on it too … (I never leave comments). I think this is a genuinely interesting issue and the way you have introduced the subject is logical, substantiated and inspiring. One of the inspiring things about it is that it provokes discussion (not neccessarily disagreement or confrontation), because it is arguing a valid point from a particular angle. I happen to look at things from a different angle but I can agree with your principle objective assumptions (not necessarily with your activist-scholarly agenda). ;)

    You mentioned works by Al-Azhar, or the “Amman Message.”
    “Case in point, one of the most eloquent, well-researched pieces on WMDs in Sunni Islamic law (just an extensive and well-written piece of scholarship in general, which is very rare) was written by an individual from a Gulf country, in Arabic.”

    I am very much interested in seeing this piece, do you have a copy? Could you upload it here please? Sounds very interesting. My Arabic is not perfect but it would be a good language practice as well.
    Yes, everyone is busy doing their things; as for the “Western world” and “on top”, I don’t think either really exists, but in our heads! And when is “ultimately” by the way? Do you know?

  6. September 10, 2013 at 9:08 am | #6

    Derren,

    After a bit of looking, I was able to locate the piece. And, my apologies, it was actually written by a Jordanian, Dr. Abd al-Majeed Mahmud al-Salahain (الدكتور عبد المجيد الصلاحين), a professor and the former dean of the University of Jordan’s “Faculty of Shariah.” And, coincidentally, one of the Jordanian signatories of the Amman Message. He obtained his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate from Umm al-Qura University, in Mecca.

    Because theology is not an important factor in the decision-making of Arab states (i.e. in modern, Sunni-majority states), as opposed to Iran…I had not gone over this piece in a while. But, it seems my recollection was correct, he does advocate the possession and potential use of nuclear weapons for Islamic states. Looking back on it, it’s not as well researched as I originally thought. However, it just goes to demonstrate that the idea of creating a “pan-Islamic” anti-nuclear fatwa, based on Islamic law, is likely tenuous on many levels. On a practical level, who would even be the convener of such an initiative? Nuclear weapons are the possessions of states, not scholars. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is out of the question due to member-state Pakistan, among many other reasons. An agreement engineered by Islamic scholars, on the other hand, would not have authority with a state, and would clearly have detractors.

    Anyhow, the piece is entitled أسلحة الدمار الشامل وأحكامها في الفقه الإسلامي “Aslihah al-Damar al-Shamil wa Ahkamuha fi al-Fiqh al-Islami” (“Weapons of Mass Destruction and its Rulings in Islamic Jurisprudence”). It was written in 2005. It can be accessed here: http://sljournal.uaeu.ac.ae/issues/23/docs/2.pdf

    While the author takes a very nuanced approach and largely advocates limiting the possession of nuclear weapons, and their use, especially against civilians — like in the Iranian case, there are similar caveats, and he accedes to their religious permissibility if used against combatants alone. Again, identical to the Shia jurists. Please refer to points #8 and #9 in the summary on pp. 173-174:

    ﺇﻧﻪ يجب ﻋﻠﻰ ﺍﻟﺪﻭﻟﺔ ﺍﻹﺳﻼﻣﻴﺔ ﺇﻧﺘﺎﺝ ﺃﺳﻠﺤﺔ ﺍﻟﺪﻣﺎﺭ ﺍﻟﺸﺎﻣﻞ ﺍﻻﺳﺘﺮﺍﺗﻴﺠﻴﺔ ﺇﺫﺍ ﻛﺎﻧﺖ ﺍﻟﺪﻭﻟﺔ ﺍﳌﻌﺎﺩﻳﺔ ﺗﻨﺘﺞ ﻫﺬﻩ ﺍﻷﺳﻠﺤﺔ ﻣﻦ ﺃﺟﻞ ﺭﺩﻉ ﻫﺬﻩ ﺍﻟﺪﻭﻝ ﻋﻦ ﺍﺳﺘﺨﺪﺍﻡ ﻫﺬﺍ ﺍﻟﻨﻮﻉ ﻣﻦ ﺍﻷﺳﻠﺤﺔ، ﻭﲪﺎﻳﺔ ﻷﻣﻦ ﺍﻟﺪﻭﻟﺔ ﺍﻹﺳﻼﻣﻴﺔ، ﻭﺣﻔﺎﻇﺎﹰ ﻋﻠﻰ ﺍﺳﺘﻘﻼﻟﻴﺘﻬﺎ ﻭﺳﻴﺎﺩتها

    ﺇﻧﻪ يجب ﻋﻠﻰ ﺍﻟﺪﻭﻟﺔ ﺍﻹﺳﻼﻣﻴﺔ ﺇﻧﺘﺎﺝ ﺃﺳﻠﺤﺔ ﺍﻟﺪﻣﺎﺭ ﺍﻟﺸﺎﻣﻞ ﺍﻟﺘﻜﺘﻴﻜﻴﺔ، ويجوز لها استخدامها ضد الجهات العسكرية في الدول المعادية، لأن هذه الأسلحة يمكن التحكم بمداها، ويمكن حصر آثارها التدميرية على المقاتلة فقط

    8. “It is obligatory upon/necessary for an Islamic state to produce ‘strategic weapons of mass destruction,’ if a hostile state produces these weapons. This is in order to deter these states from using this type of weapon, to protect the security of the Islamic state, and preserve its independence and sovereignty.”

    9. “It is obligatory upon/necessary for an Islamic state to produce ‘tactical weapons of mass destruction,’ and it is permissible for it to use them against military bodies in hostile states…because their destructive effects can be limited to combatants alone.”

    Note that this is the voice of a “moderate.” This is an independent study of Islamic jurisprudence. Being a professor and dean in a state-controlled institution like the University of Jordan, being a signatory of a document such as the Amman Message, guarantees a degree of conformance to a state narrative. Islamist terrorist organizations — which reject the current state-based system — have also published their own theological justifications for nuclear weapons, which are not so nuanced when it comes to civilians. So, it just goes downwards from there.

    As to your last point, my experience over many years has taught me that the legal minutiae of Islamic law has little to no effect on the general populaces of Muslim countries. Islamic “ideology,” as you say — then, yes. Islamic scholarship? I’d say no.

    As for the impetus behind this piece — there are very few topics in Islamic law and history that have contemporary pertinence (I can think of some topics pertaining to religious freedom, and women’s rights, but even that is limited). I like to find such topics that have this confluence between history and the modern day, and write about them, in order to advance peace and prosperity in the limited way I can. The Iranian nuclear issue just seemed to fit that mold.

    Thanks again, and hope this helps.

  7. September 18, 2013 at 7:23 pm | #7

    Derren,

    Given our recent discussion of the subject, I decided to make a new post about nuclear weapons in contemporary, Sunni Islamic scholarship: http://selfscholar.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/radioactive-fatwas-the-growing-islamist-legitimization-of-nuclear-weapons/

    Enjoy.

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