Radioactive Fatwas: The Growing Islamist Legitimization of Nuclear Weapons
Despite concerns over the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East, little attention has been devoted to the growing number of Muslim scholars, academics, and intellectuals who advocate the legitimacy and viability of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons for Arab governments. Through books, academic articles, dissertations, conferences, and direct fatwas, a vast and interconnected literature has forged a growing consensus among the region’s Islamist communities:
- WMD production is licit for purposes of deterrence;
- “Tactical” use of WMDs against military entities (though not civilians) is licit under “absolute necessity,” in order to maintain the independence and sovereignty of an Islamic state;
- While Muslims have an obligation to abide by international treaties, the “uneven implementation” of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), especially in relation to Israel, makes its authority untenable. Moreover, the “principle of reciprocity” inherent in international law and relations between states legally and morally justifies WMD proliferation;
- Theoretically, because Islamic law emphasizes equality in warfare, if a global consensus were to be reached on the reduction and elimination of WMDs, Muslim states would be obligated to abide by it.
However, these are not the voices of extremists or utopians: From the scholars of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, to professors holding deanships at state-controlled universities, and independent religious leaders — more often than not these Islamist intellectuals not only accept the legitimacy of their respective governments, but are also employed by them.
Islamic law holds little sway in the decision-making apparatuses of Middle Eastern governments, however the perception of tacit adherence to the Islamic tradition is often necessary. The growing nexus between Muslim scholars and Islamists, and universities and academia in the Middle East has given greater legitimacy to ideas that were once confined to religious institutions. Although functional nuclear industries are many years away in most Arab countries, the legitimization of WMDs among state-oriented, religious intellectuals demonstrates a new level of concern inherent in the region’s pursuit of nuclear energy.
This post will present a survey of the individuals, literature, and opinions that have emerged in this modern, Islamist defense of nuclear weapons, and WMDs. While the push for consensus on the issue is new, having emerged over the past decade — commentary on it is not, and defenses of nuclear weapons exist as early as the 1950s. While undoubtedly more voices exist, this post will just cover those who have been cited in modern treatments of the issue. This will be divided into three sections:
This survey is only intended to show the scope of the individuals who advocate WMD possession, and their general conclusions — not the nuanced religious arguments used to reach them. With the exception of one “case study,” only rudimentary citations will be provided, and the original Arabic text not included. The sources cited herein are available on the Internet, and accessible through basic, Arabic-language keyword searches, and research.
The most well-known, state-oriented institute of religious learning in the Middle East, Al-Azhar is often perceived as a “bulwark” against extremism. In recent years, its leadership has sought to forge inter-Islamic unity, advocated for the non-obligation of face coverings for women; and recently ruled for the religious permissibility of peaceful protests. While Al-Azhar has been complicit in helping to propagate and maintain religious rulings related to Egypt’s “hisba” laws, which punish religious dissent, it is agreed that today it represents a moderate entity largely loyal to the Egyptian state. Moreover, its influence is particularly strong in the Levant (Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan), where Azhar-trained scholars often hold positions within Ministries of Religious Affairs. Simply, in the eyes of many governments and religious intellectuals, Al-Azhar holds a position of legitimacy.
Given its longevity and history, however, clerics from Al-Azhar are also some of the earliest voices on record endorsing the religious permissibility of WMD possession, and use. From the 1950s, to the present day, its religious scholars and leadership have continually articulated a variety of viewpoints and justifications in favor of nuclear weapons, in the present day overwhelmingly coalescing on the opinion that nuclear weapons are licit if used for purposes of deterrence.
- Taqiuddin al-Nabhani (d. 1977). Although best known for founding the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Palestinian Nabhani received his religious education from Al-Azhar. His foundational work Al-Shakhsiyya al-Islamiyya (“The Islamic Personality”), first published in 1953, advocates that nuclear weapons are not only licit, but can be used as a “first strike” option in conflict. As to objections that nuclear weapons are religiously forbidden (haram) because they cause harm to civilians (al-bashar) — Nabhani argues that jihad is meant to “revive/enliven” individuals to come to Islam, not bring about “humanism” (al-insaniyya).
- Muhammad Abu Zahra (d. 1974). Best known for his in-depth biographies of early Islamic scholars and personalities, Abu Zahra, who was an “Egyptian intellectual” and “prominent member of the Al Azhar Academy of Islamic Research,” took a more stringent approach than Nabhani. In his work Al-‘Alaqat al-Dawliya fi Al-Islam (“International Relations in Islam”), first published sometime in the 1950s, Abu Zahra affirms that there is “no doubt” that the use of a “nuclear bomb” is “strictly prohibited” (amran muharraman / mana’ bataa). Firstly, because of its destructive nature (takhreeb). Secondly, because it “goes beyond” the combatants that are being fought, to affect regular people (al-sha’b) — Islam does not fight “people,” only aggressors. And, third, because it targets women and children. “It is not lawful (laa yahullu) for Muslims to fight with these weapons,” Abu Zahra concludes … “Except if the enemy attacks by using these weapons, they are isolated in a limited area, and their use would prevent them from continuing their crimes.” Abu Zahra’s strict conditions upon WMD use, yet tacit approval in exceptional circumstances most closely resembles the modern Islamist defenses of WMD production, if intended for purposes of deterrence alone.
- Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy (d. 2010). As “Grand Mufti” of Egypt from 1986 to 1996, Tantawy left the position upon his appointment by Hosni Mubarak as the “Grand Imam of al-Azhar,” a position he held until his death in 2010. As the head Egyptian religious authority for almost 25 years, the trust in Tantawy’s credentials by the Egyptian state cannot be doubted. However, at a November 1999 conference at Assiut University entitled “The Future of the Nuclear Option” (Mustaqbal al-Khiyar al-Nawawi), Tantawy endorsed nuclear weapons and claimed, “Islam calls for force, but a reasonable and just one that comes to the side of the oppressed, until there is victory…because force is one of the attributes of Allah.” Elaborating, Tantawy cited a purported narration detailing an exchange between first Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, to the warrior Khalid ibn al-Walid, who advised, “If the enemy fights with a spear, then fight him with a spear. If he fights with a sword, then fight him with a sword.” Tantawy then stated, “If Abu Bakr was alive today, he would say, ‘If they fight with a nuclear weapon, then fight them with a nuclear weapon.'” Tantawy closed by saying that Egypt had the educational and scientific know-how to “surpass Israel.”
- Ali Abu Hassan. As head of the “Al-Azhar Fatwa Committee” (Lajna al-Fatwa bi al-Azhar), in December 2002 Abu Hassan is on record in media reports exhorting “Islamic countries” to obtain “nuclear and non-nuclear” weapons, which “terrorize” the enemy, and “prevent them from being assaulted.” Abu Hassan went on to state that it does not matter whether a “friendly” or “hostile” nation possesses such weapons — “If any weapon is in the hands of a nation of the world…it is necessary for Muslims to possess the same weapons, or stronger, and this is the consensus of Islamic scholars.” In ending, Abu Hassan stated that if Muslim countries do not possess such weapons, they are considered “transgressors under Islamic law:” “Preparation against enemies requires all possible tools for self-defense, and this is a binding religious obligation, and it is not permissible under Islamic law to abandon it. Therefore, for Islamic countries to seek the possession of all modern, nuclear weapons is a religious obligation.”
- Ali Gomaa. Although unaffiliated with Al-Azhar, from 2003-2010 Gomaa held the title of “Grand Mufti of Egypt,” having been appointed by Mubarak. As head of the Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah (“Egyptian Fatwa House”), Gomaa was tasked with overseeing the issuance of approximately 5,000 fatwas per week, for the benefit of the Egyptian people. In 2009, Dar al-Ifta issued a lengthy fatwa entitled, “The Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction Against Non-Muslim Countries” (Isti’mal Aslihah al-Damar al-Shamil Didda al-Dawal ghayr Muslimah). After describing nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons as those which constitute “weapons of mass destruction,” the fatwa went on to state, “It is ‘religiously required’ (matlub shar’i) for Islamic countries to acquire such weapons for the purpose of deterring aggressors.” However, the fatwa went on to state that there is “a difference” between possessing these weapons “for intimidation and to deter aggressors,” and their possession for “first use” capabilities. While likely not personally authored, Gomaa later confirmed in media reports that WMD possession for purposes of deterrence is religiously lawful. Dar al-Ifta, however, on several occasions has confirmed the binding nature of international treaties which “bring international peace and security.”
- Yusuf al-Qaradawi. A graduate of Al-Azhar, the Egyptian Qaradawi is one of the most well-known Islamist figures in the Muslim world. In 2009 Qaradawi authored a book entitled Fiqh al-Jihad (“The Jurisprudence of Jihad”), in which he endorsed the possession of nuclear weapons for purposes of deterrence: “The basic principle in Islam is to not fight those who do not fight…but it is obligatory to seek to possess these weapons for purposes of deterrence, so long as others own and threaten to use them — and this refers to the ‘Zionist enemy’ that has usurped our land…The major powers, led by America, own these weapons, while prohibiting others from possessing them — preventing them for Arab and Islamic countries, while giving this right to a state that artificially exists on the land of Palestine, and one which possesses more than 200 nuclear bombs. It is not permissible for a nation to use these weapons, except if it is exposed to risks against its existence, and it is in a state of extreme danger.” Qaradawi’s website has reported that Fiqh al-Jihad is now actively studied by scholars and students at Al-Azhar. Moreover, in a 2001 fatwa on chemical weapons by Faisal Mawlawi — a close confidant of Qaradawi, and deputy chairman of his Dublin-based “European Council for Fatwa and Research” — he stated that “Muslims” should not use such weapons on a “first strike” basis, but nonetheless affirmed that if other countries use them to the detriment of Muslims, then it is religiously permissible based on the “principle of reciprocity” in international law.
Growing access to Western-style higher education in the Middle East has significantly transformed the region for the better. However, one consequence that remains unexplored is the growing legitimacy of formal education in Islamist communities. Increasingly, the credentials of local Muslim scholars depend upon their acquisition of a master’s or doctorate in various fields of Islamic studies. While such degrees in the past have been awarded by religiously-themed “universities,” especially in Saudi Arabia, increasingly they are also being offered by mainstream, state-affiliated institutions, and attracting a greater number of seekers. As a consequence, academic defenses of WMDs in Islamic law have become not only more routine, but sometimes the most cited works in Islamist circles. However, in notable cases, these in-depth research pieces — appearing as theses, dissertations, and academic articles — appear to have received mainstream university acknowledgment and support, and, in turn, likely tacit approval by state authorities.
Case Study: Abd al-Majeed al-Salaheen and the University of Jordan
One of the most cohesive and in-depth defenses of WMDs in Islamic law is an academic article written by Abd al-Majeed Mahmud Al-Salaheen, a professor, and from 2004-2006 the dean of the University of Jordan’s “Faculty of Shariah.” Entitled “Weapons of Mass Destruction and its Rulings in Islamic Jurisprudence” (Aslihah al-Damar al-Shamil wa Ahkamuha fi al-Fiqh al-Islami), this 80+ page research article was published in 2005 by the “Journal of Sharia & Law,” (Al-Majallah al-Shari’ah wa al-Qanun) a quarterly publication printed by the UAE University Press, the oldest university in the United Arab Emirates. Intending his study to be a “guiding beacon for the Islamic state in determining the position of the production and use of weapons of mass destruction,” Salaheen provides an in-depth overview of WMDs, ancient precedents, and juristic views on warfare and weaponry in Islamic law. He ends with a reflection on how these historical precedents can be applied to modern WMDs, and extrapolates a religious ruling about their possession and use. In conclusion, Salaheen differentiates between “strategic” and “tactical” WMDs — the former of which can be used for deterrent purposes, and the latter used in theaters of war, against combatants alone. As Salaheen stated in his (poorly written) English-language abstract:
Stipulations covering production and utilization of modern weapons of mass destruction which can be divided into two types according to their effects:
A. Strategic weapons with terrific destruction power.
B. The tactical weapons with limited destruction power.
The research concluded that Islamic State may produce and develop the first one for the purpose of deterrence and keeping balance with the enemy in compliance with the Quranic verse : (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).
Islamic State may use these weapons if they were used by the enemy or in a strong possibility that they are about to use it in application of the equal treatment principal, as its destruction effects do not exceed to non-fighters.
In general, the production and utilization of these weapons falls under the interest of the country, the necessity and the nature of prevailing circumstances.
While extremely nuanced in places, and thoroughly researched, Salaheen’s language in advocating WMD possession appears to be less than impartial. Of concern, on the title page Salaheen noted that his research had been “supported by the Deanship of Scientific Research” (‘Imadah al-Bahth al-‘Ilmi) at the University of Jordan. The significance of this admission is not fully known, however possibly indicates broader university, and by deduction state acceptance of his research conclusions. It should be noted that similar endorsement of “chemical weapons” was made by University of Jordan professor Dr. Abdul Moiz Hareez in a 2002 fatwa, in which he claimed that they are “obligatory, and the right of an Islamic state.” He concluded, “We must strive to possess these weapons until we are a nation (ummah) that can intimidate the lands of the unbelievers, and the unbelievers do not (have power) over the Muslims.” Likewise, University of Muta (Jordan) professor Dr. Hani Ta’imat, in an academic article of unknown date, likewise argued for the necessity of WMD possession, in the same vein as the previous treatments.
The last five pages of the article, which includes Salaheen’s reflections on WMDs in Islamic law, and a summary of his findings are translated below.
“Weapons of Mass Destruction and its Rulings in Islamic Jurisprudence”
(أسلحة الدمار الشامل وأحكامها في الفقه الإسلامي)
By: Dr. Abd al-Majeed al-Salaheen (عبد المجيد الصلاحين)
Journal of Sharia & Law (مجلة الشريعة والقانون) — Issue 23, May 2005 (Rabi’ Al-Awwal 1426), Pages 95-183. Translation from pages 160, 166, 168, 169-174.
إن الأصل في العلاقة بين الدولة الإسلامية والدول الأخرى هو السلم وليس الحرب، فالإسلام ليس متعطش ًا إلى سفك الدماء ولا متشوفا ً إلى قهر الناس وإذلالهم، بل إن هذا الإسلام الحنيف متشوف إلى هدايتهم وإخراجهم من عبادة العباد إلى عبادة االله الواحد القهار، وقد كان النبي وكذا الصحابة من بعده يحبون ويتمنون بل ويحرصون على أن يتم ذلك من خلال الوسائل السلمية المتمثلة في الدعوة والإقناع …
ومع ذلك فإن الشريعة الغراء تأمر المسلمين باستكمال كل أسباب القوة والمناعة من خلال أمرهم بإعداد القوة الكافية ولإرهابه وردعه عن الاعتداء على المسلمين ومن ذلك: قولـه سبحانه وتعالى: وأعدوا لهم ما استطعتم من قوة ومن رباط الخيل ترهبون به عدو الله وعدوكم وأخرين من دونهم لا تعلمونهم الله يعلمهم. وهذا يدل على أن المسلمين مطالبون بإعداد ما يدخل تحت دائرة الاستطاعة من قوة بمختلف أوجه هذه القوة وأضربها …
ولا شك أن في منع المسلمين من إنتاج أسلحة الدمار الشامل وتطويرها ونشرها في حين أن الدول الأخرى تقوم بذلك كله إلحاقا ً بضرر عام وعظيم وكبير بالمسلمين عموما ً، الأمر الذي يحتم على المسلمين دفع هذا الضرر من خلال تحقيق التوازن بين المسلمين وغيرهم، وهذا بدوره يؤدي إلى تحييد هذه الأسلحة، لأن العدو ساعة يفكر باستخدامه يعلم أن المسلمين قادرون على استخدامها أيض ًا مما يدفعه إلى تحييدها وعدم استخدامها …
ومن خلال ما تقدم فإنه يمكن القول بأنه يجوز للمسلمين أن ينتجوا أسلحة الدمار الشامل وأن يطوروها من أجل تحقيق التوازن المسلح بين المسلمين والقوى المعادية، وهذا التوازن قد ذكره القرآن الكريم وأرشد إليه في قولـه تعالى: وأعدوا لهم ما استطعتم من قوة ومن رباط الخيل ترهبون به عدو الله وعدوكم
:ومع ذلك فإن إنتاج أسلحة الدمار الشامل وتطويرها واستخدامها لا بد أن يخضع لشروط وضوابط وتفصيلات يمكن إيضاحها في الآتي
:أ- إن أسلحة الدمار الشامل يمكن تقسيمها باعتبار مدى تأثيرها إلى قسمين رئيسين
.القسم الأول: الأسلحة الاستراتيجية، وهي ذات قوة تدميرية هائلة يمكن من خلال استخدامها تدمير مدن بل دول كاملة ومحوها من الوجود
القسم الثاني: الأسلحة التكتيكية، وهي ذات قوة تدميرية ومدى محدودين، ويمكن التحكم بمداها التدميري من خلال تقليل الشحنة التفجيرية وحصر مداها بكيلو مربع واحد أو أقل، ومن هنا يمكن استخدام هذه الأسلحة في قصف المعسكرات المعادية، أو لتدمير فرقة من الدبابات أو المدرعات وإبادة الجنود في هذه الفرقة أو في ذلك المعسكر
ب- وبناءً على ذلك فإنه يمكن للدولة الإسلامية أن تنتج وتطور وتنشر أسلحة الدمار الشامل الاستراتيجية من أجل أن يكون ذلك الإنتاج رادع ًا للعدو ومانعا ً له من استخدام هذا النوع من الأسلحة من خلال إيجاد ما يعرف بتوازن الرعب، والذي يمنع أي طرف من استخدام هذا النوع من الأسلحة لعلمه بأن الطرف الثاني يمكن أن يستخدمه أيضا إذا شعر بأن الطرف المعادي يهم باستخدامه، إن هذا التوازن يساهم بدرجة كبيرة في تحقيق السلم والأمن بين الدول تطبيقا ً لمقولة: ” إذا أردت السلم فاستعد للحرب “، وهذا ما أشار إليه القرآن الكريم في قوله تعالى: وأعدوا لهم ما استطعتم من قوة ومن رباط الخيل ترهبون به عدو الله وعدوكم، فإن العدو إذا علم بامتلاك المسلمين أسلحة الدمار الشامل وقدرتهم على إنتاجها واستخدامها منعه ذلك من التفكير في ضرب المسلمين بهذه الأسلحة، ولأن المسلمين إذا لم يمتلكوا هذه الأسلحة كانوا خاضعين لرحمة العدو غير قادرين على حماية مصالحهم، وكانت سياساتهم وقراراتهم مرتهنة لإملاآته وغطرسته
إن تحقيق التوازن الاستراتيجي مع العدو أمر مشروع بل واجب، كي تبقى الدولة الإسلامية قادرة على تحقيق مصالحها وحفظ أمنها وأمن رعاياها، مستقلة في سياساتها وقراراتها، غير مرتهنة في ذلك لسياسات الدول المعادية وهذا أمر مقرر في السياسات الدولية وهو ما يعرف بالسلم المسلح
ج- على أنه يمكن للدول الإسلامية استخدام هذا النوع من الأسلحة إذا استخدمها العدو أو غلب على الظن أن العدو يوشك على استخدامها، ويؤيد ذلك قولـه تعالى: فمن اعتدى عليكم فاعتدوا عليه بمثل ما اعتدى عليكم، وهذا هو مبدأ المعاملة بالمثل الذي تقره كل الشرائع السماوية والقوانين الوضعية على السواء، ابتداءً من شريعة حمورابي وانتهاًء بالقانون الدولي الحديث
د- وأما الأسلحة التكتيكية فيمكن استخدامها ضد جيوش العدو ودشمه واستحكاماته، وذلك لأن آثارها التدميرية محدودة ولا تتعدى إلى غير المحاربين من أشخاص العدو
هـ- غير أن القرار بوضع هذه الأسلحة في الخدمة الفعلية أو استخدامها ينبغي أن يخضع للتدقيق والتمحيص، وأن يبتعد عن التعجل والتهور، وأن يكون استخدامها ضمن الخيارات المتاحة للدولة الإسلامية، غير أن هذا الخيار ينبغي أن تحكمه المصلحة، وأن يكون استخدام هذا النوع من الأسلحة ذات الدمار الشامل هو الخيار الأخير الذي تلجأ إليه الدولة الإسلامية إما لتحقيق النصر على العدو بأقل كلفة عسكرية أو في إطار ضربة استباقية عندما يغلب على الظن نتيجة للمعلومات الاستخبارية الدقيقة والمحددة أن العدو يزمع على استخدام هذا النوع من الأسلحة
:لقد توصلت هذه الدراسة إلى جملة من النتائج فيما يلي أبرزها
١- إن الجهاد في الإسلام ليس غاية بحد ذاته وإنما هو وسيلة لتحقيق غايات ومقاصد نبيلة، وأهداف سامية
٢- إن شن الحرب وإنشاب العمليات القتالية في الإسلام هو بمثابة الحل الأخير الذي لا يلجأ إليه إلا بعد استنفاد سائر الحلول الأخرى
٣- إن التشريعات الحربية في الإسلام هي تشريعات أخلاقية إنسانية تسودها الرحمة والعدالة، وهي منبثقة عن الأنظمة الإسلامية في الجهاد ومحققة لمقاصد الشارع الحكيم فيه
٤- إن حماية الدولة الإسلامية لمصالحها ورعاياها هي من أوجب الواجبات، والتي يجب على الدولة الإسلامية أن توظف كل طاقاتها لتحقيقها
٥- إن تحقيق التوازن الاستراتيجي بين الدولة الإسلامية وسائر الدول المعادية هو هدف ينبغي توظيف كل الإمكانيات والطاقات لتحقيقه
٦- إن التشريعات الحربية الإسلامية التي تمنع استهداف غير المحاربين بالأعمال القتالية هي تشريعات محكمة وليست منسوخة
٧- 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، وحفاظ ًا على استقلاليتها وسيادتها
٨- 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
٩- إن استخدام أسلحة الدمار الشامل التكتيكية محكوم بشروط وضوابط تم بيانها في هذه الدراسة
١٠- فشل الجهود الدولية في الترع التام والشامل لأسلحة الدمار الشامل، والاستعاضة عنها بمعاهدات منع الانتشار، والتي فشلت هي الأخرى في منع الدول من عضوية نادي الرعب النووي، سواء كانت هذه العضوية علنية أو سرية
١١- إن المماحكات السياسية، وفقدان الثقة بالآخر، والرغبة في الهيمنة والاستحواذ كانت من بين الأسباب الكامنة وراء تعثر الجهود الدولية في نزع أسلحة الدمار الشامل أو تخفيضها
١٢- إن الازدواجية في التعاطي مع ملفات أسلحة الدمار الشامل شكلت سببا ً مهما ً إضافيً َا في فشل الجهود الدولية للتخلص من هذا النوع من الأسلحة
The origin of the relationship between the Islamic State and other states is peace, not war. Islam is not thirsty for bloodshed, nor conquering others or humiliating them. Rather, Islam seeks to guide others to worship of Allah, rather than the worship of other created beings. The Prophet, as well and the companions (sahaba) after him loved and hoped — and were even eager — to do daa’wa (proselytization) and persuade others (to come to Islam) through peaceful means…
However, Islamic law (shari’ah) orders Muslims to prepare for all possible types of force and defense by ordering them to have preparation in sufficient strength to terrorize (the enemy) and deter against an attack upon Muslims. This is the meaning of the saying of Allah: “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, and others besides, whom ye may not know, but whom Allah doth know.” (Qur’an 8:60) This indicates that Muslims are required to make preparation concerning all types of possible force, and (methods of) attack…
There is no doubt that the prevention of Muslims from the production of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and their development and deployment/proliferation — while other countries (are allowed) to do all of this — causes general, great, and large damage upon all Muslims. This (state of affairs) requires Muslims to defend against this damage and achieve balance between them and others, which in turn will lead to neutralizing (the threat) of these weapons. This is because if the enemy thinks about using these weapons, but also knows that the Muslims are also able to use them, this will defend (the Muslims), neutralize (the enemy), and lead to them not being used…
It is permissible (yajuzu) for Muslims to produce WMDs, and develop them in order to seek balance in armed conflict between them and hostile forces, and this balance has been mentioned in the Qur’an: “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)
However, the production of WMDs, and their development and use must be subject to conditions, regulations, and details, clarified as follows:
A. WMDs can be divided (into groups) considering the extent of their impact: 1) Strategic weapons, which have enormous destructive power and can destroy whole cities, or even countries, and erase them from existence. 2) Tactical weapons, whose destructive power and range are limited, and can be controlled by reducing the explosive charge, and narrowing its range to one square kilometer or less. Thus, it is possible to use such weapons in the bombing of hostile encampments, to destroy a column of tanks or hostile vehicles, and to annihilate soldiers in a battalion or camp.
B. Accordingly, it is possible for an Islamic state to produce, develop, and deploy/proliferate “Strategic WMDs” so that this production deters the enemy, and prevents them from using such weapons, given knowledge that the other side can also use them. This balance contributes greatly to the achievement of peace and security between countries, according to the (general) saying, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” And, this is what is referred to in the verse: “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.” (Qur’an 8:60) If the enemy has knowledge that Muslims possess WMDs, and have the ability to produce and use them, it prevents them from thinking about attacking the Muslims with these weapons. And, because if Muslims do not possess these weapons, they are subject to the mercy of the enemy, and are unable to protect their interests. Therefore, their policies and decisions will be decided by their whims and arrogance.
The achievement of strategic balance with the enemy is not only legitimate (amr mashru’), but also religiously obligatory (wajib). That is, so the Islamic state remains able to pursue its interests, preserve its security and that of its citizens, and be independent in its policies and decisions — without depending upon the policies of enemy states. And, this is a matter established in international politics, known as “armed peace.”
C. It is possible for an Islamic state to use this type of weapon if the enemy uses it, or it is thought likely that the enemy is poised to use it. And, this is supported by the saying of Allah: “If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him.” (Qur’an 2:194) This is the “principle of reciprocity,” which is sanctioned in the laws of all divine religions, and man-made laws, starting with the Code of Hammurabi, to modern international law.
D. As for “tactical WMDs,” it is possible to use them against enemy armies, their fortifications, and bunkers, and this is because their destructive effects are limited and do not impact non-combatants from the “people of the enemy.”
E. The decision to put these weapons into active service should be subject to scrupulousness and scrutiny, and should be distanced from haste and recklessness. And, they should (only) be used under the options available to an Islamic state, which should be governed by its interests. Moreover, the use of WMDs should only be done as a “last option” resorted to by the Islamic state to achieve victory over the enemy at the lowest military cost. Or, in the context of a pre-emptive strike, when they have overcome conjecture, and have strategic, accurate, and specific intelligence that the enemy intends to use this kind of weapon.
This study has come to a number of notable findings:
1. Jihad in Islam is not an end in itself, but a means to achieve its noble purposes and objectives, and its sublime goals.
2. The waging of war and use of combat operations in Islam is a last resort which is only considered after exhausting all other solutions.
3. The legislation of warfare in Islam is a moral legislation, dominated by humanism, compassion, and justice…
4. The protection of the Islamic state of its interests and that of its citizens are obligatory duties, upon which it is necessary for the Islamic state to direct all its energies to achieve.
5. The achievement of strategic balance between the Islamic state and other hostile/enemy states is the (overall) goal/objective, and all capabilities and energies should be employed to achieve it.
6. The legislation of warfare in Islam forbids the targeting of non-combatants in military operations, and this legislation is (firmly) established, and has not been abrogated.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. The use of “tactical WMDs” is governed by the conditions and regulations described in this study.
10. There has been a failure of international efforts to fully destroy WMDs, and replace them with the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) — which fails to prevent its members from threatening nuclear terror, whether overtly or covertly.
11. Political wrangling, and loss of confidence on the other hand, and the desire for hegemony and (nuclear) acquisition (on the other), are among the underlying causes of stumbling international efforts concerning the disarmament or reduction of WMDs.
12. The multiplication of cases dealing with WMDs is an important reason for the failure of additional international efforts to eliminate such weapons.
Dissertations and Theses
Beyond Salaheen’s journal article, one of the most common defenses of WMDs in Islamic law comes from dissertations and theses. While their contents all resemble the material adduced thus far, these have been cited in Islamist discourse on WMDs. Herein is a list for reference sake:
- Muhammad Khayr Haykal (1992). Al-Jihad wa al-Qital fi al-Siyasah al-Shari’ah (“Jihad and Fighting in the Policies of Islamic Law”). Doctoral Dissertation, Al-Imam al-Ouzai University, Beirut.
- Mahoshiza Hajj Abdallah (2004). Mada al-Mashru’iyah Aslihah al-Damar al-Shamil fi Daw Ahkam al-Shari’a al-Islamiyya (“The Legitimacy of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Light of the Rulings of Islamic Law”). Master’s thesis, Naif Arab University for Security Studies, Riyadh.
- Mansur Khalid al-Mutalaqah (2005). Aslihah al-Damar al-Shamil: Dirasah Fiqhiyyah Qanuniyyah (“Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Jurisprudential and Legal Study”). Master’s thesis, University of Jordan.
- Muhammad Sulayman Nasrallah al-Farra (2007). Ahkam al-Qanun al-Dawli al-Insani fi al-Islam (“The Provisions of International Humanitarian Law in Islam”). Master’s thesis, Islamic University of Gaza.
- Mahmud Ibrahim Abd al-Rahman Shihab (2007). Al-Aslihah ghayr al-Taqleediyya fi al-Fiqh al-Islami (“Unconventional Weaponry in Islamic Jurisprudence”). Master’s thesis, Islamic University of Gaza.
- Mariam Faris Isma’il (2013). Hukm Aslihah al-Damar al-Shamil fi al-Shari’ah al-Islamiyyah wa al-Qanun al-Dawli (“The Ruling on Weapons of Mass Destruction in Islamic and International Law”). Research article, University of Baghdad.
- Unknown. Aslihah al-Tadmir al-Shamil wa Ahkamuha fi al-Shari’ah al-Islamiyyah (“Weapons of Mass Destruction and its Rulings in Islamic Law”). Master’s thesis, Yarmouk University, Jordan.
Although a few of these individuals have apparently gone on to become local religious leaders in their respective countries — after Al-Salaheen, the foremost academic among them is Muhammad Khayr Haykal. Although he only obtained his doctorate in 1992, Haykal — a Syrian national — earned a degree in law from the University of Damascus in 1965, and studied at Al-Azhar for several years, before teaching in Saudi Arabia. Most recently, he has taught at the University of Damascus, and also at “Abu Nour” — a Syrian-government run institute of Islamic studies. His dissertation on warfare in Islam reaches almost 2,000 pages, and in one chapter provides “unrestricted” justification for all types of WMD use. It has equally been cited among modern Islamist treatments of WMDs.
From October 2-3, 2012, Muslim scholars from five Middle Eastern countries (Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, and Algeria) gathered at the Quality Suites Hotel in Amman, Jordan for a unique conference. Hosted under the auspices of the “Imam al-Shafi’i Center” (Markaz al-Imam al-Shafi’i al-‘Ilmi) — established in 2012 and partially overseen by the Jordanian Ministry of Religious Affairs — the two-day series of lectures was entitled: “The Ruling on Individual and Group Possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction” (Hukm Imtilak al-Afrad wa al-Jama’at al-Aslihah al-Damar al-Shamil). “There remain issues on which Islamic scholars need to address and issue statements concerning,” Center director Samir Murad al-Shawabikah stated at the opening of the conference. “We must clarify for the people of the government, those going forward in it, and those working in it…if not for scholars, who else could explain it?”
As Shawabikah’s opening statement demonstrates — in which he exhorted that the conference’s conclusions be adopted by those in the Jordanian government — there are a growing number of Muslim scholars, unaffiliated with popular religious institutions, or academia, who nonetheless believe in the legitimacy of their own governments. In fact, Al-Shawabikah is not only virulently against extremist groups, but in one press report has even termed the Arab Spring a “sin,” by undermining “Arab and Islamic unity.” It is likely that the entire establishment of the Al-Shafi’i Center is a move by the Jordanian government to solidify its religious legitimacy, through mosques and religious centers that are “loyal” to the state, but still espouse the public exercise and benefit of religion.
At the conference, participants displayed the flags of their home countries (which would have been anathema in more fundamentalist circles), and in attendance was even a representative from the Egyptian Dar al-Ifta (covered previously). It is these “independent” Muslim scholars, Islamists, and Salafists — who, beyond formal theologians or academics — have shown the greatest initiative in commentating on the issue of WMDs in Islamic law. However, like the theologians and academics, they have reached similar conclusions. Abdallah al-Sheikh Saeed al-Kurdi, one of the conference attendees from northern Iraq, opened his speech by stating, “This subject has great importance for us people as Kurds, as we have been victims of WMDs.” However, in ending, he left the door open for WMD possession and use, and even cast doubt upon the NPT: “If any international legislation outlaws the possession of such weapons, then it is obligatory upon states to comply with it…but if there is certainty that this legislation applies to one state, and not another, then non-compliance with the said legislation is not prohibited.” Al-Shawabikah ended his speech with similar vagueness: “The possession of weapons of mass destruction for individuals and groups is unconditionally prohibited,” he said. “And, if it can be said that it is permissible, then it is for the possession of states, and only for purposes of deterrence.”
The following are other defenses of WMD in Islamic law, published by independent Islamists. For the majority of the individuals in question, little biographical information is immediately available.
- Ahmad Nar (1968). Al-Qital fi al-Islam (“Fighting in Islam”).
- Muhammad ibn Nasr al-Ja’awan (1983). Al-Qital fi al-Islam: Ahkamuhu wa Tashri’atihi (“Fighting in Islam: Rulings and Legislation”). Saudi Arabia.
- Khayr al-Deen Mubarak ‘Uwayr (2008). Aslihah al-Damar al-Shamil wa Ahkamuha fi al-Fiqh al-Islami (“Weapons of Mass Destruction and its Rulings in Islamic Law”). Algeria.
- Muhammad ibn Shakir al-Shareef (Unknown). Aslihah al-Damar al-Shamil Bayna al-Mana’ wa al-Wujub (“Weapons of Mass Destruction: Between Prohibition and Obligation). Egypt.
Although individuals from extremist groups (such as Nasr ibn Hamad al-Fahd and Ali ben Hajj) have published defenses of WMDs, these have been rarely cited in more mainstream discourse on the topic.
There are several limitations to the practical implications of how Muslim scholars and Islamists conceive of WMDs in Islamic law. However, as this information has never previously appeared in the public domain, knowledge of these voices can help contribute a new understanding to the challenges of WMD non-proliferation in the Middle East, one which is necessary as Arab governments push ahead with plans to develop sources of nuclear energy.