- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2003

AMMAN, Jordan, Jan. 22 (UPI) — Jordanian opposition clerics have issued a fatwa describing as "apostates" journalists of a weekly newspaper that published an article deemed insulting to Prophet Mohammad, a statement said Wednesday.

The powerful Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, said a group of its scholars found journalists of the independent Al Hilal weekly "apostates," warning they will "burn in hell."

Although the decree fell short of calls for blood, the statement said Islamic law "deems those who undermine or insult the prophet, or slander him or his message, as apostates who will burn in hell for eternity."

The fatwa came less than a week after the authorities arrested three Al Hilal journalists and shut the newspaper for a half-page article that discussed the "mythology of sex in Islam" by referring to Prophet Mohammad's relations with his spouses, especially his youngest wife, Aisha.

The article, taken and edited from a book available in bookstores in the country, claimed Aisha's virginity upon her marriage to the prophet had given her an edge in her relationship with Mohammad.

It said the prophet was "less sexual in his first marriage" to Khadija, 20 years his senior, and gained the "sexual vigor of 40 men" when he married the young Aisha, thus giving her political power during his life and after his death.

The IAF clerics said the newspaper was "highly abusive" of Mohammad and his wives and called on the government's religious courts to "rule on such an atrocious crime."

The State Security Court prosecution last week charged the Al Hilal's Chief Editor Nasser Qamash, Managing Editor Roman Haddad, and the writer of the article, Mohannad Mbaideen, with "insulting the family of the prophets."

The prosecution also charged them with "publishing an article disparaging the dignity and reputation of the state, harming the dignity of individuals and shaking the basic principles of society through spreading false rumors" for another article that reported King Abdullah was about to change the "old guard" at the royal court.

The prosecution has so far refused to grant bail to the journalists, who have been in detention since last Thursday.

Independent legal sources said they did not believe the military prosecution would refer the case to the religious courts as demanded by the IAF scholars. But, they added, the clerics could independently file a law suit in the religious courts against the journalists and newspaper to declare them "apostates," thereby forcibly dissolving their marriages, confiscate their property and strip them of their legal rights.

Several such law suits were filed against Jordanian writers in the past 13 years, but the religious courts — under government pressure — either did not rule on the cases or threw them out.

Meanwhile, the IAF statement said the article in Al Hilal's latest issue was "part of a Western crusade and a Zionist attack on the prophet."

Writers and academics in Amman agreed the timing of the article was "in very bad taste."

"Publishing the intimate life of the prophet when the Americans are launching a war against Islam and about to launch another on Iraq is directly playing into the hands of the U.S. objectives," one college professor said.

A Jordanian writer, who describes herself as secular, said the article was "provocative and the wrong time to launch a religious debate in the middle of a war of civilizations where Muslims feel targeted."

She said, "There are more serious things happening around us in Palestine and a war to be launched on Iraq to turn shift public attention to internal bickering."

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