- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 24, 2005

Jordan’s King Abdullah is on a campaign, one could say a “jihad of sorts,” to reaffirm Islam’s traditional principles. Jihad, remember, means “struggle” as well as “holy war.”

Among the endeavors of the Hashemite king, whose family claims direct descent from the Prophet Muhammad, is a brave initiative to clarify who in Islam has authority to issue fatwas, or religious edicts. Fatwas, in principle, are the domain of religious leaders, or imams. However, lately a number of fatwas have been decreed — wrongly so — by people such as Abu Musab Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden, who have no religious authority or training.

In recent months, Abdullah has worked hard to promote a gentler image of Islam and to distance mainstream Muslims from those responsible for horrendous acts of terror perpetrated in the name of Islam. The king has organized meetings with Muslim religious leaders from more than 45 countries to get them to condemn militant Islamists and to speak out against terrorist acts by Islamist groups.

In so doing, the king hopes to change the negative image that has befallen Muslims in much of the West, particularly since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

With that in mind, last July he convened in Amman the first International Islamic conference with the aim “to lead Muslims into unity and spread Islam’s true teachings in an attempt to repair the damage done to the religion’s image amid growing violence done in the name of Islam,” said the king, in his opening statement. All eight traditional schools of Islamic thought were represented in Amman.

Abdullah said Muslims’ primary duties include showing the “true essence of Islam — the religion of moderation, forgiveness, mercy and rational, scientific dialogue. Islam is not the religion of violence and terrorism, or prejudice and isolation.”

Currently visiting the United States, Abdullah met with American Muslims and Jewish community leaders, and gave an address at the Catholic University of America in Washington, where he warned this is a “critical time in human history.”

Abdullah stressed “the West and Islam are not at war,” rather, he pointed out, “there are those who think otherwise — who believe that there is, or will be, a ‘clash of civilizations.’ ” Worse still, said the king, “there are those who want conflict to occur, and are actively working to that end.”

Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s No. 2, thought to be the real brains behind bin Laden’s organization, is one of those. In a videotape aired on the Qatari satellite channel Al Jazeera, on Sept. 19, in which he praised the July 7 London bombers, al Zawahiri said: “Reform can only take place through Jihad for the sake of Allah, and any call for reform that is not through Jihad is doomed to death and failure. We must understand the nature of the battle and conflict. Our enemies will not grant us our rights without Jihad.”

Abdullah’s struggle, or jihad, could not be further from the kind of jihad al Zawahiri has in mind. In fact, the Jordanian monarch is aiming for “ijtihad,” rather than jihad.

The difference? Jihad means struggle or holy war; ijtihad means hermeneutics — the art or science of interpreting religious text. The first wants to change or impose its views through violence; the second looks to bring about change through dialogue.

“Ijtihad leans more toward reaffirmation rather than reformation,” Joseph Lumbard, a special adviser to Abdullah for interfaith affairs, told United Press International.

Abdullah wants religious authorities in Islam to unite against those who issue unauthorized fatwas, such as bin Laden and al Zawahiri.

“For all our sakes, for our common future, we must turn the world’s footsteps away from such a path. We need dialogue; a dialogue of deeds, as well as words,” said the Hashemite king.

The radicalism in Islam now is not exclusive to that religion. “History shows that at one time or another, all religions have faced extremists who abuse the power of faith,” said Abdullah. “Moral leadership cannot be hijacked. Today, traditional, moderate, orthodox Muslims are reclaiming our Islam — Islam, as it has been taught and practiced for over a thousand years: a religion of tolerance, wisdom and charity.”

To this end, in November 2004, the king launched what has come to be known as the “Amman Message.” It carefully articulates Islam’s essential social values: compassion; respect for others; tolerance and acceptance, and freedom of religion.

The Amman Message speaks of “moderation, and respect for others.” This, said the king, “is not one for Muslims alone.” The challenge of fanaticism and terrorism concerns all humanity. “That means more than just ‘tolerating’ each other; it means real acceptance, based on human equality and fellowship.”

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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