Legal edicts, or fatwas, represent one of the most important tools for the application of juristic rulings in changing contexts. They are important points of reference for jurists who derive rulings relying on legal precedents, among other sources of law. The categorization of abodes—between Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Kufr, or the Abode of Peace and the Abode of War—is an issue on which the schools of jurisprudence have differed. The views and opinions of scholars are varied; their differences, in most cases, are not a result of differences in the body of texts or applied traditions, rather they relate to the understanding of historical circumstances, political situations and the balance of military power between a Muslim state and its non-Muslim neighbors.
Shaykh al-Islam Taqi al-Din Ahmad b. Abd al-Halim Ibn Taymiyya al-Harani, who died in 1328, may God have mercy on him, issued a well-known fatwa concerning the city of Mardin. During his time and against the backdrop of the fourteenth century, war was not an uncommon occurrence for Ibn Taymiyya, who also witnessed the ensuing turbulence and social disturbance. The overthrow of a regime often brought bloodshed and spread fear among those loyal to the deposed rulers who stood to lose power and prestige. In an attempt to understand the chaos that surrounded them during such periods of instability, the populace often asked questions relating to issues of faith and doctrine.
Against the Mongol conquest of much of the Eastern lands of Islamdom and the vivid memories of death and destruction that resulted from the cities that they razed, Ibn Taymiyya was asked to issue a fatwa on the status of the city of Mardin, which was under Mongol rule. The Mongols had embraced Islam, yet were criticized by some for their lack of faithful adherence to their new-found faith. The Shaykh al-Islam was simply asked: was Mardin an Abode of War or of Peace? Little was he to know that his fourteenth-century response would find itself being cited to justify indiscriminate violence, insurrection and the excommunication of Muslims in the twenty-first century.
Ibn Taymiyya remains an important authority for many Muslims. However, some students of sacred knowledge take his fatwas without considering them within the framework of their historical context, and without examining them alongside other opinions, which would allow them to be seen as relative and not absolute. In reality, Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya’s rich and voluminous output, like that of many scholars, can be read in more than one way, particularly when taken in parts (and not read as a whole). An example is the reading of “Jihad,” a topic that is frequently taken without sound understanding or interpretation, in an excessively literal way.
Contemporary Muslim scholars therefore have a responsibility to review and understand the heritage of well-known scholars of Islam such as Ibn Taymiyya. They must correct and guide us to a sound reading of them. This is especially true in critical contemporary matters that require clarification, such as the importance of a sound fatwa, understanding the overarching scriptural rulings, working both with sound legal maxims and with the spirit of the law, and particularly in understanding jihad, its rulings and approaches in reference to existing international conventions.
This conference was organized by the Global Centre for Renewal and Guidance and Canopus Consulting in partnership with Mardin Artuklu University in order to discuss the rules of issuing fatwas in general and the implications of the Mardin fatwa in particular. The following issues were examined:
1. Understanding the Mardin fatwa in Context: The Era and its Ambiguities
2. The Historical Significance of the Fatwa
3. The Categorization of an Abode from an Historical Viewpoint and in Light of Globalization and Modern Communication
4. Understanding Jihad: The Conditions of Armed Combat and its Rules of Engagement—as defined by Ibn Taymiyya and the UN Charter
5. Concepts of peace and coexistence in Islamic thought