Iranian Religious Scholar on Khomeini’s Fatwa — Not justified or condoned by Islam

Letter in ‘New York Times’

The Light & Islamic Review (US), March/April 1994 Issue (Vol. 71, No. 2, p. 16)

Note by the Editor: The letter reproduced below appeared in ‘The New York Times’ a year ago on 9 March 1993. It shows that some Muslim religious scholars are prepared to denounce the abuse of Islam by Muslim rulers for political ends.

To the Editor:

In “Will Mullahs Rescind Rushdie Death Edict?” (letter, Feb. 19 [1993]), Sepehr Zabih grants legitimacy to the tyrants ruling Iran, who distort and abuse Islam to justify wholesale crimes against humanity. His letter is an example of the myth-making in which “experts” on Islam indulge.

I graduated from the same seminaries in Qom, Iran and Najaf, Iraq, attended by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. There is absolutely no justification in Islamic jurisprudence for Khomeini’s 1989 edict authorizing the murder of Salman Rushdie. The decree was simply another of Khomeini’s Machiavellian ploys to divert attention from growing crises at home.

The decree is not a fatwa, because a fatwa does not condemn a specific person, but is a general statement of opinion on a particular matter. As far as Islam is concerned, any punishment must be authorized by the courts and only after due process.

Mr. Zabih’s formula on how to rescind the order — a consensus among “remaining grand ayatollahs” — is inherently specious, because (1) only the courts can issue or rescind verdicts, and (2) one does not rescind a decree that was illegitimate in the first place. That said, whoever gave any ayatollah the right to issue a death sentence and rescind it at will?

Regrettably, such sophism lends respectability to criminal, terrorist behavior by the mullahs [clerics]. The rulers of Iran are not guided by Islamic precepts; they cloak their criminal tyrannical whims under a veil of Islamic jurisprudence. That is how they have legitimized execution of 100,000 dissidents, including pregnant women, in their 14-year bloody rule.

Mr. Zabih is correct in saying that other Muslim clergymen should have denounced Khomeini’s call to murder. As a Muslim, and member of the 150-member [it’s now 235-member] National Council of Resistance, striving for democracy since 1981, the writer did so and continues to do so. Islam does not justify or condone arbitrary death sentences — especially in reprisal for expressing unpopular ideas. Practices such as this belong to the dark ages.

Ayatollah Jalal Ganjei
Paris, March 2, 1993.