Do Fatwas Against ISIS Matter?

A few months ago, 70,000 Muslim clerics issued a fatwa against ISIS. All very well and good, great to see, important to notice, etc.

But whenever violence is justified by appeal to religion (regardless of which religion it is, see Baruch Goldstein), adherents of that religion have to take proactive steps to ensure that beliefs leading to violence are being rooted out. So here is one that I would be interested in discussing with these 70,000 imams:

How do you interpret Qu’ran 4:34?

That verse describes relations between husbands and wives, and in some interpretations allows husbands to beat their wives. Other interpretations suggest that men are superior to women. And yet other interpretations reject all violence or any suggestion of gender inequality. What do these imams think about that?

Now, one might wonder what that has to do with anything: this fatwa concerned ISIS and Al-Qaeda, not gender. But I believe that the two are linked. In male-dominated traditional societies, women can stand in for the ultimate Other, that which must be controlled and dominated. Hyper-masculinism means great propensity to violence, or as a professor of mine once put it, “when it comes to violent crime, women are just not doing their fair share.” The one thing that virtually all terrorists have in common is not their religion, or their culture, or their class background, but rather their sex.

Put another way, Islamic terror will not cease until women in the Umma are empowered and equal. And this applies to all terror. It may not be a sufficient condition — Communist China early on adopted formal norms of gender equality and Maoist rule might have been the most brutal of the 20th century, which is saying a lot — but it is a necessary one. For my own faith, it is surely no accident that the religious settlers who have committed the worst terror against Palestinians are also the ones who hold the most retrograde views on gender.

So while it is great that we hear condemnations of terrorism from imams, my follow up question is: how are you personally, in your practice and in your work, fighting for gender equality with Islam? What do you tell your followers about Qu’ran 4:34? Because if that answer is a shrug of the shoulders, or an uncomprehending stare, it isn’t good enough.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

5 thoughts on “Do Fatwas Against ISIS Matter?”

  1. I'll propose a counter-example within Christianity.

    The traditional Anabaptists – Amish, Mennonite, and Hutterite – are as conservative on gender roles as any Christian group. (And are also traditionalists on child-rearing, including spanking.) They also have a centuries-old theology and tradition of non-violence, and I am unaware of any promotion-of-tradition through violence–in centuries of being mostly a badly treated minority.

    1. It's better to think of it this way: gender oppression and subordination is a risk factor for cultures that glorify violence. It isn't necessarily one-to-one, but such things are NEVER one-to-one. We know that kids who suffer physical and sexual abuse are more likely to commit crimes, but there are loads that don't.

  2. "But whenever violence is justified by appeal to religion (regardless of which religion it is, see Baruch Goldstein), adherents of that religion have to take proactive steps to ensure that beliefs leading to violence are being rooted out."

    This seems to be suggesting that you are taking a fatwa as a call to violence or as necessarily allowing for violence. Is that what you meant to suggest? My understanding is that they signed onto an understanding/interpretation of religious doctrine.

    I am also puzzled by the terms "adherents," "that religion," "proactive steps" and "beliefs leading to violence" as well, I guess, as "rooted out." (It is evidently not my day for semantic aptitude.) The sentence seems to be suggesting that adherents of X religion are responsible for eliminating (from the entire religion?) beliefs that some other sect of X religion takes as justification for violence. That would suggest, to take Sam Chevre's excellent example, that the Amish have an obligation to rid themselves of their belief in separation as God's people because Christian Identity groups use the same concept to justify violence. Or perhaps, to use yours, that Conservative Jewish women should stop using the mikvah because the belief that women are ritually impure at certain times can inspire certain people to engage in violent behavior when a woman walks in or near a Haredi neighborhood wearing certain types of clothing.

    1. Ha. I'll bite. If there were a bunch of wiggy Catholics running around doing the same things -making war, raping children, also raping anyone, and blowing people up, based on some Catholic doctrine or other, including misinterpretation of same … yes I *would* feel like it was my duty to do *something* to stop them.

      I do agree, when it's your religion, you are on the hook to do something about your flavor of fundamentalists. So I think the answer to the question is, yes. It matters. (To the extent I understand what a fatwa is… doesn't it just mean, in this context, that these imams don't approve of what these other ISIS imams are doing? They are not getting on planes to go fight them, right?)

      Not that I would disapprove if they did that. I'm not a pacifist. However, war doesn't have to be the *first* action taken.

  3. Since they have said that neither terror nor ISIS is Islamic, I think they have pretty well covered it. How some Jew's ideas on gender equality, which is far from established in Judaism, are relevant eludes me.

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