The “Mardin: Abode of Peace” conference held at Mardin’s Artuklu University last weekend featured the participation of renowned Muslim scholars from around the world -- including places like Bosnia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Indonesia -- and considered the topic of a fatwa, or legal verdict, given by famous Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyyah. The 14th century legal opinion, known as the “Mardin fatwa,” addresses the question of whether the city of Mardin fell into the classical categorization of either dar al-harb (abode of war) or dar al-Islam (abode of Islam). The answer to this question was of critical importance when it came to the issue of jihad as warfare, including the determination of legitimate versus prohibited targets. The two-day conference culminated with the issuance of a declaration condemning violence in Muslim and non-Muslim societies and declaring that Ibn Taymiyyah’s fatwa could not be interpreted as granting permission to kill Muslims or non-Muslims.
But top Turkish religious leaders were notably absent from the gathering. Members of local Mardin press outlets speaking with Sunday’s Zaman on the sidelines of the conference noted that many locals viewed the conference with suspicion before it even began. “People are worried that the conference sponsors are connected to the British government and that the whole thing is part of some sort of effort to use Muslims’ own religious texts and resources to tie their hands when it comes to issues of jihad as defense. They’re worried that the conclusion of the conference will be that jihad is no longer valid in our day and age -- and that this will rule out resistance even under situations of oppression such as that in Palestine today,” one journalist said, speculating that the absence of some scholars could be due to their unwillingness to be associated with an event that might prove to be locally unpopular.
In fact the conference, organized by UK-based Muslim educational NGOs Canopus Consulting and the Global Centre for Renewal and Guidance (GCRG), was of a markedly academic and almost anti-political nature, focusing not on current conflicts but issues such as the abuse of the Mardin fatwa to “justify” the killing of innocents in general and the excommunication of Muslims. However, some of the pre-conference rumors seem to have stuck, with much Turkish press coverage of the conference erroneously claiming the conference effectively “cancelled jihad” with a new version of Ibn Taymiyyah’s fatwa.
In addition, the absence of prominent Turkish clerics at the weekend summit did not prevent them from weighing in on the proceedings after the fact. On Thursday, Ali Bardakoğlu, president of the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs, dismissed the conference effort as without value, saying, “It’s incredibly meaningless for a group of people to gather after centuries have passed to try and invalidate a religious view given centuries ago.” Similarly, Hayrettin Karaman, a popular Turkish scholar whose Islamic legal advice is often sought by members of the public on a wide variety of issues, titled his Thursday column for the Yeni Şafak daily “Fatwas cannot be abrogated.” In the column, Karaman asserts that no scholar or group of scholars can come together to abrogate a fatwa, that opposition to a fatwa can only be expressed through another fatwa on the same topic that comes to a different conclusion -- leaving Muslims to decide which scholar they trust.
The reality, and consensus
The comments by Bardakoğlu, Karaman and others emphasized that Islam does not condone terrorism and that Islamic legal edicts can be bounded by the age and conditions under which they were issued. At the same time, the reality stands that the Mardin summit resulted in a declaration, not a fatwa -- and the content of that document, like the content of the conference that Bardakoğlu and Karaman did not attend, decries misinterpretation and misapplication of the Mardin fatwa rather than representing an attempt to prove the fatwa invalid. And not all Turkish scholars were absent at the conference, with Dr. Ahmet Özel of the İstanbul-based Islamic Research Center (İSAM) among the speakers.
Meanwhile, the Mardin conference and declaration have continued to attract the attention of the international press, making newspaper and television headlines in Turkey, the US, the UK, Canada, India, China, Indonesia and more. The New Mardin Declaration’s condemnation of “all forms of violent attempts to change or violent protest, within, or outside, Muslim societies” has thus been carried to prominence along with the voices of those disagreeing with the conference’s organization.