CAIRO (Reuters) – Many Arab Muslims on Thursday dismissed the religious justification for killing innocents given by al Qaeda’s leader in Iraq, saying it was not the Islam they knew and any resistance had rules to protect civilians.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi defended the killing of innocent Muslims in suicide bombings against U.S. forces in a message on a Web site. He said Muslim scholars permitted such conduct for the sake of jihad, or holy war.
"This is a deviant notion and Zarqawi, with all due respect, is not an expert on Islamic jurisprudence. His views are illegitimate," said Saudi Islamic researcher Youssef al-Dayni.
"These people killed in Iraq are innocent and his description of them as martyrs is of no benefit. He is only trying to find justifications for his terrorism," said Bahraini Shi’ite Muslim cleric Sheikh Ali Salman.
More than 400 people have been killed in an escalation of violence and suicide attacks since a new Iraqi government was named late last month. Zarqawi’s group has claimed responsibility for most of those attacks.
"Protecting religion is more important than protecting (Muslim) lives, honor or wealth," said the man who sounded like Zarqawi. "The shedding of Muslim blood … is allowed in order to avoid the greater evil of disrupting jihad."
Zarqawi’s message, which could not be independently verified, appeared aimed at winning Sunni Muslim support for the insurgency. Sunnis lost influence to Iraq’s majority Shi’ites after the U.S. war toppled Saddam Hussein.
"It’s his opinion not ours. How can he kill a Muslim and say his is protecting Islam? It’s a sectarian fight or a civil war in Iraq. It is not jihad," said 40-year-old Khaled Mohsen, waiting at a barber shop in downtown Cairo.
But Sheikh Hamza Mansour, head of Jordan’s opposition Islamic Action Front, said Zarqawi should not be singled out for killing innocents when U.S. and British forces did the same.
"Before the West asks about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi they should ask about (U.S. Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld, (British Prime Minister Tony) Blair and the other big criminals," he said. "The main thing is that no innocent should be killed."
RULES OF RESISTANCE
Most Arabs were outraged by the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and many say Iraqis have a right to resist U.S. occupation. But they have also been horrified by suicide bombings, claimed by Zarqawi and others, that caused hundreds of Iraqi civilian casualties.
"Now in Iraq we see car bombs and the military operations are killing civilians and only kill a small percentage of occupiers. We reject and condemn all operations that kill civilians," Lebanon’s top Shi’ite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, told Reuters.
"I think this mentality, like this man and others, will not give Iraq peace. It is natural to say that the presence of occupation is encouraging this atmosphere," he said.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said, in general, resistance was a right, including suicide attacks when facing superior forces, but guidelines had to be observed to protect innocent lives.
"We are for resistance, but with Islamic rules … Honourable resistance to free nations needs to be precise, so that it does not fall into unintentional mistakes," said senior Brotherhood official Mohamed Mursi.
Egyptian professor of Sharia law Ahmed Hamad Ahmed said: "An unintentional mistake (of killing innocents) in an attack on occupying forces is not problematic." But when the attacker knew civilians would be killed it went against Islamic law, he said.
"Any country that is occupied will have a resistance movement," said Alaa Youssef, 67, a Baghdad soft drinks seller. "But you have to have an honorable resistance instead of one that kills and beheads innocent Iraqi civilians." (With additional reporting by Mohamed Abdellah in Cairo, Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Heba Kandil in Dubai, Isa Mubarak in Manama, Mussab Khairallah in Baghdad, Haitham Haddadin in Kuwait, Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman).