Prompted by the terrorist bombings in London that killed dozens last month, a group of Bay Area Muslim leaders Tuesday read aloud a fatwa, or religious ruling, at a San Jose mosque calling the attackers ``criminals'' who violate the letter and spirit of Islam.
As terrorism around the globe continues to harm innocent civilians, many U.S. Muslim groups are stepping up efforts to condemn these acts and address criticism that they haven't acted or spoken forcefully to denounce religious extremism.
Members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Santa Clara joined about 120 self-described moderate-minded Muslim organizations nationwide, which began making public and emphatic proclamations late last week, denouncing terrorism.
In endorsing this fatwa, CAIR and other groups turn the tables on Islamic extremists who have used religious decrees as a way of rallying followers to action. Terrorist leader Osama bin Laden issued one to his troops to kill Americans.
While individual Muslim groups publicly condemned the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the London subway bombings inspired Tuesday's unprecedented joint endorsement of a religious edict -- something that Muslim leaders hope will resonate more deeply with their own community.
``The message of the fatwa is not new,'' said Dr. Mohamad Rajabally, president of Fremont's Islamic Society of the East Bay and the western representative of the Chicago-based Islamic Society of North America, which helped organize the national news conferences.
``But some of the terrorists in England were British-born and this represents a new dimension,'' he said. ``We have a duty to be proactive and de-program our young people if they've been programmed for terror. There is a new sense of urgency now.''
The essence of the fatwa reads: ``Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives. Targeting civilians' life and property through suicide bombings or any other method of attack is haram, or forbidden.''
The fatwa was issued last week by the Fiqh Council of North America, an Islamic association of scholars. Unlike Catholicism, Islam has no central hierarchy, such as the Vatican, to issue edicts. Instead, Muslims typically align themselves with various respected religious leaders, who issue rulings. As with any religion, it is up to the individual to choose whether to adhere to those rulings.
Tuesday's news conference held at the South Bay Islamic Association was attended by several politicians, including San Jose council members Chuck Reed, Dave Cortese and representatives from the offices of Mayor Ron Gonzales, Assemblywoman Rebecca Cohn, U.S. Rep. Mike Honda and the British consulate.
``Non-violence requires action,'' Cortese said. ``And this action today is commendable.''
In the last four years, CAIR members have tried to improve the public image of Islam, insisting that most Muslims are peace-loving people who value human life. Last month CAIR gave away thousands of free Korans, and last year it began airing public service announcements called ``Not in the name of Islam,'' 30-second broadcasts denouncing terrorism.
Contact Lisa Fernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org or (510) 790-7313.