Revisiting Mardin

Naqib Hamid The Muslim world today is witnessing an internal dialectic between moderate and radical thought. Perhaps, it can be stated that both radical and moderate groups are being represented by two intellectual discourses in our history that emerged from the same city, Mardin, and defined what the state of affairs of Muslims viz a viz other civilizations and people could be for times to come. This article seeks to analyze the two ‘declarations’ from the city, one in the Medieval era and one in contemporary times, each attempting to define some central concepts in Islam, including those related to peaceful coexistence or jihad. The city of Mardin, in present day Turkey, was once the host city of the fourteenth century scholar Taqi ad-Din Ahmed ibn Taymiyah (d 1328), living and reacting to the overwhelming situation created after the Mongol invasion of Muslims territories. He is considered to be the most inspirational figure for modern jihadi and extremist thought. The original ‘Mardin Declaration’, issued as a legal edict, or fatwa, by Ibn Taymiyyah has been considered to be a document that justifies the use of violence against non-Muslims or Muslim rulers believed to be living a life of ignorance. Early this year, several scholars from the Muslim world finally decided to review Ibn Taymiyah’s much contested work, something that was long overdue. The conference included ‘scholars and theologians from a diverse range of Islamic schools of thought and countries including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Yemen, India, Senegal, Kuwait, Bosnia, Iran, Morocco, Mauritania and Indonesia’ according to the conference press release, including some of the most renowned authorities on Ibn Taymiyah’s thought and work. One of the most significant aspects of the conference was a critical review of the original Mardin edict and the academic acknowledgement that Ibn Taymiyah’s original document may have been misunderstood by later generations owing to a minute typographical error in later manuscripts that immensely changed the original, pluralistic, message of the document to a radical, exclusivist one. This error turned the author’s actual work into a license for spreading terror and making him the godfather of contemporary terrorists in the process. A manuscript copy of the fatwa present in a Damascus library is considered to contain the correct wording, which speaks of giving non-Muslims living outside the authority of Islamic law their rights (and not to fight with them, as has been widely translated and attributed to the author). The correct version is also present in some books of Ibn Taymiyah’s students. However the first contemporary translation of the fatwa, made in 1909, was made from the text that contained the corrupted text, later serving as inspiration for extremists and terrorists including Osama bin Ladin. The conference was a part of wider efforts in the academic community to recast new light on medieval Islamic jurisprudence that was based on the categories of Dar ul Islam i.e. abode of Islam, Dar ul Kufr i.e. abode of infidels and Dar ul Harb i.e. abode of war and questioning the validity and relevance of these concepts in a modern, multicultural and globalising world where peaceful coexistence and pluralism is the norm. It is essential that we realize that such works of medieval Islamic jurisprudence were the acts of men based on their reflection, interpretation and Ijtihad and are not Divine knowledge in itself as many of us may believe.

The scholars at the Mardin conference 2010 collectively stated that ‘Islam unequivocally forbids indiscriminate killing and murder’ and that ‘actions of terrorist groups are not jihad but arbitrary murder.’ The work and deliberations of the scholars took the shape of a new edict called the ‘New Mardin Declaration’. According to the official press release the scholars had a consensus on the fact ‘that Ibn Taymiyya and the Mardin fatwa in particular cannot be used to justify terrorism.’ Moreover ‘[The] summit made it clear that neither did Ibn Taymiyya take such a position nor does orthodox, mainstream Islam allow for such a position to exist. [The] summit drew together scholars and theologians from different persuasions within Islam, but united they stood: Islam condemns terrorism and indiscriminate murder’. The new proclamation from Mardin was loud and clear; ‘that terrorists are destroying their own faith and disparaging the honour of Islam and Muslims globally through their actions and wrongly in the name of Islam’. But it is indeed quite interesting, as well as alarming, to see that the terrorists issued a detailed response to the new declaration, calling the scholars who were present at the conference as ‘the scholars of desertion’. According to the official response by Al Qaeda, such scholars constitute a ‘contemporary surrender movement’, hence working to promote the interests of the West at a time when the Muslim world is involved in the ‘fiercest crusade in the history of Islam’. Perhaps what Al Qaeda leadership does not realize is that Muslims today do not need to conquer territories but rather, more importantly, conquer hearts, minds and perceptions. And also that the freedom that needs to be won today should not be seen only in terms of liberation of Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq and Afghanistan, among other territories, but also liberation from our own ignorance, injustice, corruption, self-destructive behaviour and decadence. Despite whatever the extremists and terrorists say, the efforts put forward by scholars of the contemporary declaration are indeed commendable. It was expected that it would generate at least some excitement among the large number of Muslims, including those in our own society suffering from suicide bombings, targeted killings and destruction, who consider themselves to be moderate and peaceful; at last somebody spoke on their behalf! However, the saddest part about the contemporary Mardin Declaration is that it went, almost, unnoticed. In the current state of affairs, where our moderate majority is silent and new threats like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) are rising, perhaps no one will pay attention to Ibn Taymiyah in the light of the new Mardin Declaration and the old, infamous, declaration will rule. Perhaps it can be stated that the most critical issue the Muslim world faces today is its sense of direction for the future. Is, as Muslims today, our intellectual epicenter (or destination) the old Mardin or the new one? The choice we make today may well decide what ‘Islam’ means for our next generations and the rest of the world for times to come. ---Naqib Hamid teaches sociology at the University College Lahore (UCL). He can be reached at

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