Iran’s nuclear case: Does Islam Forbid the Nuclear Bomb?
By: Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD International Law
Officials from the Islamic Republic of Iran have claimed on several occasions that Islam forbids the nuclear bomb. The claim is meant to allay international fears and the concern of the IAEA over proliferation and the potential for Iran’s military use of its nuclear program. The claim is quite baseless and little more than an attempt at deception.
For starters, it is based on the religious ruling (fatwa) of Seyyed Ali Khamenei, the present supreme leader of Iran. Even to Khamenei’s followers, this has limited value. Let us not forget that Khamenei lacks serious credentials as a religious scholar and, for that reason, has extended the scope of his religious authority to Shiite communities outside Iran’s borders, where his background is less well known. Within Iran itself, very few Shiites accept him as an authority or a source of imitation (taqlid). The concept and practice of “imitation” is peculiar to Shiites. Sunnis, who constitute 90 percent of the world’s Muslims, do not believe in or practice it. Therefore, when Iranian officials claim that “Islam” forbids the nuclear bomb, the only Muslims bound by such a position would be those Shiites who follow the Iranian supreme leader as their source of imitation—in effect, a small percentage of a small percentage. The death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 made it possible for Khamenei, a junior cleric with no scholarship to his name, to rise to the position of supreme leader. This political decision created conflict on the issue of the sources of imitation, and Iran’s mullahs finally concluded they had to separate the religious notion of imitation from the political office of the supreme leader. The constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran was correspondingly altered to eliminate religious qualifications from the position of the supreme leader. The Association of Instructors at the Qom Seminary has identified those it considers qualified to be sources of imitation in Iran. Chief among them is Mohammad Fazel Lankarani (now, deceased); third in line is Khamenei.
Inasmuch as any fatwa must have a basis in Islamic jurisprudence, it is not clear what forms the basis for the claim that “Islam forbids nuclear weapons.” If it is the extent of “mass destruction,” then one is entitled to ask, “How much destruction qualifies?” Large numbers of people were killed on the battlefield during the Iran-Iraq war, especially owing to Iran’s “human wave” strategy whereby Iranian soldiers, many of them children and teenagers, ran en masse over minefields. In no single case did Ayatollah Khomeini, who wielded more power and authority than any Iranian leader in recent memory, issue a fatwa condemning these levels of destruction and loss of life as contrary to Islam.
Evidence suggests that Iran’s nuclear program had started sometime during the Iraq-Iran war. The Iraqis had been actively pursuing nuclear power, especially before the destruction of the Osirak nuclear facility by the Israelis. Khomeini never condemned the Iraqi project as “un-Islamic,” nor did he stand in the way as Iran pursued a nuclear program with potential for military application. Had either side won the nuclear race, there is little doubt it would have used it against the other with no hesitation; Iran would have justified such action as a “victory for Islam.”
Let us also consider religio-legal rulings in Islam on the issue of the accidental or even deliberate killing of non-combatants. As confirmed by many sources of jurisprudence, Islam condones the killing of civilians or those caught in the middle of military action, even Muslims, if such action is necessary for the victory of the forces of Islam; collateral damage is recognized as a necessary evil.
Shiite Islam provides further for political flexibility. The practice of taqiyyah, or dissimulation, gives the Shiite believer religious sanction to deny his faith if he is under duress and his life, property or honor are threatened by virtue of his religious belief. This opens the way for the telling of an expedient lie when circumstances demand it. Shiism also affirms that the “door to issuance of [new] fatwas is open.” This grants the source of imitation the freedom to say one thing today and change his view tomorrow, and it is rationalized by the belief that Iran’s supreme leader is the nominal deputy of the Hidden Imam, thereby giving him a connection to divine authority. Iran’s two supreme leaders (Khomeini and Khamenei) have said a number of things that have proven to be wrong, but no one can question them or hold them responsible, though they were and are the commander-in-chief, be it of the regular forces with their military structure or the street thugs that are more loosely organized into vigilante units.
The claim that “Islam” forbids the nuclear bomb to the Muslims is a deception and a fabrication. The banner of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards bears the following advice to the believers from the Koran (8:60): “And make ready for them whatever force you can.”
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