The new Mardin declaration
FRIDAY marked the fourth anniversary of the adoption of the New Mardin Declaration by globally renowned Muslim theologians and academics from across the world including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, India, Senegal, Kuwait, Yemen, Bosnia, Mauritania, Iran, Morocco and Indonesia. They convened at the picturesque south-eastern Turkish city of Mardin on March 27-28, 2010 and accomplished more in a few hours than what that grotesquely inept outfit known as the Organisation of the Islamic Conference has been able to achieve in the four decades of its futile existence.
The meeting, which was jointly organised by the Artuklu University and the Global Centre for Renewal and Guidance, was chaired by the famed scholar and former vice president of Mauritania, Sheikh Abdullah bin Mahfudh ibn Bayyih. In the two days that the conference lasted, it critically examined and then exposed the deliberate textual distortions of the Mardin fatwa of Taqi ad-Din Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328). It is from the corrupted version of this decree that Al-Qaeda and its affiliated networks have derived their ideology which justifies mass murder and destruction in the name of Islam.
Though the fatwa was issued more than 700 years ago, its relevance to the terrorism-plagued contemporary world is undiminished. This was recognised by the Mardin scholars who accordingly decided "to take the fatwa from the specific geographical focus for which it was intended to a broader global focus and from the contingencies of Ibn Taymiyyah's time to a timeless understanding."
Ibn Taymiyyah was born in Haran, an obscure little town in the Mardin region, and was only seven at the time of the Mongol invasion of the area. His family, which consisted of some of the most well-known theologians of the times, was forced to flee to Damascus which was then ruled by the Mamluks of Egypt. But the damage insofar as Ibn Taymiyyah was concerned had already been done. At that tender age he had witnessed the atrocities perpetrated by the Mongols and was traumatised. Hideous memories of Mardin haunted him for the rest of his life.
In Damascus he was taught Islamic jurisprudence by his father and steeped himself in the teachings of the Hanbali school of thought. Although Ibn Taymiyyah was soon acknowledged as the foremost religious authority of his times, he also became controversial. As early as 1293, he came into conflict with the local authorities for protesting the sentencing of a Christian on charges of blasphemy. Five years later he was accused of anthropomorphism (ascribing human characteristics to God) as well as for contemptuously criticising the legitimacy of dogmatic theology.
Around that time Ibn Taymiyyah accompanied a delegation of the ulema to Mahmud Ghazan, the ruler of Mongol Empire's Ilkhanate branch in Iran in order to persuade him to stop attacking Muslims. But suddenly ghastly scenes and images from his early childhood in Mardin came back to Ibn Taymiyyah, and, unable to restrain himself, he told the ruler bluntly: "You claim that you are a Muslim and you have with you muftis, imams and sheikhs but you have invaded us and reached our country for what? While your father and your grandfather, Hulagu, were nonbelievers, they did not attack and kept their promise. But you promised and broke your promise."
This impassioned outburst brought Ibn Taymiyyah to the adverse notice of the authorities. He was subsequently jailed on several occasions for contradicting the opinions of the jurists and theologians of his day. On the orders of the Mamluk rulers of Cairo he was imprisoned in Damascus from August 1319 to February 1321 for propounding a doctrine that curtailed the ease with which a Muslim male could divorce his wife. He was incarcerated again in 1326 until his death two years later for issuing edicts that conflicted with the thinking of those in authority.
But his fame had spread far and wide and his bier was followed by 20,000 mourners, many of them women who considered him a saint. It is ironic that Ibn Taymiyyah's grave became a place of pilgrimage even though he was an exponent of the fundamentalist strand of Islam and is considered one of the principal forerunners of the Wahhabis.
It is against this background that the scholars at the Mardin conference moved on to a textual examination of Ibn Taymiyyah's actual decree. He was pointedly asked whether his beloved land, Mardin, was an abode of war (dar al-kufr) or the home of peace (dar al-Islam). His answer was that an unprecedented composite situation had emerged. Mardin was neither an abode of peace where the Shariah prevailed nor was it a land of war because the inhabitants of the region were believers. Therefore, he decreed that "the Muslims living therein should be treated in accordance to their rights as Muslims, while the nonMuslims living there outside the authority of Islamic law should be treated according to their rights."