LONDON A prominent Islamic scholar is to issue a 600-page religious edict denouncing terrorism in London on Tuesday in what he says is a bid to persuade young Muslims to turn their backs on extremism.
The fatwa from Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, a leading figure who has promoted peace and interfaith dialogue for 30 years, echoes edicts condemning extremism issued by a number of Islamic groups since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
But Qadri says his fatwa, which declares terrorists and suicide bombers to be unbelievers, goes further than any previous denunciation.
"This is the first, most comprehensive fatwa on the subject of terrorism ever written," said Qadri, who has written about 350 books on Islamic scholarship and is a scholar of Sufism, a long tradition within Islam that focuses on peace, tolerance and moderation.
"I have tried to leave not a single stone unturned on this particular subject and I have tried to address every single question relevant to this subject," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Qadri, 59, who was born in Pakistan, is head of the global Minhaj ul-Quran religious and educational organisation which spreads his Sufi ideas.
A former Pakistani minister and associate of assassinated Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, he delivers lectures worldwide promoting his message of harmony and was one of the first Muslim leaders to condemn the Sept. 11 attacks.
Tim Winter, a lecturer in Islamic studies at Cambridge University, said while there had been similar fatwas in the past, Qadri did appear to have gone further than most.
"To declare the miscreants as unbelievers is unusual, because it is not really clear that the rules allow one simply to say that they are not Muslims," he told Reuters.
"Those who are already hardliners will pay no attention at all. But 'swing voters' -- poorly educated and angry Muslims, who respect mainstream scholars, will probably take note.
"Certainly it is a helpful initiative," he said.
Qadri said he felt compelled to issue the edict because of concerns about the radicalisation of British Muslims at university campuses and because there had been a lack of condemnation of extremism by Muslim clerics and scholars.
Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, accused of trying to bomb a U.S.-bound plane on Christmas Day, studied at a London university until 2008. Yemen, where Abdulmutallab began his journey, has said he was radicalised while in Britain.
"The reality is that whatever these terrorists are doing it is not martyrdom. All these activities are taking them to hellfire," Qadri said.
He is confident that the edict will have a significant impact, saying he had drawn on classical teachings and authorities acceptable to all sects of Islam.
"I will say more than 50 percent will change their way, they will be influenced. Of the remaining 50 percent at least some of them, half of them, will become doubtful about their life, their terrorist activity," he said.
While Qadri has followers across the globe, it is in Pakistan, where he has millions of followers, and in the diaspora that his impact would be greatest, Winter said.
Britain has about 1.7 million Muslims, mainly of Pakistani descent, and the security services say that nearly all major terrorism plots since 2001, including the 2005 London bombings which killed 52 people, were linked to Pakistan.
Government officials will be among those joining Qadri for the launch of the fatwa in central London. The Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella organisation representing some 500 Islamic groups, said the fatwa was welcome.
"It is entirely laudable for scholars such as Tahir ul-Qadri to speak out against terrorism," it said in a statement.
Although his pronouncement will be good news for the authorities in Britain and other Western governments seeking to win Muslim support to stamp out extremism, Qadri said their backing is irrelevant to his views.
(Editing by Charles Dick)