Many Muslim clerics, while condemning the terrorist attacks against civilians in Washington and New York, have defended suicide bombings being staged by Palestinians fighting the Israeli occupation.
At a press conference on Monday, Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, denounced the attacks on the US, describing them as "acts of terror directed against innocent people."
Tantawi argued that a clear distinction should be made between suicide attacks carried out by Palestinians against the Israeli occupation and those of 11 September in the US.
"There is a very big difference between terrorists and those who defend their land," Tantawi said. "We are in solidarity with the Palestinian people because they are right. As for terrorism, we denounce and combat it because it is a flagrant act of injustice against the human race."
Tantawi added that the Americans have the right to strike back "but first they must be sure they know who was behind the attacks in New York and Washington.
"What happened in the US is an aggression on innocent children, men and women. It was a mean and hideous act. It is the right of any country, Muslim or non-Muslim, to defend itself against such aggression."
Tantawi affirmed that countries found to be harbouring terrorists should be "punished and held in contempt."
Abdel-Mo'tei Bayyoumi of Al- Azhar's Islamic Research Academy was quoted as saying that for jihad to be legal it must meet several conditions. Among them: a Muslim should not provoke aggression; should only fight those who fight him; children, women and the elderly should be spared. "There is no terrorism or a threat to civilians in jihad,"" he said.
Bayyoumi noted the attacks in the US are considered by Islam as being "unjustified terrorist acts." But he added that attacks carried out by Palestinians against Israelis are acceptable because Palestinians do not possess the sophisticated weapons that Israel has. Were it a fair fight, he added, "you would not have found anyone ready to carry out suicide bombings."
But other scholars strongly oppose suicide bombings, even those carried out by Palestinians. Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia Sheikh Abdel-Aziz Al-Sheikh was quoted as saying that suicide operations are "strictly forbidden in Islam" and that "one who blows himself up in the midst of enemies is performing an act contrary to Islamic teachings."
He also said that those who stage suicide attacks should be denied Islamic burial rites.
Another controversy is whether it is permissible for Muslims to cooperate with non-Muslims in launching attacks against a Muslim state. The controversy came following US statements that Saudi exile Osama Bin Laden, who lives in Afghanistan, is a prime suspect behind the New York and Washington bombings. Washington has requested the cooperation of nations around the world in having him captured -- as US President George W Bush said -- "dead or alive."
The US has said many Arab and Islamic states should make their position clear in case military action is taken against the Taliban -- which controls 95 per cent of Afghanistan -- should it refuse to hand over Bin Laden.
But Egypt's outlawed Muslim Brotherhood said in a statement that it deplores any US "aggression" against innocent Arabs and Muslims. "The Muslim Brotherhood, which condemns terrorism in all its forms, also condemns any aggression against Islam and Muslims, and any statements or steps against innocent Arabs and Muslims," the group said in a statement.
While condemning the attacks in the US, Sheikh Youssef El- Qaradawi, a prominent Islamic scholar, affirmed that Islam forbids its followers from fighting fellow Muslims.
In an interview with Al-Jazeera, the Qatari-based satellite television station, El-Qaradawi stressed that Muslims and Arabs should not act as "tools in the hands of the Americans." He said US "misgivings should not be a basis upon which we [Muslims] decide to engage in war against other innocent Muslims." If it is proven that Bin Laden is involved in the US attacks -- something which El-Qaradawi doubts -- "he should be handed over to a Muslim country where he can face a fair trial."
Sharing a similar view, a committee of Islamic scholars affiliated to Jordan's Islamic Labour Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, issued a fatwa, or Islamic ruling, forbidding cooperation with the US in any attack on an Islamic country.