A common complaint heard from non-Muslims in the wake of jihadi violence is: where is the sense of responsibility? In response, people point to strong condemnations of violence – both in general and in terms of specific actions – made by Muslim leaders. And such condemnations are never very hard to find.
But that’s somehow unsatisfying – particularly given that often the form of condemnation is to say that such or such act was contrary to Islam. I suspect that sometimes reads to non-Muslims as an abdication of collective responsibility: yes, we condemn this act, but by calling it un-Islamic we’re saying that we, good Muslims, are not really responsible for it – in fact, we’re suggesting that the person who did it wasn’t “really” a Muslim. (The fact that Christians and Jews play analogous games – saying Trotsky wasn’t “really” a Jew because he attacked Jewish religion, or even that the Crusades weren’t “really” evidence that Christianity promotes violence because Jesus preached turning the other cheek rather than holy war – doesn’t seem to register with the critics.)
What I sometimes feel non-Muslims are looking for is a statement like this: yes, this was violence done – wrongly – in the name of Islam. I (the Muslim condemning violence) vehemently assert that such violence is contrary to Islam, and that the perpetrator is a criminal according to Islamic law, but I recognize that the perpetrator thought he was submitting to the will of God when he committed his crimes. And for that reason I am ashamed of him and angry at him, not only for the crimes he committed, but for besmirching the name of God as well in committing them.
It seems to me, though, that if such a statement can be made, then there should be things one can say prior to any atrocity that would lay down important religious markers.
For example, I was thinking about the pornographic violence that abounds on the jihadi internet. Is it permissible, as a good Muslim, to consume such images? Have respected Islamic authorities ever said that it is haraam to view (or to read) this kind of material, on the grounds that it may lead one into sin (murder being a pretty grievous sin)? I’m an outsider, so I don’t know what the requirements would be to making such a ruling, but it doesn’t strike me on its face as a silly idea. It would be analogous to other prohibitions designed to prevent, for example, adultery.
I also don’t know whether that kind of ruling would be particularly efficacious in preventing violence. I doubt it would, in fact, since you can always shop around for an Imam who will help you get into whatever trouble you want to get into. It’s not hard to find rabbis – including Orthodox rabbis – who condemn settler violence, for example, or who condemn the settlement enterprise itself, but those aren’t authorities that the settlers respect; they have their own rabbis. But from an inter-communal perspective, it seems to me those kinds of statements would be very valuable, and if they are being made then publicizing them better would also be very valuable.
In any event, I’m very curious to hear from knowledgable readers whether Sunni authorities have ever ruled against consuming material likely to lead one to commit murder, if so in what context, and if not what the jurisprudential obstacles would be to issuing a ruling of that sort.