Much media attention lately has focused on the difficult negotiations between the Iranian Government and representatives of what is commonly called the ‘P5 + 1’ (which consists of France, Germany, UK, USA, China and Russia). An atmosphere of distrust typically permeates such meetings, although recently this has abated somewhat.
What many people are not aware of, is that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, has issued a fatwa (legal judgment) saying the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons was forbidden under Islam. Indeed, on 22 February 2012, Press TV reported that Ayatollah Khamenei also said the following:
“The Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons. There is no doubt that the decision makers in the countries opposing us know well that Iran is not after nuclear weapons because the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.”
Although there is grounds for scepticism regarding Iran’s stance, the religious impetus to opposing nuclear weapons has some serious history. Those of us who are Christian know that most denominations oppose the use of nuclear armaments based on their indiscriminate and horrific destructive power. That some may justify the possession of nuclear weapons as a deterrent is balanced by the abolitionist stance of the historic peace churches – the Mennonites, Brethren and Quakers. Many of us would concur with Archbishop Renato Martino who once said: “Nuclear weapons cannot be justified and deserve condemnation. The world must move to the abolition of nuclear weapons through a universal, non-discriminatory ban with intensive inspection by universal authority.” Or what about Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said: “Nuclear abolition is the democratic wish of the world’s people, and has been our goal almost since the dawn of the atomic age. Together, we have the power to decide whether the nuclear era ends in a bang or worldwide celebration.”
But what of Islam? Is Ayatollah Khamenei’s fatwa an isolated incident? It would appear not. In an article entitled: ‘The Moral Case Against Nuclear Weapons‘ and published on the Methodists United for Peace with Justice website (http://www.mupwj.org/moral_case_against_nuclear_weapons.htm), Howard W. Hallman explores Islamic attitudes to weapons of mass destruction. Drawing on “An Islamic Perspective on the Nuclear Weapons Danger” as presented in the Muslim-Christian Study and Action Guide on the Nuclear Weapons Danger (pp. 21-27), Hallman presents “six powerful reasons for Muslims to oppose the production, deployment, and use of nuclear weapons.”
- They represent a serious threat to peace, while peace is a central theme of Islam.
- They are brutal and merciless, and thus violate the Qur’anic description of the message of the Prophet Muhammad (p) as “mercy to all the worlds.”
- They are contrary to Islam’s promotion of human fellowship.
- Nuclear weapons do not fall within the scope of legitimate self-defense.
- Nuclear weapons research and production waste a huge amount of resources.
- While the argument for nuclear deterrence is not un-Islamic in principle, and while such deterrence apparently did work during the Cold War, there is no guarantee that it will work in the future. Nor is there any guarantee that nuclear weapons will not fall into the hands of non-actors.
So, perhaps there is much that unites our divergent faiths. Mutual distrust and a lack of insight into the ethical underpinnings of our respective religious worldviews can, and already has, obscured the ‘bigger picture’, leading to firmly entrenched misunderstandings. But there is hope – a hope that we can work together to rid the world of these heinous weapons and to remove the threat of their use forever more.