Wishful Thinking about Khamenei’s Anti-Nuke Fatwa

by Ryan Mauro

Opponents of a tough policy towards Iran are fond of mentioning Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s multiple fatwas against the possession of nuclear weapons. It is argued that Khamenei would not lie in an official religious ruling and wreck his credibility as an Islamic leader. As logical as that viewpoint sounds, it is wishful thinking.

It is true that Khamenei has declared the possession and use of nukes to be forbidden by Islam on multiple occasions. In 2009, he said that the ban is “because of our ideology.” In 2010, he said it is because “our religious beliefs and

principles prohibit such weapons as they are the symbol of destruction of generations.” Most recently in February, he said Iran would “never pursue nuclear weapons” because it is a “grave sin.”

This sounds unequivocal and everlasting but these declarations come with caveats and are subject to change based on circumstances.

One of the reasons Khamenei said his regime is not interested in nukes is because his country can face down its enemies without them. It isn’t hard to envision Khamenei one day declaring that the possession of nuclear weapons is no longer a “grave sin” because they are needed in order to defend the country and religion. Whereas before the weapons were a “symbol of destruction of generations,” Iran’s possession of them would symbolize the saving of generations, he could argue.

After all, Khamenei’s regime has worked on technology with no possible civilian application, such as nuclear “triggers” and warheads. The IAEA report from November even disclosed that Iran has made preparations for an underground nuclear test. If Khamenei’s fatwa was unconditional, his regime would not be working on nuclear weapons capabilities in any way.

The language of other Iranian officials indicates the fatwa is not as clear-cut as it seems. On January 27, 1992, a top advisor to President Rafsanjani explained, “We should like to acquire the technical know-how and the industrial facilities required to manufacture nuclear weapons, just in case we need them. This does not mean that we currently want to build them…”

In 2009, President Ahmadinejad said essentially the same thing. He was asked whether Iran would never build nuclear weapons under any circumstances. He replied, “We don’t need nuclear weapons. Without such weapons we are able to defend ourselves.” Reporter Ann Curry followed-up by noting that he did not explicitly rule out the possibility. “You can take from this whatever you want, madam,” he answered.

But, you might ask, isn’t this deceitful language still a sin under Khamenei’s beliefs?

There are two Islamic doctrines used to justify such deceit: Taqiyya and Tawriya. Taqiyya originated in Shiite Islam, the branch to which Khamenei belongs. It was developed to allow Shiites to deny their faith in order to avoid persecution by Sunni Muslims. Raymond Ibrahim explains that the second doctrine allows Muslims to play tricks with semantics, going so far as to swear to Allah.

The Salafist Sheikh Muhammad Salih al-Munajid says Tawriya is “permissible if it is necessary or serves a Sharia interest.” One example he gives is of a man swearing to Allah that he can only sleep under a roof. When he is seen sleeping on top of a roof, he says, “By roof, I meant the open sky.” Though Sheikh al-Munajid is a Salafist and Khamenei is a Shiite, such deceit can be justified in the same way.

Islam Web, which issues fatwas in responses to difficult questions from Muslims, likewise gives an example of a daughter being ordered by her father to answer the phone by saying he isn’t present. The website says the daughter should simply mean that her father isn’t in the same room.

Khamenei’s apparent violation of his own fatwa would probably not result in a worrisome backlash. The Islamists whose support he needs would still back him. After all, he’s blatantly lied about many things already. In fact, some of them already support Iran becoming nuclear-armed.

The powerful Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi wrote in 2005 that the “most advanced weapons must be produced inside our country even if enemies don’t like it. There is no reason they have the right to produce special types of weapons, while other countries are deprived of it.” Another cleric in the holy city of Qom who is a follower of Mesbah-Yazdi issued a fatwa in 2006 that it is “only natural” for Iran to build nukes and “for the first time…the use of nuclear weapons may not constitute a problem, according to Sharia.” A top advisor to the Defense Minister also says Iran must prepare a “nuclear strategy” in case of an “unconventional” attack.

In 2008, then-Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohammed Mahdi Akef said that Iran is “entitled to have a nuclear bomb.” Top Muslim Brotherhood cleric Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, no friend of the Shiites, said that all Muslims are obligated to wage jihad to defend Iran if it is attacked by Islam’s enemies.

Yes, Khamenei has ruled that it is impermissible for nuclear weapons to be built today. Tomorrow is another story.

Ryan Mauro is a fellow with the Clarion Fund. He is the founder of WorldThreats.com and a frequent national security analyst for Fox News Channel.

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