Muhammad Haniff Hassan & Mohamed Redzuan Salleh, RSIS Commentaries (116/2008), 5 November 2008.
The Bali bombers will be executed anytime soon. Pre-executions statements are out condemning the death sentence imposed on them. Do these statements carry Islamic weight?
A statement, now circulating on the internet, is claimed to be issued by the Bali Bombers Abdul Aziz a.k.a Imam Samudra, the operational leader of the first Bali bombing, Ali Gufron a.k.a Mukhlas and Amrozi, who are awaiting execution. All three were convicted for the bombing of Bali nightspots in October 2002 which killed 202 people including 88 Australians. They were sentenced to death by the Indonesian court in different trials between August and September of 2003. However, the execution of the sentence has been delayed for five years due to religious concerns, legal challenges and a series of unsuccessful appeals. Only recently, on 24 October 2008, did the authorities issue a statement stating that there will be no more delay and the execution will be carried out anytime between 1 November and 20 November this year. According to the previous practices, the exact date of execution will only be conveyed to the convicts, their lawyers and their next of kin 3 days in advance. Given the high possibility of backlash from some jihadist quarters, some observers however believe that the execution will eventually be carried out unannounced.
The pre-execution statement which is in Indonesian language contains eight points. It states, among other points, that the judgment of the court is invalid as it is based on tyrannical law. The three however accept the execution as a fate from God. They call upon Muslims, especially Indonesian co-jihadists, and their leaders in jihad, Usama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, to avenge their death by declaring war and kill all those responsible for the execution, such as the Indonesian President and his deputy, the prosecutors, the judges and the execution team and Hashim Muzadi, a prominent scholar of Nahdhatul Ulama, and others who support it. The statement ends with a prayer that God will accept their death as martyrdom.
In a video interview posted at muslimdaily.net, an Indonesian Muslim news internet site, Ali Gufron and Amrozi vehemently denied that they ever requested delay of the execution on the basis that death by firing squad is not Islamic and that they want to be beheaded instead. They alleged that it was a lie cooked by the media.
Four days after the pre-execution statement was posted online, in an almost similar fashion as the bombers’ statement, the emir of the newly formed Jamaah Ansharut tauhid (JAT), Abu Bakar Bashir, held a press conference condemning the execution, deeming it as oppressive, violation of God’s law, and not based on facts. He asserted that the number of Muslims killed in Ambon and Poso, among others, tipped the numbers killed in Bali and yet no proportionate action was taken by the government. He further declared that the bombers are not terrorists, but performers of jihad in the name of Islam. Bashir strongly believed that even if the three bombers have planned and admitted to the crime, the CIA was behind the plot as the bombers did not have the capability of causing such massive destruction.
In a related development, the son of Imam Samudra, Umar Bin Abdul Aziz, was claimed to have also issued a statement, via email. Notably, it echoes the same spirit of the messages of the three bombers and JAT with slightly different wordings, emphasizing that the prayer of the oppressed, sooner or later, will eventually be answered.
Although the bombers claim, as JAT does, that they acted in the name of Islam and jihad, the international Muslim community is totally against such criminals and their perverted actions. Scholars and organizations revered by Muslims from all Islamic schools of thought have issued fatwas (religious verdicts) condemning terrorist acts including, in this case, the Bali Bombings. These include three great scholars, namely Shaykh Al-Azhar, Ayatollah Sistani and Sheikh Qardawi, and organizations from all the eight orthodox legal schools of Islam. They collectively, “on religious and moral grounds, denounce the contemporary concept of terrorism that is associated with wrongful practices, whatever their source and form may be… No one has the right to declare anyone an apostate and that all these legal schools had collectively developed substantive criteria upon which a fatwa can be authoritatively issued (and thus the issuing of fatawa could not be the provenance of ignoramuses, fanatics or overweening autodidacts)”, as pronounced in the Amman Message (2004).
Thus, the overwhelming international majority of Muslims are deemed to be against the Bali bombers, further highlighting the lack of popular and expert support. By the same token, the Prophet himself has stated clearly in a tradition: “If you see divergence, you must follow the greater mass or larger group [of experts or authorities].” (Narrated by Ibn Majah). Besides, even the key ideologues of jihad, who have supported unwarranted violence in the past, have now gone against these violent acts head on, e.g. Sayyid Imam Al-Sharif a.k.a Abdul Qader Abdul Aziz and Dr. Fadl (2007), an influential ideologue who is one of the leaders of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and the key leaders of Egyptian Gama’a Islamiyya. These ideologues have even published lengthy revisions on jihad countering erroneous ideological standpoints on jihad such as the ones the bombers subscribe to.
In addition, the three bombers themselves have confessed to having committed the treacherous crime. Since the time of the Prophet, confession (iqrar) in Islam is considered conclusive evidence (hujjah qat’iyyah) in establishing a crime, they are therefore proven guilty,. And the confession here, as this case involves the rights of others, is binding.
Accordingly, the crimes confessed to are punishable, through consensus in Islam, by death. Whether the punishment is through beheading, hanging, or shooting is of secondary importance. In fact, execution by shooting is a non-issue to the jihadists as they themselves have executed many by shooting, or even worse, by slaughtering. Moreover, execution by shooting was common for the Taliban during their rule in Afghanistan, which did not attract any negative remark from the jihadists.
The above deliberations clearly show that, firstly, the Bali bombing is forbidden in Islam. Secondly, the three are guilty by their own admission, which is binding in Islam. And thirdly, in Islam, punishment for acts such as murder can include death. The culmination of the three points implies that all the three statements issued by the bombers, JAT and Imam Samudra’s son are actually not as Islamic as claimed. The death of the three by execution, therefore does not render them martyrs as claimed. Accordingly, avenging their death as instigated in the statement is a forbidden act of crime that should be prevented, and must not be construed as jihad for the blood of fellow Muslims.
Muhammad Haniff Hassan is Associate Research Fellow and Mohamed Redzuan Salleh a Research Analyst at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University.