In the regime’s lexicon, “eqtedar” is achieved by one of two ways. One is to expand regional influence through the export of terrorism, officially described as “export of revolution.” It is this policy that has led to the establishment of Lebanese Hezbollah, propped up the Assad regime, and most recently contributed to the rise of Islamic State. The other is development of nuclear weapons to obtain international leverage.
Since Tehran’s clandestine nuclear program was exposed by the main Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK), the Iranian regime has claimed that a religious decree (fatwa) by its Supreme Leader had previously declared the use of WMDs as “haraam” [religiously forbidden]. Just prior to the UN General Assembly, Hassan Rouhani once again cited this as proof of the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program.
However, a bit of scrutiny shows that such a fatwa likely does not exist and that even if it did, foreign powers cannot rely on it as evidence of peaceful intentions. In either case, the regime knows the truth and uses tales of this fatwa purely for purposes of propaganda and deceit.
It is a fact that there was no such fatwa until May 1998, when the first Pakistani nuclear bomb was revealed. At the time, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former president of Iran and second in command only to the Supreme Leader, welcomed Pakistan’s weapon, saying that Muslims have a greater chance to overcome Israel and other enemies when they have such weapons.
At the time, Khamenei did not contradict these statements, and there has never been any written document against nuclear arms in Khamenei’s handwriting and carrying his stamp. It is standard practice for all fatwas to be produced in this way and distributed via the press or official websites. Furthermore, not all prohibitory fatwas are binding for the government or officials.
The myth of Khamenei’s fatwa dates back to February 19, 2010, when he said, “We don’t believe in the atomic bomb, the nuclear weapon; we shall not seek it. According to our fundamental beliefs, our religious principles, using such tools of massacre is in essence “haraam”; it is prohibited by Sharia. It destroys mankind and Quran has prohibited it; we won’t pursue it.”
This rhetoric, however, even if taken as face value, is just a political gimmick and not a fatwa. A fatwa never refers to one’s personalunderstanding of the Quran or another text. Here, Khamenei states that destroying mankind has been condemned by Quran. Even in referring to Quran, we see that this verse has no such meaning and Khamenei’s interpretation of the verse in question is simply inaccurate. No reputable religious scholar or interpreter of Quran has interpreted this verse in this manner.
The credibility of a fatwa may be assessed on three grounds: its correctness, utility, and the competence of the one who issues it. The solidity of the reasoning behind a fatwa largely hinges on the religious expertise of the one issuing it, and Ali Khamenei is not considered a jurisprudent in Iranian and Shiite religious centers.
As the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ruhollah Khomeini declared the Jawaher al Kalam (a 50-volume collection written by Sheikh Mohammad Hassan Najafi in 1850)to be the only credible source of Islamic jurisprudence.
As the leader of the regime, Ali Khamenei must adhere to this text in his own pronouncements, but Jawaher al Kalam quite clearly contradicts him: “In the battle with the enemy it is permitted to stage a siege, prevent anyone from entering or leaving; use catapults, guns, gunpowder; rain down deadly and poisonous snakes, scorpions and other deadly animals; destroy walls and houses; cut off trees; rain down fire and guide floods [to the enemy site]; and anything else that would increase the chance of overcoming the enemy.”
The author goes on to say, “In these matters there is no difference between the scholars.” In another section the author writes, “Poisoning of the enemy water or food is considered ‘haram’ by some… and is reluctantly accepted by some… But if this is the only way to defeat the enemy, it is permitted without qualification.”
In this logic, the essence is victory over enemy and as such, even mass killings that some would consider “haraam” in normal circumstances are “permitted without qualification” if it would be the only way to defeat the enemy. Now, is it that in his hypothetical fatwa, Ali Khamenei is saying that “what matters the most is not victory”? Neither he nor any of his cohorts dare to say so.
But even if Khamenei was serious about issuing a contrary fatwa, it would not matter for two reasons.
First, a fatwa is only binding for the followers of the religious scholar who issues it, and any officer or commander who follows another religious scholar or considers himself to not need the fatwa, is not required to follow it. In addition, there is no punishment for failing to adhere to a fatwa.
Second, and more importantly, any fatwa issued by anyone may be declared void by “secondary decrees.” The most imperative cases of “secondary decrees” are “emergency circumstances.” Moreover, any decision about the need to use the “poison” namely a nuclear bomb is not up to the scholar who has issued the fatwa.
It is more than evident that there is no fatwa to back up the regime’s senior officials when they claim that Iran has only honorable intentions for its nuclear program. And certainly, there is nothing to back up any decision by the international community to appease the criminals ruling Tehran. The only value that the supposed fatwa has in the Islamic Republic is as grounds for such appeasement. And the mullahs are counting on it.
As such, President Obama and other Western leaders cannot set policy according to non-binding and easily reversible remarks by Khamenei. Doing so would put the world in great peril on the basis of a fantasy.
Ayatollah Jalal Ganje’i, a prominent dissident ayatollah based in Paris, is chairman of the Committee on Religious Freedom in the National Council of Resistance of Iran. He is a former student of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and left Iran in 1982 after being sentenced to death for his anti-fundamentalist views. Several members of his family, including his son, have been executed by the clerical regime.