By Hamzah Raza
Source: 1993 Fatwa from Muhammad Nasiruddin Al-Albani Calling on Palestinians to Leave the West Bank
In 1993, Muhammad Nasiruddin Al-Albani, arguably the most prominent Salafi scholar of the 20th century, issued a fatwā in which he called upon Palestinians to leave the West Bank because he felt that they could not practice their religion there correctly. In this brief fatwā, Albani cites a verse of the Qur’ān which states that “Was the Earth not spacious enough for you to move yourselves away (from evil)?”(Qur’ān 4:97). Such a fatwā speaks to both the quietest nature of many modern Islamic scholars, while also touching upon a controversial idea that the land of Palestine has somehow transitioned from Dār al Islām (the land of Islam) to Dār al Kufr (the land of disbelief). Through his political quietism and classical understanding that resistance to oppression can only lie within an Islamic state actor, Albani comes to the controversial conclusion that Palestinians must leave their land. I seek to argue that while Albani’s conclusion may be unpopular within the Muslim world, the presumptions that lead up to it are actually in line with the quietism of many modern Islamic scholars of a variety of theological orientations. The controversy of his fatwā comes from Albani contradicting international law by not considering the West Bank to be under Palestinian sovereignty.
Albani’s call for the Palestinians to leave the West Bank is provocative, particularly when viewed in context. The fatwā was published in 1993, towards the end of the First Intifada in which Palestinians, as non-state actors, had been resisting Israeli oppression through an array of tactics involving both civil disobedience and violent insurrection. In Albani’s fatwā, he is implicitly saying that he does not find it legitimate for Palestinians to resist through these methods. Rather, he concludes that they should leave because they are not resisting as state actors.
Albani’s call not to rebel against a government that oppresses people, outside the context of a Muslim polity, is not a position limited to those of his Salafi leanings. Mohamed Said Ramadan Al-Bouti, the former Grand Muftī of Syria, who was an avid critic of Albani and the doctrines of Salafism, famously refused to call for the overthrow of the Bashar Al-Assad government in Syria. Al-Bouti opposed the Syrian uprising through this stance of quietism and pietism. Former Grand Muftī of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, also adopted this stance in relation to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s government in 2011. Gomaa was quietest in regard to the protests that overthrew Mubarak, other than asserting that “mass demonstrations that lead to a disruption of day-to-day life could be considered impermissible (haram) from an Islamic legal point of view.” Within the Shī’ī tradition, the Grand Ayatollah of Iran prior to Ruhollah Khomeini, Ayatollah Seyyed Hossein Borujerdi, was also a political quietest who kept a cordial relationship with the Shah of Iran, refusing to comment on issues of politics. Ayatollah Borujerdi also instructed his then-student and ultimate successor, Ruhollah Khomeini to do the same.
Much Islamic resistance to governmental oppression in the 20th century was also in the context of established Islamic state actors. Adnan Zulfiqar in a publication titled “Jurisdiction over Jihad: Islamic Law and the Duty to Fight” states that Muslims would first establish a “quasi-state.” After establishing this state, Muslims would then fight the colonizing army, and expand their quasi-state into land the Europeans had conquered. The Caucasian Imāmate was a quasi-state that existed in Dagestan and Chechnya in the 20th century, resisted Russian imperialism in the context of this imāmate. Emir Abdelkader, who was a major figure in Algerian resistance to French colonialism, also established a sultanate in 1839, following the French invasion of Algeria. Abdelkader established a sultanate, which ruled over a significant portion of Algeria for over a decade, and was the locus point of resistance to French rule in Algeria until the French conquered it.
Albani’s quietism also diverges from that of modern Islamic scholars. While the quietism of Al-Bouti and Ali Gomaa is directed at a Muslim ruler who is oppressive, Albani’s is directed at European Jews who settled and colonized historic Palestine. In the context of European foreign invaders, modern Islamic scholars have justified resisting the ruler because the rulers do not have legitimate claim to the land. International law recognizes that Palestinians have a right to sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza, and thus, do have a polity from which they can resist Israeli rule.
But Albani’s fatwā seems to be acknowledgement of de facto Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza, which is evidenced by military soldiers that occupy the West Bank, and the Israeli military’s blockade of Gaza. For Albani, in sometime between 1948 and 1993, Palestinian transitioned into the land of the disbelievers, and is no longer the land of Islam. This is a particularly controversial claim amongst Palestinians, who believe themselves to be indigenous to the land. It can also be controversial outside of the sphere of Islamic law, as international law, through UN Security Council UN Resolution 242, recognizes Palestine as the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, calls for the withdrawal of the Israeli military from the West Bank and Gaza, and also states that Palestinian refugees expelled from their homes, even within modern Israel, have the right to return.
The most controversial of Albani’s claims is not that the actions of the First Intifada were illegitimate. Rather, it is that the West Bank, which international law recognizes as Palestine, is no longer the land of Islam, and is now the land of the disbelievers, and hence the Muslims there must now leave it. If one agrees with Albani’s presumption that Palestine is the land of the disbelievers, the permissibility of non-state actors to resist it would not be granted by Ali Gomaa, Mohamed Said Ramadan Al-Bouti, or the teacher of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. While his quietism is mainstream, Albani’s fatwā is controversial because it declares that Palestine has somehow transitioned from Dār al Islām (the land of Islam) to Dār al Kufr (the land of disbelief).
Arabic News Digest. “Who Really Killed Al Bouti?” The National, The National, 25 Mar. 2013, www.thenational.ae/who-really-killed-al-bouti-1.347558.
Emerit, Marcel. “Abdelkader.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2 Sept. 2018, www.britannica.com/biography/Abdelkader.
Mottahedeh, Roy. The Mantle of the Prophet: Learning and Power in Modern Iran. Chatto, 1985.
Revolvy, LLC. “Caucasian Imamate .” Revolvy, www.revolvy.com/page/Caucasian-Imamate.
“S/RES/242 (1967) of 22 November 1967.” United Nations, United Nations, unispal.un.org/DPA/DPR/unispal.nsf/0/7D35E1F729DF491C85256EE700686136.
“Thoughts on Egypt I: the Revolution and Ali Gomaa’s Timeline.” A Tarek Elgawhary Company, 6 July 2018, coexistresearch.com/egyptian-uprising-ali-gomaa/.
 Arabic News Digest. “Who Really Killed Al Bouti?” The National, The National, 25 Mar. 2013, www.thenational.ae/who-really-killed-al-bouti-1.347558.
 “Thoughts on Egypt I: the Revolution and Ali Gomaa’s Timeline.” A Tarek Elgawhary Company, 6 July 2018, coexistresearch.com/egyptian-uprising-ali-gomaa/
 Mottahedeh, Roy. The Mantle of the Prophet: Learning and Power in Modern Iran. Chatto, 1985.P. 237-238
 Revolvy, LLC. “Caucasian Imamate .” Revolvy, www.revolvy.com/page/Caucasian-Imamate.
 Emerit, Marcel. “Abdelkader.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2 Sept. 2018, www.britannica.com/biography/Abdelkader.
 “S/RES/242 (1967) of 22 November 1967.” United Nations, unispal.un.org/DPA/DPR/unispal.nsf/0/7D35E1F729DF491C85256EE70068613