Born in Iraq in 1935, Taha Jabir Al Alwani graduated in 1959 from the College of Sharia and Egyptian Secular Law at Al-Azhar University in Cairo. He also earned a master’s degree (1968) and a PhD (1973) in Islamic jurisprudence, a subject he subsequently taught for ten years at Imam Muhammad bin Sa’ud University in Saudi Arabia. In 1983 Alwani immigrated to the United States and settled in northern Virginia.
Alwani has written and published more than thirty books on a wide variety of Islamic issues. In The Ethics of Disagreement in Islam (1993), he cites the Prophet Muhammad’s call for “the most severe punishment for the one who deliberately splits from the community.” Building on that theme, Alwani emphasizes the vital “duty to preserve the brotherhood and the solidarity of Muslims.”
Viewing violence and warfare as legitimate means of expanding Islam’s domain around the world, Alwani once signed a fatwa (religious edict) stating explicitly that “jihad is the only way to liberate Palestine,” and that “no person may settle the Jews on the land of Palestine or cede to them any part thereof, or recognize any right therein for them.”
Over the years, Alwani has served as an official and/or member of numerous Ialamist organizations, including the Fiqh Council of North America, the Graduate School of Islamic & Social Sciences (which Alwani founded), the Heritage Education Trust, the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), the Council of the Muslim World League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference‘s Islamic Fiqh Academy, and the World & Islam Studies Enterprise.
In a November 19, 1991 letter to Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) leader Sami Al-Arian, Alwani indicated that he and his IIIT colleagues considered Al-Arian—as well as other PIJ figures such as Ramadan Abdullah Shallah—to be “indistinguishable” from IIIT. Alwani was later cited as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Justice Department’s terrorism prosecution against al-Arian.
Shortly after 9/11, as the U.S. prepared to invade Afghanistan, a Muslim-American military chaplain asked Alwani for his opinion as to whether American Muslim soldiers were morally permitted to serve in a war against an Islamic enemy. Alwani, in turn, conveyed the inquiry to the Qatar-based Wahhabi cleric Yousef al-Qaradhawi, who vacillated before ultimately calling on Muslims worldwide to “support the Afghans who stand firm against the American invasion,” which he blamed on justifiable Muslim anger over U.S. support for Israel.
In March 2002, the U.S. government searched Alwani’s home and office as part of Operation Green Quest, an anti-terrorism raid on the SAAR network of organizations. Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz characterized Alwani as a “person who supports and funnels money to terrorist organizations.”
In 2011 Alwani lavished praise upon Reliance of the Traveller, a new English translation of Umdat al-Salik, the classic Arabic-language manual of sharia law. Accoding to Alwani, this “eminent work of Islamic jurisprudence” would prove to be “of great use” in making a “faithful interpretation” of sharia “accessible” to English speakers worldwide who are not fluent in Arabic. The manual declares, among other things, that apostasy from Islam ranks as “the ugliest form of unbelief” and is punishable by execution; that the death penalty should apply also to cases where a Muslim appears to worship an idol or is heard “to speak words that imply unbelief” regarding “any ruling of the Sacred Law”; that “jihad means to war against non-Muslims”; that non-Muslims may reside in an Islamic nation only if they agree to live in a perpetual state of dhimmitude as second-class citizens; that offenses committed against Muslims are more serious than those committed against infidels; that the proper penalty for fornication or homosexual activity is death by stoning; that any Muslim who charges interest (“usurious gain”) on a loan should likewise be executed; that the appropriate penalty for theft is amputation of the right hand; that Muslim women must be subservient to men in a host of ways; and that it is the duty of all Muslims to promote, however they can, the establishment of a caliphate.