Backgrounder: Muslim World League
Posted: May 19, 2009
The Muslim World League (MWL), also known as the World Muslim League, is an international organization headquartered in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Founded in 1962 by the Saudi government, MWL describes itself as an Islamic non-governmental organization involved in "the propagation of Islam, and refutation of dubious statements and false allegations against the religion." It states that its objectives are "to help to carry out projects involving propagation of the religion, education and culture, and to advocate for the application of the rules of the Shari'a (Islamic law) either by individuals, groups or states."
The MWL has offices throughout the Muslim world as well as in non-Muslim majority countries. The organization's Web site lists 36 offices outside of Mecca, including in Washington, New York and London. The degree to which these offices are active is unclear; however, the organization has reportedly used its network to fund Islamic centers and mosques and to distribute materials promoting its fundamentalist interpretation of Islam.
Through the MWL's Fiqh Council, a body that establishes jurisprudence according to its own interpretation of Islamic law, the Saudi 'ulama (religious establishment) has attempted to coordinate the efforts of Imams around the world. The Fiqh Council holds yearly religious conferences in Mecca and disseminate fatawa (religious edicts) upholding a strict fundamentalist interpretation of Islam in the Wahhabi theological tradition.
The Wahhabi tradition is embodied in the strict interpretation of fiqh (jurisprudence) by the Saudi 'ulama. Wahhabi theology calls for a return to the sunnah, i.e. the way Muhammad and his companions lived in early Islam. Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, a Muslim theologian of the 18th century after whom the movement is named, did not accept the developed body of Islamic law as it was applied in the centuries following the advent of Islam, and thus advocated a return to the literal practices of the sunnah. Therefore, his movement is considered by some Muslim scholars as a sect, and not part of orthodox Islam as defined by the 'ijma, or consensus of Muslims.
This fundamental and often radical interpretation of Islam is often expressed in the statements made by the MWL leadership. For example, during an appearance on the Saudi TV channel Iqraa on May 20, 2004, Sheik Abdallah Al-Muslih, chairman of the MWL's Commission on Scientific Signs in the Qur'an and Sunnah, justified suicide bombing, saying:
"Regarding a person who blows himself up, I know this issue is under disagreement among modern clerics and jurisprudents…There is nothing wrong with [martyrdom] if they cause great damage to the enemy. We can say that if it causes great damage to the enemy, this operation is a good thing."
The Commission on Scientific Signs in the Qur'an and Sunnah is one of eight different bodies that comprise the MWL. The other seven are the Al Haramain & Al-Aqsa Mosque Foundation; The Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) Council; Holy Quran Memorization International Organization; International Islamic Organization for Education; International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO); Makkah Al-Mukarramah Charity Foundation for Orphans; and the World Supreme Council for Mosques. The World Assembly for Muslim Youth (WAMY), based in Riyadh and sponsored by the Saudi government with chapters worldwide, is another group closely connected to the MWL.
Three of these well-known international charities, the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) and Charitable Foundations of al-Haramain, are charged with funding terror by U.S. government officials, United Nations Security Council resolutions and others currently engaged in legal investigations against them. For example, the US Department of Treasury designated the Philippine and Indonesian branches of the IIRO as a terrorist entity under Executive Order 13224 "for facilitating fundraising for Al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist groups."
Although the United Nations Security Council Committee 1267 similarly designated the Philippine and Indonesian branch offices of the IIRO in November 2006 as an entity associated with Al Qaeda, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) announced a partnership in June 2008 with the IIRO to cooperate on issues related to child development and children's rights. The MWL maintains observer status at the UN as an NGO, as well as membership at the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The MWL has also provided a platform for inflammatory speech, including anti-Semitism, and its own leadership has issued conspiratorial statements about Jews and fiercely maligned Israel. For example, when the MWL issued a condemnation of an earlier Hebrew translation of the Qur'an in 2001, MWL secretary-general Abdullah al Turki remarked that the Jews altered the holy book because it "revealed the true nature of the Jewish people…particularly where it is shown how perfidious the Jews are."