Weigh Relevance of Fatwa in Nuclear Deal

Weigh Relevance of Fatwa in Nuclear Deal
Weigh Relevance of Fatwa in Nuclear Deal

Less than a month before November 24 target date to reach a comprehensive deal between Iran and major world powers over the country's nuclear program, US Catholic bishops urged Washington not to underestimate "the power of fatwa (religious decrees) by Islamic leaders" on the prohibition of nuclear weapons because they are against the fundamental principles of Islam. Stephen Colecchi, a leading official at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said, "Iran is a very, very religious culture. It is also a very modern culture. And it is not all like the caricature of the fanatic religion that we see depicted too often... and the fatwa needs to be looked at in that light."

A six-strong delegation from the USCCB travelled in April to the holy city of Qom to meet with top Shiite religious leaders in a bid to narrow the differences between Iran and the West over Tehran's nuclear energy program. Colecchi said, "The US State Department is not seriously factoring in Iranian religious objections to weapons of mass destruction as part of the negotiations," AFP quoted him as saying on Wednesday in Washington, speaking publicly about a trip he made to Iran.

  Validity of Fatwa

In the ongoing nuclear negotiations, the fatwa has relevance, Colecchi argued, saying it was "pervasively taught and defended in Iran."

"And the possibility of changing the fatwa overnight is non-existent. This is what should be taken into account by diplomats."

The West has claimed that Iran may have been seeking to develop the capability to build nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear program. Tehran denies the allegation, saying its nuclear work is meant only for peaceful purposes, such as power generation. On February 22, 2012, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said Iran considers the pursuit and possession of nuclear weapons "a grave sin" from every logical, religious and theoretical standpoint.

  Nuclear Weapons Immoral

Bishop Richard Pates, the chairman of the USCCB's committee on international justice and peace, also said that the Iranian clerics told the bishops' delegation that the fatwa is “a matter of public record and is highly respected among Shiite scholars and Iranians generally.”

During the visit, senior Iranian clerics assured the delegation that nuclear weapons “are immoral because of their indiscriminate nature and their powerful force of destroying all types of innocent communities,” said Pates. “Iranians feel profoundly misunderstood by America and the West,” he commented. Iran and the P5+1 (the permanent members of UN Security Council plus Germany) are trying to build on an interim nuclear accord they reached in Geneva last November to hammer out a long-term settlement to the nuclear dispute, which has dragged on for over a decade.

The two sides said they made "some progress" in the most recent round of high-level nuclear talks in Vienna, but major differences on various issues remain to be resolved. The future scope of Iran's nuclear enrichment capacity, the mechanism and speed of lifting sanctions, the duration of the final deal, the Arak heavy-water reactor, and the underground Fordo enrichment facility are said to be the main stumbling blocks in the talks.