WASHINGTON D.C. – Iranian officials have occasionally cited an alleged fatwa — Islamic religious ruling — by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declaring that the use of nuclear weapons is forbidden under Islamic law.
President Barack Obama evidently believes the fatwa exists. Others disagree.
In a September 2005 letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Iranian government stated: “The Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, has issued the fatwa that the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that the Islamic Republic shall never acquire these weapons.”
Several months later Khamenei was quoted as saying in a speech that “using nuclear weapons is against Islamic rules.”
Obama seems to have bought into the fatwa claim, telling the U.N. General Assembly in September: “The supreme leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons.”
He told reporters three days later after a phone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani: “Iran’s supreme leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons.”
But American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Rubin said: “While Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s nuclear fatwa has been the stuff of diplomatic gossip for years, no one citing it has ever actually seen it. Khamenei lists all of his fatwas on his webpage, but the nuclear fatwa isn’t among them.”
The Middle East Media Research Institute, which translates documents from Farsi and other languages, declared: “Such a fatwa was never issued by Supreme Leader Khamenei and does not exist. The Iranian regime apparently believes that its frequent repetition of the fatwa lie will make it accepted as truth.”
In referring to the fatwa, Iranian officials have given at least three different years of issue, 2004, 2005, and 2012, CNS News reported.
The fatwa cannot be found on the websites of the supreme leader, the presidency, foreign ministry, or permanent mission to the United Nations in Vienna.
The website of the permanent mission to the U.N. in New York does carry a link to a page where what it calls a fatwa appears, dated Feb. 19, 2012.
It reads in part: “The Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons” and the Islamic Republic “considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin.”
But “if this is the definitive fatwa,” CNS News observed, “it’s not clear why Iranian officials have at other times said it was issued in 2004 or 2005.”
Rouhani himself said in May that the fatwa was issued in November 2004.
Tariq Alhomayed, erstwhile editor in chief of the London-based daily Asharq Al-Awsat, wrote last year that trusting Iran on the basis of a religious ruling was “truly absurd.”