Islamic scholars from around the world on Thursday endorsed the temporary deployment of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia and authorized Kuwait to declare a jihad (holy war) to free its territory from Iraqi occupation.
In an important endorsement of Saudi policy in the Persian Gulf crisis, the Muslim World League issued a declaration that also called for the formation of a pan-Islamic peacekeeping force to replace foreign troops in the region. But it authorized Saudi Arabia's call for foreign troops to the Muslim holy land to defend against the Iraqi threat so long as their presence is short-lived.
Meeting in the Islamic holy city of Mecca, an estimated 400 scholars, who included some of the Muslim world's most prominent leaders, called for a peaceful resolution to the Iraqi occupation but said Kuwaitis are authorized under religious law to undertake a jihad to recover their country.
"Kuwait has been aggressed upon. They are eligible to declare jihad, and people are requested to fight with them and help them," Abdullah Omar Naseef, secretary general of the organization, said at a news conference in Jidda.
A jihad, officials said, could include everything from a military holy war to a peaceful struggle to recover Kuwait, but Naseef said conference delegates were not able to agree on whether non-Muslim countries like the United States should join Kuwaitis in an offensive struggle to drive out Iraqi troops.
"This is a very controversial issue," Naseef said. "We wanted to avoid that. . . . Nobody can disagree that from a defense point of view, there is no disagreement. But when you talk about aggression, there is disagreement."
At least five Iraqis attended and participated in the league's three days of deliberations, although none traveled from Iraq. It was unclear whether representatives of Iraq's political allies in the Arab world, including Yemen, Sudan, Jordan and some North African states, sent delegates.
Unlike the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a political union of the Islamic world's 46 countries, the Muslim World League is a nonpolitical organization with no direct ties to Arab governments.
However, several religious chieftains with powerful political followings in Arab countries, including the muftis of Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, participated in the deliberations. The Soviet Union also had representatives.
The league's so-called "Mecca Declaration" said there was religious justification for Saudi Arabia's call on foreign troops to defend against Iraqi aggression. But it emphasized that the troops should leave as soon as the threat is over and suggested replacing foreign troops with a pan-Islamic force.
"This is an emergency measure allowed, but it should be a temporary solution--and it should be remedied as soon as possible, when there is no more threat to the safety and security of the area," Naseef said.
A Saudi official who attended the talks said Muslim leaders emphasized that foreign troops should be out of Saudi Arabia by the next pilgrimage season early next summer, and preferably before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in the spring.
The group considered, but did not ultimately adopt, a proposal to convene an Islamic court to try Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the official said. "What will they benefit from this trial?" he asked. "The whole concept is the unity of the Muslim world. This would not help that."
The pan-Islamic peacekeeping force should also be maintained as a Muslim army under the banner of the Organization of Islamic Conference "to represent the Muslim countries so they would be able in the future to defend themselves against any possible aggression," Naseef said.
Islamic leaders, he said, rejected Saddam Hussein's call for a jihad to remove foreign troops from the region. He said the scholars concluded that Hussein had no religious justification for the call.
"Anybody can claim jihad," he said, "but nobody will respond unless it is a clear jihad, which is known to every Muslim."
The scholars blamed the current turmoil in the region on a breakdown in Islamic principles. "The remedy to that," Naseef said, "is we have to go back to our Islam, to renew our faith, to repent to our God and to introduce . . . improvement in our behavior and systems of life."