SANAA, YEMEN When Judge Hamoud al-Hitar announced that he and four other Islamic scholars would challenge Yemen’s Al Qaeda prisoners to a theological contest, Western antiterrorism experts warned that this high-stakes gamble would end in disaster.
Seated amid stacks of Korans and religious texts, Hitar explains that his system is simple. He invites militants to use the Koran to justify attacks on innocent civilians and when they cannot, he shows them numerous passages commanding Muslims not to attack civilians, to respect other religions, and fight only in self-defense.
For example, he quotes: “Whoever kills a soul, unless for a soul, or for corruption done in the land – it is as if he had slain all mankind entirely. And, whoever saves one, it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.” He uses the passage to bolster his argument against bombing Western targets in Yemen – attacks he says defy the Koran. And, he says, the Koran says under no circumstances should women and children be killed.
“Before the dialogues began, there was only one way to fight terrorism, and that was through force,” he says. “Now there is another way: dialogue.”