An important element in the renewal of nuclear negotiations with Iran
in the talks in Istanbul April 13-14, 2012 was an alleged fatwa
attributed to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, according to which
the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden
under Islam and that the Islamic Republic of Iran shall never acquire
these weapons. Indeed, U.S. leaders among them Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton and even U.S. President Barack Obama along with 5+1
representatives to the talks,
the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors, and even
highly respected research institutes considered the fatwa as an
actual fact, and examined its significance and implications for the
nuclear negotiations with Iran that were renewed in Istanbul.
However, an investigation by MEMRI reveals that no such fatwa ever
existed or was ever published, and that media reports about it are
nothing more than a propaganda ruse on the part of the Iranian regime
apparatuses in an attempt to deceive top U.S. administration
officials and the others mentioned above.
Iranian regime officials´ presentation of statements on nuclear
weapons attributed to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as a fatwa, or
religious edict, when no such fatwa existed or was issued by him, is
a propaganda effort to propose to the West a religiously valid
substitute for concrete guarantees of inspectors´ access to Iran´s
nuclear facilities. Since the West does not consider mere statements,
by Khamenei or by other regime officials, to be credible, the Iranian
regime has put forth a fraudulent fatwa that the West would be more
inclined to trust.
This paper will review Iran´s attempt at deception with
regard to the existence of such a fatwa.
U.S. Officials Laud Nonexistent Fatwa
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton clarified that she had
discussed the fatwa with "experts and religious scholars" and
also with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. At the NATO
conference in Norfolk, VA, in early April, she stated: "The other
interesting development which you may have followed was the
repetition by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei that they would
that he had issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons, against weapons
of mass destruction. Prime Minister Erdogan and I discussed
this at some length, and Ive discussed with a number of experts and
religious scholars. And if it is indeed a statement of principle, of
values, then it is a starting point for being operationalized, which
means that it serves as the entryway into a negotiation as to how you
demonstrate that it is indeed a sincere, authentic statement of
conviction [emphasis added]. So we will test that as well."
During his visit to Tehran in late March, in an interview with
Iranian state television IRIB, Prime Minister Erdogan said, "I have
shared the Leader´s [Khamenei´s] statement with [U.S. President
Barack] Obama and told him that in face of this assertion I do not
have a different position and they (Iranians) are using nuclear
On April 7, 2012, Kayhan International reported, citing
Press TV, that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had told the
Turkish Kanal D TV that there is no possibility that "Khamenei´s
fatwa forbidding the possession and use of nuclear weapons might be
disobeyed in Iran." According to the report, Davutoglu "said that
since the fatwa against the possession and pursuit of nuclear weapons
was issued by Velayat-e Faqih (the rule of the jurisprudent),
it is binding, and obeying it is a religious obligation."
Also according to the report, also citing Press TV, Khamenei
said on February 22, 2012: "There is no doubt that the decision
makers in the countries opposing us know well that Iran is not after
nuclear weapons because the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously
and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a
grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is
senseless, destructive and dangerous."
The report went on to state that "Davutoglu also said that if the
Western powers are really interested in interacting with the Middle
Eastern states, they should deepen their understanding of religious
discourse, adding that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
had previously instructed U.S. President Barack Obama on the
American Iranian Council (AIC) president and dual Iranian-U.S.
citizen Hooshang Amirahmadi, who is close to elite regime circles in
Iran, said: "Fortunately, President Obama has decided to tentatively
trust the Supreme Leader on his words that ´[the] nuclear bomb is
forbidden in Islam.´"
However, MEMRI´s investigation reveals that no such fatwa ever
existed or was ever issued or published, and that media reports about
it are nothing more than a propaganda ruse on the part of the Iranian
regime apparatuses in an attempt to deceive top U.S. administration
officials and the others mentioned above.
What does exist are Iranian reports starting in 2005, on
statements by an Iranian representative, Sirus Naseri, at a meeting
of the IAEA Board of Governors on August 11, 2005 that Khamenei had
issued such a fatwa (See Appendix II for documents.)
After 2005, there are additional statements by senior regime
representatives about the existence of the fatwa, for example on
April 12, 2012 by Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi in an op-ed in
the Washington Post on the eve of the talks. He wrote: "We
have strongly marked our opposition to weapons of mass destruction on
many occasions. Almost seven years ago, Iranian Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made a binding commitment. He issued a
religious edict a fatwa forbidding the production, stockpiling
and use of nuclear weapons."
Also, the Iranian news agency Mehr reported on April 11, 2012,
that Iranian judiciary head Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani had
said: "The fatwa that the Supreme Leader has issued is the best
guarantee that Iran will never seek to produce nuclear weapons." Mehr
itself also noted in the same report that Khamenei had issued a fatwa
banning the use of nuclear weapons: "Supreme Leader of the Islamic
Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa declaring
that the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons are all
haram (prohibited in Islam)."
In contrast, a review published April 8, 2012 by Iran´s official
news agency IRNA giving in detail Supreme Leader Khamenei´s past
mentions of the ban on the use of nuclear weapons does not mention
any fatwa by him.
This, even though in August 2005 IRNA had already reported that
Iran´s special representative to the IAEA Board of Directors had
handed a report on Khamenei´s alleged fatwa, and that this report
though not the fatwa itself had been submitted to the IAEA board as
an official Iranian document (see Appendix II). It should be
noted that this August 2005 IRNA report on the fatwa was reported by
other websites, such as mathaba.net
but that the original report in IRNA, at http://www.irna.ir/en/news/view/menu-
236/0508104135124631.htm, can no longer be accessed (see
These reports were designed to, and apparently did, elevate Iran´s
status vis-ΰ-vis the West, despite Iran´s refusal to allow
inspections of its nuclear sites. Iranian regime officials´
presentation of statements on nuclear weapons attributed to Supreme
Leader Ali Khamenei as a fatwa, or religious edict, when no such
fatwa existed or was issued by him, is a propaganda effort to propose
to the West a religiously valid substitute for concrete guarantees of
inspectors´ access to Iran´s nuclear facilities. Since the West does
not consider mere statements, by Khamenei or by other regime
officials, to be credible, the Iranian regime has put forth a
fraudulent fatwa that the West would be more inclined to trust.
No Such Fatwa On Official Websites of Supreme
An exhaustive search of the various official websites of Iranian
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei turned up no such fatwa, either on his
fatwa website or on his personal website.
Khamenei´s websites post fatwas issued by him in response to
questions submitted to him. Online submission of questions is an
accepted and official means; all his websites offer readers options
for doing so. Fatwas are issued by jurisprudents in standard question-
and-answer format, and are published publicly in writing. They can
also include the reasoning behind them, but not always. Today, fatwas
are generally concise and limited to a yes or no answer but always
in question-and-answer form, including a summary by the jurisprudent,
as follows: "I was asked a question on a certain matter. My answer is
such and such." This can be seen in the following.
On March 15, 2012, the following question on the possession
and use of nuclear weapons and referring to the alleged fatwa was
submitted to Supreme Leader Khamenei, via Facebook, by a group called
The Light of Freedom (Cheragh-e Azadi): (for image, see Appendix
"Q: Your Excellency has announced a ban on the use of
nuclear weapons, and considering that nuclear weapons are a
requirement for deterrence and that the aim of obtaining them is to
intimidate the enemies in order to prevent them from acting
aggressively, and in light of what is written in Surat Al-Anfal,
Verse 60... is it also forbidden to obtain nuclear weapons, as per
your ruling that their use is prohibited?
"A: Your letter has no jurisprudential aspect. When it has a
jurisprudent position, then it will be possible to answer it.
"Summary: No answer was given."
This particular question and answer on Facebook do not
appear on Khamenei´s fatwa website or on his personal website. It is
notable that in his response he did not confirm, or even mention, any
fatwa that he allegedly issued in the past and that his summary
notes that no response was given.
This question-and-answer format is mandatory for fatwas, so that
any position on a particular religious question will be recognized
as a fatwa. Even if the jurisprudent refers to an issue verbally,
his words do not constitute a fatwa unless it is later issued in
this format. Any expression of a position in any matter that is
not issued in writing in the format of "I was asked a question on a
certain matter. My answer is such and such..." is not a fatwa
and does not carry the religious significance of one; it is
merely a statement.
Report On Fatwa Stating "Shari´a Does Not
Prohibit the Use Of Nuclear Weapons"
On February 16, 2006, the Rooz website reported that Mohsen
Gharavian, a disciple of Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi had noted the
existence of a fatwa stating that shari´a did not prohibit the
use of nuclear weapons and in fact even calling to obtain such
weapons (see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1096, "Reformist Iranian
Internet Daily: A New Fatwa States That Religious Law Does Not Forbid
Use of Nuclear Weapons," February 17, 2006 http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/1614.htm)
. The website reported that, for the first time, extremist clerics
from Qom had issued what the daily called "a new fatwa," which states
that "shari´a does not forbid the use of nuclear weapons."
Could Iranian Regime Officials Lie? The
Principle of Taqiyya
Iran´s efforts to deceive the West about the alleged Khamenei
fatwa raises the question of whether Khamenei and the rest of the
senior regime officials could actually lie about this matter to world
One of the foundations of Shi´ite Islam is the principle of
taqiyya "the obligation to be cautious" as manifested in
the use of lies for self-defense purposes. Doing so is completely
legitimate in Shi´ite Islam, and has been employed throughout Shi´ite
The website of the Vali-e Asr Research Institute, which was
founded 20 years ago in Qom by Ayatollah Khazali and which deals with
answering religious questions on various matters, is considered an
important research institution in the Shi´ite religious
establishment. The institute explains the principle of taqiyya
and sets out the categories of circumstances under which its use
is required. One of these categories deals with taqiyya by
(Shi´ite) Muslims towards non-Muslims.
The publication of a false report on the alleged existence of such a
fatwa by Khamenei, and Iranian officials´ use of such a fatwa for the
purpose of Iran´s self defense, is an example of the application of
the principle of taqiyya.
Appendix I: Images From MEMRI Investigation
on Supreme Leader Khamenei´s Fatwa
MEMRI´s investigation of websites of the office of Iranian Supreme
Leader Ali Khamenei (leader.ir) turned up no results about a fatwa on
the subject of nuclear weapons. The highlighted phrase in the image
says "The term ´nuclear weapons" was not found."
MEMRI´s investigation of farsi.khamenei.ir for the term "nuclear
weapons" also produced no fatwa.
It should be noted that the term "nuclear weapons" did show up in
searches of Khamenei´s declarations and statements in meetings with
Iranian and foreign elements but not in fatwas.
Appendix II: IAEA
Appendix III 2005 IRNA Report Of Fatwa No
Appendix IV: Question to Khamenei on Nuclear
*A. Savyon is director of the Iranian media project; Y.
Carmon is President of MEMRI*
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