WASHINGTON - Religious clerics in Pakistan issued an Islamic decree, or fatwa, Tuesday condemning suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism as un-Islamic and against the teachings of the religion.
The decree, endorsed by more than 1,800 prominent religious scholars from different religious institutions, is part of a new book titled Paigham-e-Pakistan or Pakistan's Message, announced by the country's President Mamnoon Hussain in a ceremony held at the President House in Islamabad on Tuesday.
Hussain said Paigham-e-Pakistan would act as a "national narrative in order to curb extremism in keeping with the golden principles of Islam," local Pakistani media reported.
Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan's minister of interior, said the fatwa is a significant development as the country is coming together and condemning terrorism from a single platform.
"The fatwa will provide a platform for national unity ... so that in the 21st century, we can make Pakistan a distinguished country, an Asian tiger, and bring the Quaid's [Pakistan's founder] dream to fruition," Iqbal said while speaking at the gathering.
Iqbal stressed the need of a national strategy that could highlight the positive image of Pakistan and help the country deal with the issue of terrorism and sectarianism.
The religious decree comes at a time when militant groups in both Pakistan and Afghanistan have been increasingly using suicide attacks in their terror activities, causing massive causalities to civilians.
"Under no circumstance killing innocent people is justified by Islam or constitution of Pakistan, this needs to be stopped. This is an effort in the right direction and will help build peace and cut-out terror elements," Amin ul Hasnat, the Minister of State for Religious Affairs, told VOA.
The newly issued fatwa also emphasized that waging jihad (holy war) is only the prerogative of the state, not of religious groups and entities. Religious entities, often with links to militant groups, have repeatedly issued fatwas calling for jihad in neighboring Afghanistan and, at times, in Pakistan.
The decree also labels suicide attackers, terrorists and their facilitators as "traitors."
Since 2000, Pakistan has witnessed hundreds of terror attacks by militant groups on civilians and the country's security forces. Based on government estimates, Pakistan has lost more than 70,000 people to terrorism and extremism over the last decade.
Terror groups like Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) have frequently relied on suicide attacks as a tactic to pursue what they call a holy war against the state and for the implementation of Islamic rule, or Sharia, in Pakistan.
Religious decrees have been issued in the past as well, in which violence, terrorism and extremism have been condemned.
Last year, 31 prominent religious scholars issued a similar decree in Islamabad that fully supported the army's operations, nicknamed Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad, carried out against the militants in the country in different phases.
In 2010, Tahir-ul-Qadri, a prominent religious scholar, issued a detailed 600-page fatwa and declared suicide attacks, targeted killings and attacks on security forces as "unjust" and "evil," and a violation of teachings of Islam.
But some experts view the recent fatwa as unprecedented due to the fact that it was issued after a national consensus was reached.
Qibla Ayaz, head of the Council of Islamic teaching, Pakistan's religious affairs watchdog, believes the fatwa holds significance because it has the blessing of different segments of the society including the government, religious scholars, the military, lawmakers and policymakers.
"This fatwa was much-needed because the previous fatwas were issued in private capacities. Different Islamic sects — either Sunni, Shia, Barelvi, Deobandi or Ahle-hadith — had a consensus on it. So, this is a national narrative and must be appreciated," Ayaz told VOA.
While analysts welcome the recent religious fatwa, some criticize the government and the religious institutions of being selective in their condemnation of terrorism and extremism.
"This step of issuing a consensus by the Pakistani government is appreciable and no one can criticize it," Muhammad Taqi, a U.S-based South Asia analyst, told VOA.
"But the question here is, does the government also condemn terrorism carried out in neighboring countries," Taqi said, referring to terror attacks in Afghanistan and India which has roots in Pakistan.
"The government should have one straight policy and stop supporting terrorism anywhere by anyone," Taqi emphasized.
Qibla Ayaz echoed Taqi's concerns and asked for a joint fatwa that would condemn terrorism in the region.
"Scholar from Afghanistan complain that the Pakistani clerics do not condemn jihad in Afghanistan. The religious scholars from both countries should sit together and come up with a narrative that will work for the entire region," Ayaz said.
The recent fatwa comes amid growing tensions between Islamabad and Washington over terror safe havens in Pakistan. The latter accuses the former of failing to take adequate actions against militant groups that operate in Pakistan and plan attacks in neighboring Afghanistan against the U.S. and Afghan forces.
Islamabad denies the allegations and maintains that the country has been cracking down on militant groups on its soil indiscriminately.