Facing up to fatwas
Muslim religious experts say that there is a need to regulate the ‘fatwa industry’, because of the increasing number of unqualified muftis dishing them out.
May 14, 2009 1:33 by Aarti Nagraj
There have been fatwas to kill Mickey Mouse, for married couples to have sex without being naked, and for working women to breast feed their colleagues.
A new fatwa recently issued in Egypt reportedly claims that the source of all the existing pigs in the world is Jews. The fatwa was issued by Sheikh Ali Osman from the Egyptian Waqf ministry, who added that because of their Jewish roots, it is permissible to slaughter all the pigs.
The growing number of fatwas being issued by scholars has gained such popularity that according to reports, there are 80 religious channels among 500 satellite channels available, many of which feature programs that announce and debate fatwas.
During the Arab Media Forum held in Dubai, four experts in the field debated and discussed the rise of fatwa TV channels, including the problems they cause. Many of the programs feature muftis who are not qualified to issue fatwas, and “exploit the opportunity to wrongly interpret dreams or popular medicines,” said Ahmed Al Haddad, director of the Dubai Fatwa Administration.
Abdul Hamid Al Ansari, a professor of Islamic Studies at College of Law, Qatar University, who was one of the panelists, said that these fatwas were becoming a source of revenue for channels as they keep getting calls from people, which ultimately turn the muftis into “celebrities.”
He said that people don’t want to think for themselves because they are lazy, and hence turn to the muftis for everything.
But it’s not only through TV channels; next month, the UK is launching an Islamic hotline called el-Hatef el-Islami, through which scholars from Cairo’s al-Azhar University will provide British callers with fatwas on everyday dilemmas. The dial-a-fatwa, as it’s called, will also include an email facility with advice sent in English, Urdu and Arabic.
Al Haddad defended the need for the fatwa channels, arguing that with so much “corrupt programming”, there was a need to educate people on religion.
But the panel agreed that while technology was bringing muftis to the people, instead of the other way round, it was essential to regulate the channels and their content.
This is not the first time that there has been a call to control the issuance of fatwas; in January this year, Saudi’s King Abdullah said that there was a need to protect Muslim societies from chaotic and whimsical fatwas.
“Issuing ill-considered fatwas without following any criterion offers biased, ignorant, extremist or careless individuals the opportunity to pose as religious experts qualified to issue fatwas. On the other hand, they have been abusing Islam and distorting its noble values, besides offering its enemies the justification for attacking the Holy Quran and spreading lies about the Holy Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him),” the king said.
But will technology make it more difficult to regulate and moderate the issuance of fatwas?