Last Update 12:11
Friday, 21 July 2017

What is a Fatwa?

Controversial religious ruling granting people the right to resist anti-President Morsi protests with force, raises questions about who can deliver such rulings and what rules govern their content

Shaykh Musa Furber, Wednesday 29 Aug 2012
Share/Bookmark
Views: 1167
Share/Bookmark
Views: 1167

At a recent conference in Cairo, Imam Hashem Islam issued a religious edict (fatwa) to the people of Egypt. His edict was that an upcoming protest, aimed at criticising Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi, was illegitimate, as the newly elected president was, in fact, the legitimate lawful president. Furthermore, that the protest was to be considered as one that was “apostasy” (riddah) from democracy and freedom, and that those who participated in it should be considered as engaging in the crime of plunder (hirabah) and high treason (khiyanaal-uzma). Thus, the ‘people of Egypt’ should confront them, and if the protesters resisted by force, then the ‘people of Egypt’ should respond with force. If the ‘people of Egypt’ were killed, they would be in paradise, while if the protesters resisted, no one would be held liable for their deaths or have to pay compensation to their families.

There was a public outcry. The preacher had claimed he was a part of Al-Azhar University’s official institution for issuing religious edicts, which presumably gave his opinions weight. In the aftermath of his statements, the Ministry of Religious Endowments came out in full force, contradicting the preacher’s claim that he had any connection with Al-Azhar University, beyond the fact that he is a graduate, and that his opinion was not to be given attention. Even the Muslim Brotherhood, to which Morsi belongs, rejected the fatwa.

Clearly, the mainstream religious establishment rejects this fatwa: however, the episode raised a number of points. What is a fatwa? Who can give one? What are the repercussions of a fatwa in general? And what was the meaning of this “fatwa” in particular?

As with any legal system, not everyone is competent to deliver a fatwa, which refers, simply, to a non-binding edict of Islamic jurisprudence. Competency comes from a rigorous legal education from within the tradition of Islamic jurisprudence, with a mastery of a particular school of law, and training in the practical application of that school on contemporary issues. There is a whole science, entitled the etiquette of edict (adab al-fatwa), that the prospective issuer of fatwas (or someone known as a Mufti) needs to learn, in order to ensure all edicts are clear, accurate and valid.

Fatwas might be issued by a number of different jurists in any given time or place – but those jurists may find that their edicts only get followed by those who voluntarily choose to do so. In Egypt, the most famous institution that individual Egyptians visit to receive one of these non-binding edicts is that of the Grand Mufti of Egypt: Dar Al-Ifta Al-Misriyyah, or the Egyptian House of Edicts. I know that institution well – it is where I underwent my own training in delivering legal edicts, and on a daily basis, hundreds of edicts were delivered. That institution itself, even though it is a part of the Ministry of Justice (and thus a state institution), does not have the ability to enforce its decisions. The ability to enforce edicts in Egypt is rightfully accorded to the state authorities – i.e. the legal system.

This recent “fatwa” was particularly problematic in a number of different ways related to the procedure of issuing a fatwa. The details that were provided were sketchy, and appear based on a rather biased political reading of the situation. This alone is a basis for repudiating the “fatwa” as the conditions of a fatwa include that it be unbiased and impartial. That the issuer of a fatwa is for or against a particular political force – whether that force is Hosni Mubarak, Mohammed Morsi, or George W. Bush – must never influence a fatwa he or she issues.

There are conditions to be fulfilled before someone might be considered, within Islamic law, a brigand or guilty of high treason – conditions which are clearly laid out in different books of Islamic law. Those books do not indicate that participation in protests or voicing disagreement with rulers, in and of themselves, can be considered as acts of banditry or high treason.

Even if they did meet the legal criteria for high treason or banditry (which protests do not), only the state authorities responsible for maintaining law and order have authority to consider such a edict as it falls within the remit of the judicial system – not individual religious personalities and fatwa committees. This, on the other hand, involved an individual operating in a private capacity, and was delivered publicly to the ‘Egyptian people’ – not an official judge to an appropriate government body. The imam’s “fatwa” is, in effect, a call to vigilantism, something in complete defiance of Islamic law.

It is compulsory upon any mufti to ponder the likely consequences of their ruling and to weigh whether their ruling obtains or denies the ultimate purposes of Islam. While it is not normally necessary for a mufti to always provide evidence for his opinion, it is incumbent upon him to give details where details are needed, such as where failure to do so can result in the misapplication of his words. This statement, on the other hand, was, essentially, a press release given over the course of a few minutes, with virtually no details. Moreover, it does not appear that the issuer gave any forethought to the consequences of people following his opinion – with bloodshed being an obvious likely consequence of its application. In issuing a statement in this fashion, he is encouraging less law and order, not more, and moreover, increasing the possibility of civil strife.

In addition to the previous major procedural issues, there are two others. Firstly, the idea that there is ‘apostasy’ from democracy and freedom, while likely a rhetorical tool void of any real meaning, it is a tool that no jurist would ever use. It’s a baseless polemic, nothing more – and has no place in a legal argument of any sort. Moreover, it was widely reported that the imam claimed to be a member of Al-Azhar University’s official fatwa committee, a claim the university itself rejects. The imam’s claim and his association with Al-Azhar’s Fatwa Commitee are objective facts that can be verified. If the claim proves to be false – as opposed to being simply misrepresented by the press, which is not uncommon – this alone is sufficient to disqualify the imam from issuing fatwas as a fraud. Frankly, it would be advisable for Al-Azhar University to investigate this imam, and any others who display such recklessness, lest the name of Al-Azhar and religion in the public sphere be brought into disrepute.

Yet, this discussion goes far beyond the particulars concerning this preacher and his “fatwa,” and the qualifications of muftis and fatwas. The point here is the role of the religious establishment, and how seriously its members perceive that role. The religious establishment of Egypt needs to be more vigilant in ensuring that standards do not drop against the backdrop of a political space that is more infused with religious imagery. Standards cannot be allowed to drop, or weaken – rather, they have to raised, and strengthened. The participation of the religious establishment must always be a source of wisdom and insight, and never one of confusion and strife.

Shaykh Musa Furber is a Research Fellow at the Tabah Foundation (http://www.tabahfoundation.org/en/), and is a qualified issuer of edicts (mufti). He received his license to deliver legal edicts (fatwas) from senior scholars at the Egyptian House of Edicts, including the Grand Mufti of Egypt. He was raised in Portland, Oregon, and lives in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Short link:

 

Email
 
Name
 
Comment's
Title
 
Comment
Ahram Online welcomes readers' comments on all issues covered by the site, along with any criticisms and/or corrections. Readers are asked to limit their feedback to a maximum of 1000 characters (roughly 200 words). All comments/criticisms will, however, be subject to the following code
  • We will not publish comments which contain rude or abusive language, libelous statements, slander and personal attacks against any person/s.
  • We will not publish comments which contain racist remarks or any kind of racial or religious incitement against any group of people, in Egypt or outside it.
  • We welcome criticism of our reports and articles but we will not publish personal attacks, slander or fabrications directed against our reporters and contributing writers.
  • We reserve the right to correct, when at all possible, obvious errors in spelling and grammar. However, due to time and staffing constraints such corrections will not be made across the board or on a regular basis.
3



Naveed Lotia
13-10-2012 05:49pm
1-
1+
Place of Fatwa in Islamic Jurisprudence
Yes, Fatwas are supposed to be NON-BINDING religious opinions and not religious decrees and this fact must be made common knowledge for the average muslim. More importantly, the modern state must ensure that Fatwas promoting violence or other criminal conduct under the guise of religion are not only banned outright but are criminalized under the law. This will ensure that religion is not misused.
Email
 
Name
 
Comment's Title
 
Comment
2



Free Lady
30-08-2012 07:35pm
0-
0+
Fatwa Industry
Fatwa is issued to guide a Muslim to live a rightful life. Unfortunately through out Islamic history fatwas have been bought and sold. Even today corrupt religious mafia issue fatwa on their own interest not as per Islamic law. They will make one thing HARAM for other which is HALAL for them self and vice verse. Latest example in Egypt is IMF loan. We need to recognize and avoid such religious criminals. They have sold their religion for a small worldly benefit and desire to rule.
Email
 
Name
 
Comment's Title
 
Comment
1



sawsan mostafa ali
29-08-2012 07:28pm
0-
62+
THIS FATWA
1-This Fatw shows that mess has reached all aspects of our lives. 2- It also shows that Al Azhar is including Ekhwan and Salvis. 3- It is a test balloon - to see whether the Eg. will remain silent to such Fatwas or the response will be the explosion of anger as happened. 4- Some are trying that Egyptians to loose trust in Al Azhar - by having such silly and dangerous Fatwas to be said by Al Azhar member. 5- I hope everyone understands now why it is very dangerous to mix politics with religion.
Email
 
Name
 
Comment's Title
 
Comment
Latest

© 2010 Ahram Online.