"Fatwa Chaos" Bewilders Muslims on Sex and Suicide

A century ago, the fatwa department at Cairo's Al-Azhar University issued fewer than 200 edicts a day. Now it turns out about 1,000.

The university, a center of Islamic learning for more than a millennium, isn't alone. Around the world, an explosion in the number of fatwas -- pronouncements by religious leaders intended to shape the actions of the faithful on everything from sex to politics -- is sparking efforts by prominent Muslims to rein in the practice. That's proving a nearly impossible task, given Islam's decentralized nature and the growing number of outlets for the edicts.

Muslims in Egypt seeking religious guidance may now turn to satellite television and the Internet for opinions from as far afield as Indonesia and Morocco -- unless they follow the fatwa issued in 2004 by the Dar ul-Ulum, India's largest Islamic seminary, that ruled Muslims shouldn't watch TV.

With no pope or patriarch to arbitrate orthodoxy, ``it's the nature of Islamic thought to have many options,'' says Abdel Moti Bayoumi, who heads the Islamic Research Compilation Center in Cairo. ``But there are too many unqualified opinions being spread, and this is wrong.''

The result is what MENA, Egypt's official news agency, calls ``fatwa chaos.''


Mainstream Islamic scholars blame TV and the Web for the proliferation of pronouncements, which are supposed to be based on the Koran and words attributed to the prophet Mohammed. Confusing opinions are reaching millions of believers, these critics say.

Dissident preachers fault establishment clerics for issuing what they consider abstruse and sometimes ridiculous judgments. As evidence, they cite recent fatwas from the university that ban sculptures, authorize female circumcision and one in May saying women who meet alone with men ought to breastfeed them to create a ``maternal'' bond that precludes having sex.

Among non-Muslims in the West, fatwas burst into prominence in 1989, when the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini put a death sentence on author Salman Rushdie for supposed blasphemy in his novel ``The Satanic Verses.''

Clerics are supposed to have religious and legal training on which to base their authority. Even trained scholars have issued contradictory fatwas about whether suicide bombing and attacks on civilians are justified, creating political and theological controversies.

Unified Standards

After the breastfeeding edict gained worldwide notoriety, Ali Gomaa, the chief scholar at Al-Azhar mosque, suggested that Muslims establish unified standards for pronouncing fatwas.

On Sept. 28, Al-Azhar University, which is affiliated with the mosque, announced it is setting up its own TV station to issue proper edicts and avoid ``fatwa chaos,'' according to MENA. A week later, the Council of Senior Muslim Clerics in Saudi Arabia said it is creating a Web site to provide quick access to its rulings.

The mishmash of opinions has created ``crises and confusion'' at a time when Muslims are ``in utmost need of coherence and unity,'' Seif Abdul Fattah, a professor of Islamic political thought at Cairo University, wrote in an Oct. 4 article for Al-Ahram newspaper.

The Web site for Dar al-Ifta, Al-Azhar University's fatwa department, currently includes pronouncements about the propriety of keeping dogs indoors (no, because ``dogs are filth'') and theft using credit cards to strike back at the United States and Israel for ``waging war'' on Muslims (credit- card fraud ``does not conform to the teachings of Islam''). It also rejects using loudspeakers to broadcast prayers during a burial (``silence and tranquility are more appropriate'').

Today the Dar al-Ifta Web site answers the question whether it's all right to celebrate Mother's Day (yes).


Mohammed Salmawy, head of the Egyptians Writers Union, wrote a sardonic column in the Oct. 20 edition of Cairo's Daily News newspaper criticizing fatwas that urge women to cover themselves from head to foot and travel in taxis only in the company of a male relative -- practices uncommon in Egypt.

``The competition between our revered sheikhs has reached such heights that not a week goes by, after an issuance of a new and ingenious fatwa in one country, before another fatwa crops up in another to outdo it,'' the secular commentator wrote.

Adding to the tension is a rivalry between establishment clerics and a new breed of television preachers, says Amr Khaled, a former accountant turned ``tele-imam'' who eschews the customary robes of Muslim imams for a coat and tie. His show, ``Paradise in Our House,'' appears on four Middle East satellite stations, and Time Magazine picked him as one of its 100 most influential people for 2007.

Optimistic Style

Khaled, 40, acknowledges that he lacks formal theological training and models his program on Oprah Winfrey's optimistic style seasoned with religious teaching. He says mainstream scholars are out of touch with the needs of young people, especially women. ``If I can take viewers away from following bad fatwas, I will,'' he says. ``Unfortunately, there's some injustice said in the name of Islam, and they come out of even respected institutions.''

Even if tele-imams like Khaled don't issue formal edicts, ``it is a fine line between giving advice and fatwas, and people are rightly confused,'' says the Islamic Research Compilation Center's Bayoumi.

``The real problem is that religion is being put out front at all times and injected into everything,'' says Aly Elsamman, head of Al-Azhar University's Dialogue and Islamic Relations Committee. ``This makes the need for knowledge more pressing, but the need isn't met.'' ( Bloomberg )

ERIELL to work on wells at field in Uzbekistan’s Karakalpakstan
ERIELL to work on wells at field in Uzbekistan’s Karakalpakstan
Turkey sees increase in cement exports to Azerbaijan
Turkey sees increase in cement exports to Azerbaijan
Kazakhstan-Israel trade plummets y-o-y
Kazakhstan-Israel trade plummets y-o-y
Loading Bars
President Ilham Aliyev views construction of Ordubad Hydroelectric Power Plant
ERIELL to work on wells at field in Uzbekistan’s Karakalpakstan
First Vice President of Azerbaijan shares publication on occasion of 98th anniversary of birth of National Leader Heydar Aliyev
President Ilham Aliyev attends inauguration of Julfa-Ordubad highway
Uzbekistan’s 1Q2021 tomatoes export revealed
Turkey sees increase in cement exports to Azerbaijan
Kazakhstan-Israel trade plummets y-o-y
Uzbekistan to connect number of small industrial zones to utility networks
Weekly review of Azerbaijani currency market
ACG oil transshipment from Ceyhan terminal exceeds 70 mb YTD
EBRD, EIB, Proparco to fund construction of solar power plant in Uzbekistan’s Samarkand
President Ilham Aliyev attends opening of Artificial Insemination Center in Nakhchivan
Azerbaijan creating 'green' energy zone in liberated Karabakh
President Ilham Aliyev attends opening of Nakhchivan Garrison Central Hospital
President Ilham Aliyev attended inauguration of Nakhchivan branch of “Azerkhalcha” OJSC
Weekly review of Azerbaijani oil market
Bank of Israel cuts government bond purchases
President Ilham Aliyev viewed construction of “ASAN xidmət” Center in Nakhchivan
Turkey's 4M2021 steel exports to Turkmenistan shrink
Armenian Parliament to reconsider issue of electing new prime minister
Iran increases sturgeon farming
World's largest cargo plane with UK Covid aid takes off for India
President Ilham Aliyev visits statue of national leader Heydar Aliyev in Nakhchivan
India to recruit 400 retired medical officers of AMC, SSC; Defence Ministry issues orders
Iran eyes to expand ties Turkmenistan
Indian-Led Ground-Breaking Cancer Test Hopes To Launch This Year
President Aliyev attends opening of military aerodrome of Special Combined Arms Army
Iran to renovate public transport fleet
Iranian water and electricity companies to enter EAEU market
Artists of Int'l Arts Festival create 'Kharybulbul' model in Azerbaijan's liberated lands (PHOTO)
Indian and Indonesian navies carry out military drill in southern Arabian Sea
President Aliyev attends presentation of new runway at Nakhchivan International Airport
Iran continues investments for dev't of postal network
Iran, Serbia to expand ties by preferential trade agreement
Iran to inaugurate new national housing units
Iran's NIGTC announces tender for intelligent pipes
Iran to return to its full oil production capacity by early 2023, says JP Morgan
India, EU hold virtual summit to boost overall ties
Stand Firmly With India In This Challenging Time: European Commission Chief
JP Morgan expects global oil demand to surge over summer
President Ilham Aliyev arrives in Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic for visit
UK PM Johnson to announce next phase of COVID lockdown easing
Over 170 million Covid-19 vaccine doses administered so far, says Indian government
Covid-19: Abu Dhabi temple's medical supplies, oxygen reach India
Iran allocates funds for flood control projects
Iranian currency rates for May 10
Uzbekistan reveals COVID-19 data for May 10
Iran's main Stock Exchange sees decline
Azerbaijani president, first lady Mehriban Aliyeva visit tomb of national leader Heydar Aliyev (PHOTO)
Ford recalls 661,000 Explorer SUVs in North America
Los Angeles-made film highlights Azerbaijan’s role in defeating Nazi Germany
Bahar Azadi gold coin price increase in Iran
Iran's NIDC to start exploration excavations in Ardabil Province
Iran to launch number of facilities in free trade, special economic zones
Investments in mining sector of Iran's Zanjan Province increase
Iran's Amir-Kabir Petrochemical Company sees increase in sales
Iran to restore several mines in Qom Province
Perpetuation of fascist ideology by Armenia - catastrophic for whole world - Israeli expert
Iran shares data on exports from Semnan Province
Iran discloses number of cars supplied with dual fuel free of charge
Likelihood of interest rate decrease in Azerbaijan seems very low – Unicapital
Foundation of apartments to be laid in Iran's Yazd Province
Eleven people killed in bombing of bus in Southern Afghanistan - officials
Fauci says U.S. COVID-19 death toll undercounted
Heydar Aliyev is a man who gave wings to Azerbaijan in most difficult conditions - Yuli Gusman
Vaccination of citizens over 18 starts in Azerbaijan
Poll shows 60% of Japanese want Games cancelled
Ministry discloses number of ships received by big port in southern Turkey in 1Q2021
Brazil reports 1,024 more deaths from COVID-19
UN Security Council to discuss East Jerusalem tensions on Monday
Gaza militants fire 2 rockets at southern Israel: military
Saudi Arabia to hold Hajj ritual under COVID-19 measures
Hamilton overtakes Verstappen to win F1 Spanish GP
UK records another 1,770 coronavirus cases, 2 deaths
EU has not ordered AstraZeneca vaccines beyond June - Commissioner
Russian FM to visit Azerbaijan
Emirates to fly medical aid to India for free
WHO records over 786,000 new daily cases of COVID-19 worldwide
Azerbaijan marks 98th birthday anniversary of National Leader Heydar Aliyev
Kazakhstan becomes main importer of Uzbek cars
Iran, India discuss expansion of trade relations
Turkey's COVID-19 cases maintain downward trend amid lockdown
Georgian NCDC Deputy Head hopes for better epidsituation in summer if cases do not surge in May
Enmity with Turks is catastrophe not only for Armenia, but for entire region - Pashinyan
Lukashenko, Putin agree to meet soon
President Ilham Aliyev makes Facebook post on 98th anniversary of national leader Heydar Aliyev (PHOTO)
Egypt to start producing Chinese Sinovac coronavirus vaccine in June: Health minister
South Sudan president dissolves parliament in line with peace deal
Israeli gov't approves aid plan for leading airlines
Belarus president signs decree on transition of powers in case of emergency
Progress achieved under Azerbaijan’s national leader Heydar Aliyev paved way for liberation of occupied lands in 2020 – Sobhani
Sunflower imports down in Georgia
Kyrgyz FM to visit China
Expert consultations continue in Vienna between Iran
New COVID-19 cases in Turkey lowest since March
Israeli gov't approves aid plan for leading airlines
Iran's Energy Exchange announces products to be on sale on May 10
Turkey discloses number of ships received by Zonguldak port in 1Q2021
National Gymnastics Arena in Baku has best conditions - Сoach of Egyptian team
Emotions after competition are positive - bronze medalists of World Cup in Baku, Azerbaijani team
All news