Monday, August 16, 2010

Conflicting fatwas are good for Muslims

In a blow to Islamic freedom of thought, the Saudi king has ordered that all public fatwas must be approved by himself

Brian Whitaker, Monday 16 August 2010

"Last week, the king of Saudi Arabia issued a royal order decreeing that the only Islamic scholars allowed to issue fatwas will be those approved by himself.

The move has been welcomed by some as an attempt to impose discipline on the chaotic business of fatwa-issuing and also put a stop to "strange" fatwas, like the recent one on breast-feeding adult men in order to overcome the kingdom's strict rules on gender segregation.

In a sermon on Friday, the imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca praised the king's decree,......

In the same way that the internet is gradually teaching people they shouldn't believe everything they read on screen or in print, crazy fatwas serve a useful purpose. They demonstrate that there is no such thing as a single "correct" interpretation of scripture, and force people who have never been accustomed to doing so to start sorting the wheat from the chaff.

In Saudi Arabia, though, allowing space for free religious debate is not really possible under the present system. The laws of the state are based on religious law (the sharia) – or at least the official Wahhabi interpretation of it. This assumes there is a consensus about what religious law says, and a free market for fatwas would undermine the whole edifice."

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