Fatwa Flood


The Cairo-based Mideast Times reports that Egypt is being inundated with a flood of trivial fatwas, or religious edicts. Once characterized by their scholarship, the paper reports, many fatwas are now absurd, and "are issued just about daily to forbid anything from the internet and satellite dishes to mobile phones and yoga."

In common with many other religions, Islam has no hierarchical authority. Any pious and presumably learned adult male may lead prayer and pronounce on appropriate religious practice. However, that means that it can be very difficult for religious authorities, such as those associated with Egypt's famous Al Azhar University, to assert any control over these proliferating edicts. Ironically, as more people become concerned with issues of religious propriety on matters not mentioned in the Koran, ever-larger numbers of self-proclaimed muftis arise issuing bizarre and even contradictory fatwas, diluting the community's consensus about practice.

Such fatwas are apparently issued all time in mosques, newspapers, and on radio and TV. Notes the story, "One recent fatwa forbade the practice of yoga on the grounds that it is an ascetic Hindu practice. Another declared that Muslims should not use the internet because it makes them waste their time. Most recently, a fatwa announced that ironing women's pants was forbidden as women are not allowed to wear pants in Islam."

The paper quotes one Islamic researcher and writer who complains that many new fatwas are "against any kind of modernity," and are issued by ignorant persons "who want to keep people away from other important issues like democracy and technology."