Fatwa Flood

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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."

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  1. Why does imagery of a guy selling fatwas a sporting event come to mind?

    “Get your fatwas! Get them while they are hot!”

  2. This is all very silly. I guess it disproves the old saying, “The cure for bad speech is more speech.”

    I think it would be amusing to see this in other religions. Every (self-appointed) learned man a pope or Dali Lama. Let a million Jerry Fallwells bloom.

  3. Who needs religion; in the Anglosphere this is how common law operates though with a bit more hierarchy.

  4. Does this mean we have to invade Egypt and drain another swamp?

    Cuz I’m pretty sure that the Army Corps of Engineers could do a decent job on the Nile Delta. I’m just not sure that “liberalization at gunpoint” would be effective at ending the fatwas.

  5. I think this is great! I’ll take a billion Muslims over one Pope any day.

    In fact, as a Muslim (well, it’s not like you have to take a test or anything), I declare that every good Muslim must:

    -eat hot dogs on Friday
    -kiss Hank’s ass to get a million dollars
    -fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke

  6. John & Ken (KFI Los Angeles) before they went on their all outrage all the time kick, used to have a John & Ken fatwa feature.

    Maybe that was on KABC. Unfortunately whimsy doesn’t get ratings. They’ve gone to all-outrage Laci Peterson and Illegal Immigration 24/7 all the time.

    I thought I saved an audio clip of one, but have titled it in some way I can’t find it if so.

  7. To the extent that Egyptians become skeptical of all this fatwa business & start to think for themselves, this is probably a good thing. Knowing so little as I do about Egypt, I wouldn’t want to predict how much of that will happen, though.

    It reminds of the general reaction of Catholics in this country to the Church’s pronouncements on sexuality — they are generally seen as bizarre and best ignored by sensible, healthy people.

  8. I think that in the end this may be a good example of the free speech axiom; “counter bad speech with more speech”. To the extent that the Egyptians are going to inevitably ignore fatwas. Or to shop around for fatwas that they like, which is effectively the same thing.

    Then it turns into something like where Bill Clinton read into the bible that it was OK to get oral sex from an intern.

  9. This reminds me of Bill Maher – whom as much as I hate had a poignant thought on this subject – which I’ll probably mangle through paraphrase, but here goes…

    The difference between our religious extremists and theirs is that we chose to ignore ours. Everytime Jerry Fawell comes out and says, “You should eat pork 3 times a day” or whatever, we just laugh a little and point, while saying – “Isn’t that cute.”

  10. Sure, we’d hate to have all those Muslim men on the internet wasting their time vs. the time honored productive activities of hanging out, drinking coffee, arguing and smoking.

    Then again, I just stopped working for 3 minutes to type this.

    Damn you Reason!!!!

  11. This is all very silly. I guess it disproves the old saying, “The cure for bad speech is more speech.”

    Naw. It looks to me like the bad speech (the whole fatwa nonsense) is being cured by more speech.

  12. Going to ignore them? Well, judging by the Egyptians I know, which is, granted, more educated and secular than the average Egyptian, these pronouncements are ignored. Actually, the same is true for my religious relatives. Basically, everyone has a handful of scholars that they respect and trust, so they’ll only pay attention to those fatwas.

    Of course, I’ve learned long ago that the people I know and interact with are not indicative of common cultural trends, both here and in Egypt. There are probably lots of people that trust and respect the idiots giving out the silly fatwas (it sounds like something out of a Monty Python skit, the Ministry of Silly Fatwas).

  13. sixsigma:

    “The difference between our religious extremists and theirs is that we chose to ignore ours.”

    sure just look at the recent elections and you’ll see that the likes of Jerry Falwell have no power what so ever.

    I think it is just wishful thinking on Bill Maher’s (and perhaps your) part.

  14. a,

    From everything I’ve read, the likes of Jerry Falwell et al. were hardly a decisive factor in this election’s results. A lot of that is mythology.

  15. Fatwa inflation – here’s hoping they become so worthless as to be useless.

    Western spies should infiltrate mosques and flood them with Fatwa’s, committing intellectual espionage.

  16. Fatwa on you! Fatwa on you! You, in the back, Fatwa on you! Oh most definitely a fatwa on you, too! Fatwa on me? Oh I think not, because fatwa on you! Fatwa on your sister the slut!

  17. How did that go again? It ain’t over till the fatwa sings… ?

  18. “the likes of Jerry Falwell et al. were hardly a decisive factor in this election’s results.”

    You mean all the gay-marriage bans were not influenced by Jerry Falwell and company? Just to give one example.

  19. “Another declared that Muslims should not use the internet because it makes them waste their time.”
    Well, that’s definately one of the more sensible ones. Too bad non-Muslims aren’t affected.

  20. Right,
    I hereby declare a secular Fatwa on excessive internet usage.
    A fatwa on trolling.
    And a fatwa on hijacking a thread.

  21. A –

    A factor doesn’t make it a “decisive” one. These are two different arguments.

    And lastly, simply because some voters were on the exact same side of one issue as Jerry Fawell, doesn’t mean he had anything to do with it. With this line of reasoning, I could say that I personally was a decisive factor simply because I told others to vote for Bush, and a majority did.

    (Just so we don’t get bogged down in small details, I didn’t tell others to vote for Bush – I’m simply making a point)

  22. SixSigma:

    You can make claim all you want. But when people cite the bible and what is written in it as reasons for mandating a ban on gay-marriage, aborttion, etc. This could only mean one thing: religion and religous leaders influence how people vote. When “morals and values” (code for religion) is cited as a reason for voting for Bush by the majority of his voters, that means reigion is a major factor. I’m sorry but this is reality.

    “A November, 2003 Gallup poll asked registered voters if their personal religious beliefs and faith will be important in deciding their votes for president this year: 64% responded ?yes.? ”

    source: http://www.facsnet.org/issues/faith/winseman.php

    http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/12/politics/campaign/12catholics.html?ei=5070&en=e04f477e18d746c2&ex=1103259600&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1103147344-wObJ73jh5H4rmkAXS/NxWg

    You can google for more.

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