Egypt leads new fatwa policy to fight ISIS ideology

Friday 28/08/2015
Good step

LONDON - Egypt’s Dar Al-Ifta, the country’s most prominent religious authority, has agreed to “cooperation” agreements with other Sunni fatwa-issuing bodies in the wake of a conference of Muslim clerics from across the region as part of efforts to counter jihadist and takfiri ideology.

The conference — The Fatwa: Current Realities and Future Pros­pects — convened August 17th and 18th in Cairo and concluded with a number of initiatives to secure greater “coordination and consul­tation” between national religious bodies.

Initiatives include the establish­ment of a “general secretariat” for global fatwa issuance, as well as centres tasked with monitoring and rebutting extremist edicts, and particularly so-called ex-commu­nication fatwas, as well as training aspiring muftis based on a “moder­ate” interpretation of Islam.

“The conference is a good step forward in a very long road. We needed to do this a long time ago because we have to unify the efforts in confronting the excommunica­tion orientated fatwas, which bring a grave danger to the Arab region, particularly as the Islamic State (ISIS) is making use of these kinds of fatwas,” said al-Azhar Professor of Political Science Hassan Wagieh.

ISIS is known for its practice of takfir — declaring other Muslims to be infidels — through which it justifies killing and enslavement of those, including followers of other Islamic sects such as Shias, it per­ceives to be non-Muslims.

“These fatwas are like an atomic bomb and it needs to be dismantled before it explodes for real. We have already seen a taste of this… but it could get much worse,” he told The Arab Weekly.

The establishment of a General Secretariat incorporating different official fatwa-issuing bodies would represent an unprecedented move towards the unification of Islamic jurisprudence, with national fatwa-issuing bodies coordinating with one another to, at the very least, agree on fatwas not accepted by regional states. This could even see the codification of a body of fatwas formally accepted and endorsed across the region, although ques­tions remain as to what extent re­gional countries — which follow dif­ferent schools of Sunni Islam — can work together.

“This could be managed. Manag­ing differences is a problem in the Arab world, not just in this affair but all affairs.

But if we understand pluralism and understand that this is a ne­cessity to handle diversification of opinion and forge the common ground with negotiation and crisis management efforts,” said Wagieh, who has written a number of books on conflict resolution.

“This needs a lot of work, with experts [in negotiations] and the clergy working together but if the clergy try to do the whole thing by themselves, without referring to experts, I think they will have prob­lems,” he added.

The majority of Arab states en­dorse an official body to issue fat­was, with all other fatwas issued by clerics considered illegitimate. In the case of Egypt, it is Dar Al-Ifta, under al-Azhar University, that is responsible for fatwa issuance.

After the Cairo conference, Dar Al-Ifta announced a number of “co­operation” agreements with other religious bodies, including Paki­stan’s official fatwa-issuing body, as well as Algeria’s Ministry of Reli­gious Affairs.

“What is required from the offi­cial institutions like al-Azhar and Dar Al-Ifta is to work hard and con­tinuously and never stop because the other side will not stop,” Wag­ieh said. “The task is enormous.”

While in the run up to the con­ference, Egypt’s Ministry of Awqaf (Religious Endowments) an­nounced that clerics would receive “deterrent penalties” for issuing “abnormal” fatwas that “stir up se­dition and disorder.”

“We have to go for a long-term solution and we have to have the ability of enforcement. It is not only how to theorise or how to get peo­ple gathering here and there and when you finish the conference you hold another conference one year later. This is not enough for the cri­sis we are facing,” Wagieh added.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi backed the move towards the unification of regional fatwa bod­ies, warning against the threat of extremist ideology.

“President Sisi confirmed the im­portance of early action to ward off the dangers of extremist ideology and terrorism from Islamic society before this ideology can spread,” said Egyptian presidential spokes­man Alaa Yousef.

The move towards greater uni­fication in religious discourse has been long coming, with Sisi fa­mously calling for a “religious revo­lution” to confront extremist ideol­ogy in January 2015.

Speaking before a gathering of clerics, Sisi said: “We are in need of a religious revolution.

“You imams are responsible be­fore God. The entire world is wait­ing on you. The entire world is wait­ing for your word… because the Islamic world is being torn. It is be­ing destroyed. It is being lost. And it is being lost by our own hands.”

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