Fatwas by the bushel
On August 12th, 2010, a royal decree restricted the issuing of religious fatwas in Saudi Arabia to the Council of Senior Scholars. It was a wise decision that was well-received by most but that, unfortunately, failed to rein in those who do not believe in human rights or respect mankind’s basic freedoms, love or dreams. The decree was meant to check the chaos in issuing fatwas but it sadly continues to thrive.
Saudi society has suffered enough from fatwas forbidding pictures and television, playing chess, improving school syllabuses and allowing “breastfeeding of adults”. These types of fatwas mushroomed during the period of revivalism. It was a period of social angst and, seeking total domination of the society, fatwa-mongers practically forbade all natural aspects of human life.
There is no shortage of examples of ridiculous fatwas. We all recall the fatwa advising Muslims against flying over lands inhabited by disbelievers and the one forbidding “open buffets” and the one affirming the rightfulness of killing cartoon characters or the one banning women from driving motor vehicles. These are just a small sample of the armada of strict and constraining fatwas unleashed on Saudi society during the past decades.
Who does not recall the fatwa declaring writers and those employed in the mass media as infidels? And what about the one banning taking flowers to sick people? Or the one demanding to redesign and rebuild the Holy Mosque in Mecca so as to segregate the sexes? Arbitrary and dictatorial fatwas turned everything into a sin and nipped hospital flowers in the bud.
Revivalist stars excelled in writing fatwas to such an extent that we have been living a real fatwa mania. How can we forget the fatwa forbidding the shoulder abaya or the one forbidding exchanging greetings and other social niceties with the “people of the Book” or the one forbidding physical education for girls?
It is sad to notice that even the concept of fatwa has been distorted. Some of these fatwas have become binding, God forgive us, just like the Quran and the Sunna. To make matters worse, news agencies have picked up on some of these ridiculous fatwas with the purpose of defacing us and our religion.
To complete the comical picture, they painted of us, foreign media pounced on fatwas banning satellite dishes, disallowing saluting the flag and standing up for the national anthem and forbidding hair salons for women. We should not really be surprised for we did write and direct these burlesque scenes.
How do we disentangle ourselves from this web of our own weaving?
We should start by breaking this malicious vicious circle and stop hiding behind automatically banning anything new in our society.
We need fresh blood in the Council of Senior Scholars. We need to open it to other sectarian and geographic elements so that it becomes representative of all — and I repeat — all components of the society. We must also stick to the above-mentioned royal decree and simply sweep aside all non-council members, including the self-appointed TV and satellite stars, who did their best to eradicate cultural diversity.
It is high time to start critiquing fatwas, particularly those that stand in stark contradiction to Islam’s magnanimity and tolerance. We must dare to challenge those who impose their views outside of any official legitimacy. They are the ones who opposed criminalising sexual harassment and refused the family law and the national unity system and the law against marrying minors. How is that for “defacing” us and our religion?
I hope that our pride will not prevent us from freeing our lives from misguided ideologies. We should all remember that religious extremists are the ones who bereaved us of our happiness and encouraged our children to join terrorist groups. It is high time to close down the fatwa auction and stop the tyranny of fatwa brokers. Only legitimate political will can make fatwas binding.