Archive for Fatwas

Fatwa alert: Murder as a form of TV censorship

Recently, the NY Times did a piece on a fatwa that was issued by a highly respected Saudi scholar, Sheik Saleh al-Luhaidan. Basically, he stated that it was alright to murder the owners of TV networks for airing immoral programming. The ruling was in response to a highly popular Turkish soap opera that invaded the homes of Arabs across the Middle East during the month of Ramadan. In the show, among the main characters are a married couple in which the husband treats his wife as his equal. Scandalous, I know. Abortion was another issue that was dealt with.

My friend recently posted the story on Facebook and I thought one person’s comments were interesting in that they’re reflective of a general passive and uncritical attitude towards an ailing religious establishment in the Middle East. Essentially, he believes it to be a conspiracy on the part of Western media to smear Islam and make Muslims doubt their faith. Not to suggest that some journalists don’t intentionally choose to focus on the worst aspects of our communities, but to dismiss in knee-jerk fashion any and every criticism that comes out of Western journalism is due more to stubborn, blind faith and less from any evidence that Western editors conspire to attack the faith of Muslims. Why get defensive? Are we afraid that if we admit to and begin to reevaluate a form of Islam that has been partly molded by chauvinist and intolerant thinking, that it will somehow cause us to lose complete faith? Rather than make us doubt, these incidents should help us to work harder to fulfill the potential of our faith. We have to believe that if our faith is solid and true, than addressing these problems will only lead to a strengthened imaan. Because if it doesn’t, well then I’m not sure I want to follow a faith with so many inherent problems. But I don’t believe these issues stem from the divine. Each fatwa is simply one man’s interpretation.

The person who commented on the article described the sheikh as a well-respected scholar and warned about criticizing “stupid clerics”, as my friend described them. This is the same sheikh who in the past declared an already persecuted minority of Ismailis to be “infidels”, thereby legitimizing their maltreatment in Saudi Arabia. Imams are not above reproach if they are harming their communities and there’s a line between healthy respect and blind loyalty. A highly respected scholar with wide appeal should not be encouraging murder but instead remind Muslims that no person shall bear the burden of another’s sins, so if a person decides to own a television set then he or she does so at their own risk. Makes for less bloodshed and more personal accountability.

Beyond the fatwa itself, I take issue with these inconsistent clerics and their endemic double standards. This particular sheikh changed his original opinion when Saudi authorities, many of whom own these networks, got a tad upset over the fatwa he just put over their heads. Rather than blaming these men for the programming they’ve allowed into their country, which would have at least been consistent with his original logic, the sheikh instead put down his sword and decided that perhaps they should be given a fair hearing in court.

This is representative of how the religious establishment in the Middle East caters to powerful interests and vice-versa. Of all the thousands of fatwas manufactured by these men, not even a handful touch on the corrupt leaderships and societal ills that have direct bearing on peoples’ daily lives. And when it comes to the “highly respected” ones, the chances of finding such fatwas are nil. Instead we have scholars wasting our time on inconsequential matters, and blaming TV execs for a problem that can easily be resolved by simply changing the channel.

And what’s that say about an Arab world that’s become infatuated with a show seemingly promoting women’s rights? Reportedly, the show raised marital tensions between actual couples. Did the show really cause these problems though or did it just reveal what was already bubbling beneath the surface? Could it have anything to do with how women are treated in these societies? Case in point, recently Jordan’s religious establishment pressured the parliament to reject a law that would have protected women from honor killings because Imams worried it would threaten the nation’s “values.” And like always and as business as usual, the parliament in return stays out of the affairs of mosques as long as they’re not touching on their rule. Which I guess wouldn’t be so bad if Imams weren’t busy calling for assassinations and impinging on minority rights.

Corrupt political leadership is not the only thing deterring the Muslim world from progress…

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