The danger of political fatwas issued during revolutionary times lies in the way they use religious teachings in order to achieve partisan interests. Religions are not there to be used for the choice of candidates or for accusing people of apostasy according to personal whims.
There are several examples to cite from the Egyptian revolution where clerics played a major role.
One fatwa said if you vote for a given party, you will be guilty of “high treason” and another that renders voting for parties considered secular, liberal or Coptic-oriented a sin. Parallel to this is another fatwa that makes voting for the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, a form of piety and an attempt to get closer to God.
Some actually issued fatwas prohibiting democracy in general then later started campaigning for a specific candidate.
Others even said that voting for a specific party is like a form of charity whose blessing is bound to remain for hundreds of years and not voting for it a form of disobedience to God that also lasts for the same amount of years.
One of the most interesting fatwas issued by the Muslim Brotherhood was one prohibiting a male member of the group from marrying a woman from outside the group on the grounds that this will have a negative impact on the kids’ upbringing and will, therefore, “delay the awaited victory.” On the other hand, the fatwa added, when Brotherhood members marry each other, children will be “genetic” members of the group.
However, electoral competition in Egypt has been narrowed down to two candidates: the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Mursi and Mubarak’s last Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq. This made the fatwa battle even fiercer with fatwas issued inside and outside Egypt—some came from Saudi and the Gulf—supporting Mursi and prohibiting voting for Shafiq. The last of those was a fatwa issued the day before yesterday and which stated that voting for a secular constitutes a betrayal of God and religion.
After democracy had been a Western tradition and a violation of Islamic laws and fatwas were issued to prohibit it, now the clerics have all of a sudden started supporting one candidate or another based on ideological similarities. Those cross-border political fatwas do not only support a specific candidate, but also tarnish the image of this candidate’s rival also under the name of religion.
This is a flagrant manipulation of religion for the purpose of acquiring political gains. Religious powers believe they are now approaching the much-awaited moment of victory after years of tension with the civil state and all the official institutions that represented it and which are all rejected from their own point of view.
They have resorted to rigid religious Machiavellianism in which they are ready to do anything to reach their aim regardless of the means, the aim here being power and the presidency.
This behavior makes us expect further fatwas in the future through which those powers would take back all their promises about equality and justice and of course also under the name of religion.
However, those fatwas are gradually losing their destructive power because they are issued to an exhausted people who are yearning for the economy to pick up, security to prevail, and work to start anew. These are not demands that can be granted by misleading fatwas or partisan funding. Here is where the human experience exposes political fatwas.
The writer is Head of Media at Al Arabiya. This article was first published in al-Jazirah on June 3, 2012 and translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid