Fundamentalist groups have often had a field day in interpreting and adapting religious texts to suit their own purposes, review them outside their temporal and objective meanings and employ them in inapplicable contexts — be they events, subjects and eras — as well as use them as weapons against others.
Exploiting religious texts to issue fatwas has been essential for Islamist movements. The assassination of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, the attempted murder of novelist Naguib Mahfouz, the massacres committed by the Armed Islamic Group in Algeria, as well as the suicide operations carried out by al-Qaeda and ISIS are all based on fatwas used by terrorists.
This approach of arbitrarily issuing fatwas seeks to find a textual reference that justifies partisan action. It contradicts the foundations of ‘ijtihad,’ the origins of jurisprudential deductive reasoning among Muslim scholars and the concept of the modern state and its civism. This state is based on the principle of institutionalizing work and organizing it according to laws imposed on everyone and that are the state’s supreme reference.
Exploiting religious texts to issue fatwas has been essential for Islamist movements. The assassination of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, the attempted murder of novelist Naguib Mahfouz... The suicide operations carried out by al-Qaeda and ISIS are all based on fatwas used by terroristsHassan Al Mustafa
As such, many countries are now working on controlling the sway of ‘fatwas’ and trying to institutionalize them, so that violent groups and those that lack religious competency are not able to exploit them.
Avoiding exploitation of fatwas
Last June, the UAE Council of Ministers ratified the formation of the Emirates Fatwa Council under the chairmanship of Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah along with a number of experts that include women.
In addition to his religious expertise, Bin Bayyah is known for his strong conscience regarding the importance of the development of Fiqh, and a deep understanding that change in time and place directly impacts judgments. In addition, he is far from extremism and believes in a more tolerant and open-minded religious discourse. He is also the president of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies which focuses on overcoming sectarian divisions and mitigating sectarian tensions.
Before this council was formed, the Muslim Council of Elders, chaired by Al-Azhar Sheikh Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayeb was established. All these institutions aim to transfer Fiqh and religious discourse that was in accordance with the circumstances of earlier times to a level suited for the transition of Arab societies into modern civil states.
Rescuing Islam from the hands of extremists is not an easy task. As such, it necessitates extensive political and diplomatic work.
The UAE’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed visited the Vatican and met with Pope Francis where they emphasized the importance of dialogue between religions and the promotion of the values of tolerance and coexistence among peoples. This comes within the UAE’s work to restore the status of an Islam that is open to others, a humanistic Islam that does not distrust those with different doctrines but seeks to create common space for different religions and communities, to undermine the threat of conflict and wars in the world.
In the past decades, the Arab Gulf has been a harmonious place for co-existence among its various components, while ensuring its durability, thus preventing the exploitation of fatwas and their use for creating civil strife and accusing the society of infidelity and immorality. It is a responsibility that necessitates constant action and joint civil and government efforts.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Hassan AlMustafa is Saudi journalist with interest in middle east and Gulf politics. His writing focuses on social media, Arab youth affairs and Middle Eastern societal matters. His twitter handle is @halmustafa.