I read an angry fatwa (religious ruling) issued by an angry cleric – and there is an abundance of angry clerics today – which stated that April Fools’ Day hoaxes, an innocent joke that friends play on each other, is prohibited in Islam. In the same newspaper, I read a fatwa that permitted men to marry women with the intention of divorce. In other words, he can lie to his [potential] wife in order to satisfy his desires. What a big difference there is between prohibiting jokes and allowing exploitation to take place!
The religious milieu, the active players of which have multiplied, has grown incapable of unifying its references, with everyone seeking “legitimate” interpretation to be either extremist or permissive concerning what they dislike or desire. Some have resorted to giving things new names; there is now Murabaha instead of Fa’ida [interest], Misyaar instead of Mutaa’ [temporary marriage], singing voices instead of music, and so on and so forth.
The arena has become chaotic both in terms of views and practices, with some individuals prohibiting the exchange of red roses on one hand and legalizing test-tube babies on the other hand, whilst others confuse the prevailing social order, permitting the use of Viagra whilst prohibiting the use of condoms.
No one can blame a Mujtahid [a person qualified to carry out ijtihad – interpretation of scriptures] for the conflict and differences that preoccupy and bewilder people. Developments in technology and scientific discoveries have caused difficulty for Mujtahids that perhaps earlier clerics had never encountered. In addition, changes in society caused concepts to mix, especially on account of the mass emigration between cities, rural areas, states and continents and the meshing of information.
Religion [should be] more capable of looking to the future and having a better understanding of modern sciences and greater capability of calculating the consequences they may have in view of the fact that one fatwa may trigger a crisis or prevent another. One experience that is noteworthy is how Iran dealt with the issue of birth control. In the past, the anti-Shah opposition had dismissed family-planning laws as an attempt to prevent reproduction, which was denounced as irreligious. In post-revolutionary Iran, clerics considered the causes and arrived at the same conclusion—Iran was on the brink of a population explosion that had to be restrained, otherwise reproduction would have grave economic, living and security consequences. Not only did the new regime sanction the sale of contraceptives, it also organized courses at mosques to educate citizens on the importance of birth control. Unlike Egypt where the government has backed down on its program due to an attack by extremist religious groups that declared the practice was prohibited [by Shariah law], Iran has become one of the most successful Muslim countries in this regard.
Clerics in the past were unaware of a problem called population crisis as plagues, famines and shortage of resources naturally took care of the population growth. Hence we understand that adopting a hardline position towards all these new matters is natural since people stand against what they do not know. If there is something worth saying in this regard, then it is to call upon Mujtahids to strengthen their general scientific knowledge and seek to understand all details and dimensions of issues.