Even the Egyptian Grand Mufti has become exasperated with the soaring number of fatwas (religious edicts) and the confusion surrounding them in the media. He has recently called for increased supervision and the appointment off a specialist body as the sole authority to issue these edicts. I see no future for his suggestion as fatwas increasingly resemble alternative medicine with its sorcerers and experts in a vast array of herbs and potions. The growth of the internet meant such people can now run unlicensed clinics and pharmacies which sell everything from volcanic rocks to the latest untested products.
Those seeking fatwas resemble patients who are desperate for a decisive solution to their ills, through various media channels or their friends. More religious edicts have been issued in the last decade than in the last 1400 years. This flurry of activity, whether beneficial or not, is not related to the history of Islam except for a few aspects. Does this reflect our ancestors’ lack of interest or is it a modern-day trade to parallel light entertainment programs?
I loathe blaming the plethora of muftis given the absence of an authority that licenses their activities and holds them to account. In this media, age consumers sell almost everything, from interpretations of dreams to political analysis, with many spending long hours in front of the television, instead of visiting friends and carrying out everyday tasks. So long as the television dominates every household, with over four hours every night spent mesmerized by the screen, it is to be expected that individuals are absorbing its messages.
I doubt Grand Mufti of al Azhar understands the relationship between the media and those individuals. After all, the muftis we see on TV do not have to sit exams, present documentation, or need to be recommended from religious scholars; they simply head from the door to the silver screen. Of course society needs muftis and if they did not exist television stations would have created them!
Problems arise because of the large number of muftis and their outlandish opinions as they try to outbid each other by forbidding or showing leniency certain matters, according to their own perspective. The huge number of fatwas issued in the last ten years has tackled almost all aspects of daily life, so much so that there is a need for to launch a new satellite channel to include all these edicts.
As for Egypt’s Grand Mufti who is eager to bring the current disorder to a halt and confine religious edicts to specialists, my advice is to give up. Defeating the hordes of amateurs is almost mission impossible given their large numbers and their popularity with the public.
The only viable option is for Sheikh of al Azhar to establish a supreme authority that for the media to consult and select the experts.