God have mercy on the simple Muslim citizen. He is the victim of conflicting and often contradictory religious fatwas [Islamic decrees], all of which claim to be genuine and based on God’s words and the Prophet’s Sunnah. These fatwas reach an astounding level of contradiction over the very same issues.
Let’s consider one such issue: women’s position, her social and political role, and what she should and should not do. There is a fatwa that bans women from driving that is based on taking preventative measures to protect women against potential harm, and ‘sad al zarai’ [the postponement of an issue that would cause upheaval if immediately enforced] – or so those upholding this believe.
Earlier this month 31 women were chosen among the members of the administrative bar and government lawyers in Egypt, those who issued the fatwa holding that women have the right to be appointed in the judiciary and to even rule within their capacities. Proponents have an abundance of evidence and arguments to back this claim.
A few weeks ago a decree was issued in Libya banning women from traveling outside of the Libyan borders if unaccompanied by a legal guardian despite the fact that the head of the state does not travel except when he is flanked by a large number of female bodyguards all of whom travel without their legitimate escorts.
A senior religious authority in Qom, Grand Ayatollah Yousef Saanei, loudly proclaimed to Asharq Al-Awsat recently that women have the right to lead men in prayers and to hold the office of president and even the Wali al Faqih [guardian jurist]. Yet even within a single religious group there exist contradictory stands depending on the time and place. Back in the forties, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Egypt issued a fatwa that prohibited women from uncovering their faces or working in mixed gender governmental departments. Furthermore, the MB denied women judiciary and prosecution procedures and their involvement in politics was considered to be blatantly inconsistent with Islam. The MB backed down on its stand and since, women’s names started to appear on the party’s lists in Egypt, Yemen, and elsewhere. And yet simultaneously, we find the Muslim Brotherhood voting against women’s rights in the Kuwaiti parliament.
So what is the simple Muslim to do when he discovers the seething contradictions have reached their peak and that every position and its opposite claim are based on Quranic text and the Prophet’s Sunnah!
Poor contemporary Muslim; how is he to raise his family in the storm of fatwa contradictions? How can he manage his money in what, according to significant Islamic authorities, are commercial banks that are not usurious and who instead prescribe dealing with the so-called usurious ones! How can he travel when there are those who prohibit traveling to the ‘infidel’ countries except in cases of extreme necessity! Some will permit listening to music while others will consider it a vice. Yet, they are all among the highest echelons of the Muslim clergy – all of whom believing they derive their authority from God’s Book and his Prophet’s Sunnah!
This problem grows on a daily basis and we cannot guess where it will end up.