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Fatwas of Fear - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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They raise feelings of sadness, as well as ridicule and derision.

I am talking about a number of fatwas and religious opinions and interpretations that are occasionally issued to us from here and there. Those who issue these either voice their [religious] opinions on what is forbidden and acceptable from the pulpit or via their websites, in response to people asking questions about what to eat and wear, how to live, and how to utilize the forms of communication and information in this modern world.

The former head of the Al-Azhar University Fatwa Commission called for the prohibition of the Facebook social networking website, saying that whoever uses this website is committing a sin. Of course al-Azhar quickly distanced itself from this fatwa, saying that since it was issued by the former head of the Fatwa Commission, rather than its current head, it does not represent the official position of Al-Azhar University.

However doesn’t the recent state of confusion surrounding this fatwa, resemble the confusion that took place following the issuance of fatwas and religious opinions on similar issues, which resulted in the Sheikhs who issued the original fatwas to quickly retracting them?

Don’t the majority of such fatwas merely reflect the personal opinions of the Sheikh who issues them and his limited knowledge with regards to globalization and modern technology, which thereby causes embarrassment to the authority that the sheikh belongs to?

The fatwa prohibiting Facebook takes us back to a long series of confusing fatwas issued on modern means of communications, and particularly the internet, and such fatwas are not usually related to the modern values of our time. Without a doubt, the rate at which knowledge and the methods of communication are advancing is far beyond our understanding, especially as this advancement opens up new and revolutionary horizons to new knowledge and the future; however these horizons also contain within them the seeds of risk and harm. This is something that applies to all modes of living and progress. The internet seems to be a tool for dialogue and sharing knowledge, but it is also [potentially] a tool for exploitation. At this point, we must not forget that the world is still in the initial stages of this [digital] revolution.

The internet has unique features with regards to communication, and it continues to seriously challenge researchers and thinkers, and these same challenges are also being faced by traditional religious institutions.

Social networking sites and blogs have helped to break down barriers and produce innovations, and it has even helped to document the political and social history that is taking place today in a way that has never been done before. Isn’t this what happened with regards to the Iranian protestors utilizing the Twitter website, and prior to this the manner in which Egyptian and Iraqi bloggers utilized the internet? This is something that is happening every day with hundreds of bloggers, writing down their thoughts on social networking sites.

This is a fear that causes the traditional social classes to attempt to contain and curb such advances, and most dangerously of all, attempt to repress them.

Most of these fatwas and religious advisory opinions represent a defensive reaction from a handful of frightened individuals who are alarmed by what they see as an attack on their legacy. It is hard to reconcile the modern world with fatwas that prohibit Facebook. The job of the preacher has changed, and before issuing any fatwas, he must first make an effort to understand modern technology, and stop dealing with this as if it is a source of great evil.

Diana Moukalled

Diana Moukalled

Diana Moukalled is a prominent and well-respected TV journalist in the Arab world thanks to her phenomenal show Bil Ayn Al-Mojarada (By The Naked Eye), a series of documentaries on controversial areas and topics which airs on Lebanon's leading local and satelite channel, Future Television. Diana also is a veteran war correspondent, having covered both the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan, as well as the Israeli "Grapes of Wrath" massacre in southern Lebanon. Ms. Moukalled has gained worldwide recognition and was named one of the most influential women in a special feature that ran in Time Magazine in 2004.

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