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A Wise Royal Decree - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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In important news, as is customary of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques during the Holy Month of Ramadan, King Abdullah presented a pleasant surprise to his people by issuing an important royal decree to the effect that only the Council of Senior Ulemas [CSU] are permitted to issue religious fatwas. The royal decree was passed to the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia who in articulate legal language stressed the necessity of confining the right of Fatwa issuance to the CSU in order to reduce the uncontrolled surge in the number of fatwas being issued, and the senseless conflict and disagreement [over these fatwas] which have caused negative reactions.

This decree comes in order to restore the prestige of the fatwa and to regulate how fatwas are issued, especially after the [religious] arena became filled with strange, ridiculous and extremist fatwas, until these became – in some cases – a source of laughter and mockery. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques did the right thing by confining fatwa issuance to the CSU as this will place the responsibility [of issuing fatwas] in the hands of a group of clerics who enjoy doctrinal diversity; a diversity which if justly and correctly employed will eliminate extremist tendencies and guarantee the issuance of balanced and sensible fatwas.

For many years fatwa issuance has been held captive by a single religious viewpoint, weak interpretation, and a lack of doctrinal diversity, and it was therefore easy for the scene to be manipulated with opposing fatwas being issued due to the huge number of fatwa issuers present at the time, which resulted in extremism giving rise to even greater extremism. Therefore this decree represents an extremely positive step on the road to reforming religious discourse to the desired levels. Saudi Arabia has been pursuing this path of reform for a number of years now; previously it pursued this reform through national dialogue and conferences to discuss radical or divergent views. Saudi Arabia has made great strides to rid mosques of the extremist ideology that took root in the country, and has worked hard to remove extremist sentiments from religious books and recordings. It was expected that the mechanism through which fatwas are issued would be dealt with sooner or later and regulated in an institutional and wise manner. Everyone still remembers the anarchy and chaos that occurred in the field of fatwa issuance with regards to issues like jihad, Islamic banking, stock exchange, women seeking employment, the veil, insurance, the media, television, travelling abroad, foreign education, dealing with non-Muslims, camera phones, and many other issues.

The Council of Senior Ulemas will be shouldering a huge responsibility that involves restoring the dignity and prestige of fatwas and ensuring that fatwas are treated with respect according to the spirit of Islamic jurisprudence and interpretation, rather than relying on the meaning of the [religious] text alone, as this is the essence of extremism which has caused great harm with regards to the misapplication of fatwas.

The royal decree that confines fatwa issuance in Saudi Arabia to the CSU is an excellent opportunity for scholars to focus on earnest judgment rather than focussing on meaningless rivalry to boost their ego. This phenomenon has become plain to see. There are several of examples of those seeking fame, primarily motivated by a desire to prove themselves by issuing a fatwa that goes against what has been established as standard and widely accepted.. The introduction of complete openness and equality with regards to all recognized schools of jurisprudence will gradually end deviance and extremism. However, diversity in religious opinions will still exist, because this is a universal law and a mercy from God.

The royal decree represents an important step on the road to reforming religious discourse in Saudi Arabia. Everybody knows how significant and vital this reform is, as people were previously constrained by obscurity, extremism and isolation. Let us hope the nation will reap the benefit of this wise and farsighted royal decree.

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi is a businessman and prominent columnist. Mr. Shobokshi hosts the weekly current affairs program Al-Takreer on Al-Arabiya, and in 1995 he was chosen as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. He received his BA in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa.

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