The Islamic Fiqh Academy (IFA), which is affiliated to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), was created after a resolution was issued at the third OIC conference held in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in 1981. The initial conference of the IFA was held in 1983. The IFA represented 43 out of the 57 OIC member states and the IFA headquarters are based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Ever since its establishment, the IFA has held 19 sessions and issued 185 resolutions, all of which are posted on its [Arabic] website: http://www.fiqhacademy.org.sa
The IFA includes a body of scholars appointed to officially represent their countries, as well as others assigned to the IFA upon the recommendation of members and experts, the number of which amount to 121 in different fields. The IFA is considered an institution of collective Ijtihad or interpretation, which is needed due to the divergence of disciplines and accuracy as it is no longer possible for a single scholar to have comprehensive knowledge of all those disciplines and the ability to master them all, not to mention the shortage of interpretative jurists at this present time. Jurists that focus on one issue have become the norm today. This called for gathering all jurists under one roof to reach different interpretative judgments. The Islamic world and Muslim minorities are likely to benefit from these kinds of scholars who study problematic issues of our modern era and provide us with authentic Islamic answers, and as a result issue fatwas by which the majority of Muslims around the globe would abide.
This will increase unity and reduce discord and doctrinal disputes from which the Islamic world suffers today, because all Islamic doctrines are represented at the IFA. Moreover, the IFA lays the foundation for the Islamic world to turn to collective work through an institution, which the Islamic nation lacks. It is the duty of all scholars to support this academy and those like it by publishing the decisions that are issued and increasing the public’s confidence in them. This does not mean that their decisions cannot be contested; but debate must remain within its academic context and must be based on evidence. Those taking part in the debate must have the right to disagree and must not be subjected to criticism whether implicitly or explicitly. This could lead to the public having little regard for particular scholars when in actual fact our aim is to consolidate the value of collective interpretation.
I was as surprised as others by the reaction of some of our revered Sheikhs to the decisions issued by the IFA at its 19th session held in Sharjah with respect to regulated Al Tawaruq. The IFA issued a decision forbidding such transaction, in coordination with the decision of the Fiqh academy affiliated to the Muslim World League (MWL), which also prohibited this kind of transaction. However, the reaction to this went beyond the realm of academic discussion to defamation and mockery. The decision was described as invalid and doubted.
This has nothing to do with academic debate; it stems from narrow-mindedness and attempts to undermine those who disagree with you so as to belittle them in front of others. Of course this is totally unacceptable for an individual let alone a body that represents the overwhelming majority of Muslims and includes highly-qualified Muslim scholars taking part in the debate. Therefore attempting to underestimate such an entity is an attempt to underestimate its scholars. This is like wronging a relative.
The bonds of kinship here do not refer to relatives by blood or through marriage but rather the relatives of knowledge and religion, and religion here preaches debate in a polite and humble manner. The Holy Quran says that Muslims should be polite to non-believers let alone their fellow Muslims. The Quran says, ‘Say: ‘Who gives you sustenance, from the heavens and the earth?’ Say: ‘It is Allah; and certain it is that either we or ye are on right guidance or in manifest error!” (Surat al Saba: 24) and, “And dispute not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation),” (Surat al Ankabout: 46).
Scholars are the inheritors of Prophets; they are the best model and example. Therefore they must demonstrate great wisdom in what they do and in the influence they have on Muslim people. They should, therefore, abstain from trying to belittle collective interpretation bodies in front of others merely based on disagreements over a juristic view. Such conduct will certainly harm the institutional project of the Islamic nation.