Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Al Obeikan, member of the Saudi Shura Council and a judicial counselor, discusses female participation in Islamic affairs and the controversial issue surrounding Misyar marriage websites. the Following is the full text of the interview:
(Asharq Al-Awsat) From time to time and through its regular meetings, the Islamic Fiqh Academy usually issues various fatwas dealing with the concerns Muslims. However, these fatwas are not considered binding for the Islamic states. What is your opinion of this?
(Obeikan) Of course, they are not binding for the member Islamic states.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) But, what is the point of the Islamic Fiqh Academy’s consensus on fatwas that are not binding for the member States?
(Obeikan) There is a difference between a judge and a mufti. The judge issues a verdict and binds people to it. However, the mufti explains the legal judgment but he does not bind the people to his fatwa. The decisions of the Islamic Fiqh Academy are fatwa decisions that are not binding for others. They only explain the legal judgment, as the case is in fiqh books.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Well, what about the Ifta House? Are its fatwas not considered binding on others?
(Obeikan) I do not agree with this. Even the decisions of the Ifta House are not considered binding, whether for the people or the State.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Some have called for selecting women advocates and scholars as members of the Islamic Fiqh Academy to take part in discussions on Islamic affairs, especially in relation to women. Do you support such a proposal?
(Obeikan) There is no objection to the participation of female scholars in giving opinions and issuing fatwas. This is allowed from an Islamic perspective, and this has been the case in the past. There had been women scholars who devoted their time to teaching women and men. Great scholars had also acquired knowledge from them. Among those was Imam Ibn-al-Qayyim, one of whose scholars was a woman.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) But why are women still absent from the Islamic Fiqh Academy?
(Obeikan) This has to do with the academy itself and those in charge of it.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Are there fears of the occurrence of certain problems or anticipation of some sides’ objection to this issue?
(Obeikan) I do not think that there are any problems. The issue, however, is perhaps because male scholars are well known for fiqh, but women are advocates on a limited level, and none of them was known to have attained a high degree in fiqh.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) (Asharq Al-Awsat) recently, after the Islamic Fiqh Academy approved the Al-Misyar marriage there has been a noticeable increase in websites receiving marriage applications, and that are targeting businessmen through satellite channels. Do you think that the Al-Misyar marriage has turned into a tool for trading and profiteering?
(Obeikan) I do not think that the issue involves any kind of marketing, but it could be a connecting link between male and female marriage-seekers.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) But what the targeting of established businessmen. Don’t you consider this as a kind of profiteering?
(Obeikan) The advocates should not target businessmen in particular. Perhaps, this was a slip of the tongue or a mistake, and we must take this in good faith.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) But don’t you think that it is important to monitor the procedure of such marriages, which take place through the Internet, particularly after the increase in the number of websites that are specialized in the Al-Misyar marriage?
(Obeikan) There is no doubt that there should be monitoring of such an issue by the concerned authorities, whether the Justice Ministry, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, or even the Interior Ministry. The important thing is that there should be a specialized side to monitor such actions.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) many have noticed lately the lack of communication between experienced religious scholars and the public, particularly with the public’s newfound cynicism towards their fataws. Why is the case?
(Obeikan) Perhaps, this is due to bad manners and lack of guidance on the part of some people. This is in addition to the tarnishing of the image of senior scholars, and this has played a role in making the public turn to students instead of experienced scholars.