Mecca, Asharq Al-Awsat – Sheikh Dr. Saleh Bin Zaben al Marzouki is the Secretary-General of the Islamic Fiqh Academy, a subsidiary of the Muslim World League.
In this interview, Sheikh al Marzouki speaks to Asharq Al-Awsat about the five-day Fatwa and its Regulation conference that is currently taking place in Mecca, Saudi Arabia under the patronage of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz. The conference will aim to provide guidelines for issuing fatwas, Islamic legal rulings, in light of recent controversies on this issue.
Q) The fatwa issue has been raised during a number of Muslim World League (MWL) conferences, including those on dialogue. Why has the Fatwa and its Regulation conference been organised?
A) I would like to clarify that the MWL cares about all Islamic issues, some of which are related to one another and others which are not. Interfaith dialogue is under the patronage of the [Saudi] Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques [King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz], whilst other Islamic issues are under the patronage of [Saudi] Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz.
The fatwa issue differs to that of dialogue. The latter is based on religious figures meeting with one other or with figures from non-Islamic countries to discuss common issues without going against the principles of Islamic Sharia.
Dialogue is extremely important for removing barriers between nations so that we may share common grounds and each party will listen to- and benefit from- the other. As a result, Islam’s true image can be conveyed.
The fatwa issue is important in the Islamic world, as Muslims are in crucial need for fatwas and muftis [who issue fatwas]. The fatwa issue is an old one, but at the same time it needs to be addressed and revised in some cases so as to cope with new problems that require solutions.
In light of the importance of the fatwa issue in the Islamic world, and even though there are religious figures that are providing a great service and will be highly rewarded by God, there are some unqualified people who, as a result of social or political pressure, may issue inaccurate fatwas. This is especially the case in the media, which has paved the way for both qualified and unqualified figures, causing an increase in fatwas that contradict Islamic Sharia. This has a negative impact on the mufti, the person seeking the fatwa and upon the Islamic Ummah. Therefore, as head of the MWL’s Islamic Fiqh Academy, I decided to put this topic forward to be discussed by muftis, Islamic scholars and researchers so that they may give their opinions and set guidelines for issuing fatwas.
Q) Is the conference being held out of political necessity?
A) My brother, we are not dealing with specific topics in this conference. Specific topics such as politics, economics, society, medical care, ideology, astronomy or Islamic jurisprudence will be discussed in other sessions held by the Academy in the presence of Academy members who issue fatwas on these topics.
Over 120 various decrees had been issued concerning various topics that the Academy had studied thoroughly, and they have all been welcomed by Muslims in the East and West.
Q) How long did it take the Islamic Fiqh Academy to issue 120 decrees?
A) These decrees and statements were issued over nineteen sessions; that is how many sessions have been convened since 1978.
The Fatwa and its Regulation conference is not targeting political fatwas etc. but the issues surrounding fatwas such as their importance, impact, obstacles, solutions and the possible regulations that could be set.
Q) What kind of impact will the conference have on the ground? Especially that the scholars who are attending the conference do not need to familiarise themselves with regulations.
A) Official and unofficial muftis are attending the conference as well as figures who issue fatwas via the media.
There are eight varying factors regarding fatwas. If most of the attendees are aware of such diversity, the ideas put forward would complement one another. The aim of inviting Muslim scholars and researchers is not to give them a lesson but to finalise a statement, which will include an agreed charter, to be used as a guide or reference. This statement, together with guidelines for issuing fatwas, will be used to avoid or decrease problems in issuing fatwas. This is why they were invited. There is no doubt that such a conference will be fruitful as each participant is presenting new ideas.
Q) What developments have taken place regarding the papers that will be presented during the conference?
A) Everything is going according to plan. The following topics will be discussed: collective Ijtihad and its importance in this era, the importance of fatwa, the dangers posed by authorised and unauthorised fatwa, the changing of fatwas, the role of fatwas in asserting Sharia principles, fabrication and organising fatwa, and fatwas issued on satellite channels. At least 40 papers have been presented and 170 Muslim scholars and intellects will participate.
Q) Will the charter mean that fatwas will no longer be issued by Imams in mosques at the request of ordinary people?
A) Firstly, if there is nobody more knowledgeable in the area, then there is no problem in somebody, with knowledge of Islamic Sharia, answering a query when asked, as the people need to be answered. But there is a difference between answering a question regarding a simple issue in a society that lacks senior religious figures or muftis, and those who set out to issue fatwas on complicated issues. There are some matters that muftis should not issue fatwas on, such as those relating to [the concept of] the Ummah in general, Muslim minorities in non-Islamic countries etc. These should be presented to Fiqh institutions.
The charter will reveal the problems of issuing fatwas, their causes, impact, and solutions. If the charter is successful, it will become a reference for students of religion and for whoever wants to expand on or refute fatwas.
Q) Will it be possible to form a charter in such a short time span, especially if there are differing viewpoints among Islamic scholars in attendance?
A) Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) said, “The Ulema [Islamic scholars] are the inheritors of prophets and the prophets do not leave Dinars or Dirhams as inheritance but knowledge; whoever acquires it, acquires a copious share.” The Muslims have integrity and this conference relates to that.
Q) Will the charter, for example, unify fatwas regarding Israeli crimes against the Palestinians in Gaza and the subsequent fatwas issued by Muslim scholars?
A) The charter does not tackle a specific issue; it will deal with general rules. For instance, the Gaza issue etc. is not specific to an individual. General cases will be considered and decided upon by religious scholars and fatwa institutions, not by individual muftis.
Q) There are claims that such an important topic would require more than just one conference. Will there be other conferences in the future?
A) This conference is an independent conference and is expected to be succeeded by other meetings on fatwas, the charters of which will be transferred to a number of Islamic countries. In other words, we will go Islamic countries to raise the fatwa issue and then move to non-Islamic countries in order to convey the results of the Fatwa and its Regulation conference.
Q) What are the anticipated outcomes [of the conference] other than the charter?
A) That is down to the scholars and researchers who will participate in the conference.
Q) You must have some indication of the results of the conference following the preparations at the Islamic Fiqh Academy and after having contacted participants?
A) This will become clear after the conference. I cannot reveal anything now as it is not my place [to do so]; that is down to those involved. But God willing it will most certainly result in important suggestions for tackling the issue of fatwas, with regards to selecting qualified muftis and rejecting those who are unqualified, as well regarding the fatwas issued on satellite channels. These will all be discussed at the conference.
Q) Why isn’t the problem of fatwas issued on websites going to be discussed at the conference, as they have caused controversy over recent years? Will the conference only deal with fatwas issued on satellite channels?
A) Firstly, the issue is not limited to satellite channels only; I mentioned this because it is the most prominent method [of issuing a fatwa]. The conference will deal with fatwas being issued via all forms of media.
Q) In your personal opinion as Secretary General of the Islamic Fiqh Academy, when do you think the problem with fatwas began?
A) Firstly, there is no one specific incident that took place; rather, problems began to accumulate. But it was approximately three years ago that we began to think about holding a conference.
There is no rigidity in thinking or ideology. Science has advanced and is all around us but sometimes fatwas are issued by muftis who do not think about the consequences [of their rulings]. Therefore, they harm the entire Muslim nation.
Q) Is there anything you would like to add?
A) I pray to God that He strengthens Islam and Muslims, and relieves the Palestinians of their grief, that He brings them together and supports them against their, and our, enemy.
I also ask God Almighty to support the participants of the conference so that they may reach the right path and work in the best interest of Muslims of today and in the future.
I would also like to express my gratitude to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques for the care that he has shown towards many Islamic issues. I would also like to thank Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz, may God protect him.