DUBAI // The Grand Mufti of Dubai has said it is a sin to violate traffic rules and that failure to wear a seat belt reflects ignorance of Islamic teachings.
"Islam impels every road user to comply with traffic rules … it is a sin not to," said Dr Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz Al Haddad, Grand Mufti and head of the fatwa department at the Dubai Fatwa Centre.
"There are quite a few fatwas clearly stating that it is obligatory to observe traffic laws and haram [forbidden] to violate them," he said.
He rebuked reckless drivers who argue that safety precautions demonstrate a lack of faith in God or those who claim that their strong faith means they are exempt from traffic safety rules.
He said the idea that a seat belt is makrooh, or discouraged by Islam, because safety is in God's hand is "completely wrong".
"Drivers and passengers must always wear seat belts. The seat belt is a means of protection not the protector - the real protector is Allah indeed, but He never advised people against taking safety precautions."
The mufti recited the story of a man who asked the Prophet Mohammed if he should tie up his camel and trust in Allah, or keep it loose and trust in Allah.
The Prophet replied, "You tie it up and put your trust in Allah."
"Wearing a seat belt is definitely a means of protection that can minimise the outcome of an accident," Dr Al Haddad said. "Whoever holds something contrary to this must be ignorant of what Islam is and what its prudent teachings are."
Nonetheless, such beliefs are widespread and often used as justification for reckless habits.
A 2008 survey of 260 traffic police at eight of nine stations in Al Ain found that "92 per cent believed that the most likely causal factor for motor vehicle crash injuries and deaths was destiny". Seventeen per cent attributed crashes to the evil eye and 15 per cent to djinn, or supernatural creatures.
"This is superstitious, groundless talk," said Dr Al Haddad. "Accidents have known causes. They are caused by drivers themselves when they are reckless, when they are undisciplined, when they don't have their vehicles regularly maintained and when they fail to comply with traffic laws."
Road safety experts said such beliefs were common but that their extent was difficult to quantify.
"I have discussed this many times with different people because, the belief here is that destiny or inshallah is to blame," said Dr Abdulilah Zineddin, a road safety specialist in Abu Dhabi.
Dr Zineddin said the belief that Islam deems safer road practices unnecessary could be addressed by discussing safe driving from a religious perspective.
"I don't think it's difficult at all. I think you just have to make the argument and explain it from a religious point of view, which they do here. I've heard it at the mosque," he said. "What's really, really important is they need to do it from an early age ... and they are raised with it, just as they are raised with a love of the Prophet."
Dr Zineddin stressed that it is important for people to understand the basis for road safety rules and regulations so that they can make informed decisions.
"People say I don't wear the seat belt because if I crash and I'm going to die, that's what God has written, but at that same time does that person really know how much safer it is to wear the seat belt?" he asked.
Dr Al Haddad issued a well-known fatwa in 2008 on the obligation to follow road regulations.
"Contemporary scholars unanimously agree that traffic laws must be observed," Dr Al Haddad said.
Police said uninformed beliefs are on the decline because of road safety campaigns.
"Our religion asks people not to throw themselves in danger," said Brig Gen Ghaith Al Zaabi, director general of traffic coordination at the Ministry of Interior. "Some people say 'inshallah, they will not wear the seat belt because of God' but the majority of people are following the law."
Religious leaders have also discussed the importance of good driving habits at mosques and with communities.
"Imams, preachers and scholars do their best to instruct motorists and passengers on how to carry themselves on the road. But, while they can provide them with religious instruction on the subject, they can't really control people. All they can do is spread the word," Dr Al Haddad said.