x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Sermon spells out the rights and wrongs of issuing fatwas

Anyone who issues a fatwa out of ignorance undermines his religion and misleads Muslims, the government's weekly sermon said.

ABU DHABI // Anyone who issues a fatwa out of ignorance undermines his religion and misleads Muslims, the government's weekly sermon said. "The issue of fatwas is very intricate, and it is forbidden for people to issue a fatwa unless they are equipped with the right scholarly background and experience," the sermon said.

At the Maryam bint Sultan mosque on Friday, the imam told the primarily English-speaking congregation to resist the impulse to answer religious questions instead of admitting ignorance. "People go to someone and ask, 'What are the pillars of prayer? How is marriage registered? And what about divorce?'" he said. "But it's very rare to find someone who answers them with 'I don't know', even when he doesn't know.

"This is a very serious disease in our Muslim community. Everyone has something to say, and if they don't know, they make it up." Several controversial fatwas recently were issued in Egypt and other Muslim countries relating to domestic violence. This week, Sheikh Abdel Hamid al Atrash, who heads the committee for fatwas, or religious edicts, at Al Azhar University in Cairo, Sunni Islam's highest institute, ruled that women are entitled to use violence to defend themselves from abusive husbands.

Last week, Saudi Sheikh Abdel al Abyakan was quoted by Shams, a Saudi newspaper, urging women to resort to "the same kind of violence" their husbands use against them, whether it be with a leather strap or a wire cable. Sheikh Abyakan confirmed his views on a popular Muslim website. A prominent Turkish Islamic scholar, Fethullah Gülen, recently went further, advising women to learn martial arts to defend themselves. Mr Gülen said victims of domestic violence should seek divorce.

A UAE fatwa said outsiders who witness incidents of domestic abuse should console victims, but should not become involved in the details of conflicts. The country's official fatwa centre often receives calls from battered women who seek the consolation of a female religious scholar. Such matters usually remain confidential, without involving other authorities. In August, the UAE inaugurated an official fatwa centre to standardise fatwas on all matters of life. The new centre is equipped to answer up to 1,000 queries a day in Urdu, English and Arabic.

Officials said the centre should be able to end confusion Muslims might have about any issue. Many Sunni countries have official mufti or fatwa centres, but no other has proclaimed in such clear terms that there will be no other authority in such matters besides the fatwa centre. relass@thenational.ae