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From Fake News to Fatwas: Looking Beyond the Internet's Impact on Islam in Egypt

With the internet making it easy for people to distribute their self-acclaimed views, new methods are being established to tackle the massive wave of ignorance.

It’s quite difficult to tackle radical thought, especially when you’re faced with hundreds of thousands of people who will single you out and dub you kafer for questioning religious sayings. However, it’s also scary for people who seek answers to questions they have, and have to resort to online solutions rather than asking an authority on the matter. This could lead to further misinformation, which in some cases could breed violence.

A numerous amount of people have been shot and killed for apostasy, and there also exists a number of recorded deaths all over news outlets that are a result of misinformed research that landed with a fatwa. But how many of these fatwas can we actually take seriously?

There are a number of supposedly credible preachers who release fatwas on public TV which end up being incredibly flase, such as Preacher Sabry Abdel Raouf stating that it’s religiously okay for a man to have sex with his dead wife, as long as she just died, or Preacher Soaad Saleh giving permission to people to have sexual intercourse with an animal. These things are in no way scientifically or religiously backed up, but are “rulings of life” (fatawy) that were deduced by a bunch of scholars who thought themselves qualified enough to make a fatwa. It happens all the time; in fact, Dar Al-Ifta issues about 5,000 fatwas a week, contradicting trends, invalidated social norms, or the surge of fake fatwas coming out of unreliable sources.

Dar Al-Ifta issues about 5,000 fatwas a week.

Conversely, there are also some fatwas out there which we might think are cool—such as drinking without getting drunk being halal, or tattoos deemed as acceptable for women now, or that one time Ibrahim Issa said that Ramadan’s long hour of fasting is actually bad for you—that others might think are ridiculous.

But, of course, everything is debatable, and there’s always got to be controversies, otherwise this world would not be as fun, would it?

Egypt’s Dar Al-Ifta has been working on ways to educate both the domestic and global public about a more moderate view of Islam. They have been introducing new modern methods to challenge conventional norms, such as relying on national state TV or “tele-imams” to tell people how to live their lives the halal way. On Facebook, there are multiple groups—including a Grand Mufti personal fan page—launching certified fatwas; there are also fatwa kiosks launched at Cairo’s Al Shohadaa Metro station to guide people towards a better life.  

Laws have been established to regulate such problems, putting anyone who issues an uncredited fatwa at risk, or limiting the activity to clerics and Islamic researchers coming from specific religious authorities in Egypt.

The Egyptian Dar Al-Ifta organized its third International conference on October 2017, inviting over 50 countries from all over the world to participate. The last talk was titled ‘The Role of Fatwa in Creating a Stable Society.’

As the world rises up against terrorism, religious intellectuals too should confront extremist thought and spread the teachings of our tolerant religion instead.

“We have especially seen a number of abnormal fatwas that tarnish the image of Islam,” Makram Mohamed Ahmed, Chairman of the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, said at the International Fatwa press conference.

A lot of the false fatwas are issued by thousands of people at a weekly basis, through different forms of media like television, telephone, or online websites. These foundations, however, are backed up by neither scientific nor Quranic evidence, but rather conjured up by people’s own interpretations, people with no professional backgrounds regarding the subjects being discussed.

Websites like Fatwa-Online.com or IslamOnline.com have taken to answering questions about religion that people have on topics as mundane as how to wash your hands, or as radical as whether nuclear weapons are halal or not, according to ABC News.

“The main theme of the conference […] is the role of fatwa in stabilizing society and achieving prosperity,” Dr. Ibrahim Negm, Senior Advisor to Egypt's Grand Mufti said about the conference.

The conference aims to shape a more moderate perspective within the Islamic community, targeting what they call “contemporary Muslims” who want spiritual guidance moving them towards “the right path” without having to devote their 24 hours to being a devout Muslim, as well as radical or misinformed Muslims who seek answers to questions they have.

So perhaps Egypt will see brighter days with less outward fanaticism, and more minding your own business. Leaders with progressive thoughts are making attempts at changing the public’s perspective at large and diminishing ignorant understandings of unresearched Islamic thought.

While freedom of expression is embraced by many, it could be dangerous in the hands of a misinformed individual, aiming to spread their personal, customized ideologies for people to shop around until they find something that suits their personal interpretations.

Dar Al-Ifta is attempting to manifest fatwas and make them relevant to political, economic and social life, as well as observing the role of science, according to the Fatwa International Conference talks. Our current Mufti—Shawki Allam, Egypt’s 19th Grand Mufti, and the first Mufti to be democratically elected by the Al-Azhar Senior Scholars Authority—is pretty broadminded and encourages people to be progressive with their thoughts and lifestyles. He’s been promoting moderate thinking since his election in 2013, discussing topics such as homosexuality and Muslim women’s rights in the realm of politics, and writing a book about “the sex of a fetus and its legality.”

No longer are the days in which we will be hearing fake fatwas right and left. The Ministry of Religious Endowments along with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi are working towards building a more educated and informed mass, reversing the infectious and detrimental ways which religion has impacted society. That is not to say that religion is harmful, but that certain entities in the past have infiltrated people’s minds to control their responses to unfamiliar topics.

“As the world rises up against terrorism, religious intellectuals too should confront extremist thought and spread the teachings of our tolerant religion instead,” Allam said in his speech delivered during the conference.

With the rise of the internet, and how easy it is to make a public statement (points if you’re a social media celebrity), people have taken it to themselves to issue their own custom-made fatwas—some of them ridiculous, others disturbing. Or in the words of religion and new media expert Goran Larsson, people are becoming “their own mufti.”

While freedom of expression is embraced by many, it could be dangerous in the hands of a misinformed individual, aiming to spread their personal, customized ideologies for people to shop around until they find something that suits their personal interpretations.


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