Awqaf to answer fatwa questions in new English-language service

Awqaf is now offering a service to provide answers about inquiries related to religious issues for English-language speakers.

ABU DHABI // Religious officials in the UAE have started this month to offer English-language online services addressing questions about Islamic affairs.

A group of English-speaking muftis have been assigned to answer questions from English-speaking Muslims in the UAE and abroad, the Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments (Awqaf) has said.

While Awqaf launched the country’s official fatwa centre eight years ago, fatwas found on its website in English were only translations from Arabic questions.

“The UAE has a reputation in following moderate Islam, and it established a centre that controls the issuing of fatwas and guides people to the correct sharia opinion,” said Mohammed Al Mazrouei, executive director of Awqaf.

“We used to receive requests from Muslims in the west saying, ‘We need to communicate with you directly’.”

The authority searched for qualified, English-speaking muftis to launch an online fatwa service in the language. Finding specialised muftis who speak English is dificult because the language of fiqh – the theory of Islamic law – is complicated, Mr Al Mazrouei said.

“You need someone who knows all the jargon,” he said.

The muftis have received about 15 to 20 questions a day since the services were launched.

“Our expectation is that it will reach 100 fatwa questions in one day once it reaches the level of the Arabic online fatwa,” said Mr Al Mazrouei.

They receive questions ranging from inquiries about basic acts of worship and seasonal practices, like Ramadan and Haj, to more specific questions from Muslims abroad, about issues such as eating meat that is not certified as halal.

One mufti said that he received a question from someone who had to take an oath of allegiance to the US constitution, which he answered by saying that there is nothing in the oath that is against sharia views.

“Sometimes we get medical fatwa questions about specific types of issues, like contraception, or financial transactions – specific products in the market like national bonds, products outside Islamic banking – or family affairs, like inheritance disputes,” said the mufti, who specialises in financial fatwas, and who asked not to be named.

He said most questions are from people in the UAE, but occasionally they get questions from Muslims in the UK and the US, or former expatriates who returned to countries such as Jordan, Egypt or Pakistan.

For each inquiry, the fatwa goes through six stages before an answer is issued to the sender, said Mr Al Mazrouei. The first sheikh reads the question and gives it to a mufti who specialises in the subject, who drafts an answer. A third sheikh revises the fatwa for accuracy.

A senior mufti then checks if the answer is in accordance with the fundamentals of sharia, before approving it. Then, it is edited for grammar and punctuation.

The last reviewer sends the answer back to the person who asked the question, and decides whether it should be published on the website for the public’s benefit. Questions that are private or could reveal the identity of the sender or breach their privacy, are not published.

The process takes one to five working days, depending on the complexity and novelty of the question.

“If it is a common topic that has already been answered before, it could be answered on the same day, but sometime the topic could be new and required further research and consultation,” said Mr Al Mazrouei.

The authority is still hiring more muftis who are fluent in English. They will undergo a series of examinations before being hired, starting with an oral exam in front of a panel of muftis, followed by a written exam.

Then, they must pass a trial test, where the mufti is put on the phone to receive inquiries about fatwas.

Applicants must have a master’s or bachelor’s degree in Islamic studies, and have a moderate approach, said Mr Al Mazrouei.

The authority has also established a new fatwa section specialising in youth issues, involving younger muftis who can communicate with technology-savvy young people. The section addresses questions related to social media use, such as whether it is permissible to start fake accounts, insult others online, or sell video game ccounts to other users after passing advanced stages.

hdajani@thenational.ae

Published: September 23, 2016 04:00 AM

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