Scholar condemns 'fatwa piracy'

Globalisation presents new quandaries that muftis must grapple with, but some have not kept pace, Sheikh Abduallah laments.

ABU DHABI // Muftis who target people with a death fatwa should be held liable if someone is killed because of it, said a guest scholar at a Ramadan majlis this week, hosted by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.

"We must put an end to fatwa piracy," said Sheikh Abduallah bin Beh, a prominent Mauritanian Islamic scholar at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah. He is also head of the UK-based International Centre for Tajdeed. "Fatwas today have become something anyone can issue. This is very dangerous, and erroneous fatwas can bring total destruction. "In my opinion, we should hold responsible muftis who issue fatwas that cause harm. If someone issues a death fatwa that indeed causes the death of someone, then the mufti should be prosecuted for it."

Last week, the head of Saudi Arabia's highest court, Sheikh Saleh al Lihedan, caused controversy among Islamic scholars after he was quoted in media reports as saying the owners of satellite TV channels that broadcast immoral programmes could be tried in Islamic courts and face the death penalty. He later played down his remarks. Muftis in the UAE, which is committed to the moderate "middle way" of Islam, expressed disapproval of the Saudi fatwa, and Dubai's grand mufti, Dr Ahmad al Haddad, said: "This fatwa burdens Muslims with dangerous political and social consequences."

Prominent commentators on religion, politics and energy are delivering a series of lectures throughout Ramadan sponsored by the Crown Prince. The series has so far included the Saudi scholar and Islamic preacher Salman al Odeh, the former EU foreign affairs representative Chris Patten, and the Moroccan scholar Dr Mohammed al Jabri. Tuesday's lecture focused on fatwas in the modern age. "Globalisation introduced new issues to tackle through fatwas, such as cloning, sex-change operations, in-vitro fertilisation, organ transplantation and feminism," said Sheikh Abduallah. "And unfortunately the mufti sometimes issues fatwas about topics that range from the Stone Age to the age of the atom."