The Abu Dhabi fatwa call centre where women have the answers

Whether it’s questions about fasting, marital problems, breastfeeding or even use of nail polish, the women’s fatwa section aims to answer them all.

Shamma, Fatima and Shaikha receive their Sharia training from Dr Al Waseef at the fatwa centre in Abu Dhabi. Delores Johnson / The National
Powered by automated translation

ABU DHABI // The phone rings, the caller has a question about her Muslim faith, and an Islamic scholar provides the answer.

As the scholar offers advice, Shamma Al Thaheri listens intently: soon, she will be providing the answers herself.

Shamma, 26, is one of six young Emirati women being trained at the fatwa call centre in Abu Dhabi run by Awqaf, the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments.

They are all master’s degree graduates from Mohammed V Agdal Abu Dhabi University, a branch of the Moroccan university.

Shamma was listening to a call from a woman whose Ramadan fasting had been inconsistent over the past seven years because of pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Dr Radia Al Waseef, a mufti who has worked at the centre since it was founded in 2008, told the caller she should count the days she missed and make them up during the year.

But the woman said she was diabetic and needed insulin injections, and therefore she could not observe the Ramadan fast.

Dr Al Waseef advised her she could compensate by donating Dh15 for each day she had missed, to feed the poor.

“After the trainees listen to the fatwa being issued, we discuss with them what we based our fatwa on,” said Dr Al Waseef.

Shamma, Fatima Dahman and Shaikha Al Kaabi, all decided to specialise in Sharia after hearing of Awqaf scholarships at Mohammed V University.

Fatima, 25, and Shamma were among four young women chosen from 500 applicants in the first batch of recruits.

“We were interviewed on our general knowledge of Islamic studies, social skills, moderate opinions, speaking skills, confidence and the Arabic language,” says Shamma. “They would give us a verse from the Quran and ask how we would interpret it.”

During the interviews the applicants were also given theoretical situations and asked how they would apply their knowledge.

“They asked me if I was giving a lecture about wearing a hijab and a member of the audience was not wearing one, what would I do?” says Shaikha.

“I told them I would not attract attention to her, so I wouldn’t embarrass her, I would just address the issue generally.”

Fatima said her family was delighted for her to train to become a mufti.

“They always tell me, you will educate us and bring blessings to the family,” she said.

Dr Al Waseef explained that although the graduates had the required education, it was entirely different to know how to apply that knowledge in real life.

Shaikha said one of the more challenging questions concerned a new type of nail polish.

Under Islamic law, when worshippers perform wudu, or ablution before prayer, the water must touch all of their hands.

As nail polish is impermeable to water, if women are wearing it their hands cannot be fully washed. So, technically, they must remove the polish before each ablution.

But recently make-up companies have started selling “breathable” nail polish that supposedly can be worn during ablution as it allows water to penetrate to the nail.

Every Wednesday all the muftis meet to discuss fatwas about contemporary issues that are not directly mentioned in the Quran or the Sunnah.

“If we receive a second call asking the same question we immediately consider it urgent and address it before Wednesday arrives,” Dr Al Waseef said.

When the issue of the breathable nail polish arose, the fatwa centre carried out its own experiment.

“Some of the male muftis are specialists in chemistry, so after the experiment they discovered that it allows water to enter the nail 30 minutes after washing,” she said.

The rules for ablution mean that all the cleansing must take place at the same time: if water only reaches the nail 30 minutes after the rest of the hand it is not acceptable.

Of the 50 muftis who work at the fatwa centre, three are female. There are plans to have 100 muftis working there by 2016.

Khalid Al Hassani, head of the fatwa department, said the UAE leadership believed it “vital to qualify nationals in the field of Sharia and especially the fatwa aspect, because of its great importance in directing society and imposing moderation and balance.

“It is equally important that women nationals qualify in fatwa so that Emirati women will have a role in religious awareness in the female society.”