“Contemporary Fatwa”

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi spoke recently about the vital importance of doing in-depth research to ensure a quality fatwa, particularly if it touches on technical fields. Describing such a fatwa as a “contemporary fatwa”, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi went on to list 4 aspects that a fatwa issuer must consider before issuing any fatwa.

“Begin With Thorough Studies”

Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi emphasized that fatwa issuers must recognize the vital importance of doing in-depth and thorough studies particularly when technical issues are involved before issuing contemporary fatwas.  Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi puts it this way: “The issuing of contemporary fatwa, especially those that are related to technical fields, must begin with thorough studies”.

Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is the chairman of the Malaysian Islamic Understanding Institute (Ikim) made this comment on the sideline of the “Strengthening the Fatwa Institution: Facing the challenges as a source of Syariah in Malaysia” roundtable discussion.

The Four Aspects

Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said that the body that issued fatwa rulings must look into four aspects, namely:

1.   Mastering the Al-Quran and hadis (or hadith, the sayings or actions of Prophet Muhammad).

2.   Using the right methods in issuing the law.

3.   Understanding the climate that influenced new issues.

4.   Applying the laws from the original source.

The Mufti

Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said that a mufti’s responsibility is more than just issuing fatwa, more so in today’s internet world where many pressing and sensitive questions are raised and debated online across various social media platforms, causing polemics in society.

Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi added: “People become confused with the various opinions laid out. This is where mufti come in, to provide the answers”.

Think About It 

Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has hit the nail on its head.  Indeed research is needful, even vital, when issuing contemporary fatwas.  Failure to do so can create ridiculous fatwas that put Islam and Muslims to shame.  Take for example a past fatwa by an Islamic scholar that insisted that the sun revolves around the Earth.  Clearly that fatwa issuer did not do his research before issuing such a ridiculous fatwa.   Or how about another past fatwa that insisted that the Earth is flat?  Ridiculous? Yes!  But that’s the result of not doing research, overlooking science, history and mathematics.

Topics Discussed By National Fatwa Council

On Monday, Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council (JFK) held a special conference during which several topics were discussed. These topics included joining or support for ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or Islamic State [IS]), the goods and services tax, body movements during zikir (the reciting of religious verses), the missing Malaysian Airlines plane MH370, and the teachings of Naqsyabandiah al-Aliyyah Syeikh Nazim al-Haqqani (the spiritual leader of a Sufi order). Needless to say, the topic that the press pounced on was body movements during zikir. But was a fatwa issued on this topic?

Zikir

Zikir (also referred to as zekr or dhikr) refers to devotional acts in Islam during which prayers or short phrases glorifying God are repeatedly recited silently or aloud. Rarely, prayer beads are also counted.

Most Sufis practise zikir. They often hold ritualized zikir ceremonies. Group zikir may include not just the recitation, but also, to varying extents, singing, music, dance, costumes, incense, meditation, ecstasy and trance.

Initial Reports On National Fatwa Council’s Views On Zikir

The initial reports said that the National Fatwa Council had issued fatwas on the issues discussed. These reports cited National Fatwa Council chairman Tan Sri Dr Abdul Shukor Husin. On zikir, he was cited as saying that Islam permits gentle swaying of the body during the religious chanting, but movements that break into dancing and “leaping about”, and close proximity between the sexes, were frowned upon and discouraged. He also said that body movements resembling that of a woman were prohibited.

No Fatwas Issued

However, a member of the National Fatwa Council has denied that any decisions were made during that meeting. Datuk Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, the mufti of the state of Perlis, had been asked to comment on the alleged prohibition of certain body movements during zikir.  He said, “There’s no verdict or in-depth discussion on the dancing zikir, and neither was there any decision in connection with ‘habaib’ concerning Tariqat [Sufi missionary] Naqsyabandiah Haqqani”. He added, “I was at the meeting yesterday on April 20 as a member of JFK from start to finish without stepping out of the room. The meeting yesterday had only decided on two issues, which are the location of the victims of MH 370 and those who are involved in IS”.

Think About It

The press should report accurately, but can they be blamed for latching on to the issue of body movements during zikir? The guidelines issued by the National Fatwa Council and the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (JAKIM) have been popular topics of mirth and ridicule for the press, which is only too glad to have something with which to attract readers. A very recent guideline of this type is that stage performances should not evoke “extreme laughter”. To avoid being the butt of ridicule, shouldn’t these Islamic bodies be more selective in the kinds of issues they spend their time on?

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Malaysia – Jakim Imposes New Guidelines Restricting Entertainers’ Dressing, Lyrics, Etc

“Increase The Atmosphere And Heighten Feelings Of Sensuality”

Really?  A sex shop in Mecca?  And it’s Sharia compliant?  Yes, it’s apparently true, and it’s opening soon.  And to top it all, the products sold by this new sex shop are supposed to “increase the atmosphere and heighten feelings of sensuality”.

Halal Products And Toys

A company backed by German adult company Beate Uhse is about to open its first sex shop in Saudi Arabia in the holy city of Mecca.  This company started in the Netherlands in 2010, and it specializes in sensual oils sold under the erotic brand called El Asira.  The founder of this sex shop is Abdelaziz Aouragh and his Mecca shop will sell 18 Islam-appropriate sex toys.

But what is considered Islam-appropriate sex toys?  Abdelaziz Aouragh explains: “The products we’re putting on the market have nothing to do with blow-up dolls or vibrators”.  Its website states that all products are “Sharia compliant” and that they can “provide a deeper meaning to sexuality, sensuality and even spirituality”. The website added: “All our products are maintaining the integrity, pure humanity and ethics inherent with the Sharia”. And Abdelaziz Aouragh puts it this way: “It’s not about the sex act, it’s what’s going on around it. Our products increase the atmosphere and heighten feelings of sensuality”. He was referring to sensual oils.

Abdelaziz Aouragh said: “The image of women in the kitchen with burqa is not a true picture… There is a lot of love and respect Islam has for adult women. Our store puts women at the center, offers information, and provides answers to frequently asked questions on sex”.

Clerics Say OK

Abdelaziz Aouragh said that he had previously consulted a Saudi Arabian cleric who had allowed him to sell “halal” items that would lead to “the improvement of the sexual relationship between husband and wife”.  Abdelaziz Aouragh added that everything sold online and in his shop are deemed “halal”, meaning they are permissible according to Islamic law.

Meanwhile,  negotiations have taken place with local clerics and sheikhs to ensure it is fully compliant with Sharia law.

About The Company

But what is the relationship between the company and Beate Uhse?  One report puts it this way: “The company, which retails products such as ‘glide and care sensual silicone’ sexual lube from the ‘Sensual Arabica Collection’ and retails the ‘touch her gently creme’, has recently merged with German sex shop giant and porn baron Beate Uhse AG, the largest sex company in the world”.

Think About It

Why is the first sex shop located in the holy city of Mecca?  Is it meant to tap the pilgrim market as Muslims from around the world make their pilgrimage to Mecca?  Should the company, which is now part of the “German sex shop giant and porn baron Beate Uhse AG, the largest sex company in the world” be allowed to set up a sex shop in Saudi Arabia in the first place?  And can sex products be declared halal?

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Turkey – How Halal Can An Online Sex Shop Be?

Malaysia’s Worries About Its Citizens’ Attraction To ISIS

Like many other countries, Malaysia has been worried about the number of its citizens joining ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq, or Islamic State [IS]), the Islamic terrorist group.  Last week it was reported that some 70 members of Malaysia’s armed forces had ties with ISIS, and that 10 were killed while participating in suicide bomb attacks. Earlier it had been reported that 2 Malaysians were involved in a video of ISIS beheading a Syrian. Also much in the news was the story of a 14-year-old Malaysian girl who was detained on suspicion of trying to join ISIS. To tackle this trend, Malaysia has decided that, apart from strengthening laws on security, an important way is to explain to Malaysian Muslims the true meaning of jihad.

How To Tackle The ISIS Threat By Explaining Meaning Of Jihad

An important agency in explaining the concept of jihad and how ISIS activities are not in line with Islam is the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim), said the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak at a monthly meeting in his office in January. He said, “It [curbing militancy] is not just the responsibility of the authorities, but also agencies such as Jakim, which is required to provide explanation on jihad, what programmes we have, our commitment to the makasid Shariah [the objectives of the Shariah or Islamic laws]“.

In addition, the jihad theme is to be used in Friday sermons at least once a month. Speaking last week on the sidelines of a seminar on National Sustainability at the National Institute of Public Administration, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, said that jihad was not just about going to war in an extreme manner, but it had a wider context, such as fighting lust, enhancing the position and image of Islam, and developing the nation.

He also said that Jakim, in cooperation with the Royal Malaysian Police and National Security Council, have printed 20,000 copies of a 24-page booklet on Jihad and Its Concept for distribution to the public.

A Fatwa On Helping ISIS

This week, another effort to get the meaning of jihad across to Malaysians came in the form of a fatwa issued by the National Fatwa Council, making the act of participating, helping, or giving aid to ISIS “haram” [forbidden]. The Council’s chairman, Prof Emeritus Tan Sri Abd Shukor Husin, said, “It is obvious that ISIS is not right and against Islamic teachings when they claimed that the blood of the people who fight against them are halal [allowed] and thus, can be violently killed, which clearly contravenes Islamic teachings”.

Think About It

Is Malaysia right in focusing on education as a means of countering misconceptions about jihad and the attractiveness of ISIS? Is it able to monitor the kinds of explanations that will be offered, whether through sermons or other means? Who are the people who attend mosques regularly? Are they ones most prone to be attracted by ISIS? Or are there special groups who should be targeted?

So What’s New?

Isn’t it obvious that nobody is allowed to drive without possessing a driving license?  So when the Abu Dhabi’s General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment issued a recent fatwa banning young people from driving without a driving license, it raises a question of whether such action is rampant to warrant a fatwa, and if so, why?

The Fatwa

In essence, the fatwa issued by the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment calls for the following:

1.   That young people who do not possess a driving license are not allowed to drive a car.  Nothing unusual about this.  But then the fatwa added a rejoinder – even if they are going to perform Friday prayers.

2.   That parents should be careful and not allow their children to drive cars without a driving license.

3.   That Muslims should strive towards honesty and responsibility, and that the ends do not justify the means.

4.   That laws and regulations developed to save and maintain lives is as per the principles of Islam -  which are to protect and keep people away from harm and damage.

Think About It

This fatwa issued by the Abu Dhabi’s General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment seems to imply that there are many young people driving without valid licenses, and that their main excuse is that they are driving to perform Friday prayers. This is why the fatwa says that the end (rushing to attend Friday prayers) does not justify the means (driving illegally).  The fatwa also implies that parents are at fault for allowing their children to drive illegally with a license, and it suggests that as good Muslims, they should instil qualities of honesty and responsibility in the upbringing of their children, teaching them that laws to protect from harm and damage (like having a driving license) are consistent with Islamic principles and must be followed.  Exactly how widespread is this problem of illegal driving that requires a fatwa to address it?

Indonesia’s Approved Form Of Female Circumcision

Indonesia has the world’s largest number of Muslims – some 210 million of them. The authorities banned female genital mutilation in 2006, but in 2010 they gave in to pressure from some of the country’s powerful religious organizations, and allowed trained health workers to do a symbolic form of female genital mutilation, consisting of “scratching the clitoral hood, without injuring the clitoris”. There are no data on the prevalence of this practice, but a recent article in Global Post suggests that it is very prevalent.

Reasons For Prevalence

One reason is that clerics still say girls should undergo the procedure. However, Huzaemah Yanggo, vice-president of the Indonesian Ulema Council’s fatwa commission, said that female circumcision is not mandatory according to Islamic law, though some interpretations say it is “strongly recommended”.  Female genital mutilation is said to prevent women from becoming oversexed, and that seems to be the main reason why Indonesians continue to subject girls to the procedure,

A Good Business For Clinics

A convenient way of getting the procedure done is to pay for the scratch as an optional extra to the delivery. For the clinics, the service is “good business”, said Atas Habsjah, vice-chairwoman of the Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association. Clinics also offer ear piercing as an optional extra. But, said Atas Habsjah, “They shouldn’t do anything at all. There is no medical indication, and it’s not in the Quran. We say don’t touch the genitals, it’s against human rights”. Although Atas Habsjah acknowledged that there has been a transition from “scissor snipping” to “needle scratching”, she thinks that many girls still under go some kind of circumcision.

In Bandung, West Java, mass circumcisions are held every year for girls aged up to 12 years, but the organizers say they do “pin-pricking” now instead of “scissor snipping”.

Think About It

So is there a religious basis for female circumcision? If not, what can be done to stop clerics and religious organizations from promoting it? Who is monitoring what procedures are being done at the clinics? And who is monitoring the effects of the Indonesian “approved” procedure?

Previous posts

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Female Genital Mutilation – Focus On Eliminating The Practice, Or On Making It Safer?
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A Television Series Tackling Women’s Social Issues

Pakistan is not known for equality of the sexes or for women’s education. Yet for nearly 2 years, it has had an award-winning television cartoon series for children featuring a superheroine who tackles evil and social ills, especially those concerning women. This series, called “Burka Avenger” because the heroine wears a burka when she steps out at night to fight evil, will soon be released in India, where it will be dubbed in Hindi, English, Tamil, and Telugu. There are also plans to launch the series elsewhere this year.

Burka Avenger Series

The Burka Avenger series was created by Pakistani rock star Aaron Haroon Rashid. By day the superheroine, Jiya is a popular school teacher in a fictitious town called Halwapur. At night she dons a burka, a full-body cloak with a headscarf and a veil that covers the whole face except for the mesh screen over the eye portion. Jiya’s team includes three children and a goat. Jiya’s weapon is “Takht Kabaddi”, a special martial art that incorporates books and pens.

In fighting for justice, peace and education for all, the Burka Avenger deals with issues such as child marriage, girls’ education, and the battle against polio in an entertaining, action-packed, comical, non-preachy way. The topic of battle against polio is a critical issue in Pakistan because militants have repeatedly murdered polio vaccinators.

The Burka Avenger was nominated for an Emmy, and has won awards such as the Peabody Award, International Gender Equity Prize, Best TV Show at Asian Media Awards, and the Rising Star Award at the Canadian International Film Festival. It was also named one of the most Influential Fictional Characters of 2013 by Time Magazine.

The series has struck a chord in Pakistan, where parallels have been drawn with how the Taliban tries to prevent girls from attending school, and with the case of Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl who was short by militants when she attempted to defy them by attending school.

Criticism Over Jiya’s Attire

There was some criticism about Jiya wearing a burka, a symbol of oppression, but Aaron Haroon Rashid explained that most superheroes wear a disguise, and the burka was chosen because it had a local flavour. He emphasised that Jiya does not wear a burka, or even a headscarf or hijab, in the day when she goes about her normal life as a teacher.

Think About It

Will the Burka Avenger series turn out to be a powerful tool in eliminating gender bias in countries like Pakistan and India? Will it provide good role models for girls in depicting how a woman wearing a burka, a symbol of oppression, is able to overpower villains? How will the success of the series in achieving such outcomes be measured?

Not Law, But Must Adhere To New Guidelines

Following the uproar over a recent incident involving a mini-concert by South Korean band B1A4 at which 3-tudung clad Malay female fans went a-hugging on stage, Jakim (the Malaysian Islamic Development Department) has now come out with a new set of guidelines which imposes limitations on stage performances, dress and behavior codes and gender segregation for attendees.  Although these are described as guidelines, nevertheless a cabinet minister went on record to say that entertainment events must be referred to Jakim for guidance, and that event organizers must be reminded to follow the new Jakim rules.

The New Guidelines

Jakim said that the new guidelines are meant to assist approving authorities to ensure that entertainment programs are based on Islamic faith, codes and moral values.

The new guidelines were approved at the recent 107th convention of the National Fatwa Committee last February, superceding the first version published in 2007.

In the earlier 2007 version, the focus was on prohibiting elements of vice and idolatry in performances, and ensuring that entertainment events “benefit the well-being of the public”.

According to a Malay Mail report, the new guidelines stipulate the following:

-   An artist should not have a criminal record, whether in a Shariah or civil court.

-   The artist must maintain a “noble personality” and “good morals”, even outside the performance.

-   During a performance, the artist must “dress decently”, covering their “aurat” (“intimate body parts”).

-   Performances, songs, events and music videos must not insult religious sensitivities, the nation and any race.

-   The use of any symbolism that go against Islamic teachings and faith is forbidden.

-   For stage performances, jokes should be “sparing”, must “toe the line”, and should not lead to “extreme laughter”.

-   Entertainers are forbidden to make light of “serious and mournful matters”.

-   Song lyrics should contain “goodness and pure values”, “bringing awareness” and “leading to repentance”.

-   Music accompanying the lyrics should “motivate positive atmosphere” and “bring peace” rather than evoking “negative emotions that contradict Islamic teachings”.

-   There must be no interaction between men and women attendees of any performance.

Follow The Guidelines

Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, recently advised approving authorities to remind event organizers to adhere to the guidelines made by Jakim.

The new guidelines also specify that any entertainment event must be referred to the authorities for guidance.

Think About It

Will foreign entertainers have problem meeting these new guidelines?  If so, will they give Malaysia a miss?  How will these new guidelines impact on tourism and entertainment revenues?  Are these guidelines or de facto laws?  And how strictly will they be enforced?

 

 

Class Action Suit

Every now and then we read of Muslim children running away to join the militants in the self declared Islamic State.  But who is responsible for this – the state or the parents?  Now a group of Muslim parents have decided that the state should bear primary responsibility for not doing enough to stop their children from becoming jihadists fighting for the Islamic State. And they have banded together to start a class action suit against the government.

The Affected Parents

A group of Muslim parents in the Netherlands have met recently to plan how best to sue the Dutch government for not doing more to stop their children from leaving the country to fight for the jihadist cause in the Islamic State.  They explored the feasibility of launching a class action suit against the government.

A spokesman representing 9 Muslim families explained: “The lawsuit will not bring back my son back but I am doing this to prevent other families to go through the same problems”. He said that he alerted the police as soon as he found out that his 20-year old son had travelled to Syria to join the jihadist militants fighting for the Islamic State.  He went on to say that the police took no action on his report.

Think About It

Is the Dutch government to blame?  What could the government have done when, in the spokesman own word, he alerted the police after his son had left the country?  Should parents of children who run away to fight for the Islamic State not reflect upon whether they have failed as parents in the proper upbringing of their children?  Did they in some way encourage their children on the virtue of jihad against infidels?  Or should they, as responsible parents, have disabused their children of their jihadist notions?  Whose responsibility is it anyway to bring up children – the state or the parents?

Second Province To Act Against Child Marriage

Punjab Province became the second of four provinces in Pakistan to take action against child marriages.  Last year, the Sindh Assembly became the first provision assembly to criminalize underage marriage, with brides and grooms under 18 and their parents facing fines and jail terms. The Punjab Province went further, criminalizing also the clerics who officiate at such child marriages.

Statistics

The government does not track the number of child marriages in Pakistan.  However, a NGO called Sahil reported that in 2013 there were 96 cases of child marriages – an increase of 21% over 2012.

Out of these 96 cases of child marriages, 43% took place in Sindh Province, 30% in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 25% in Punjab. The fourth province, Balochistan, reported no child marriage during this period.

Another NGO, the Madadgar Helpline, said that it recorded 42 cases in the first 4 months of 2014.

The Punjab Child Marriage Restraint Act

In a move to combat child marriages, Pakistan’s most populous province of Punjab enacted its Punjab Child Marriage Restraint Act to increase the jail term to those breaking the law from one month to six months.  It also raised the potential fine from Rs1,000 ($10) to Rs50,000 ($490) for both the parents involved in child marriages, as well as for the clerics who officiated such marriages.

This is a record breaking move by the government, as it will be the first time that clerics are punished for their involvement in child marriages. Commenting on this, Punjab Law Minister Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman said: “The Act has been enacted to curb the menace of child marriages prevalent in the country and to save the women from exploitation”.

Reaction

Khawar Mumtaz, chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women said concerning child brides: “It deprives her of education, right to development and growth and exposes her to health risks and gender-based violence”.

Think About It

Is the Pakistani government serious about tackling the issue of child marriages? Are the moves by the Sindh and Punjab Provinces in the right direction to curb child marriages?  Can legislation alone defeat child marriages, something that is rampant in the rural areas amongst tribal communities?

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Pakistan – Religious Body Says Girls Can Marry “If The Signs Of Puberty Were Visible”