Saudi 'fatwa' discussion – The National Newspaper

Saudi clerics’ outbursts hurt image of Islam – The National Newspaper
Some interesting comments on recent ‘fatwas’ by Caryle Murphy

Riyadh // When the head of Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court recently declared that media officials responsible for airing immoral television programmes could be killed, his remarks provoked what has become a familiar response around the world.

Ridicule and scorn for Saudi Arabia, and more “proof” for Islamophobes of the “backwardness” of Islam.

Sheikh Lihedan’s remarks were not the only ones in recent months to trigger a spate of global eye-rolling.

The most famous was a declaration by a member of the Saudi religious police, officially known as the Commission to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice, that dog-walking had become an unacceptable “phenomenon” in Riyadh. He demanded enforcement of 14-year-old ban on selling cats and dogs.

Then came a Saudi cleric bemoaning the fact that young children have become enamoured of such cartoon figures as Mickey Mouse even though Islamic law stipulates that mice should be killed.

But the press coverage, both in Saudi Arabia and abroad, often disregards some important aspects of religious discourse in the kingdom.

First of all, the press almost always refers to any comment from a religious figure as a fatwa. But in most cases, their comments do not rise to the level of a fatwa, and are therefore not worthy of the deference normally accorded such religious opinions.
Indeed, a more pertinent criticism of such comments is to ask why sheikhs do not spend their religious capital on more important moral concerns, such as demanding badly needed reforms to the Saudi court system, and urging kindness and justice for the poor, including the expatriate workers who do most of the manual labour in the kingdom.

Also, the press rarely notes if the sheikh making the controversial comments is associated with the government or not. Sheikhs Barrak, Jibreen and Munajid, for example, do not hold government jobs.

By contrast, Sheikh Lihedan does. And this was why his comments about television executives prompted a rapid government rebuttal.

Lastly, those who publicise controversial remarks by Muslim scholars rarely raise the bigger question prompted by such comments: Who speaks for Islam?

Actually, this is the burning ember stoking almost every controversy in Islam in these volatile times. What the ultra-conservative sheikhs – and often their critics too – fail to note is that the voices of authority in Islam have become far more numerous than at any previous time in modern history.

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