Fatwas 4 sale, cheap!

In many third world countries, everything is for sale. Instead of paying for the services of a good lawyer if you get caught doing something wrong, you pay for the services of the judge, or better yet, of a legislator in the first place. Sure you can buy congressmen in the USA, or hire a high-powered lobbyist, but it’s a lot more expensive, and the process of getting what you want is far more contingent.

I just learned about a new twist to this phenomenon, however. Now you can buy not just secular verdicts, but religious ones as well. And dirt cheap! The term “fatwa” is commonly misunderstood because of the famous fatwa against Salman Rushdie. It actually refers to a legal judgement on a point of Islamic law:

A fatwa … is a legal pronouncement in Islam made by a mufti, a scholar capable of issuing judgments on Sharia (Islamic law). Usually a fatwa is issued at the request of an individual or a judge to settle a question where “fiqh” (Islamic jurisprudence) is unclear. [Link]

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p>It turns out that you can buy a fatwa in India cheaply, for as little as $60 US!

India’s “cash-for-fatwas” scandal broke out last weekend when a TV channel broadcast a sting operation that showed several Indian Muslim clerics allegedly taking, or demanding, bribes in return for issuing fatwas, or religious edicts. The bribes, some of which were as low as $60, were offered by undercover reporters wearing hidden cameras over a period of six weeks. [Link]

The fatwas purchased covered a wide range of fairly mundane issues. They even managed to get two fatwas directly opposed to each other, concerning whether one could watch TV:

Among the decrees issued by the fatwas: that Muslims are not allowed to use credit cards, double beds, or camera-equipped cell phones, and should not act in films, donate their organs, or teach their children English. One cleric issued a fatwa against watching TV; another issued a fatwa in support of watching TV. [Link]

Furthermore, some of the fatwas were purchased from fairly respected clerics, showing that the practice is not limited to marginal scholars:

some of the clerics apparently caught in the sting operation teach at important institutions — one belongs to India’s most famous Islamic seminary, the Darul Uloom at Deoband. [Link]

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p>Congregations were outraged. In Meerut, the congregation refused to pray until the cleric came before them, admitted his wrong doing and apologized.

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p>All of this comes in the context of a declining role for muslim authorities in India, and for fatwas in particular:

The sway that fatwas hold over Muslims is also not as great as many outsiders think. Last year, a Muslim cleric issued a fatwa stating that it was un-Islamic for Sania Mirza, India’s most famous tennis player and a Muslim, to wear sleeveless tops or short skirts on court. Mirza simply dismissed the ruling; indeed, many, if not most, urban Indian Muslims do not take fatwas seriously. However, in rural communities, a well-respected mufti’s fatwa — on issues ranging from marriage to health to women’s rights — can carry considerable influence. India’s Muslim leaders announced that they will soon create a new body that will monitor the passing of fatwas in the country, in a bid to preserve that influence, and nip the popular anger swirling around this scandal. [Link]

Hmmmmm …. now I know what to get Abhi for his birthday. A fatwa about SepiaMutiny probably wont cost too much …

16 thoughts on “Fatwas 4 sale, cheap!

  1. Sonia- Is that your site? My sister LOVES it. She would be so excited to meet you.

    Really? I’d be even more excited to meet her! That made my day =)

  2. Sonia – it’s been done. There are several sites with online fatwa divisions, many of them manned by trained fuqaha, e.g. IslamOnline.net, whose supervising faqih is none other than Shaykh Qaradawi (very famous religious scholar).

    There’s nothing terribly new about buying fatwas, though perhaps not so blatantly – the wealthy and influential have always been able to find a faqih (jurisprudent) who will help them rationalize interest-yielding bonds or whatever, and governments/states like those of Egypt, Morocco, etc etc all have their own bureaucratized religious establishments where the Mufti (head jurisprudent) manages to be well-trained in the relevant school of Islamic law and find a way to put a religious stamp of approval on whatever the state wants to do anyway (first socialism was Islamic under Nasser, then free-market economics were Islamic under Sadat). Comes from a long tradition of ulama al-salateen, the ulama of the Sultans, who are generally scorned as lapdogs. I guess we in India have managed to decentralize and privatize the process more effectively.

    Now Islamic law does have a whole lot of interpretation involved so it’s not all that far out for different scholars to hand out different fatwas…especially in a place like India where you don’t have a centralized Islamic legal education and licensing system. Makes for a more fragmented system of religious law that is more open to market incentives…

  3. BidiSmoker – I’m on the east coast right now, but from California. My occupation is online marketing but I started IWS 2 years ago. And yes, it’s definitely a good time to be a part of anything related to South Asian weddings!

  4. Funny stuff! – on the other hand,its maddening.

    Does anyone know about anykind of research done on (specifically related to India): 1> How these Mullah’s are selected? 2> What’s the formal education – any analysis – the Mullah population in India has? 3> A synopsis of what is usually “preached” during Friday sermons – after/during the main namaaz? 4> Any instances of Mullahs breaking away from antiquated practices – as in being oppressive to Women?..etc

  5. Even well educated muslims tend to take a soft stand on the mullahs meddling in personal issues. Excerpts from a shariah website below:

    Q1. Is it permissible in Islam to wear a tie? Does it represent the Cross? Q2. If husband and wife are alone staying together only then can wife wear chemise, shorts, nightdress during the day or night while sleeping? Can husband and wife can take shower together?

    http://www.shariahboard.com/fatwa/Clothing/i.html

  6. mullahs do not comprise a licensed, regulated profession. any schmuck can be one. ideally, they’d know a lil some’ some’ about the religion, but, see above, there is no regulating authority. Friday khutba’s are as varied as cloud bunnies. some muslims like to oppress women, some are very nice to us. sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you dont. islam is not a monolith.

  7. Al_Mujahid_for_debauchery on September 30, 2006 08:21 AM · Direct link 3> A synopsis of what is usually “preached” during Friday sermons – after/during the main namaaz? Its mostly non political.

    I hope so. I lived for 3 yrs in city which was muslim majority and to hear them “sermon” after Friday prayers- by the tone/high pitch emotional urging …it would come across as anything but a “religious sermon”. Personally I have been part of Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Hindu and Christian sermons or religious discourses. To listen to them…makes you calm and relaxed…I cannot say the same about the Friday sermons by Muslim clerics. Hence the info for clarity.

  8. This sounds a lot like the much maligned sale of indulgences by the Catholic church that led to the reformation/protestantism. Of course, catholics didn’t have the power of the internet to sell indulgences ;)

  9. <<>

    This is nothing visit http://islam.tc/ask-imam/index.php for more entertainment. This ask-imam-online site is fun!! I have seen questions like is it Islamic to work as a bouncer at a night club? Is it unislamic if I happen to drop a few drops on smn on my wife’s b**bs …lolz lolz ~~