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