Egypt Embarrassed by Fatwas


CAIRO, June 11 — First came the breast-feeding fatwa. It declared that the Islamic restriction on unmarried men and women being together could be lifted at work if the woman breast-fed her male colleagues five times, to establish family ties. Then came the urine fatwa. It said that drinking the urine of the Prophet Muhammad was deemed a blessing.

For the past few weeks, the breast-feeding and urine fatwas have proved a source of national embarrassment in Egypt, not least because they were issued by representatives of the highest religious authorities in the land.

In Egypt, there are two official institutions responsible for religious interpretation: the House of Fatwa, or Dar Al-Ifta, which formally falls under the Ministry of Justice, and Al Azhar University. All court sentences of death must be approved by Dar Al-Ifta, for example.

“These people in fact are defined as agencies of the government,” said Muhammad Serag, a professor of Islamic Studies at the American University in Cairo. “They are not trusted anymore.”

Sheik Ali issued the urine fatwa, now notorious, in a book, “Religion and Life.” It was published six years ago and told the story of a woman who drank the prophet’s urine. He had his own book taken off the shelves, and said the controversial statement was not a fatwa but his opinion, which was offered in response to a question.

“The reality is that the mufti is now ‘burned’ and lost religious recognition and the trust of the Muslims and his fatwas will not gain anything but carelessness from all the Muslims; as some will hate it as they hate drinking urine,” wrote Hamdy Rizk in an opposition newspaper.

But he was also criticized — and praised — earlier this year after he had issued a fatwa saying that it was permissible for women to have reconstructive hymen surgery before marriage to conceal that they were no longer virgins. He said that since it was impossible to tell whether a man was a virgin, women should have the same option.

But he took his opinion a step further, when he said that if a married woman had sex with another man, regretted her action and asked God for forgiveness, she should not tell her husband. The goal, he reportedly said, was to preserve the family.

There is a lot more to the article than what I have quoted here. It goes into a nice explanation of what, exactly, a fatwa is and how one goes about getting one, also what kind of authority is behind them.

The ‘Fatwa’ graphic with which I illustrated this blog post is from pietel on Flickr.


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Filed under arab, arabist, Islamic relations

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