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Now, fatwas are a virtual reality

Fictional stories are lies, which occupy the time of writer and reader without benefit. It is preferable to abandon them, reports Sunita Aron.

india Updated: Dec 23, 2007 03:40 IST
Sunita Aron

Fictional stories are lies, which occupy the time of writer and reader without benefit. It is preferable to abandon them. And if writing and reading fiction keeps you away from that which is obligatory, then it is prohibited.

This is just one example of a fatwa a ruling on Islamic law issued by a Muslim scholar, often in response to queries about the faith delivered online. The web is rapidly becoming the preferred medium of edict-issuing clerics, who are giving up the tradition of writing them out or delivering them orally in public.

The new trend of issuing fatwas online is catching on fast in India. Some websites even offer fatwas within an hour to queries posted online.

A survey conducted by Islamic Voice, a journal published from Bangalore, and Trends Research and Analysis Centre showed that Muslim youth in Mumbai favoured web resources to know more about their faith.

Over 45 per cent of those polled — 16- to 21-year-old students across five Muslim-majority colleges in the city — said that virtual Islamic forums and fatwa websites were an important source of knowledge about Islam.

Besides the Dar-ul-Uloom at Deoband — the 141-year-old seminary that recently issued a fatwa against unnatural forms of conception like in-vitro fertilisation — edicts are released by websites like Fatwa-online.com, Ask-imam.com, Islamonline.com and Fatwasislam.com. The Doha-based Islamonline.com has a ‘Live fatwa’ section where edicts are delivered in a chatroom. Its archives have 984 live sessions on women issues, modern financial transactions, etc.

Fatwaislam.com claims to be the most comprehensive online edict guide. It lists categories like faith, social dealings, manners, etiquette, worship and jurisprudence.

The mushrooming number of websites doling out e-fatwas has Muslim clerics worried. They fear that Islamic rules may be interpreted wrongly and passed; there is simply no control on what is being said online. The Milli Council of India, a public platform for Muslims in India, has spoken out against the “fatwa racket”.

Maulama Abdur Raheem Qureshi, secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, asserted: “Only a mufti (Muslim scholar or interpreter of Islamic law) can issue a fatwa. Often, a mere opinion on an issue is reported as a fatwa by the media.”

The board and the Dar-ul-Uloom are working on a code of conduct for issuance of fatwas. “We feel the need for a code on issues where mass guidance is required,” said Qureshi.

The Islamic Peace Foundation of India, fearing that the internet could be used to spread misinformation, is using the web itself to counter the problem. It has started Onlinefatwa.org for the purpose. Muftis answer questions posted on it every day.