In the Middle East, as with revolutions, there's no shortage of controversial fatwas. These are a source of debate for some, and entertainment or flippant disregard for others who refuse to engage seriously with some of the more bizarre, seemingly absurd rulings made in the name of Islam.
Fatwas, thankfully, have always lived in the realm of individual jurisprudence or subjectivity that makes them by and large, not binding for the whole of the Muslim faith.
Still, Muslim scholars, theologians and sheikhs can command a whole lot of authority and must use their fatwa power responsibly.
In Sunni Islam any fatwa is non-binding, whereas in the Shia faith, it could be considered by an individual as absolute. The person who issues a fatwa is called, a Mufti. This is not necessarily the case, since many Muslims argue that anyone trained in Islamic law may give an opinion (fatwa) on its teachings.
Most Islamic opinions (millions and squillions in the course of Islamic history to date) deal with mundane issues faced by Muslims in their daily life, such as the customs of marriage, finances, moral questions, and modern soceity. A smaller number of fatwa issued on controversial subjects, such as war and politics sometimes get broad coverage in the press.
Fatwas, contrary to common belief since the infamous Salman Rushdie affair, are not always issued on pain of death. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 pronounced a death sentence on the author of The Satanic Verses.
While the person issuing the fatwa may intend to represent the teachings of Islam accurately, this does not mean that that person's interpretation will gain universal acceptance. There are numerous contradictory fatwa, guiding or restricting certain behaviors. This puts the burden of choice on the individual Muslim, who, in case of conflict, will be forced to decide whose opinion is more likely to be correct.
Mocked fatwas are never few and far between in the Muslim world and we all love to reference, hate on them, laugh at them or even prefer to ignore them. Some are a source for debate, others an invitation for mockery or bashing. Some of the latter fit into a class of their own as 'bogus' fatwas. Like the Saudi Muslim Sheikh who tried to ban an airport on account of its phallic design, 2011.
Here's a look back at some of the year's bizarre and controversial fatwas. Weird is the word!
When Fatwas took on the Arab Spring
In 2011, some used the fatwa in favor of the revolutions, others in favor of the ruling authorities or regimes. Others still, in the name of peace and preventing blood-shed. Fatwas fed curfews or banned protesters from the streets to avoid the killing of people in crowds and funeral gatherings. Some Sheikhs issues fatwas to avoid aggravating sectarian schisms. Fatwas were used to gain votes!
In his capacity as Head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, Youssef Qaradawi, the notorious theologian, put out a fatwa for the murder of Gaddafi, stating that he would take responsibility for his blood. Well that seemed to do the trick; on his head be it!
Another learned scientist, issued a fatwa that, while still prohibitting Muslims from the consumption of wine, seemed to allow beer, or alcohol produced by any fruit but the grape. One could drink barley-based or date-based alcohol provided they didn't fall drunk. This ruling received a lot of attention by an incredulous following. With beer and even some Arak, or aniseed spirit (of the none-grape based variety) now on the agenda for the Muslim erstwhile sober-abiding masses, no holds would be barred. This esteemed scholar had opened the gateway to the minefield of 'tolerance' in humanity.