By Dr. Ibrahim Negm - Secretary General for Fatwa Authorities Worldwide
Muslims worldwide have always understood the central importance of fatwa to the whole spectrum of their social, professional, and professional networks. Most of them are too painfully aware of the far-reaching and serious implications of fatwas issued by unqualified and pseudo-scholars.
The practice of issuing Fatwas is as old as Islam. With the Prophet Muhammad as the first mufti, the office later devolved to his Companions and later to qualified scholars of religion. Since fatwas touch upon all areas of life, bringing the whole range of human actions into the sphere of Islamic jurisprudence, and since the only constant in the world and human life is change, it is imperative that muftis meet a range of strict conditions to ensure their competence and accuracy in the implementation of their functions.
As Ibn Khaldun said, “The office of a mufti is one of the [public] interests of the Muslim religious community. [The caliph] must take care, lest unqualified persons undertake to act as [muftis] and lead the people astray.”
All of these factors combined, in addition to the recent cacophony of unregulated and vociferous fatwas inviting extremism and turmoil, prompted Egypt’s Dar al-Ifta to call the Muslim world to action with a rewarding result. The General Secretariat for Fatwa Authorities Worldwide, an umbrella organization created to connect fatwa authorities from across the Muslim world, came into being in December 2015.
The General Secretariat for Fatwa Authorities Worldwide provides a coordinated approach to exploring issues of relevance to the worldwide community of Muslims and addressing the phenomenon of aberrant fatwas based on unqualified and self-designated muftis and on the willful misinterpretation of legal texts and erroneous analogies servicing ulterior motives and nefarious agendas. In addition, the General Secretariat seeks to disseminate the true image of Islam by correcting misconceptions and redressing bias-driven hate speech, anti-Muslim sentiment, and the perpetuation of an overall negative image of Islam and Muslims.
Gearing up to this task, the General Secretariat for Fatwa Authorities Worldwide launched an initiative during this year’s conference to designate an annual day for fatwa.
The General Secretariat for Fatwa Authorities Worldwide will be celebrating December 15 as the International Day for Ifta`. The date was purposefully chosen to coincide with the day of the establishment of the General Secretariat for Fatwa Authorities Worldwide.
International days are always occasions for educating the public on issues of concern. At the heart of this new awareness campaign lies the collective will and determination of fatwa authorities uniting under a single umbrella to separate the truth of fatwa and ifta` from propagated falsehoods. Given the worldwide state of affairs in relation to terrorist incidents and violence inspired by unregulated Islamic legal pronouncements and the resulting accusations levelled against Islam and Muslims, it was important to promote and boost global awareness, especially in non-Muslim communities, of the institution of fatwa.
The objectives of the International Day for Ifta` are fully aligned with the interests of both Muslims and non-Muslims in that they have as their key focus removing all misconceptions and helping people identify erroneous information which leads to erroneous conceptualizations on the institution of fatwa and Islamic teachings in general.
Towards this aim, the awareness campaign seeks to define what a fatwa is and what is not. A fatwa is not merely the religious opinion of a Muslim of whatever scholarly credentials. It is much more; a fatwa is a credible opinion issued by a qualified fatwa practitioner, a mufti, in response to a religious inquiry, problem, or concern.
In the world of ifta`, being trained to competently understand and conceptualize the inquirer’s question and apply abstract legal laws to particular cases not only provide ethico-legal rulings for the actions of Muslims but contribute to curbing or hampering any attempts to undermine the teachings of Islamic law or promulgate erroneous and misguiding information.
The International Day for Ifta` will present new themes and fresh topics and activities every year, guiding the event and serving its direction of development. The most important will include introducing journalists, media figures, and mosque imams across the globe to authoritative fatwa authorities, disseminating the theme message linked to fatwa and ifta` for that particular year, and illustrating the theme messages with audio and visual interviews.
The General Secretariat for Fatwa Authorities Worldwide also proposes that each fatwa authority make a documentary to highlight their fatwa services. Other propositions include organizing public seminars to raise awareness about extremist and erroneous fatwas and delineating the criteria meeting principled fatwas; publishing publications and leaflets on fatwa and related issues, especially those relevant to the theme under consideration; encouraging scholarly exchange visits between fatwa authorities; and organizing field-level fatwa convoys.
All of these ideas serve to draw attention to vested concerns related to fatwa and ifta` and to the importance of countering the ubiquitous dissemination of unregulated fatwas.
It is a matter of profound concern that the institution of fatwa is being exploited as an instrument of destruction and an agent of chaos instead of a means of development, peace, harmony, positive values, and guidance. The surge in unregulated fatwas is evolving in both scale and complexity, requiring a comprehensive approach and effective means of addressing them.
It is our belief that it is futile to condemn our way to eliminating unregulated and extremist fatwas and the threat they represent. It is likewise my belief that mobilizing fatwa authorities worldwide to defend the institution of fatwa and the values it embodies is the only route out of this predicament. Meeting this objective is the whole raison d’être behind the International Day for Ifta`.