Dr. Ibrahim Negm
Secretary-General, Fatwa Authorities Worldwide
Nothing occupies the minds of thinkers, scholars and religious leaders of the Muslim world nowadays but the issue of renewing religious discourse in general and ‘Ifta in specific. In the wake of many heinous terrorist attacks that hit the globe over the past years, the world has realized the disastrous status of calcification and stagnation that the religious and ‘Ifta discourse have reached. The movement of renewal did not exceed the pioneering Imam Mohammed ‘Abdou’s school that included great Egyptian scholars such as Sheikhs al-Maraghi, al-Marsafi, Shaltout, Abu Zahrah, Abdul-Wahab Khallaf and Ahmed Ibrahim. This school had also many peerless scholars from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, the Levant and Yemen. The entire scholarly efforts exerted by those scholars were the early fruits of renewing religious discourse in our modern time.
This renewal movement was followed by a wave of propagating an extremist discourse adopted by extremist religious groups. This extremist discourse disregarded the essence and principles of religious teachings and focused on apparent issues instead. Consequently, with the emergence of political Islam waves and propagating extremist religious discourse, the endeavors dedicated to renewing and reviving religious discourse have completely disrupted!
Exploiting mass media and deploying social media, these extremist groups—receiving dubious financial support—managed to propagate its discourse and reach out to large groups and wide sectors that intentionally were brain-washed and blinded to see the true tolerant spiritual essence of Islamic discourse calling for tolerance, coexistence and respecting differences whatsoever.
By the time these groups joined political ruling, everyone, including religious institutions in the forefront, realized the disastrous religious discourse it adopted. They propagated violent barbaric discourse in the name of Islam that was accompanied by issuing plentiful aberrant fatwas substantiating burning, killings and spreading turmoil.
Today’s world has turned into a small connected village thanks to the revolution we are witnessing in communication and transportation; and this new form of global connection represents the principle in maintaining coexistence among people for the sake of entire humanity. This spirit of loving for others what one loves for themselves is the essence of all religions, both Divine and non-divine. The Quran is replete with many injunctions calling for and establishing coexistence, the first of which is, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another” (Quran 49:13).
Islam establishes the concept of human diversity provided it enriches the different aspects of life, promotes philanthropy and achieves coexistence. These principles have been adopted today according to international agreements that preserve human rights and therefore it is no longer accepted to follow such aberrant fatwas that fell short to fathom what humanity has achieved so far.
Today, it is rejected, under these modern global agreements, to keep dividing the world’s countries into (abode of Islam and kufr)! Likewise, it is totally rejected to hate and antagonize non-Muslims or non-believers who are peaceful and cause no harm to Muslims! It is not acceptable to wrongfully eat or take the property of non-Muslims based on ibn Taimiya’s fatwa in which he misinterpreted the words of God Almighty, “O mankind, eat from whatever is on earth [that is] lawful and good…” (Quran 2: 168). This distorted interpretation of the verse was circulated by the ignorant extremists in their aberrant fatwas that are no longer valid to be followed in our times!
It is then necessary to renew this religious discourse in order to achieve the objectives of Shari’ah (Islamic law) and fulfil people’s best interest. This requires the existence of strong State that supports the efforts of scholars serving renewal cause. The State legislates laws to regulate this process of renewal stemming from the fact that people incline towards traditional discourse and fear change amid concerns over the existence of extremist stagnant discourse!
Conservative scholarly community faces two forms of pressure: refraining from practicing Ijtihad and renewal due to the absence of motivation, second taking into account the public opinion that usually is protective over its belief on the other hand. The existence of a super power that exhorts scholars and religious institutions to engage renewal with a view to remove doubts, change will be possible, by the will of God, in a manner that preserves the essence of this religion and keeps it up to the realities of the time. Thereupon, religion becomes a source of motivation, coexistence and freewill. On the contrary, coercing people to live according outdated rulings and restricting matters for them is ultimately a sign of creating division between people and their faith. Otherwise, we will be lost in today’s overwhelming waves of irreligion and volatile state of values. Hence, it is inevitable to engage the realms of Shari’ah and benefit from its flexibility to serve Muslims away from ignorance and extremist approaches.
It is worthy to mention that renewing religious discourse will not be perfectly approached except with the cooperation of all religious, social, cultural, educational and media institutions. It is totally erroneous to consider that renewing religious discourse is the duty of religious institutions only; rather, it is a communal responsibility in the first place. This requires distributing duties that cover many domains including religious, social, educational, security, economic, media and the like.
Egypt’s Dar al-Ifta is making great strides on the path of renewing religious discourse while taking into account the emerging issues that people need to handle according to the spirit of our modern times. Therefore, it strives to present through this portal the efforts it exerts to renew the concept of ‘Ifta and deducting rulings in a manner that suits the emerging new issues and fulfills the needs of Fatwa students and researchers. To meet these goals, Dar al-Ifta established the General Secretariat for Fatwa Authorities Worldwide since 5 years in order fill the gap of ‘Ifta research based on firmly-established scholarly and contemporary methodologies.