Fatwa Call Centre Sets Minds At Rest

November 17, 2008

Author: Graeme Baker

Source: The New Zealand Herald


Is it against the teachings of Islam to use Viagra? Is it dishonest to "piggyback" on your neighbour's wireless internet connection? Can you use diet patches while fasting during Ramadan?

These are just three of the thousands of questions posed to the United Arab Emirates' official fatwa call centre, which was officially inaugurated in August to provide definitive religious rulings to believers.

For centuries, Muslims have taken religious dilemmas to the imam at the local mosque. But now, with a free phone call or an email, they can receive answers from qualified muftis, or religious scholars, and settle worries about how to live an observant life under the Koran in modern society.

Muftis will either make an on-the-spot pronouncement, or text message or email back after careful consideration. Questions can be posed in English, Arabic and Urdu.

The 24-hour daily free service run from offices of the capital Abu Dhabi has proved so popular that managers at the country's Islamic Affairs Authority are considering doubling its 48-strong team due to overwork. Its 14 telephone lines are fielding almost four times the 1000 questions a day they were designed to handle.

Fatwas gained a bad image in the West due to the death sentence issued by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini in the 1980s on author Salman Rushdie for, The Satanic Verses. Although effectively withdrawn in 1998, the decree fixed fatwas in many Western minds as extremist tools to condemn "infidels".

But the vast majority of fatwas deal with every day situations. Many questions revolve around sex and the relationships between men and women.