Opinion | Columnists

Far-fetched fatwas on the rise

Good judgement and common sense should be the order of the day when it comes to dealing with such edicts

  • By Tariq A. Al Maeena, Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 00:00 December 11, 2011
  • Gulf News

Far-fetched fatwas on the rise
  • Image Credit: Ramachandra Babu/Gulf News

To many devout Muslims the world over, certain fatwas released by Islamic clerics in recent times have severely taxed their sensibilities. The western press picks upon such edicts with front page headlines depicting them as ‘barbaric', ‘shocking', ‘bizarre', or even ‘absurd'. Some of these edicts also make their way as humorous skits on late night television around the world.

One of the latest such edicts that have created a lot of international media mileage is the recent ‘scientific' report prepared by Kamal Sobhi, a former Saudi professor working with Muslim scholars in Saudi Arabia's highest religious council. The report was reportedly delivered to the entire Shura Council body, 150 strong. The report assessed the possible impact of repealing the ban off allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia, the only country in the world where such restrictions exist.

As a result of the study, it was feared there would be "no more virgins" if the female drive ban is lifted, and relaxing the ban would also see more Saudis of either sex deviate towards homosexuality and pornography. It states that allowing women to drive would also "provoke a surge in prostitution and divorce". And so confident were the authors of the report, they predicted that within ten years of the ban being lifted, there would be "no more virgins" in the country.

In justifying his claims, Sobhi points to the moral decline where women are allowed the privilege of driving themselves. He describes such depravity through a personal incident that happened to him while he was sitting in a coffee shop in an unnamed Arab state. "All the women were looking at me," he wrote. "One made a gesture that made it clear she was available. This is what happens when women are allowed to drive." It would have been more interesting had he described exactly the mechanics of that particular gesture.

And out of Cairo comes a report that an Islamic cleric residing in Europe released an edict stating that women should not come in contact with bananas and cucumbers to prevent any sexual thoughts. The shaikh was quoted as saying that if women wanted to eat these food items, a related male family member such as a father, brother or husband should bring it to them already cut up in small pieces.

He added that these fruits and vegetables "resemble the male penis" and thus could arouse women or lead them into sexual thoughts. Carrots and zucchini should be similarly considered as part of the list of forbidden foods for women to handle in their natural state. When asked how such controls would apply to women out shopping in the vegetable section of a supermarket for their family without holding and inspecting the goods, the shaikh answered saying this matter was between them and God. In answering another question about what to do if women in the family like these foods, the shaikh opined that it was best to take the food and cut it for them in a hidden place so they couldn't see it in its natural state.

This edict has rightfully stirred a storm of criticism among Muslims, with the majority mocking the cleric and saying that such religious leaders only served to give Islam a bad name. One online reader claimed that the shaikh was retarded and should quit his post immediately, while another charged him as a "seeker of fame". Another said only those who foster "evil or immoral thoughts" could think up of such a thing. There have been no official responses from renowned Islamic scholars on this edict yet.

Now getting back to the driving and virginity issue, was the scientific report forwarded to the country's legislative body based on quantitative polls which did indeed indicate that Muslim women in countries worldwide had indeed lost their virginity upon acquiring a driving licence and getting behind the wheel? And was it proven beyond a certainty of doubt that once a driving licence is in possession, prostitution, homosexuality and divorce are to follow? If that is the case, it would add to the credibility of the authors, and such a statistical study should be published to refute all these media allegations of "bizarre and barbarity".

The report hasn't gone down well with some Saudi males and females who have dismissed it as yet another attempt to subjugate the rights of women, this time by injecting the morality factor. They also see such claims as an affront to the virtue of Muslim women in other countries who do indeed drive, saying that such claims insult Muslim women world-wide and make a mockery of our religion on the international arena.

Why do such extreme fatwas always seem to concern women's rights they wonder, particularly when Islam is so tolerant on that issue? Then there are others who resent such attempts from what they believe is a marginalised segment of the population to introduce their own extreme views in an attempt to make them part of the law.

For confused Muslims, I suppose good judgement and common sense should be the order of the day when it comes to dealing with such fatwas.


Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Comments (5)

  1. Added 16:27 December 11, 2011

    Even though I am a highly conservative Muslim, I deem such things as nuisance. We must understand the eternity and integrity of our Religion and the guidelines it necessitates us to follow. Doing that, it is highly immoral to discuss such thing and propound a fatwa in this course. Were there no Carrots and Cucumbers during the times of Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon him)? Were there no Muslim women during those times? If dealing with those vegetables was an immoral or sexually exacerbating for women, it would not have escaped the attention of Prophet of Allah SAW.

    Muneer, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

  2. Added 15:34 December 11, 2011

    After having lived in the U.A.E. (both Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, and Dubai) over a period of 14 months and learning a lot about the ways of life in different parts of the Middle East, I can say that I highly respect the intentions of the fatwas. However, there should be fatwas that apply to men just as they apply to women. I can't count how many times I've been to Egypt or Lebanon or even the U.S. for that matter and seen some men living like heathens, animals. They shame their women and they shame God. They should be ashamed of themselves. Just because they are men doesn't free them from the laws of God. Here in the U.S., it actually disgusts me how open life is. There is just too much freedom---so much freedom that even children are actually no longer protected. Sure everyone is led to believe children are protected, but they aren't. Many children lose their virginity at age 13 or 14! The Internet is wide open for anyone, including children, to simply make a wrong key stroke on a computer keyboard, and they are subjected to all types of pornography. Women have the same freedoms of men. I cannot deny women the same rights as men. They should have the same rights. They are creatures of God just like men, and women can choose to respect the laws of God just as men might. However, I believe that adult men and women should be more discreet in their public games with one another. The show of open affection is totally disgusting to me. I don't think it should be outlawed, but I believe that any God fearing person should know about showing modesty when it comes to personal behavior, in private and in public--everywhere in the world. If we could mix the fatwas of Saudi Arabia with the freedom in America, I think we'd have an ideal world--at least for me and in my opinion.

    Dean Bush, Miami Beach, Florida, United States

  3. Added 12:14 December 11, 2011

    Dear Tariq, Thank you very much for your article for addressing the very worrying trend of such ‘far-fetched fatwas’. I believe the concern not only lies in the way Islam is being perceived and mocked by the Western media but more so that such Islamic clerics are: 1. Free to release such fatwas in the name of Islam that could very well be implemented by devout Muslims lacking sensibility 2. Free to marginalize the role of a woman in society and in her own household rather than celebrating and appreciating women as is done by the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). I strongly believe that Muslim women and Muslim society today cannot afford to have such representatives of the religion. Islam, which in my view is very much a progressive religion and supports the growth of the individual through the constant search of ‘ILM’ or ‘Knowledge’ and the ‘Greater Jihad’ of individual spiritual growth and enlightenment to becoming a better human being, has long been taken down the road of ignorance, violence and oppression which really should not be accepted by the Islamic leaders. The role of Muslim clerics is to spread God's message rather than implementing their own skewed perceptions and frustrations. I think it is safe to say that such clerics who spend their days contemplating what vegetables a woman can and cannot touch and that driving will lead to a demise in their virginity should be psychologically assessed for their own issues. It is embarrassing and insulting to read; the ‘women’ that they talk about are after all their mothers, sisters, wives and cousins too. If we look at Muslim society today, overall, we are becoming more and more of a poor and uneducated population. This in my view is the real problem. It is the obligation of Muslim clerics to look after Muslim society, to make sure that funding goes towards building more schools and universities, that parents understand the importance of sending their children to school and to make sure that Muslim society works together so that people do not go hungry. Last but not least, Muslim clerics need to be communicating the message of tolerance between Muslims and non-Muslims, a message that is very clearly communicated in the Quran that we are seeing less and less of amongst each other.

    Mona Yamak, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  4. Added 10:11 December 11, 2011

    As a non-Muslim who deeply respects Islam these fatwas do cause a negative public perception in the world of Islam. There is so much that is good that is overlooked when these types of positions are put forward. Would that the world could actually see Islam as it is, rather than through the lens of these extreme, poorly supported fatwas and studies. Muslims are a noble people that can teach the world many things. As a noble people I would ask you to do all you can to marginalize those people who take such positions.

    Michael B, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

  5. Added 08:41 December 11, 2011

    "For confused Muslims, I suppose good judgement and common sense should be the order of the day when it comes to dealing with such fatwas." This last sentence may well be the most important message from the article. Unfortunately, I often see a different approach from many people. There are quite a number of otherwise educated, and potentially moderate people, who take the following approach: If they are confused by a particular edict, or feel that they do not have sufficient knowledge on the matter, they simply choose to adopt the MOST conservative path -- a defensive posture. In the case of unusual edicts (and these are almost always highly publicised), the conservative path simply happens to be to follow the "learned" person who issued the edict. When other learned people do not come out with a clear and well-publicised ruling opposing the edict, or clarifications to the edict, the individuals following the edict become convinced that their simplistic stance is entirely accurate.

    Rafiq Ali, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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