The Saudi government has finally cracked down on the willy-nilly issuance of fatawa by anyone with a college degree in Islam and access to the media, Financial Times reports. In banning the issuance of fatawas by any other than officially certified scholars, this step will definitely reduce the number of crazy judgments and statements (like the one telling people that they should breast feed, thus establishing a maternal relationship, in order to get around bans on mixing the sexes!). But there’s a cost involved, too.
If only state-sponsored clerics can issue a fatwa, then it’s not unreasonable to expect that only the fatawas that support the state will be issued. That puts honorable and reasonable fatawas out of bounds if they contradict state policy. Good for having the government run smoothly, but not necessarily good for those who lack close, official ties to government. Certain groups within Saudi Arabia—i.e., Shi’ites—still suffer from government disfavor. Unless Shi’a clerics are brought into the official fold, they are going to be deprived of a legitimate part of their religious practice.
A Saudi royal order limiting the number of religious rulings – or fatwas – is an attempt to bring order to what has become a chaotic field with the advent of satellite television and the internet, analysts say.
King Abdullah’s decree this week banned anyone other than Islamic scholars appointed by him from issuing public religious rulings.
“We have noticed some excesses that we cannot tolerate, and it is our legal duty to stand up to these with strength and resolve to preserve religion,” said the Saudi ruler in his order, which was addressed to the kingdom’s Grand Mufti – the most senior official pronouncing on religious matters.
… men of religion, some of whom are accused of having furnished the ideological underpinnings al Qaeda, have been on the defensive since 2001 when the state turned away from them after the shock of the September 11 attacks carried out by Saudi nationals.
King Abdullah has tried curtail some of the powers of conservatives and he has taken cautious steps to improve the situation of women and the Shia religious minority.