Badria al-Bishr, a Saudi columnist and lecturer at King Saud University, ponders the existence of fatwas condemning the offering of holiday greetings to non-Muslims. The fatwas make no distinction between religious holidays — for which there might be an argument — and purely secular ones. She wonders, too, where the line between just being a friendly, polite person and being a religious extremist lies. Good questions!
A jurisprudence ‘dilemma’ in Saudi Arabia
I don’t think that Saudis will face a problem as far as a fatwa (religious edict) goes, which prohibits greeting non-Muslims on their holidays and which our Saudi newspapers and websites were keen on circulating towards the end of the Gregorian calendar. Saudis will see no harm in this fatwa because the majority lives with a non-Muslim minority mostly made up of helpless laborers and those celebrate their holidays and practice their rituals in isolation. Muslim minorities who live with a Christian majority are those who will face a problem. International students offer the best example. Those who are sent to study abroad and to learn to co-exist with other cultures would be confused when they see a fatwa that prohibits “greeting them on their holidays and eating from their candy.” Some of those students recount how when they are in a supermarket not sure which detergent to buy find mothers who realize they are new to the place and had just moved from family houses to utter independence and decide to help them.
One student told me that the head of the American family with which he lived when he started his studies took him for a drive to show him around the neighborhood and the first thing he passed by was the Islamic center. “You must be a Muslim who doesn’t miss his prayers,” he told him. How would a student like him deal with the fatwa and how would he explain if they ask him why he is not eating their candy. Is he going to tell him that his religion prohibits that? Or is he going to lie?