As readers may have noticed, economics is not my greatest interest and doesn’t get a lot of coverage on Crossroads Arabia. It is an important facet of life, though, and cannot be ignored. Increasingly, the issue of ‘Islamic finance’ has been getting media coverage. Unfortunately, in much of the West, it is seen as some insidious worm being fed into Western economies, part of the plot to surreptitiously convert the world to global Islam. That, it assuredly is not.
Here’s a piece from Asharq Alawsat that defines the difference between bonds, prohibited in Shariah-compliant finance, and sukuk, their permitted equivalent:
The Difference between Sukuk and Bonds
Lahem al Nasser
The launch of a secondary market for Sukuk bonds by the Saudi Arabian Capital Market Authority [CMA] has led to Ulama and religious scholars issuing a number of fatwas and statements prohibiting this. The majority of these fatwas and statements were unwritten [i.e. issued verbally] and so were missing many details. Many people also circulated messages via mobile phone of a fatwa issued by the Islamic Fiqh Academy that deals with bonds, but does not mention Sukuk, which is an alternative to bonds that are forbidden under the provisions of Islam. These statements and reports did not take into account the secondary market launched for Sukuk, as this market consists solely of Sukuk that comply with the provisions of Islamic Sharia law and whose documentation have been verified by a legal authority comprised of a number of religious scholars including members of the Council of Senior Ulama and the Islamic Fiqh Academy.
The statements and fatwas mentioned above have caused ambiguity among the public with regards to the legality of circulating Sukuk. Members of the public have asked me to clarify this, and explain the difference between Sukuk and bonds, and the legal status of each. The difference between Sukuk and bonds can be most easily seen by defining each term;
I think something is stirring on the issue of Saudi women’s driving. I’m seeing increasingly frequent stories in the Saudi media, each calling on high authorities, supporting the proposition that women should be permitted to drive in the Kingdom.
Below is the most recent offering from Saudi Gazette/Okaz, putting it bluntly that there are no religious barriers to women’s driving. The piece points out, too, the paradox of forcing women to be with unrelated drivers, either in taxis or the women’s own cars with foreign drivers. And yes, there have been instances of women getting into trouble—on their own initiative or not—with strange drivers.
Anyway, it does seem that something on this front will be happening in the near future. I see this as a softening up of the opposition before a new rule is announced.
‘Shariah does not bar women from driving’
HAIL – Abdullah Al-Mutlaq, a professor of Comparative Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) and a former judge at Hail court, has called for women to be allowed to drive, saying that there are no objections to it in Shariah and that “customs and traditions in our society must not rule us absolutely.”
Al-Mutlaq, speaking to Okaz newspaper, said that the study he was currently carrying out on the issue was motivated by a wish to tackle problems associated with foreign drivers being responsible for transporting Saudi females.
Al-Mutlaq said the move would serve to “prevent corruption” and noted “many negative observations concerning drivers.”
Al-Mutlaq said women should be allowed to drive, and cited the fact that many already do in rural areas with no resultant problems.
“They have earned respect with their abidance of traffic laws,” he said.
Al-Mutlaq called upon youth to respect women driving and expressed a wish for the issue to be treated as “normal”.
Al-Mutlaq’s comments support those expressed by Islamic thinker and former Minister of Information Dr. Mohammed Abdo Yamani, who told Al-Watan newspaper on Wednesday that women should be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.
Arab News reports on an upcoming conference, to be held in Sharjah later this month, that holds the potential for reform within Islam. The meeting of the International Islamic Fiqh Academy. The Academy is to take up the issue of religious tolerance within Islam, a very important topic. Religious intolerance within Islam operates on local, national, and international levels and results in injustices and often violence toward religious minorities. It’s something that calls for marked change.
The problem is one shared by most international meetings of groups like these: they talk but do little. Whether it’s the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) or the Fiqh Academy, the members of different states tend to talk past each other. One faction might be pushing for moderation while another is pushing for strict construction with no flexibility. A lot depends, of course, on who is attending from which states and what power they hold. Ultimately, though, change is the result of educating societies about what is just. That takes time and resources as well as the willingness of the intolerant to listen and be open to change. Those requirements are not givens.
Tolerance, freedom of expression to dominate Fiqh council debate
Badea Abu Al-Naja | Arab News
MAKKAH: Religious tolerance under Shariah and the freedom of expression are expected to dominate deliberations at the 19th International Islamic Fiqh Academy (IIFA) in Sharjah later this month.
Ruler of Sharjah Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qassimi will host the conference from April 26 to 30, said Abdul Salam Al-Ebady, secretary-general of IIFA, an offshoot of the Jeddah-based Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).
“Wide-ranging topics, such as Islamic finance, banking, domestic abuse, health and medicine and environmental protection, will feature in the discussions of the 19th conference of IIFA,” Al-Ebady said in a statement yesterday.
Asharq Alawsat runs an interesting interview with Dr. Saleh Bin Zaben al Marzouki, Secretary General of the Islamic Fiqh Academy. In it, he explains why it was important to call this conference on the matter of the issuance of fatawa and what it seeks to accomplish.
In general, the conference seeks to devise a central authority to address issues that affect the Islamic world at large, the big picture. It does not seek to intervene in limited, personal fatawa that affect individuals and which might rightly be offered by imams in remote areas. These imams cannot properly issue a fatwa on global politics, though, and their attempts to do so not only confuse the umma, but can lead to extremism.
I think guidelines, or at least guidance, should be offered these imams, even for small matters of life. It is the individual fatwa that affects the lives of people in particular regions, after all. If an erroneous fatwa is issued on, say, the matter of a child marriage, then its effects will be felt directly by those involved and indirectly by those who cite it and apply it in the future.
The interview is worth reading.
Mecca, Asharq Al-Awsat – Sheikh Dr. Saleh Bin Zaben al Marzouki is the Secretary-General of the Islamic Fiqh Academy, a subsidiary of the Muslim World League.
In this interview, Sheikh al Marzouki speaks to Asharq Al-Awsat about the five-day Fatwa and its Regulation conference that is currently taking place in Mecca, Saudi Arabia under the patronage of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz. The conference will aim to provide guidelines for issuing fatwas, Islamic legal rulings, in light of recent controversies on this issue.
Q) The fatwa issue has been raised during a number of Muslim World League (MWL) conferences, including those on dialogue. Why has the Fatwa and its Regulation conference been organised?
A) I would like to clarify that the MWL cares about all Islamic issues, some of which are related to one another and others which are not. Interfaith dialogue is under the patronage of the [Saudi] Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques [King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz], whilst other Islamic issues are under the patronage of [Saudi] Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz.
The fatwa issue differs to that of dialogue. The latter is based on religious figures meeting with one other or with figures from non-Islamic countries to discuss common issues without going against the principles of Islamic Sharia.
Dialogue is extremely important for removing barriers between nations so that we may share common grounds and each party will listen to- and benefit from- the other. As a result, Islam’s true image can be conveyed.
The fatwa issue is important in the Islamic world, as Muslims are in crucial need for fatwas and muftis [who issue fatwas]. The fatwa issue is an old one, but at the same time it needs to be addressed and revised in some cases so as to cope with new problems that require solutions.
In light of the importance of the fatwa issue in the Islamic world, and even though there are religious figures that are providing a great service and will be highly rewarded by God, there are some unqualified people who, as a result of social or political pressure, may issue inaccurate fatwas. This is especially the case in the media, which has paved the way for both qualified and unqualified figures, causing an increase in fatwas that contradict Islamic Sharia. This has a negative impact on the mufti, the person seeking the fatwa and upon the Islamic Ummah. Therefore, as head of the MWL’s Islamic Fiqh Academy, I decided to put this topic forward to be discussed by muftis, Islamic scholars and researchers so that they may give their opinions and set guidelines for issuing fatwas.
The Jerusalem Post is hardly the most Saudi-friendly newspaper, but it notes—favorably—the conference on the issuance of fatawa being held by the Fiqh Academy, part of the Muslim World League.
Saudi Arabia is calling for tougher guidelines on issuing fatwas, or Muslim religious edicts, in order to combat the spreading of what Riyadh calls “ill-considered” fatwas issued by unqualified scholars.
The call is part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to stem religious extremism.
Saudi Arabia has been fighting a homegrown terrorist threat since 2003.
Groups belonging to or inspired by al-Qaida are trying to undermine the monarchy in Saudi Arabia, which has faced criticism because of its alliance with the West, and especially with the United States.
The country has arrested and tried thousands of terror suspects and is trying to weed out extremist elements planning terror attacks, recruiting operatives or spreading extremist ideology through the Internet.
More than 170 Muslims scholars from around the world are currently gathered in Mecca for a five-day conference organized by the Mecca-based Muslim World League’s Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) Academy.
The Muslim world is being plagued by a tendency among unqualified people to deliver fatwas, Saudi King Abdullah said in a statement read out at the conference.
Of course, Jerusalem Post does not have a correspondent in Saudi Arabia, but that’s the subject matter for another post…
Meanwhile, here’s Arab News on the conference and the King’s exhortation to do better in the issuing of fatawa:
The problem with this is that no one is really sure of the authority of the person issuing the fatwa, with the result being harebrained fatawas, contradictory fatawa, and utter confusion among Muslims.
Arab News reports on new efforts by the Islamic Fiqh Academy to hold an international conference to settle on how fatawa are issued. I think it’s a useful step.
Fiqh Academy to set guidelines for fatwas
Badea Abu Al-Naja | Arab News
MAKKAH: An international conference to discuss problems related to randomly issuing fatwas will be held at the headquarters of the Muslim World League (MWL) on Sunday.
“In view of the significance of fatwas in the lives of Muslims, the Fiqh Academy, a subsidiary of the Muslim World League, is organizing a conference to determine the methods and terms and conditions that should govern fatwas,” Abdullah Al-Turki, secretary-general of the MWL, told a press conference at the organization’s headquarters in Makkah yesterday.
Al-Turki said religious scholars and researchers from all Muslim countries and communities were invited to the conference.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, who is concerned about the light manner in which people appearing on television channels were issuing fatwas, is keen on convening the conference, Al-Turki added.
In an e-mail message today, I received a link to the Tabsir.net site and an article on attempts to standardize the Hijri calendar. The article notes that North American Muslims, through the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA), had come up with a calculated system that had reached acceptance in N. America. But they changed it slightly in order to get it matched up with the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR).
Together, the groups are trying to convince other Muslim bodies around the world to sign on to this standard. Saudi Arabia, the piece claims, is hesitant to do so as Saudi ulema claim that Sharia law required human eyes to observe the moon.
Over the past 50 years, the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and other similar bodies presented their member States with over a half-dozen proposals aiming at the establishment of a common Islamic calendar. Although none of these proposals was adopted, efforts in search of a solution that could be satisfactory to all interested parties continue to this day. For its part, the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) was also regularly confronted with the responsibility of telling its Muslim American audience when to start fasting, when to celebrate «eid al-Fitr», «eid al-Adha», etc. After several years of study of the legal issues involved, it reached a decision, which it announced in August 2006, to use henceforth a pre-calculated Islamic calendar, taking into consideration the sightability of the new moon anywhere on Earth. (1)
While sea-borne piracy is a problem in the nearby Arabian Sea, this Saudi Gazette article is talking about software piracy. For decades, Saudi Arabia has been placed on bad-behavior lists for its insufficient efforts to protect intellectual property. Government programs have been only marginally effective. Now, however, the effects of software piracy are being felt by working Saudis as well as it deprives would-be software writers, as well as everyone else in the market chain, of legitimate profits.
RIYADH – Software piracy is not only harming the companies involved, it is also depriving Saudis of over a thousand jobs every year, according to a study done by an international market research company.
Software developers sustain over SR500 million losses every year.
The Fiqh Academy has deemed money earned from illegal copying of software as Haram (forbidden).
Software piracy is a worldwide phenomenon. According to the latest annual study by the Business Software Alliance (BSA) the software industry lost over $48 billion in sales worldwide due to piracy.
Two Saudis traveling to the US in February were arrested at New York airport and blacklisted for having pirated softwares in their computers. Saudi Customs have regularly warned against using and carrying of counterfeited softwares. Many Saudis are now making sure they don’t carry pirated programs when traveling abroad. Offenders can face imprisonment between 5 and 20 years and also get black listed, Al-Watan said.
Jawad Al-Ridha, Deputy Chairman of the Society of Commercial Software Producers, said 60 percent of computer users in the Mideast use counterfeited programs.
Here’s a really interesting piece from Saudi Gazette on discussion about whether women are competent to serve as muftis and whether there’s a need for them to do so. Interestingly, it appears that many Saudi women don’t have much faith in their sisters, fearing that they’d be ‘too emotional’ to do the job properly. Even more interestingly, Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Al-Obeikan, a senior religious authority, comes to women’s defense and says that there is a need and that women can be quite competent. He points back to the role of the Prophet’s wife Ayesha as a model.
JEDDAH – Saudi women who find it embarrassing to seek a fatwa (religious ruling) on private matters are calling for appointing female mufti specialized in women’s affairs.
A fatwa is a formal legal opinion or religious decree issued by an Islamic scholar (mufti) recognized by the State.
“In many cases women find it embarrassing to seek clarification about matters and issues dealing with their day-to-day life,” Haifa Al-Kharboosh, a lecturer in Shariah (Islamic law) told the Arabic daily Al-Watan.
Hence it is preferable that a knowledgeable woman in Shariah be assigned to reply to their questions,” she said.
There are several women licensed for different recitations of the Holy Qur’an and Al-Kharboosh wondered what prevented them from being accredited in Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence)?
Haifa Kutbi, another lecturer in the Shariah who strongly supports Haifa’s view, said, “Certainly women need a female scholar capable of answering their questions on purely personal matters without men’s interference. Needless to say, women understand women’s issues better than men”
However, Dr. Ulfat Abdul Moneim, a professor of Fiqh at the faculty of Shariah in Taif University, held a different opinion. “We hope to have women scholars but not muftis,” she said. “If (by Shariah law) a testimony is not accepted by one person, about the Fatwa then? And if a woman were a mufti, then Aeysha, may Allah be pleased with her, would have been the first mufti in Islam.”
This is one of those stories that can be put into a category: ‘Only in Saudi Arabia’. According to this Saudi Gazette article, many Saudis have been using Quranic verses as ringtones for their mobile phones. Some in the religious establishment have a problem with that, finding that this use is disrespectful of the Quran, particularly when the verses are cut off when the phone is answered. And so, a fatwa has been issued banning their use. Some interviewed for the article think that any element of prayer, however, is better than some little ditty as it reminds them of religious obligations.
Public divided on Ban of Qurâ€™an Mobile Ringtones
Kholood F. Al-Rhamah
JEDDAH – People interviewed by Saudi Gazette were torn about following the recent ruling by Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bin Abdullah Aal Al-Sheikh that prohibited Qur’anic verses or recitation on mobile phones for recreational purposes.
The ruling came during the session of the Islamic Fiqh Council, which entertained three papers alone regarding the “misuse of Qur’anic verses for communication purposes.”
The reason given by the Mufti was that the Holy Qur’an is the greatest gift for all Muslims and humanity, and should be used with dignity, full respect and appreciation. Moreover, it has been preserved from any change or altering of its morality.
Still, people were divided for and against the ruling.
It’s time for the annual debate over whether dates of religious significance should be set by human observation of a crescent moon or whether astronomy is the better choice. There is a global problem with varying dates, where the start and end of Ramadan, for instance, can vary by as much as three days. And when millions are trying to book travel to take part in Hajj, they and others have to have a firm date in mind. This piece from Arab News discusses the issue, but doesn’t seem to find anything close to a resolution to the question.
Based on Astronomy, Ramadan Is on Sept. 13
P.K. Abdul Ghafour, Arab News
JEDDAH, 12 July 2007 â€” Based on astronomic calculations, Sept. 13 (Thursday) will be the first day of Ramadan while Dec. 19 (Wednesday) will be Arafat Day during Haj this year, according to Sheikh Abdullah ibn Munie, a member of the Council of Senior Islamic Scholars and the Umm Al-Qura Calendar Committee.
Sheikh Munie, however, pointed out that the new crescent of Ramadan and Shawwal should be sighted by witnesses to determine the beginning and end of the fasting month, in accordance with Shariah regulations.
He was apparently referring to a Hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him), which says: â€œDo not fast until you see the crescent, and do not break the fast until you have seen the crescent, but if the sky is overcast then enumerate for it.â€ (Bukhari)
…Syed Khaled Shaukat of the Islamic Society of North America believes that it is high time for Muslims to reach a consensus on the issue. â€œIn the present era of scientific and technological advancement, some Muslims are still avoiding the use of scientific knowledge for making an Islamic calendar that makes people wait till midnight for a confirmation of moon-sighting,â€ he said. He stressed that calculations made with the support of modern technology are far more dependable than the claims of sighting. The most misunderstood question is whether the sighting is a means or a requirement of ascertaining the beginning of an Islamic month. The Fiqh Council of North America is of the view that physical sighting must go hand in hand with scientific calculations.
â€œIslam is a strong proponent of using reasons. Astronomy can accurately establish the time of birth of the new moon, and the time interval when it is impossible to see the crescent. Thus, there is no harm in using this astronomical basis to reject a claimed sighting which cannot possibly be correct,â€ one expert said.
Asharq Alawsat runs this piece reporting on a study looking at the sources and methods of extremist Islamists in Saudi Arabia. The study seems to want to lay the responsibility at the feet of the Muslim Brotherhood, and I’m sure much of it does belong there. Saudi Arabia made a critical error in the 1950s and 1960s when it hired fundamentalists from, particularly, Egypt and Syria to become teachers in the new Saudi schools. These teachers-to-be were being persecuted by socialist and secularist governments for their fundamentalist beliefs and found a welcoming hand in already fundamentalist Saudi Arabia.
By simply accepting on faith that these refugees would be compatible with existing beliefs in the KSA, the government erred. It ended up with vipers in the nest as the teachers taught extremist views of Islam and the world.
The study seems to gloss over the impact these teachers have had. Far beyond the problems of curriculum, these extremists took advantage of xenophobic and intolerant views already existing within Saudi society and religious interpretation and both politicized and militarized them. Usefully, the study does report on how these teachers and their acolytes made use of what should have been simple activities like summer camps and field trips to promote extremism, largely out of the view of government and even parents.
Notably, the report only addresses Saudi ‘tolerance’ toward the four schools of Sunni Islam. What about the Shi’a? Where do they fit into the mosaic of Saudi Arabia? These questions, at least as far as the article goes, seem to go unanswered. Still, the article is worth reading.
Medina, Asharq Al-Awsat- A Saudi researcher specializing in extremist groups has recently revealed that at a certain point in time, student extracurricular activities, summer centers, Boys Scouts camps and student excursions in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were exploited to spread deviant thought in society.
A study entitled â€œTerrorist and Violent Thought in Saudi Arabia: Sources, Causes for its Prevalence and its Solutionâ€ by Dr. Abdul Salam Bin Salim as-Suhaimi, associate professor in the Faculty of Shariahâ€™s Department of Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) at the Islamic University of Medina and member of the consultative committee in Medina, examines 19 topics that begin with moderation in Islam.
The study exonerates Saudi curriculums from extremist and terrorist thought and upholds the fundamentals of Ahl as-Sunnah waâ€™al-Jamaâ€™ah [literally the adherent to the Sunnah and the community], which refers to the followers of any of the major schools of Islamic thought within the Sunni sect of Islam.
Furthermore, Dr. as-Suhaimi explores the concept of takfir [Muslims denouncing other Muslims as disbelievers] and cites a wealth of sources, including classical references and contemporary sources, to illustrate his argument. The researcher blames the ideology of Islamist groups that have clandestine organizations and holds them directly responsible for the suffering in Egypt, Algeria and Saudi Arabia. Among these groups, he places the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) at the top of this list and includes all the trends within the organization: the Banna, Qutb and Sorrour approaches.