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ICC NOTE: The rise of fatwas is concerning, considering the potential for religious extremism of Islam in Egypt . The article even mentions that the Muslim Brotherhood’s popularity has risen greatly, coinciding the increase in fatwas.

Rise in demand for religious opinions signals lack of faith in Egyptian leaders

>By Heba Saleh

For the full article, go to: Financial Times May 31 2006

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Alaa Ali, a young freelance translator from Cairo, consulted a religious scholar to find out what would helpher gain more credit with God – praying at the mosque on the holiest night of Ramadan or going to see a sick relative.

“I wanted to know what was of more religious value, what carried the bigger reward from God,” said Miss Ali. The answer was visiting her relation.

But even she expresses unease about the rise in demand for fatwas, or religious opinions, which has taken place in Egypt .

On satellite television, on the internet and on the pages of newspapers, Egypt-ians are asking religious scholars for rulings on almost every aspect of life.

The questions do not stop at the traditional areas that have always been regulated by religion, such as marriage, worship, inheritance or ethical conundrums raised by scientific advances, such as cloning.

All these issues are constantly raked over, but the remarkable feature of the modern Egyptians’ passion for fatwas is that the questions encompass everything, from the legitimacy of playing music in schools to wearing nail varnish.

The ruling, by the government-appointed Mufti, who is the most senior scholar in the country, pointed out that “angels” will not enter a home in which statues are displayed. This left liberals wringing their hands at what they consider Egypt ‘s regression to premodern times. Some said they feared it could provoke attacks against the country’s ancient monuments.

The growing tendency in Egyptian society to re-examine life through the prism of religion has been facilitated by the internet and satellite television, which make it possible for the public to ask scholars for fatwas and to ensure the rulings reach the largest number of people.

“The truth is that religion has become a form of entertainment for some people,” said Sheikh Khaled Al Guindi, who often appears in discussion programmes. He said the proof was that many of the questions he received were trivial.

Analysts say that the western models of progress that guided the Egyptian elite for much of the 20th century have been largely discredited in the eyes ofthe public and eclipsed by religion.

“Many Egyptians have turned to Islam because they believe that western-inspired ideologies did not work well,” said Mr El Sayed. “The liberal period before the 1952 revolution did not succeed and socialism during the period of Nasser ended in the Israeli occupation of Sinai and in an economic crisis.”

In this atmosphere, where religion has become the main arbiter of an ever increasing range of issues, the country’s main Islamist opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, continues to make gains. Despite being illegal, the group captured a fifth of the seats in parliament in last year’s election.

Analysts warn that the rise of the Brotherhood cannot be attributed solely to religious factors. Decades of political restrictions have left religion as the only avenue for opposition. But the net result is that politics and religion are inextricable.