A Discussion: Regulating Public Fatawa

Several weeks ago I wrote articles in response to Imam Hashim Islam’s anti-protest fatwa (“What is a fatwa? Who can issue one?”) and the fatwa sanctioning the destruction of structures associated with graves in Libya (“Libyan graves”). Since then, clips from the “Innocence of Muslims” film have gone viral, prompting a flurry of “death fatwa” aimed various people involved in the film. A Google search for fatwa "innocence of muslims" returns 317000 results. Restricting the search to news sources alone returns 2190 results.

At the end of “What is a fatwa? Who can issue one?”, I stated that

[t]he point here is the role of the religious establishment and how seriously its members perceive that role. The religious establishment of Egypt needs to be more vigilant in ensuring that standards do not drop against the backdrop of a political space that is more infused with religious imagery. Standards cannot be allowed to drop, or weaken – rather, they have to raised, and strengthened. The participation of the religious establishment must always be a source of wisdom and insight, and never one of confusion and strife.

I did not provide any specific proposals for how this can be done, though I did have a few points in mind at the time:

  1. Regulatory boards of professions and crafts use regulations, licensing, and fines to help ensure quality of services and to protect consumers.
  2. Muslims need to consider establishing similar institutions for regulating the issuance of fatawa and similar religious rulings.
  3. Objective criteria need to be created concerning who can issue fatawa, what constitutes a valid fatwa from one that is valid, and consequences for demonstrable violations.
  4. These institutions need to publicly declare a demonstrably invalid fatwa as being invalid to follow.
  5. Countries with official fatwa bodies (e.g., Dar al-Ifta) need to rule on the status of questionable fatawa, whether issued from within and abroad.

These five points are not enough to build anything concrete. But they are, in sha Allah, enough to start a discussion.