Thoughts on ‘The Grand Mufti Of Google’

In The Grand Mufti of Google, Shahan Mufti writes about some of the e-mails he receives due to his name. The bulk of the article concerns a man in Sweden who is married to a woman in Pakistan who has asked the sender of the e-mail to forge his signature on divorce papers so that he can marry a Swedish woman in order to obtain citizenship. The sender of the e-mail wanted to know whether forging his friend’s signature on divorce papers would effect an actual divorce. Shahan writes that his answer was

“If you sign all these papers and send them to your friend in Sweden, this will actually lead to a divorce in the eyes of Allah. Allah does not differentiate between real and forged divorce papers.”

He continues:

I felt my heart pound, terrified at the ease of my lies and their power to steer the course of others’ lives. As my finger hovered over the send button, I felt something tighten around me, and like Tahir, I was paralyzed by the decision in front of me. I saved the message in my drafts folder, where it sits today.

I wished there were someone out there, anybody, who could tell me what I should do. For the first time ever, I felt the need for a fatwa.

It is very good that he did not send his answer. I would like to point out some of the problems with the claim that forging signatures does effect a divorce, and then provide a tentative answer to the question.

First, there is the issue of who can issue divorces. Islamic law (fiqh) recognizes men as the primary issuers of divorce with judges being authorized to issue divorce or annulment in certain circumstances. It also recognizes that husbands can authorize a proxy to issue divorce in his stead. There is nothing in the article to indicate that the husband wanted a divorce or had authorized his friend to issue one on his behalf. Rather, the fact that the husband is considering forging divorce papers instead of obtaining a genuine paper through divorce is a clear indication to the opposite. Neither a judge nor the husband have issued a divorce. The husband’s actions indicate that he does not want a divorce and he has not assigned his friend a proxy to do so. Who, then, would have issued the divorce that it was claimed would have taken place?

Second, there is the issue of whether a written divorce is the same as an uttered divorce. The default is that enacting and dissolving contracts is through uttering specific phrases. When it comes to divorce, Islamic law (fiqh) divides phrases into two categories: explicit phrases which mean nothing other than divorce; and allusive phrases which carry several meanings – with divorce being just one of them. A husband saying to his wife “you are divorced” is an explicit divorce; “go home to your parents” is an allusive phrase and does not constitute a divorce unless that is the husband’s intention. Some schools of Islamic law (such as the Shafi’i) treat phrases which are explicit when uttered as allusive when written. This is germane to the case mentioned in the article since, even if the husband had authorized the sender of the e-mail to be his proxy in issuing divorce, writing it out would not constitute a divorce unless the person writing it did so with the intention that it was to effect a divorce.

Third, the statement that “Allah does not differentiate between real and forged divorce papers” is absurd. Imagine what the world would be like if it anyone holding a grudge could forge divorce papers against a married opponent, condemning the opponent (and his or her spouse) to punishment for adultery. If true, it would also extend to other fraudulent papers of dissolution – pretty soon almost every marital or financial partnership would dissolve.

Those three points show some of the problems with the claim that forging the divorce papers effects an actual divorce. Whether forging divorce papers effects divorce is separate from the issue of the status of committing fraud, providing false information, and perjury – all of which are unlawful. So while forging and submitting those documents is unlawful, carrying them out does not effect a divorce – though it will likely set the husband down a path that ends with at least one.

So, what’s the fatwa? Forging his friend’s signature on divorce papers will not effect a divorce. It is, however, unlawful to lie, commit fraud, bear false witness, and to assist others in committing these and the many other acts mentioned or entailed in the details of the e-mail provided in the article. And Allah knows best.

Many individual muftis and fatwa institutes offer their services online, as do many less specialized Q&A services. Google is not itself a mufti, but it’s a great search engine for looking them up.