The UAE Mars fatwa that never was just won’t go away

Last year I wrote one or two entries about the Mars fatwa purported to have been issued by the United Arab Emirates’s General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment (GAIAE). This report spread virally through mass- and social media, even though the initial report was full of information which, if anyone had bothered to check, would have been found to be incorrect. News agencies spread the report far and wide, prompting much mockery of the UAE, GAIAE, Muslims, Islam, and Islamic scholarship. It also ignited the usual accusations of a struggle between religion and science, and Islam’s hatred for learning.

The Mars fatwa reports continued to spread even after GAIAE published a press release in the UAE’s official news agency denouncing the report and clarifying their position on the issue. Sadly, none of the news agencies that carried or spread the initial report were willing retract it or report on GAIAE’s official position. So it should come as no surprise when people refer to the Mars fatwa that never was. Alicia Izharuddin mentions it in “Islamic Astropolitik”:

But not everyone welcomes the imminent era of Muslims in space. A religious organization in the United Arab Emirates has issued a fatwa against human settlement on Mars on the grounds that it is akin to “suicide,” an act forbidden in Islam. The target of the fatwa, Mars One, a Dutch nonprofit organization whose mission it is to establish a human colony on Mars by 2025, has challenged accusations of engineering a suicide mission with a savvy Islamic riposte. Explorers of Mars, it claimed, traverse new terrain in the footsteps of the famed 14th century Muslim explorer-­scholar Ibn Battuta and abide by the Quranic instruction to “go out and see the signs of God’s creation in the heavens and the earth.”

Mention of the UAE Mars fatwa should not be seen as any sort of shortcoming in the author’s research. (Indeed: it looks like an interesting piece.) Rather it should be seen as an example of how the media negligently spreading faux fatwas and fiqhtions and then irresponsibly refusing to publish corrections contribute to the public misunderstanding of Islam, Muslims, and Islamic scholarship.

UPDATE “Islamic Astropolitik” is a great read. It touches on a lot of good things, including Islam in science fiction. See this earlier blog entry for even more.