Fatwas and danger to society

Fatwas and danger to society

WHAT is happening in our country is terrifying. The rising incidence of fatwas (religious edicts) is extremely frightening. Fatwas that demand the murder of persons who are alleged to violate Islamic laws are extremely dangerous and destabilizing to a tolerant, civilized society. These demands are frequently issued with no thought or concern as to its breadth or the consequences to Saudi society and the nation. 

Like many others, I read recently the fatwa posted on the official website of Sheikh Abdul Rahman bin Nassir Al-Barrak. It said, “Certainly the one who permits mixing of men and women — if it leads to prohibited relations — is in fact permitting prohibited relations. Any one who approves them is a kafir (unbeliever). This means he is an apostate and he should be tried for it and if he does not recant, must be executed.” My topic of discussion is not the fatwa itself, although I feel saddened that the debate triggered by the fatwa has focused more on the topic of gender mixing and not on the more important topic of issuing a fatwa to kill someone.

This is a topic that calls for not only a thorough study but the immediate intervention of the government. The state should stop such voices by all available means and not turn a blind eye to any individual, whoever he may be, issuing a fatwa calling for killing without being accountable for it in any manner. This is nothing less than a call to the law of the jungle, not of a great nation and a system in which law and order is based upon Shariah.

A question that comes up is who gives to an individual, whatever may be his status in terms of his erudition in Islamic theology and jurisprudence, the right to make killing another person permissible and call people to take someone’s life and determine his fate just because he holds a different view on certain matters. Is this not an aggression and outrage against the great religion of Islam which calls for tolerance, love and peace and shuns violence, murder and assassination? Is this not a deviation from the state’s system of law and order? Does not this amount to a total disregard for the country’s laws and all of its legal institutions?

Yes, there are issues in which members of our society have differing views. Unfortunately, those who represent themselves as official spokesmen of Islam are not promoting solutions other than the language of violence, murder, intimidation and threats as they respond to those individuals who have different opinions than their own.

Saudi Arabia has suffered a great deal from the evil of terrorism and has paid a huge price for it. We are still paying that price everyday in spite of the enormous efforts the state’s security apparatus has been making. Nevertheless, anyone who claims to have learned the Shariah and views himself as eligible to issue fatwas — even if he is right in that claim — remains free to issue fatwas, one after the other, neglecting the authority of the state, its establishments, and its prestigious justice system. Issuing fatwas demanding that someone be killed is itself terrorism, and it should be condemned because it strikes a blow at the heart of peace in our society.

It is high time that Saudi Arabia undertook not only the protection of its citizens from this menace, abuse and confusion, but also preservation of its good reputation, status and cultural image in the world. Otherwise, our silence on the matter may be interpreted as an implied consent to such fatwas and thus to tarnish the image of Saudi Arabia and its people throughout the world.

The government should take the lead in regulating the issuing of fatwas so the only option available to those who resort to issuing such fatwas when they find any one disagreeing with their views should be our courts of law. And this should be done immediately. Our system of justice and our courts should decide the punishment to those persons who are wrong in their views. The courts should be the only institution with the authority to make a decision in such matters.

Further, the system to regulate the issuing of fatwas calling for murder and physical violence should require that those who do so should be taken into custody and tried as terrorists, because they are inciting people to kill, commit violence and crimes, and create chaos and destruction. They should be punished not just as terrorists are punished, but in a more severe manner because they are causing greater damage to our society than the terrorists could ever hope for. If the present situation is left as it is, its harm will not be limited to the lives of the people and the violation of their rights. 

It is shameful and lamentable that our society is preoccupied with fatwas and issues such as whether gender mixing and being alone with a woman should be allowed or not, while the rest of the world is discussing major issues such as the far-reaching effects of climate change, the role of genes in the treatment of incurable diseases, and vast studies on man, animals, nature, environment and space. Is this not a painful and sad situation? Can a society be expected to be healthy and rational if these are the issues that concern its citizens and dominate their thinking? 

Where is the opportunity for intellectual activities, creativity, inventiveness and participation in nation-building under a suffocating atmosphere that leaves no room for intelligence, knowledge and inventiveness? 

Lastly, history and experience teach us that any changes, especially in a conservative society such as ours, must come from the top down and not from the bottom up. It is extremely dangerous for a civilized society to relegate these issues to extrajudicial voices who create a climate favorable for extremism, fundamentalism, and the ever more frequent issuing of fatwas that encourage violence. 

I call on our government to make the great and bold decisions for the advancement of our society, preserving its essential character and dignity and protecting its people in such a way that every person has the ability to think, express his opinions, and move about freely and safely. The state’s bold decisions should also uproot the Taleban-style of thinking in our society, and make all citizens, including those who call for violence, murder and destruction, realize that the Kingdom is a nation of humanity, peace and love. 

Dr. Khalid Alnowaiser is a Saudi lawyer and columnist. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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