By Shajahan Madampat
The cyberspace is abuzz with discussions on yet another fatwa, this time from a Moroccan cleric who declared necrophilia lawful. According to the cleric, it is religiously permissible for a man to have sex with his dead wife provided it is done within six hours of death. Although the fatwa seems to have been issued some time ago, in May last year, it came to global limelight following a news report in Al Arabiya — which was vehemently denied later—that Egyptian Parliament was planning to turn it into law!
The falsity of the news report is now confirmed, but it is reasonably clear that the cleric, Abdul Bari Al Zamzami, did issue the fatwa. To be fair, it must be added that he considered acting on the fatwa despicable, but challenged everyone to prove him wrong on the permissibility of sex with a dead spouse, euphemistically termed “farewell intercourse.”
The example he used to vindicate his learned opinion betrays the depths of misogyny and misanthropy that the man inhabits. He said it was like eating uncooked meat; everyone knows it is not healthy to eat uncooked meat but that does not mean it is religiously prohibited. The message is too obvious to merit mention: women, alive or dead, are pieces of meat for the men to devour!
Irrational fatwas issued by half-witted clerics have greatly contributed to the growing culture of Islamophobia around the globe. The World of Fatwas, a polemical study of fatwas in India since the 19th century written by Arun Shourie, a journalist and writer from India’s Hindu Right, had played a major role in whipping up anti-Muslim sentiments in India during the last decade of the 20th century.
The entire community was subjected to ridicule and vilification thanks to the philistine pronouncements by a host of clerics far removed from their times and the spirit of their faith. During a period of anti-Muslim mobilization in Indian politics, Shourie’s book served as an effective weapon in the hands of the Hindu Right to demonize the community, which found itself at a loss for words for the ludicrous fatwas discussed in the book were indeed real and not a figment of the author’s imagination.
It goes without saying that fatwa-happy clerics brought irreparable damage and utter disrepute to a global faith. They forced an entire faith community to be on the defensive because some of its theologians chose to jettison reason and discretion in favor of cheap publicity and myopic literalism. More importantly, these clerics also violate some of the central tenets of Islam in their pursuit of self relevance. They make a mockery of the noble idea of Ijtihad, the process of drawing ethical answers to the questions of the day from the wellsprings of the past. They demonstrate utter disregard for one of the qualities that the Quran and the tradition of the prophet continuously stress on: the need for applying hikma (wisdom) in every aspect of life.
The fatwa peddlers are totally oblivious to the consequences of their words on the faith and the community they purportedly represent. And in this sense they flout another cardinal principle of Islamic theology: Al Maslaha al Amma (Public good). That the Quran repeatedly calls upon the believers to think logically also seems to have fallen on deaf ears in the case of humorless and inhuman clerics!
It is true that a fatwa by a religious scholar is an opinion aired by an individual on the basis of his (and rarely her) knowledge of the scriptures and theology and it is not binding on the community of believers. But this fact does not in any way minimize the damage to the reputation and self esteem of the community and the faith, especially because many of the fatwas in question, such as the one on necrophilia, reinforce and even validate some of the worst stereotypes prevalent about the Muslims since the time of crusades.
It may be argued that the harmful effects, if any, of all the offensive literature against Islam pale in comparison to the damage done to the faith by thoughtless, tactless and empathy-less fatwas pronounced by half-witted clerics. Ayatollah Khomeini’s homicidal fatwa had done much more harm to the reputation of Islam and Muslims the world over than Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.
The solution to the fatwa epidemics is, however, not government regulation or gag orders; that will result in further curtailment of free speech, which is worse. Neither is an internal mobilization against deranged clerics viable, for many of them represent powerful popular religious movements or sects. Mobilization for a more inclusive and humane idea of religious knowledge, cutting across denominational divides, is the best guarantee against the mushrooming of clerics ignoramuses and their ranting.
It is instructive to note that the Arabic word “Alim” is interchangeably used for a religious scholar and a scientist. Fundamentally, the Islamic idea of knowledge sees no distinction between religious knowledge and secular knowledge. No wonder, then, that the religion had declared the cleric completely redundant long before his arrival!
It is bizarre that a fatwa legalizing transgression against the dead had to come out in the Middle East exactly at the juncture in which the affront to the dead in Afghanistan and Iraq stirred up widespread indignation. It is not the permission to perform farewell intercourse, but a movement for course correction for the clerics that the Muslim world desperately needs at this point. (Global India Newswire)
(Shajahan Madampat is a cultural critic and commentator based in Abu Dhabi.)