I was honored to attend Dar al-Ifta’s International Conference this past week in Cairo, Egypt. Established three years ago, this annual conference has been a powerful force to mobilize leading Muslim thinkers, scholars, and Muftis from around the world to discuss pressing legal issues facing various Muslim communities. This year’s focus was on the role normative fatwas can have in addressing the problems of extremism, confusion, and the rapid proliferation of these two through traditional media, online media, and social media. I was fortunate to share some of my own personal thoughts based on my experience dealing with similar issues over the past five years. While I will wait to link the final conference statement that summarizes the main findings and recommendations, I wanted to highlight two points that were very timely:
There has been a lot of talk over the past several years to criminalize the issuing of fatwas by non-licensed Muftis. This, of course, is specific to Muslim majority countries, and large Muslim minority communities that have a working relationship with their government, like the Muslim population in India, etc. While this proposed law has largely remained a discussion point, there is a clear message from the conference and therefore a top priority recommendation to policymakers that this law needs to be enacted as soon as possible to give legitimate, normative institutions a fighting chance in leading Islam and Muslims away from the threat of extremism.
Unfortunately, the gap between media, both traditional and online, and Islam’s religious establishments has only grown over the past 5-10 years. The unbelievable use of media by organizations like ISIS (see a new study with shocking new stats) has presented a moral burden on the press’s obligation to report or not report on certain aspects of extremism, which terrorist organizations use to their advantage. In any case, the near lack of cooperation between Muslim institutions and the press is not helping either. While many leading media personalities were present at the conference, there is still a long way to go in helping both the press and traditional Muslim scholars understand one another.
The challenges are great, but the conference was encouraging and hopeful. Most of all, I know for a fact that these institutions are completely underfunded and yet they manage to find nuanced ways to work through the challenges. These Muftis and scholars are committed for the long-haul and that is where I’m placing my bet!