Fatwas in the Digital World

By Mustafa Ashour July 06, 2024 108

Digital technology has permeated all human activities, including the religious sphere. This field is particularly significant due to its ability to reach and influence tens of millions of people, affecting their beliefs and behaviors. Given the digital realm's capability to reach millions, it is crucial to regulate this area to prevent the intersection of digital media and religious views from causing crises and contributing to the production and fueling of violence, hatred, and racism.

Digital technology represents more than just the adoption of a new medium for issuing fatwas (religious rulings), such as newspapers, radio, or television. In the digital age, fatwas have a vast reach; they are not confined by geography and can influence large numbers of people, making them difficult to suppress or control with regulations.

With 5.53 billion internet users worldwide and around 5.04 billion social media users, fatwas are significantly crucial in shaping the global perception of religion. If fatwas are moderate and can reach people, they can open up new horizons for religion, or the opposite could create negative or hostile images of religion. This challenge in the digital age requires the issuer of fatwas to deeply understand the nature of the digital medium and the dynamics of religion within this space. Ignorance of the digital medium's impact and influence may distort the image of religion, and a mistaken ruling could close off the hearts of millions. Therefore, it is essential for religious authorities to be cautious and thorough in their fatwas, as the digital medium never forgets what is disseminated through it.

 

In the digital age, issuing fatwas requires the mufti to have a deep understanding of the nature of the digital medium.

A jurisprudential discussion has arisen about regulating fatwas and the authority's right to intervene in this domain, even to the extent of restricting certain muftis, such as “disreputable muftis.” The fluidity and chaos in issuing fatwas have posed a risk to the religion itself, for example, the fatwa of “breastfeeding the adult” that emerged in 2007. Despite the secular role in distorting and exploiting it to defame the religion, there is a necessity for fatwas to be based on a dedicated institution for public and specialized issues and to involve collective efforts by various experts.

 

Al-Azhar Fatwa Global Center

One of the notable digital fatwa initiatives is the Al-Azhar Fatwa Global Center, established by a decision from the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Dr. Ahmed el-Tayeb, in November 2016. It aims to issue Sharia fatwas, spread the true religion, and combat extremist thoughts and fatwas in multiple languages.

In 2023 alone, the center responded to over 1.7 million fatwas through phone, text, field, research, media, and social media channels, covering various aspects of life. The center's distinctive feature is its extensive engagement with the everyday issues of Muslims, providing Sharia-based solutions and insights. This effort led to the establishment of the “Al-Azhar Fatwa Bank” in December 2019, amid the COVID-19 crisis. The center aimed to guide people during the pandemic and lockdown, especially when prayers, including Friday prayers, were suspended in mosques. It issued a guide containing 10,000 fatwas addressing all queries.

The center also created the “Bayan” unit to counter atheistic thoughts and provide psychological support to anxious individuals. In 2023, the center's media participation (audio, visual, and electronic) exceeded 21,000. Additionally, it published over 18,000 pieces of jurisprudential and da'wah content and concept corrections on various social media platforms. Some of these projects include: “Hikayat Kitab,” “Qudwah,” “Qurat Aiyn,” “Ras’il,” “Fiqhyyat,” “Taw’iya Usariyah,” “Bayan,” “Jawami’ Al-Kalim,” “Mafaheem,” and “Hadha Huda.”

 

Al-Azhar Fatwa Global Center issues Sharia fatwas and combats extremist thought in multiple languages.

The center not only responds to questions and misconceptions but also takes proactive steps by tracking extremist fatwas, doubts, and media reports, totaling over 27,000 instances. The team conducted more than 150 live broadcasts to answer followers' questions directly and held over 460 training workshops and educational courses to enhance the team's competence. Additionally, the center provided over 37,000 research papers, reviews, and scientific follow-ups.

The center extended its reach from the virtual world to real-life scenarios through the “Reunion Unit,” which handled 111,000 family dispute cases, impacting 2 million people who benefited from its services. It conducted over 93,000 family and community awareness sessions, workshops, and events across the country, benefiting nearly 7 million citizens from 2018 to 2023.

In 2023 alone, the center offered more than half a million family consultations through electronic communication channels and field meetings for those about to get married or already married, aiming to preserve the family unit from disintegration.

 

Global Fatwa Index

The Global Fatwa Index (GFI), affiliated with the Egyptian Dar Al-Ifta, was established in 2017 by scholars and experts in various scientific fields for the future of Islamic currents. The team is divided into three sections, combining monitoring and analysis to identify the flaws in extremist thought and trace the origins and methods of extracting their fatwas.

The index monitors fatwas, both official and unofficial, in 40 countries, creating a fatwa map for each country. Its goal is to reveal the impact of fatwas on societies and current events and to monitor the political use of fatwas. The index relies on the output of 500 official fatwa institutions, both Arab and non-Arab, in addition to 1,500 websites offering fatwa services and 100 television and satellite channels. It classifies fatwas into 30 categories to determine their fields and the specific interests of different geographic areas in particular fatwas. In this way, the index has successfully created a general overview of fatwas in the Islamic world in recent years, resembling a near-comprehensive survey of fatwas.

 

The “Global Fatwa Index” monitors both official and unofficial fatwas in 40 countries.

In a report by the Global Fatwa Index, four years of work (2018 – 2021) were reviewed, covering fatwas in 24 countries based on 2.6 million fatwas. This information was published in three books, totaling nearly 600 pages, and made available to decision-makers and specialized researchers.

In 2023, the Global Fatwa Index announced the release of its annual report, consisting of 200 pages and documenting 15,000 fatwas from 23 countries. The report highlighted the challenges facing fatwas, particularly artificial intelligence (AI).

The index noted a significant interest in AI-related fatwas, recording approximately 3,000 fatwas, with AI accounting for 13% of them. Of these, 85% agreed on the permissibility and legitimacy of dealing with AI, while 15% deemed it forbidden.

It is observed that AI poses a challenge to humanity and to religious scholars in particular. In 2020, Pope Francis of the Vatican signed the Rome Call for AI Ethics. This global religious approach to regulating behavior in the AI field indicates that there are common grounds between fatwas in the Islamic context and other religions, which would allow fatwas to address human concerns.

 

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Last modified on Saturday, 06 July 2024 17:04