Saudi Arabia seeks stricter curbs on religious edicts

Saudi king tells conference that unqualified scholars "abusing Islam."

saudi abdullah 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
saudi abdullah 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Saudi Arabia is calling for tougher guidelines on issuing fatwas, or Muslim religious edicts, in order to combat the spreading of what Riyadh calls "ill-considered" fatwas issued by unqualified scholars. The call is part of Saudi Arabia's efforts to stem religious extremism. Saudi Arabia has been fighting a homegrown terrorist threat since 2003. Groups belonging to or inspired by al-Qaida are trying to undermine the monarchy in Saudi Arabia, which has faced criticism because of its alliance with the West, and especially with the United States. The country has arrested and tried thousands of terror suspects and is trying to weed out extremist elements planning terror attacks, recruiting operatives or spreading extremist ideology through the Internet. More than 170 Muslims scholars from around the world are currently gathered in Mecca for a five-day conference organized by the Mecca-based Muslim World League's Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) Academy. The Muslim world is being plagued by a tendency among unqualified people to deliver fatwas, Saudi King Abdullah said in a statement read out at the conference. This was especially prevalent on satellite channels, the Internet and other forms of communication, he said. Some of these edicts were being issued without any criterion by biased, ignorant, careless or extremist individuals posing as religious experts, the king added. "They have been abusing Islam and distorting its noble values," which could contaminate the minds, faith and conduct of Muslim youth, he said, according to ArabNews. Westerners associate the word "fatwa" with edicts on warfare and death sentences, such as the fatwa seeking the death of author Salman Rushdie after the Iranians found his writing offensive to Islam. However, fatwas are in fact very diverse in content and are a guideline for endless mundane matters, such as whether a Muslim can consume caffeine or play football. A fatwa can be issued by anyone with the appropriate training and qualification for the task, usually a Muslim with high standing in his community. But some Muslims scholars complain that extremist scholars create a warped portrayal of Islam by taking Koran verses and other Muslim scriptures out of context.