Because there is no central religious authority in Islam, religious edicts (fatwas) can be declared by almost anybody with a loud speaker.
In the Christian world, the Roman Catholic Church had the Papacy with pronouncements (Papal Encyclicals) that were mandatory for believers. These were issued infrequently and generally created much public clamor. But with the breakdown of Catholic monopoly in 16th century Europe, Protestantism emerged and almost immediately fragmented—as it continues to do to this day. With religious competition, binding religious prohibitions are impossible to enforce. However, the Catholic list of condemned motion pictures (the Index of Forbidden Books and Films) did affect box office returns as late as the 1940s in the United States.
The most recent Protestant religious pronouncements came from the late Jerry Falwell, who got it into his head that one of the Teletubby characters in a TV program for infants was of unknown gender and carried a purse—obviously to Falwell a homosexual baby. His condemnation was laughed out of town.
But our Muslim neighbors around the world have resurrected the religious fatwa with very entertaining results. Knowing the underground humor of Iranians and other Muslims, I suspect many of these fatwas are grist for jokes. Some fatwas, however, have induced the dull-witted to passionate acts of violence.
Ridiculous Fatwas • Iran’s Kayhan newspaper (July 26, 2007) criticized officials for allowing a sale of the new Harry Potter book, claiming the series is a Zionist project in order to disrupt the minds of young people. A fatwa is sure to follow.
• Dean of Islamic Law at al-Azhar University in Cairo ruled in January 2006 that for married couples, “being completely naked during the act of coitus annuls the marriage.”
Continue reading My Favourite Fatwas by Laina Farhat-Holzman