Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fatwa: When Religion Meets the Modern World

Problem 1: According to Islam, unmarried men and women cannot work together. In fact, the only males women are supposed to keep company with are their relatives.

Problem 2: Modernization in Muslim nations means men and women need to work together to advance their countries and stay competitive with the rest of the world.

The Solution (according to some representative of Egypt’s religious authorities): Women must breastfeed their male coworkers five times, thus making them relatives.

You’re thinking this must be a joke. Sadly no – I nearly dropped my coffee when I read Michael Slackman’s article on Egypt’s fatwa’s in the New York Times yesterday morning. Slackman goes on to report that while some Muslims are uncomfortable with these two fatwas, or religious edicts based on Islamic principles, many Muslims count on the fatwas to help them navigate the modern world with their religious integrity intact. People seek fatwas for everything from marriage and divorce to buying products, although no one issued a fatwa is held to it – they may seek alternate counsel or ignore it all together. Despite that, there are agencies authorized by Egypt’s government to issue fatwas, and there are a host of other sources, like internet sites and television shows. And really, those asking for fatwas want to be told what to do – they need to reconcile their beliefs with their actual lives.

The fatwa I’ve sited above has caused great controversy in Egypt, and although this need to reconcile faith and modernity may seem laughable to Westerners, let’s not forget the recent controversy in the US over a single line in the Pledge of Allegiance, nor who won that argument. At the heart of this conflict is a much deeper issue, one that involves all peoples – how much should religious rules and values formed thousands of year ago be allowed define our modern lives?

I believe everyone has a right to their own beliefs, insofar as they don’t harm others in pursuit of these beliefs, but I also think that some of the old ideas just don’t hold sway anymore, and maybe never should have. Let’s face it – a lot of religions aren’t very friendly to women, but we know women are not inherently subservient to men, or more evil, or more wayward, etc. I am confident that most people recognize the difference between good and evil regardless of their religion, and act accordingly, and those who don’t probably wouldn’t be helped by religion. I hope that as we grow as human beings people will start to make their own decisions, rather than turn to religion as a guide. But it looks like that day is a long, long way off.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The conflict here is not between religion and human autonomy. The two are in absolute collusion most of the time. The real conflict is between unchecked human decisions and an alien, revelatory ethic.