A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Facebook Fatwa That Wasn't

I'm glad I didn't post anything earlier on this story, since it's now been pretty much denied. There's been a ruckus on the Internet about an alleged Fatwa by an Azhari sheikh in Egypt banning Facebook. It didn't make much sense when I first saw it, given the fact that Egypt has one of the biggest Facebook communities. And as Marc Lynch observes, the sheikh in question and the Fatwa Committee both deny the story. As he also notes, TV preacher Sheikh al-Qaradawi has 82,000 Facebook followers, so it must have some value for Islamists.

Lynch has also found the ideal illustration, which I hereby brazenly steal with due credit given, showing teachers and students in the traditional Azhari turban working on computers.

I have no idea how stories like this get started. Perhaps the sheikh made some remarks about the potential moral dangers of social networking generally and it got turned into a fatwa by some journalist. Westerners tend to assume any sheikh anywhere who issues a fatwa is some sort of Pope speaking for all Muslims, but neither this sheikh nor the Fatwa Committee claim to have issued any such ruling, and even if they had, in Sunni Islam it would be more a guidance than a binding rule, and even so Egypt has a Grand Mufti who wasn't involved in this. (And a "Mufti" is "one authorized to issue fatwas," literally.) And it wasn't just the Western media (though it made the Israeli press); this started in Arab media.

Anyway, Sheikh Qaradawi and others on Facebook, it looks like you don't have to leave.

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