Habib Umar bin Hafez recently addressed the Jordanian General Ifta’ Department on the status of fatwas in Islam and the grave responsibility of the scholars who issue them.
The Weight of Giving Religious Verdicts
The Habib began by reminding everyone of the tremendous role that the mufti plays in that he is standing before Allah and His slaves; he conveys to them what they need to do, and how they should view Allah and His commands; their reverence and fear and general attitude is dependent upon his; and their confusion, mistrust, carelessness, and disobedience ultimately comes back to the the mufti not taking his task seriously and not revering the religion as it deserves to be revered.
Extreme Precaution Regarding Accuracy
In light of this, the Habib mentioned various well-known accounts of the precaution taken by the early Muslims when giving fatwa, such as actually shaking while giving the answer for fear and awe, such as wishing that others would answer the question first, and passing the onus of answering until it came back to the same original mufti. And he reminded the attendees of the principle that the fastest person to answer a question is the fastest to enter the Hell-Fire.
Modern Abuses of Religious Verdicts
He then went on to mention the harm modern abuses of fatwa are having on the Muslim world. He mentioned that at the end of the day, extremist tendencies can only come from fatawa: there is a lot of hype and zeal, but people only practice extremist activity when fueled by some kind of knowledge-based authority. This is also the case with super-lenient or down-right incredulous fatwas that make a laughingstock of Allah’s religion.
The Habib emphasized the fact that when different scholars do not tolerate one another, and when fatwas are used for political or other agendas, the masses see Islam as source of conflict and animosity, and not solution to their problems. These leads all too naturally to doubt about the very fundamentals of the religion and a serious look at atheism as a realistic alternative.
What the Youth Need
Returning to the role that the attitude and conduct of Muslim scholars has on the average Muslim, the Habib stressed the need for the youth to have something to look up to. He said that they don’t feel like the scholars are really concerned and worried about the the religion, so they either turn away from it, or turn to more military and political forms of Islam, that are not rooted in solid traditional scholarship.
The Four Madhhabs, the Habib mentioned, were the bastions of Islamic Law, their rules, and deeper, far-reaching principles being the way that Allah has preserved Sunni Islam. Although they are not the exclusive representations of Sunni praxis, no other traditions have been granted such time- and divinely-honored reception and development. Their sophistication is such that all modern issues, however seemingly complex they may be, and can be solved by returning to their legal principles and maxims.
From Spiritual to Societal Change
The current weakness of Islam, and the general lack of religiously, rests very much the shoulders of Muslim scholars. The Habib repeated the point that if scholars showed more concern, sincerity, and seriousness, Allah would return the religion to its strength. He quoted the words of the Qur’an, “And We made them leaders guidance by Our command because they showed fortitude,” (Sura al-Sajda 32: 24), reiterating the great responsibility that rests upon them that must be taken with all due seriousness.
Part of this seriousness is knowing what to say, when, and how. Not everything should be spoken about before everyone. The Habib gave the example of Umar ibn al-Khattab delaying certain discussions raised among the masses while he was on Hajj, to deal with them clearly in a controlled way back in Medina. There are no hidden secrets in Islam, but at the same time, not everyone can contextualize everything that they hear or read. This requires that the mufti gives his questioner what they need to know, and not what they do not need to know.
Taking One’s Time
In fulfilling his duty as a spokesman for Allah, the mufti must also be very careful that he is indeed giving the right answer. (Haste, as mentioned before, is not the way with matters of halal and haram.) Imam Abu Hanifa once said that were it not for fear of the religion being lost, he wouldn’t have answered a single question. Imam Malik was famous for frequently saying that he didn’t know the answer to a particular question, as were Sufyan ibn Uyayna and Imam Ahmad, despite the fact that they knew the answer very well. This was all out of fear of making mistakes, or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.
The Habib also mentioned that Umar ibn al-Khattab used to be very careful to seek the advice and insight of others, and not just say whatever he first thought of. Having fatwa councils discuss tricky issues in depth is one way this can be done. Another is to rely on authorities and living experts who truly understand the Sacred Law.
Exercising Freedom of Speech
The addresses being in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan — a country that enjoys moderate leadership and freedom of religion — the Habib encouraged the muftis to work with might and main to teach the religion as it is, by way of thanking Allah for the blessing of freedom of speech, a blessing that many other Muslim countries do not enjoy, and many of his own teachers did not enjoy. Sincerity and effort is what they needed, and this is what is required to bring about a change.