By Living Shari`ah Staff
In his fatwa , Sheikh Al-Qaradawi stated that (the steel wall that is being set up nowadays by Egypt on its border with Gaza is prohibited from the viewpoint of Islam, because it serves to block all outlets to Gaza and stresses the blockade on its people. Also, it will surely aggravate their hunger, humiliate them, and intensify the pressure on them so that they submit and surrender to Israel )
In opposition to this fatwa, the Islamic Research Council of Egypt, headed by Sheikh Sayed Tantawi, The Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, issued a fatwa which opposed the fatwa of Sheikh Al-Qaradawi and stated the permissibility of building such a wall to protect Egypt's borders and national security.
To explain the relationship between the fatwas issued by Muslim scholars and a country's political decisions, Sheikh Al-Qaradawi started by explaining what is meant by the terms (fatwa) and (politics), by stating that a fatwa is a fiqhi ruling in answer to a question addressed to the mufti, and that there are two main categories of fiqh. In the first category, a scholar takes the initiative of presenting the juristic ruling without a question, and this is mentioned in the Qur'an in many verses, like for example (O you who believe! fulfill the obligations) (Al-Ma'idah, 5:1) The second category is a ruling in response to a question, like for example (They ask you concerning wine and gambling. Say: "In them is great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the profit.") (Al-Baqarah, 2:219) A ruling therefore in answer to a question is what is known as a fatwa. As for the term 'politics' (seyasa ), its definition in Islam is to manage the public and religious matters of the Ummah in the best way possible in light of the objectives of Shari'ah on condition of not violating a shar'i text or rule.
Sheikh Al-Qaradawi then explained the difference between shar'i politics (al-seyasa al-shar'iah ) and normal politics which prevail in today's world by saying that shar'i politics in Islam, which is a subject taught at Al-Azhar and other Islamic universities, is based on Shari'ah which is the foundation for all rulings. As for politics in today's world, it is mainly based on national interests, whether such interests are compatible or not with religion. But can Islam really cover the field of politics in today's complex world?
Political fatwas however are not always formulated in order to please the state, as it is often the case that a correct objective fatwa is what the state would like to implement, without prior arrangement with scholars. A sincere scholar should declare his objective opinion regardless of what the state likes or dislikes, as he should be a conscientious person who only fears Allah in his rulings which he reaches after a good study of the matter, its circumstances and the evidence for the ruling. Another very important pre-requisite for a good mufti is to have a sound understanding of reality and of people's contemporary life conditions and problems (fiqh al-waqi'). A mufti should also not pronounce any fatwa without a sound understanding of the objectives of Shari'ah (maqasid al-shari'ah).
When asked to explain how can a Muslim scholar deal with political matters when historically the subject of shar'i politics (al-seyasa al-shar'iah ) came into existence after the subject of fiqh, Sheikh Al-Qaradawi responded that it is true that compiling books on politics took place after the compilation of the early books on fiqh, but that politics were practiced much earlier by Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, from the early days of Islam, and that there are many rulings he issued in his capacity as ruler and head of the Muslim state. When for example he said that "Whoever cultivates a dead land it becomes his property ", he issued that ruling as a Muslim leader who organizes legal matters in society. The same applies to the rightly-guided caliphs, Abu Bakr, 'Umar, 'Uthman and 'Ali who issued numerous public rulings in their capacity as ruler and head of state.
In today's modern world, it is virtually impossible for individual scholars to be specialized in all fields of knowledge, and that is why Muslims have established a number of institutions and councils which issue collective fatwas, like for example the Fiqh Council of the Islamic World League, or the Fiqh Council of the Organization of Islamic Countries. When these councils study specialized rulings which deal with politics, economics or modern transactions and topics, they seek expert opinions from specialists in the field under study to explain the technical background so that the Council is able to reach an informed decision. In the medical field for example, we seek the input of specialized doctors who explain to scholars all the medical background which they need to understand, and following a collective dialogue and debate, a collective decision is then reached. The same approach is followed in other technical fields, like the field of economics for example, as not all scholars are specialized in economics and finance, and a sound ruling cannot be reached without this technical briefing.
(Surely those who conceal the clear proofs and the guidance that We revealed after We made it clear in the Book for men, these it is whom Allah shall curse, and those who curse shall curse them (too). Except those who repent and amend and make manifest (the truth), these it is to whom I turn (mercifully); and I am the Oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful.) (Al-Baqarah, 2:159-160)
Sheikh Al-Qaradawi's fatwa against the Steel Wall is based on its contradiction with the interests, safety and well-being of our brothers in Gaza. It is not permissible for a Muslim to let down his brothers, and building such a wall would block all outlets for assisting them, and would contribute to the siege of Gaza and the humiliation of its people which would aggravate their hunger, and intensify the pressure on them to make them submit and surrender to Israel. The only beneficiaries from a fatwa that rules this wall as being permissible are the Israelis themselves to maintain their siege on Gaza, which could be in preparation for a new war against them to achieve what they were unable to achieve one year ago despite all the murder and destruction they caused in their war on Gaza. Furthermore, the Qur'an clearly states that Muslims are one nation, and it is therefore a duty on Egypt to give Palestinians in Gaza a helping hand, not contribute to eliminating them. There is a consensus among Muslim scholars that any Muslim land which is attacked and occupied by a non-Muslim enemy is the responsibility of its people to defend and liberate, and if they are unable to do so, then the responsibility is extended to the nearest Muslim country, and if they are still unable to save them the responsibility spreads further to the following neighbor, and so on, till it becomes a collective obligation on all Muslims.
In the case of Gaza, Egypt used to administer this land not that long ago, and Egypt should help liberate it, not help Israel in its siege. The Qur'an, The Sunnah and all schools of Fiqh make it an obligation for Muslims to help Muslims defend their lands and liberate them from the enemy, and this is part of Egypt's obligation. Muslims are commanded to help the oppressed and to stand up against the oppressor, and are therefore required to extend bridges of help, cooperation and justice towards the people of Gaza, not erect walls and participate in their siege. So the matter is broader than just a wall being built, and all Muslim individuals and institutions should assist and provide help.
The Prophet, peace be upon him, said that a women was sent to the Hell fire for locking up a cat which she deprived from food and did not allow to go out in search for what she needs to survive. With this new wall, Egypt would not be locking up a cat but more than one and half million human beings.
The ruling in this matter is so clear, it does not even require a scholar to issue a fatwa, as it is a matter of common sense. In the name of Islam, in the name Arab solidarity and in the name of humanity, this wall should never go ahead.
The fatwa of some scholars may be a local fatwa, and this is the case of a local mufti employed by the state to issue fatwas for its citizens. In this case, such a mufti is responsible for matters dealing with his own country. A universal fatwa however is different, and in the case of Al-Azhar which is a universal Islamic institution, the fatwas it issues cannot be local fatwas which are only concerned with Egypt. Since its establishment, Al-Azhar's Islamic Research Council has included leading scholars from other Muslim countries as members of the Council, including scholars from Pakistan, Lebanon, Morocco …etc. As such, it is a universal Islamic institution and the name of Al-Azhar has always been highly respected by Muslims all over the world. On the other hand, the local Mufti of Egypt is not responsible to issue local fatwas for Muslims in Syria for example, as they have their own local Syrian Mufti.
In response to a question on the divergence of fatwas issued in different Arab countries during the first and second Gulf wars, Sheikh Al-Qaradawi responded that there is no grave concern that fatwas in Saudi Arabia and Gulf states were different from fatwas issued in other countries like Algeria for example. At the time of the first Gulf war, he was present in Algeria, and witnessed how Algerians, who were opposed to the French position against Saddam, sympathized with the Iraqi regime in opposition to France. Fatwas can also differ from one mufti to another due to the difference in their personalities. A mufti may be easy-going by nature, and therefore more inclined to issue easy fatwas, whereas another mufti may be strict by nature and inclined to issue strict fatwas. Fatwas can therefore differ from one country to another, and from one person to another. There is no problem with such differences, on condition that the differences are based on sound principles of fiqh. Reaching a full consensus on all fiqh matters is impossible as there are also other dimensions a mufti takes into account when issuing a fatwa, as illustrated in the following example:
A man one day came to 'Abdullah Ibn 'Umar to ask him whether the repentance of a person who commits murder is accepted by Allah. Ibn 'Umar looked at him, and responded that no, that repentance would not be accepted. When the man left, the friends of Ibn 'Umar asked him about his fatwa as they were surprised by the answer they heard, as before that Ibn 'Umar used to tell people that the repentance of a murderer is accepted. When asked about that ruling, Ibn 'Umar said that when he looked at the man he sensed that he was an angry person on the verge of committing murder. By giving that answer he intended to prevent him from committing that crime by closing that door.
As stated by scholars, a fatwa can change with the change of places, times and circumstances, and a mufti must in all cases have a sound understanding of reality in order to reach the correct ruling. This is also very important when dealing with political fatwas, as explained in this excellent episode which is available on-line in Arabic at this page.
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