ASEAN Muslim scholars unite on issuing fatwas

The new Fiqh council will enable authorities to share knowledge, consult on issues facing Muslims today, and offer regional solutions.

By Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata for Khabar Southeast Asia in Jakarta

January 22, 2013
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In anticipation of modern developments in various fields, international Muslim clerics and muftis have decided to establish a committee on fatwas for Muslims in Southeast Asia.

  • Security personnel in black uniforms try to get people to queue as they wait to receive bags of food supplies after attending a mass Qur'an recital on a South Jakarta street. The Indonesian Council of Ulemas (MUI) issued a fatwa this month declaring mass sermons on public streets haram and disruptive to the general public. [Photos by Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata/Khabar].

    Security personnel in black uniforms try to get people to queue as they wait to receive bags of food supplies after attending a mass Qur'an recital on a South Jakarta street. The Indonesian Council of Ulemas (MUI) issued a fatwa this month declaring mass sermons on public streets haram and disruptive to the general public. [Photos by Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata/Khabar].

  • Cigarette billboards are prominent fixtures on Jakarta's landscape; tobacco companies remain the country's top advertisers. Muhammadiyah, Indonesia's second largest Muslim organisation, declared smoking haram in a fatwa it issued in March 2010.

    Cigarette billboards are prominent fixtures on Jakarta's landscape; tobacco companies remain the country's top advertisers. Muhammadiyah, Indonesia's second largest Muslim organisation, declared smoking haram in a fatwa it issued in March 2010.

The regional Fiqh council aims to produce fatwas as well as share knowledge on existing fatwas and deliberation methodology in various countries, said Muhyiddin Junaidi, head of the international relations division of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI).

Closer co-operation between fatwa-issuing authorities in different countries would be suitable not only for Southeast Asian Muslims but also for Muslims worldwide, he suggested.

"For a start, we are going to streamline the deliberation process of issuing a fatwa at the regional level," Muhyiddin told Khabar Southeast Asia.

Fatwas declare various subjects as haram (sinful), such as violent jihad, terrorism, suicide bombings, a meningitis vaccine imported from Europe for hajj pilgrims, blocking public streets to conduct mass sermons, and vasectomies.

An ASEAN initiative

Establishment of an ASEAN Fiqh council to respond to contemporary problems faced by Muslims was one of 11 recommendations issued at the end of an international conference on fatwa held in Jakarta in late December 2012.

The committee is expected to provide solutions in co-operation with the Islamic Fiqh Council -- a body within the Muslim World League, based in Saudi Arabia -- and fatwa-issuing bodies in other countries.

"They can share their experiences in deliberating a fatwa including the methodology and exchange knowledge regarding the fatwas issued in their respective countries," said Secretary General of Islamic Fiqh Council Soleh Zabin Al-Marzouqi.

The majority of ASEAN's 230 million Muslims live in the three predominantly Muslim countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei – while sizeable Muslim minorities live in Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Contemporary Islam

Indonesian Minister for Religious Affairs Suryadharma Ali told reporters that a line of Islamic experts on fatwa has agreed to convene biannually to discuss how they can best respond to, among others, advances in medicine, astronomy, social dynamics, science and technology.

"We would monitor the developments over the past two years and see which ones need [Islamic] laws because not all existing fiqh can cater to the needs of today's world. We would need to issue new fiqh as a reference for Islamic conduct suitable to the current context," Suryadharma said.

He said the committee does not intend to centralise the issuance of fatwa to increase their legitimacy, but he did not rule out the possibility that a fatwa could affect government policies.

The MUI has issued approximately 8,000 fatwas since it was founded in 1975. Suryadharma cited an example from 2009 when the Indonesian government halted using a meningitis vaccine produced by a European pharmaceutical after the MUI declared it haram because it had traces of porcine enzymes. The government had to buy a new stock of vaccine.

"A fatwa should be adopted collectively. The more congregations that endorse a fatwa, the more legitimate it would be for the Muslim people," said the politician from the Islam-based United Development Party (Partai Persatuan Pembangunan/PPP).

Ratna Shofi Inayati, an ASEAN expert at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), told Khabar that the establishment of a regional forum that allows ASEAN Muslim clerics to exchange information on fatwa-issuing matters is a good effort. It is a form of people-to-people relations that is encouraged in ASEAN community blueprints.

"However, it is better to also co-ordinate their activities with the governments of ASEAN member states – especially those that have Muslim minority populations," she said.

Reader Comments
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    • Lutfi azaky
      May 15, 2013 @ 02:05:28AM
    • Clerics must keep striving.
    • sulaiman id
      March 14, 2013 @ 11:03:45AM
    • Today's Muslim clerics are only good at issuing fatwas. They think issuing a fatwa automatically solves a problem.
    • MOHD SA`AD BIN SHAHABUDIN
      March 11, 2013 @ 10:03:20AM
    • What is is important is that the clergy are on top, political leaders are at the bottom according to Al-Quran,Al-Hadis,Ijma`and Qiyas for the clergy. Iktiqad Ahlussunnah Wal-Jamaah
    • Colmohd
      March 7, 2013 @ 11:03:00AM
    • Good idea and very ambitious but they have to unite their fatwa within their country first. In Indonesia, the government couldn’t regulate the religious issue as there are two major rival parties, the NU and Muhammadiah seldom agree in complying the fatwa. OIC has been established for quite number of years, what happen? Nobody has ever brought the issue yet?
    • ilman ferdiana
      March 7, 2013 @ 02:03:42AM
    • Muslim scholars should develop and guide their people. But the people demand that scholars are confident when releasing a religious ruling. The people do not like a weak ruling that is announced prematurely, so that it only degrades the image and credibility of the scholars in the eyes of the people.
    • shariff umbra
      February 25, 2013 @ 10:02:47PM
    • Separate the State and Religion.
    • ahmad
      February 22, 2013 @ 09:02:46PM
    • Organizations like these can unite minority Muslims in some ASEAN countries.
    • Lee Lamed Logos
      February 22, 2013 @ 01:02:57AM
    • The Quran, Bible and other religious books have enough wisdom given by God to help us live our lives in on earth. The government is also giving rules and principles. The world is filled with many knowledgeable people and there are enough books to deal with many specific subjects. Therefore we do not need fatwas to actually bind the people. Let the people be wise and free to chose. People obey God and rules from the heart and not from external binding rules. Thank you. Allah bless us.
    • aminudintoha
      February 20, 2013 @ 10:02:54PM
    • It is commended that muslim in ASEAN to have a coordinated fatwas to meet the current challenges. However fatwas are not to be seen as serving the interest of a particular group..It has to be in the light that Islam is a blessing for mankind "rahmatul li aalaamin"
    • Iyavoo
      January 29, 2013 @ 01:01:57AM
    • We are not born with any religion. After birth we inherit the religious label by institutional mandate. But, the same very institution fail to improve lives when people in poor and destitude conditions. When conversion takes place in the name of apostacy the institution clamour on them, making life even harder. More regulatory institutions make life harder for people. Let the individuals decide what they want, not Government and institutions

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