Fataawa (for those who may need this interpreted) is the plural of fatwa. Fatwa is an Islamic formal ruling or interpretation on a point of Islamic law given by a qualified scholar. Usually, a fatwa is issued in reaction to a question to clarify a situation in which fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) is unclear.
COVID-19 – deadly and dreadful though it is – brought with it hidden benefits. One of these has been the need for fatwa to be (formally or informally) issued on a few issues of fiqh which are new to virtually all of us. Observing congregational salawat with gaps between and among the worshippers is one of such. So is the permissibility or otherwise of usage of hand sanitisers. And who can forget the almost world-wide observance of Eid prayers at home!
I felt the need to write this piece almost from the very beginning of this pandemic and the initial reaction of condemnation which trailed the first pictures of people observing congregational salawat with gaps among the worshippers. ‘’This is not a salat’’ was almost the very first sentence I saw someone write in reaction to these pictures. ‘’Is it compulsory to pray in congregation’’ the same person added for effect. ‘’Feet to feet and shoulder to shoulder’’ he concluded.
Much as I am not a scholar – at least as far as the Islamic scholarship is concerned – I have been around long enough to know that COVID-19 was presenting the Muslim Ummah with new and unprecedented challenges to which scholarly reactions were going to be required. Today, we have seen the grand Imam Abdur-Rahmaan As-Sudays lead a congregation inside the Haram in Makkah with participants observing gaps between one and the other. And this has been repeated in many other places across the world with salawat led by highly qualified scholars. That is your fatwa, brothers and sisters. And you know what! You and I are going to do exactly the same whenever we are eventually able to return to the Masaajid here in Lagos. Brothers, do not be in haste to comment on issues about which you are not qualified to give opinions. Take the lesson.
Hand Sanitisers: Our truth is that 99 per cent of people who call themselves Alfas (Alfas, not scholars) here in Nigeria are not qualified to comment, let alone issue a fatwa, on the use of alcohol-based hand sanitisers. Yet, these people issued emotion-laden, ignorance-based fataawa on same without really understanding the subject matter. Alcohol is alcohol, they claimed. Today, all of them are quiet as they now realise that you cannot enter a public building, even super markets and pharmacies, without first using hand sanitisers. What happened to that fatwa then?
The chemical properties which make up alcohol-based hand sanitisers are more or less the same properties which make up the dressings used in treating wounds in hospitals across the world. Should those be banned too? Knowledge, not emotion, is the basis of our Deen. Your Imam is not necessarily a scholar.
FLASH BACK TO ENGLAND, 1980s
My appreciation of the need for fataawa to address issues at local level started as we arrived England as young Muslims in the 1980s. I saw in the Muslim communities what to me then were very strange Islamic practices. Every Masjid observed two Jumu’ah service on the same day, led by two different Imams and attended by different congregations. Reason? Masaajid were generally very small (typically, a two or three-bed flat converted to a Mosque) and limited in supply. It was not unusual in those days to have to drive up to 15-20KM to come across your first Mosque, depending where you lived. If all the Masaajid were to observe just one Jumu’ah, far too many Muslims will be left unable to observe Jumu’ah on a permanent basis. Fatwa? Observe a second Jumu’ah.
In my days in England, no one brought home their Ileya Rams. Reason? Animals could only be slaughtered at the abattoirs. And even if your rams were slaughtered for you, the prospect of having to processs an entire ram on your own – with no friends or relations to help in doing this – was enough for most to just leave their rams as donations to be taken to less privileged countries by NGOs. We did not even get to see the rams, let alone take parts of them for ourselves. Eid prayers were only observed inside the mosque, with each mosque observing between three and four separate congregational Eid salat. This was Islam in the UK. Rule against this, and Islam becomes impossible in these societies.
So, to my brothers who are quick to make a pronouncement on issues of Islamic interest, even as they evidently lack the necessary qualifications to make such pronouncements, Islam is not static. New issues are forever going to come up, begging for new rulings. And to those who are more attached to their Shaykh or Madrasah than to Islam itself, your Shaykh may not necessarily be qualified to comment on certain issues of Islamic interest. And to the Shaykh who by behaviour and pronouncements fancies himself as infallible, it is possible that some of your students are better qualified to address these issues.
Finally to my brothers to whom every issue must go back to Uthaymeen, Bin Baz or even Qaradhaawi, none of these eminent scholars addressed every issue under the sun. Let our issues also go to our scholars – living, known for their scholarship and trusted. After all, these scholars would know the positions of the scholars of old and our pious predecessors on the same issues – if indeed they are scholars.
Like COVID-19, Islam is real and does not exist in a vacuum. The bigger your knowledge, the easier your religion becomes. The more you travel, the less you argue. Just know your limits.
May Allah rectify our affairs.