The Question of Online Fatwas

Together with the increasing use of the Internet by Muslim community, the online fatwas, or religious decrees have also become popular. In fact, they have become the new, easily accessible alternative for the Muslim community in the place of mosques and other such conventional religious centers. Muslims log on to the internet to present their problems and receive immediate detailed responses. No matter how attractive this modern option seems, it is bound to complicate the mind of the faithful in other ways.

The advantages of this new application are obvious; due to its impersonal nature, more people can direct their personal and private questions without the fear of social norms. The imams towards whom these questions are directed are usually prominent scholars, whom regular Muslims would not normally get a chance to access. Moreover, the answers come at a faster pace and at a much cheaper cost than it would by using mail or phone. The fatwa sessions might also happen in live sessions, as it has most recently been initiated by popular websites. Apart from asking individual questions, the users can directly resort to the large fatwa collections, either by topic or the name of the issuing imam. These collections mostly consist of religious topics related to contemporary issues. (1)

The other side of the coin, when the opportunities offered by the Internet are critically viewed, however, suggests that the issue of a universal Islamic authority in the contemporary world is even more blurred. In other words, who really speaks for Islam over this global network? As the profusion of differing viewpoints is brought to the access of any interested Muslim, this problem is even more highlighted. In this context, the practical use of the online fatwa service can be manipulated to serve the interests of each site. The question of which imam to follow in this contradictory pool of judgment does put the faithful at stake.

The opinions of Islamic academicians also differ over this issue. Dr. Khaled Abou el Fadl, who teaches Islamic Law at UCLA, agrees that the Internet complicates the issue of legitimate authority, which, he says, "comes with accountability -- and the Internet dilutes accountability. (2)" Dr. John Esposito, the founder of the Center for Christian-Muslim Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., on the other hand, believes that this debate needs some perspective. "We forget, for example where Christianity and Judaism are today is the product of centuries of... intellectual revolution (and) physical revolution." Islam's revolution, for Esposito, will happen in this era of globalization and as a result, will turn out to be more volatile. (3)






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