Warning: mysql_result() [function.mysql-result]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Chicago' for 'CST/-6.0/no DST' instead in /home/sofinau/public_html/includes/functions.php on line 14

Warning: mysql_result() [function.mysql-result]: Unable to jump to row 0 on MySQL result index 8 in /home/sofinau/public_html/includes/functions.php on line 14

Angels, Demons and Fatwas

  (01 June 09)

The review of ‘Angels and Demons’ that is reproduced in this month’s Sea of Faith Bulletin includes these words: ‘Rushdie’s life was endangered when the Ayatollah Khomeini imposed a fatwa, or sentence of death.’ The review was taken from the American Atheist News, I enjoyed reading (most of) it, and – I want to emphasise this point – it was entirely appropriate to reproduce it in the Bulletin.


So, what’s my problem? Simply this: a fatwa is not a sentence of death, and never has been. A fatwa is a legal opinion, issued by a suitably qualified Islamic jurist. Usuli Shi’a Muslims – such as the majority in Iran – are expected to follow the fatwas of a living mujtahid (jurist capable of exercising independent legal judgement). Khomeinin died some 20 years ago, so he doesn’t count any more!


One of the most notable Sunni fatwas on the twentieth century was the Al-Azhar Shi’a Fatwa, an exemplary piece of Islamic ecumenism. A recent one forbids the use of weapons of mass destruction, reportedly because they endanger the lives of Muslims as well as non-Muslims, but I haven’t yet seen the text (which I would expect to value the lives of non-Muslims as well). The same scholar, Ali Gomaa, has issued a fatwa forbidding female genital mutilation, which he describes as ‘a deplorable custom’ with ‘no written grounds in the Qur’an’.


Thanks Malcolm. That a "fatwa" is a sentence of death must be one of the most common misunderstandings among the many we have of Islam.

Posted by Scott McKenzie

Leave your own comment...

Security Code:

Search Site

Contact Us!

14 Richardson St
Lane Cove
NSW   2066