By | June 20, 2008

A while back, there was a post on Coming Anarchy that referenced this fatwa concerning the question of whether a woman could, under Shariah, lawfully refuse her husband’s request for sex if she is tired from having performed her other Islamic duties (such as nightly prayers).

I’m not at all impressed by the conclusion reached – at best, it’s medieval sophistry, at worst, it’s little more than institutionalized rape. That’s not what motivated me to write this post, though.

For those not in the know, a fatwa is basically a ruling on Islamic religious law issued by an imam or other Islamic authority. Since they’re issued by a wide range of individuals and institutions distributed throughout the Ummah, they often disagree with one another, sometimes violently. Taken together, though, they’re an organic body of law quite different to what we have in the West – probably the closest parallel is English common law – Shariah, however, is much more diverse and, it seems, much less structured. As a method of making and applying law, its distributed nature is actually somewhat attractive; however, as it’s based on literal interpretations of a religious text, it is, by definition, fundamentalist, and thus thoroughly unattractive.

There’s a number of online repositories containing fatwas, some with comparatively liberal outlooks, others extremely conservative. I find them interesting because they offer a window into Islamic law and culture that I’ve not had before. While I’m sure there’s a selection bias based on which groups are willing to put their fatwas online and in English, they still contain a diversity of opinion, and really interesting to browse through.

Bias time – I’m a filthy materialist, looking with a perspective similar to someone visiting the zoo. Some fatwas repulse me, others vaguely disturb me, and still others make a certain amount of sense.

It’s really important not to judge Islamic culture in its entirity by these; many Islamic cultures do not rely solely on law derived from fundamentalist interpretations of a religious text. Even so, it’s hard not to be dumbfounded by the quaintness of it all. Take, for example, the particularly convoluted line of reasoning in the first link below, in which video recordings bypass restrictions on images by virtue of the fact that you can’t actually see little sports people when you look at the tape. It’s a good demonstration of how literally applying 1400 year old writings to modern situations leads to absurdity.

So, in the interests of learning, here’s a few that I’ve dug up: