Al-Azhar says no fatwa against Facebook

Al-Azhar says no fatwa against Facebook

CAIRO: Egypt’s top religious academy has denied it issued a fatwa against the social network Facebook. The rumors had spread after al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Academy allegedly said the site would lead to sexual affairs between unmarried men and women, which had sparked an outrcy from Egyptian activists, rights groups and average citizens who use the network to stay in touch with friends.

“If people think Facebook will lead to sex, then they need to grow up,” said Ahmed Badrawi, a 22-year-old university student. “The Internet has so many things and to say Facebook is the problem is ridiculous.”

“The committee hasn’t issued any decrees regarding Facebook,” said Sheikh Saied Amer, head of the academy’s fatwa, or religious-edict, committee, in  a statement published by the Los Angeles Times. “We haven’t even had any inquiries about the religious legitimacy of using it or not.”

The influential Sunni Islam institution, al-Azhar, has come under controversy for a string of fatwas in recent years. First, one scholar said that women should breast-feed their male colleagues in an effort to reduce sexual harassment in the work place. This was revoked shortly after, as the institution said it was in “bad taste.” Last year, al-Azhar came under scrutiny after Grand Sheikh Mohamed Tantawi called for the niqab – the covering that conservative women use to cover their face – to be banned in Egypt.

This most recent alleged fatwa took the Egyptian and Arab media by storm after London’s al-Quds al-Arabi published last Thursday a quote from the former head of the fatwa committee, Sheikh Abdul Hamid Atrash, where he said the website was causing unnecessary harm to Islamic societies as a result of its usefulness in creating illicit relationships between men and women.

The newspaper reported Atrash’s fatwa was based on a survey conducted by the Egyptian National Council for Social and Criminal Research, whose results showed that one in five Egyptian divorces was caused by infidelity with a partner found through Facebook.

According to the survey, Facebook has made it easier for lonely, bored men and women to find a partner and form a relationship outside marriage.

Atrash, however, followed up on his comments a few days later, stressing that he didn’t even know how Facebook operated.

“I didn’t ask people to stop using Facebook. All I said was that new media is a double-edged weapon,” Atrash stressed. “The fatwa I issued was that people can only use the Internet to benefit from it in their work and life, whereas they’re forbidden from using pornography or websites that promote illicit relations.”

One avid Facebook user said that even if al-Azhar was to issue a fatwa, “it is unlikely any of us would think about following it because it doesn’t make sense. Blaming Facebook is an excuse for the lack of opportunities and poor lives we live in Egypt.”