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Leading Egypt Cleric Wants Fewer Frivolous Edicts

The chief Muslim cleric in Egypt wants tighter controls on who may issue religious edicts, or fatwas. Egypt's Grand Mufti says more fatwas have been issued in the past 10 years than in the previous 1400 years.

Modern technology has made it easier than ever to issue or receive a fatwa, one of the religious edicts that guide Muslims' interpretations of Islamic law.

Someone with a specific question about what Islam allows can get a personalized fatwa on the matter over the Internet, through television or via cellphone. The Grand Mufti of Egypt and other religious leaders say far too many unqualified clerics are issuing fatwas of dubious theological credibility.

The number of religious edicts keeps growing, and because Islam has no central authority there is no set system for governing who is allowed to issue them.

Egypt's Grand Mufti, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, is calling for more supervision or even a central authority to govern who may issue fatwas.

The secretary-general of Egypt's Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Abdel Sabour Marzouk, agrees.

The mufti is correct, he said. A fatwa expresses a fact and the opinion about it, whether it is right or wrong, halal or haram. Not just anyone is eligible to give a fatwa. A fatwa can only be issued by a suitable person, who is knowledgeable and pious.

Muslim leaders say some of those edicts deal with secular topics that have nothing to do with religious authorities. Abdel Sabour Marzouk says many of the clerics issuing them are more interested in profits than piety.

He says, a large number of people who claim they are knowledgeable and present themselves as able to give fatwas benefit financially from such performances.

These extraneous fatwas range from the frivolous to the frightening, including those used to justify violence against non-Muslims and the West.

Sometimes, the frivolous and the frightening overlap, such as a fatwa against soccer issued two years ago by a Saudi cleric.

It sounds like satire, but it is treated seriously by Saudi clerics and newspaper columnists who say it has convinced some players that the game is un-Islamic and has been used to recruit them into the Iraqi insurgency.

It urges Muslims to play the game with different rules, so as not to imitate Christians and Jews, and, what it calls, evil America.

The fatwa says soccer is to be played only in order to strengthen the body for jihad, not for fun.

A game of soccer played under the suggested rules would have no lines surrounding the field, no crossbar on the goal, no referee, no uniforms, no post-scoring celebrations and no yellow or red cards. It would no longer be played in two 45-minute halves, to completely differentiate from the heretics, polytheists, corrupted and disobedient.

The fatwa says, do not follow the rules regarding playing with 11 people. Instead, add to this number or decrease it.

According to the Washington-based Middle East Research Institute, senior Saudi clerics have rejected the fatwa. The institute says newspaper columnists are calling it an example of an extremist ideology targeting Muslim youth.

In Cairo, Abdel Sabour Marzouk says soccer is an inappropriate topic for a fatwa.

He says, football has absolutely nothing to do with a fatwa. It is not about halal and haram. It is an athletic activity about which no revelation has been given by God, and the Koran has not referred to it.

Some scholars have issued fatwas about what athletes can wear on the soccer field, since Islam demands modest attire from both men and women. But Abdel Sabour Marzouk says even those restrictions are unnecessary.

He says, some silly people say that the player's uniform does not hide the parts of his body that should be covered. People should not listen to such talk, because people in the middle of a soccer game do not look at the leg of the player or his foot or anything else. They look at the ball and how well the player shoots the ball.

He says only those with sick minds and weak souls focus on the players' legs.