This is a guest post by Eslam Maher. Maher is the former general manager at “I believe in Science,” a large Arabic project aimed at communicating science and skepticism.
If you are Reza Aslan or Glenn Greenwald, I guess I need to warn you: The man I’m about to mention is not a random untrained Sheikh. He doesn’t lead a “fundamentalist” group. The following has nothing to do with colonialism, America, or the Iraq War.
Dar Al-Ifta in Egypt basically represents Islam. It is a primary pillar of Islamic legal research that plays a vital role in giving rulings to the masses and consultation for the judiciary in Egypt. It is a division of the Egyptian Ministry of Justice. No capital punishment sentence, among other things, is ever implemented before consulting the Grand Mufti. In addition, it is the official source that announces when exactly Ramadan starts. If you have any religious question concerning any matter, that’s how you get a professional Islamic answer. It gets an influx of millions of phone calls, emails, messages, etc. and the highest panel of scholars apparently answer them all by ijtihad (personal reasoning) based on the Qur’an and Sunnah. Just imagine its influence on Muslims in the country.
Just before the month of Ramadan began, last Sunday, Dar Al-Ifta posted the following on its official Facebook page:
“Openly violating the fast during Ramadan does not fall under personal freedom, but rather is a kind of chaos and assault on the sanctity of Islam, because publicly violating the fast in Ramadan is a candor of sin, and is forbidden (haram); it goes against the public decency in Muslim countries and is a blatant violation of the sanctity of society and the right of having its beliefs respected.”
In short, if Egyptians violate the fast during Ramadan, they’re committing a grave sin.
It makes as much sense as saying “I’m on a diet, so you’re not allowed to eat donuts.” Which is nonsense since others should absolutely have the ability to choose whether or not to follow religious laws.
It’s absurd, really, since fasting during Ramadan is all about one’s commitment to the faith. By forcing people to do it, you’re taking away the choice that is so crucial to any religious faith. A strong religion would never require people to blindly obey its rules.
Dar Al-Ifta has not clarified whether Egyptian Christians have to fast alongside Muslims during Ramadan to allegedly “respect their beliefs.” (Nor have they said anything about atheists and agnostics.) And what about Muslims who either have an excuse to break the fast (e.g. they’re traveling or have an illness)?
The fatwa raises many questions. If fasting is not a personal freedom, then what is the punishment for not obeying the religious rule? And how are Muslims going to punish non-Muslims for their disobedience?
It’s not even the first time this month we’ve seen Egyptian Muslims punish non-Muslims for not following their rules. A couple of weeks ago, a Muslim mob in Egypt stripped a 70-year-old Christian woman in the streets and paraded her naked following rumors that her son had an affair with a Muslim woman.