May a pious Muslim consume food, if he is not sure, that it has been prepared according to Islamic rules? May a Muslim place his money in a bank, even though he will thus violate the interdiction of usury contained in the Quran? And may a Muslim serve wine to his Christian guests, even though this goes against the prohibition of alcohol prescribed by Islam? These and many other questions are found on Islamic sites as muftisays.com, askimam.org or e-fatwa.org, on which religious scholars offer their council to the faithful.
In traditional Islamic societies they can turn to their Mullah if they have any questions on the rules and laws of Islam. But in modern societies, especially in European countries, where Muslims live far apart and isolated, the direct contact has often been lost. Furthermore, emigration to countries of non-islamic faith, where Muslims are but a minority among members of other religions, confronts them to totally new questions. Therefore there is a growing demand for internet-forums, on which scholars offer fatwas - religious judgements – on questions of Islamic law.
The variety of these forums reflects the entire spectrum of religious currents in Islam. Thus the British site muftisays.com lies in the responsibility of members of the religious school Darul Uloom in London, which belongs to the Indian Deobandi school of thought. The Saudi-Arabian e-fatwa.org on the other hand belongs to the Wahhabi school of thought and is directed by prominent scholars of the Saudi kingdom. The South-African page askimam.org finally has been created by the Mufti Ibrahim Desai of the Madrasah In’aamiyyah in Comperdown.
Questions on money, sex and religious practices
Many of the questions found on these sites turn around the correct use of money. As usury is forbidden by the Quran, but there are yet but few Islamic banks, many pious Muslims are in doubt what to do with their savings. A second set of questions is on the daily practice of Islam. As in the West the daily religious practices can no longer be followed as before, many Muslims are unsure where they may pray, how they should fast and whom they should give their donations to. The permissibility of food, cosmetic or medicine also poses many questions.
A third complex of questions is on sexuality. Here one not only finds questions on the rules concerning the daily contact with the other sex, but also discussions on the permissibility of marriage in spite of prior sexual intercourse, on masturbation during Ramadan or on sex during menstruation. A fourth set of questions finally turns on the correct conduct towards ‘infidels’. Is it permissible to buy from Hindus or Christians? Can one participate in celebrations as Divali or Christmas? And what shall one do, if one has fallen in love with someone of another religion?
No help for integration in a foreign society
In some of their answers – instead of simply quoting verses from the Quran – the scholars seem willing to find a pragmatic solution permitting the adaptation to the new context. But most replies speak of a rigid and inflexible interpretation of the scriptures: Listening to secular music, wearing trendy clothing or consuming ‘impure’ medicine is condemned as a sin. Contact with members of the other sex or of another religion is threatened with divine punishment - all clear evidence of the reactionary spirit that dominates these sites.
Yet this is hardly a surprise if one knows that the Indian Deobandi and the Saudi Wahhabi school of thought belong to the strictest interpretations of Islam. In spite of the modern medium employed by these forums one thing is clear: Adaptation or integration is neither wanted nor possible, if one follows the council offered on these forums. But those who turn to this kind of site probably are interested neither by one nor the other.