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Fatawa

Posted on Wednesday, January 30th, 2008 under Writings | No comments

By my rough estimate and understanding, the term “fatawa” is intended to refer to the Islamic rulings on a contemporary question or inquiry that cannot be directly answered by a verse in the Qur’an. It seems to be the attempt of the Islamic faith to provide for their devote people a way to fully understand and abide by the rules and regulations given to them by Allah, in spite of the fact that culture, technology and entertainment are frequently changed and certain concerns may not have been directly addressed in the Qur’an.

Why, you might ask, does it matter what “fatawa” means and what it is intended to answer? To you, the occasional reader of this Sketch Blog and, frankly, to me as well, it probably does not matter. It is probably of little consequence and importance. But it just so happens that, while riding in a car with a friend this weekend, I found among the magazines on their floor a copy of the “Al Jumuah” magazine. “Your guide to Islamic life”, is what the cover read. She had gotten the magazine from an elementary student … not because of its contents, but because of the “pretty flowers on the cover”.

While reading through the magazine to pass the time on the short travel we were on, the article that most caught my attention, besides the editor’s introductory “Growing Marriage for a Lifetime”, was the “Fatawa”. In it were fascinatingly detailed rulings (by the AMJA … Assembly of Muslim Jurist of America) on how one must handle contemporary issues such as “body tattooing” (despite the propensity for youth to seek them) and “growing a beard in prison” (even though it would surely mean ridicule and persecution in our current stereotype-driven society). The one contemporary issue discussed in the article that was most intrigued me was that of “listening to music” and what the ruling was regarding its use for entertainment. Here is something from the article:


bq. It has been shown that music is a way of delivering and imprinting unwholesome ideas in the minds of people. Its victims are constantly in a high emotional, irrational state. Rather than encouraging patience, gratitude, forbearance, reliance on Allah, and healthy emotional behavior upon facing hardships, most songs amplify the grief, and encourage further emotional imbalance.

Now, Islamic magazine or not, there isn't a question about the absolute validity and stark reality of most of those words. Even someone of no religious convictions would be naive to ignore the powerful hold that music can obtain. A professor in college once shared this thought with me: Music is stronger than any drug. It makes us drive faster and more recklessly. It can push us beyond our exceptions and limits (for better or worse). It can force us to our knees or the edge of reality. Yet, it requires no prescription and is readily available to anyone of any age.

It is indeed true that I frequently find the outcome of conversations, relationships, and events completely altered by the music I hear before, during and after. My mood can instantly be reversed from content and controlled to stubborn and erratic with little more than three measures of a few simple few notes. My day improved, my spirit strengthened, or my heart torn and broken ... all within the course of a 30 minute ride and a few seemingly innocuous "track" changes.

Knowing the capacity that music has to control and change a person, it was refreshing to see something aimed at diminishing that influence and hold. I mean, isn't wise to pay closer attention to that driving force and guiding sound that can so quickly turn us? Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians:
bq. "'Everything is permissible for me'—but not everything is beneficial. 'Everything is permissible for me'—but I will not be mastered by anything." (6:12)

"I will not be mastered by anything." Thinking about it now, these are words that speak true of why I choose not to drink or smoke ... it isn't necessarily about the taste or peer-pressure or any other reason of the like ... but more about the fact that I don't want anything in more control of "me" than I am. Shouldn't the decisions I make reflect consideration and thought, and not merely uninhibited whim or careless emotions?

"Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." (1 Corin. 9:26,27)

One last thought from the article. Frequently in this "fatawa", the term shubuhat is used ... it is referring to "the gray area" of contemporary issues that are not answered by the Qur'an, yet for safety, should be avoided.

One ought to avoid such matters as a way of guarding his or her faith and avoid falling into the forbidden, as indicated in the famous hadith:'... and whosoever leaves shubuhat, saves his dignity and religion, and whoever nears the shubuhat (the gray area) is likely to fall into the haram.'

For the sake of making a point ... let's change that last phrase to "is likely to fall into harm". It certainly stands true that being closer to the fire doesn't get you any LESS burnt, right?

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