A Warning From Dial – a – Fatwa

“According to an e-mail from an American Muslim group, I’ve received fatwa ruling number 2/882”

A fatwa on moi? Last week I received a fatwa against an annual event I host. According to Khaled Abou el Fadl, Law Professor at UCLA, a fatwa is “a non-binding legal opinion issued in response to a legal problem.”

Be assured, I’m not a “legal problem” — yet.

Indian writer Salman Rushdie brought the issue of fatwas to the West when he was condemned to death for blasphemy by the former Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 after publishing Satanic Verses.

My fatwa is issued against celebrating Milaad, an event that denotes poetry or literature written in honour of Prophet Muhammad’s birth, his life and achievements.

Although this celebration is not an Islamic duty, it is a spiritual tradition developed by Muslims out of love and reverence for the Prophet and his family. I’ve celebrated and participated in Milaads since I was a child; at that time there were no extremists hounding us.

I knew that sooner or later, some religious crank would find me. But still, I was surprised when I saw the e-mail with my name on it.

I’m no stranger to hostility: I’ve been pepper sprayed; received crank calls and hate mail; my husband has been taken aside and asked why he “allows” his wife so much freedom to speak out.

At various times people have suggested that I write under a pseudonym or change my name entirely and my family lives in fear of my shooting from the “lip”; but I’ve never given this hype serious thought.

I give Canada credit for this honour. Only when I came here 14 years ago did I find freedom and confidence as a Muslim woman to study and understand that my faith, Islam, does not bind me but frees me to pursue knowledge and strengthen my spirituality regardless of my gender.

In Canada, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and converse with progressive scholars like Dr. Azizah al Hibri, Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina and Dr. Khaled Abou el Fadl who helped me understand my faith with reason, appreciating its various nuances and diversities.

The resulting liberation of my mind has also allowed me to reflect upon and critique some of the false ideologies being promoted by my co-religionists, especially those who take direction from a deviation of Islam that forms the state religion of Saudi Arabia, and makes a mockery of our faith.

This, obviously, has not endeared me to many who want to cling to the illusion that they are the chosen ones, and their way is the only way.

Since long before Sept. 11, I’ve been writing and speaking about issues that we, as Muslims, have been grappling with.

I’ve spoken out about injustices against women and minorities, about gender equality, against intolerance and interfaith polemics, against extremism and violence of all kinds including suicide bombing, and, most often, about inflexible interpretations of Islam that force all joy out of our traditions.

Last year, just before I celebrated my annual Milaad, I read a report in an ethnic newspaper about a strict message from Sheik Abdel Azeez al-Sheikh, Grand Mufti and highest religious official in Saudi Arabia.

He blasted Milaad celebrations as heresy and said those who observe these traditions are “mimicking Christians.”

So I promptly wrote an article in the Star (Taking the joy out of beautiful traditions, June 8, 2002) and explained the history of the Milaad tradition, placing it at the time of the Prophet and explaining that it’s a custom that was developed out of love for our Prophet.

I thought I had made my point and could rest easy. But the policing doesn’t stop.

This year my e-mail invitation for Milaad made its way to an organization in America called Al-Amana (American Muslim Association of North America — the Islamic Centre for Reaching and Preaching).

Al-Amana boasts of a fatwa service: “Fatwas by Al-Amana Shura advisers” their Web site boasts. “We search before giving a fatwa,” they proudly add.

Wow. I’m impressed. Despite numerous people indulging in devious activities, they found little ol’ me to send their fatwa to.

According to their long, boring, e-mail (which is adapted from Majmoo Fatawa Samahat al-Sheik Abdel Aziz ibn Baz, a Saudi Arabian religious cleric) I’ve received ruling number 2/882. What an enriching life these guys must lead — they even have a 1-800 number, 1-800-95-FATWA.

It will take more than a fatwa to deter me.

So I went ahead and had my celebration over the Thanksgiving weekend. What better way to celebrate than a thank you to God over samosas and tea, with my friends, family and well-wishers (including men who came to show support)?

If organizations like Al-Amana are allowed to exist freely and spout fatwas in North America, then I’d like to see them issue fatwas against governments who allow:

  • Subjugation of their entire women population.
  • Killing of journalists without justice prevailing.
  • Persecution of minorities.
  • Waging war against innocent men, women and children.