Muslim scholars’ ignorance behind anti-Shia fatwa, says Penang mufti

The mufti of Penang said the fatwa declaring Shia teachings as deviant is subject to revision, as such pronouncements are not sacrosanct in Islam.

(FMT) – Wan Salim Mohd Noor said a fatwa is based on ijtihad, which is legal reasoning by Muslim scholars to find solutions to contemporary problems based on basic Islamic principles.

As such, he said a fatwa can be flawed due to insufficient information or oversight.

“This includes the fatwa on Shia teachings which has been deemed to be deviant by the National Fatwa Council and followed by the fatwas of states in Malaysia,” he said.

“So all fatwas can be reviewed by its members if it is found that there is a need to do so,” he told FMT.

Religious authorities in Malaysia have over the years been enforcing a fatwa declaring Shia teachings as “deviant”, with raids conducted against private Shia functions including during the commemoration of the Ashura last month, one of the most important days in Shia Islam.

Shia, the second largest branch in Islam, has a substantial following in Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon and several parts of Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Pakistan.

But Islamic authorities in Malaysia have declared its teachings as “deviant”, with sermons in Selangor frequently condemning its followers as heretics.

Singapore-based Malaysian sociologist Syed Farid Alatas recently urged for the fatwa on Shia to be reviewed, after he condemned raids on Shia Muslims in Selangor and Johor as “barbaric”.

Wan Salim said it was not true that the ban on Shia teachings in Malaysia was inspired by prejudice among the religious figures.

Instead, he blames it on a lack of knowledge.

He said some Muslim scholars in Malaysia do not have accurate knowledge about Shia Islam, with much of the information coming from the wrong sources.

He said there is a need for a study on the differences between Shia and Sunni practices, and this should include references with authoritative Shia scholars.

“We’re confident that by understanding the root of these differences, we can minimise prejudice and misjudgement towards Shia.”

He said differences exist among all religions, with many denominations and sects.

“So it’s up to the thinkers and scholars to handle these differences, whether they want to make it a source of disunity, or use it to promote tolerance and respects,” he added.