Friday,22 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1354, (27 July - 2 August 2017)
Friday,22 February, 2019
Issue 1354, (27 July - 2 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Fatwa on the way home

Mai Samih seeks a religious ruling in the underground metro station


Fatwa on the way home
Fatwa on the way home

When you take the underground metro to work and back you’re just one of three million passengers rushing daily in the narrow corridors or hopping on the escalator to get a seat. You barely get a glimpse of the mini-shops scattered in the stations, mainly book stores and some sweet shops.

One new edition to this collection is a “fatwa kiosk” established to answer questions about Islam (a fatwa is religious ruling). Ever since the kiosks opened they have been mocked on social media, however, sheikhs have taken no notice and are eager to fight just one enemy: extremist thought. The sheikhs, from Al-Azhar Islamic Studies Institute, are friendly, tolerant and welcome anyone who has a question. Al-Azhar is hoping they will show the true face of Islam that has been tainted by extremist ideology and acts of terrorism.

To fight misconceptions about Islam and extremist ideology, the Department of Fatwas of Al-Azhar’s Islamic Studies Institute (ISI) in collaboration with the Metro Company decided to set up the first fatwa kiosk in Al-Shohadaa metro station.

“The ISI signed a protocol of cooperation with the Metro Company so that the Fatwas Department could start work in the metro stations by receiving citizens to listen to their questions and answer them,” said a source from the metro administration who chose to remain anonymous. “The idea is to make it easy for citizens who otherwise have no time to go to Al-Azhar’s Fatwa Institute to ask questions. We set it up in the downtown area at first to make it accessible to as many citizens as possible. The first ‘fatwa kiosk’, as some call it, opened on 16 June in Al-Shohadaa metro station as an experiment to see the reaction of citizens. More fatwa departments will open in the near future,” the source said.

“The department is under the umbrella of the Al-Azhar Islamic Studies Institute under the supervision of Sheikh Mohieddin Afifi, head of the institute,” a source from Al-Azhar said. “The office is the first of its kind as it is an experiment by the Islamic Studies Department, affiliated to the Al-Azhar Preaching Department in Cairo. We started by delivering lectures and preaching in the general broadcasting room in Ramadan which lasted for about half an hour and was much welcomed by metro passengers [in the second and third metro line stations, including Ramses and Al-Attaba]. This is why we decided to have a fatwa office in the metro station,” he said, adding that “since people are complaining that Al-Azhar does not go to the people and talk to them, Al-Azhar decided to go to them.”

The kiosks work two shifts, from 9am to 2pm and 2pm to 8pm. The team is composed of two shura (consultations) members or preachers and a general supervisor, Sheikh Sayed Tawfik. There are 36 sheikhs taking shifts.

“We said that since people are finding it difficult to go all the way to Dar Al-Iftaa, we decided to go to them in the real world. If a person needs an official fatwa, a certificate, we refer them to the Al-Azhar Fatwa Department, however, we are ready to give fatwas in many fields,” he says, adding that the most frequent types of fatwas are issues on inheritance, bank transactions, loans, selling and prayers while travelling. “We are here to see how young people think and to fight malicious thought that has spread among some youths.”

So far they have had an average of 70 questions posed in each shift. People of both sexes are eager to ask.

“I wonder if these kiosks will be able to fight extremist thoughts,” asked Ekram Ali Abdel-Salam, a general manager at the Ministry of Antiquities. “I hope they will be effective. I came here to ask them about wearing the veil and about the long veils that we see in the streets which were not there in the past. I also hope they can generalise these fatwas,” Abdel-Salam said.

“I felt that the information was limited, however, I did get an answer to my query. In any case it’s better than waiting for your turn in Dar Al-Iftaa, which takes too long,” one passenger said.

“We had a good talk and I asked the questions I wanted to. I really learnt from them. I read about religion on the Internet a lot but it is not reliable so I thought it would be better to ask someone from Al-Azhar who has the knowledge,” one university student said.

“We are considering opening two more offices in Al-Marg and Helwan metro stations in the near future,” the source from Al-Azhar said. “The Fatwa Department is open to people of all religions for any inquiries about Islam. We have had cases in which Christians have asked us questions about Islam. In general we aim at guiding people to know Allah more. The fatwa is free of charge and the state does not give us any money.”

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