Dar Al-Ifta and Controversial Edicts

Dar al-Ifta’ al-Masriyya (The Egyptian House of Religious Edicts) was created in 1895 by the high command of Khedive Abbas Helmy. Since the year of its founding, Dar Al-Ifta’ has been housed under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice. Dar Al-Ifta’ plays a consultancy role in the judicial system and is headed by the Grand Mufti. Dar Al-Ifta’ also receives inquiries from all over the world regarding the application of the Qur’an and the sunna to everyday life, and in response authorities of Dar al-Ifta’ issue thousands of religious edicts (fatwas) every month. The institution also receives students of Islamic law for training.

While there is extensive criteria for who can authoritatively issue a religious edict, even scholars affiliated with the official institutions have issued edicts that have raised controversy and criticisms. Recent such cases are illustrated below:

a) The Adult Breastfeeding fatwa

Dr. Izzat Atiya of Egypt's al-Azhar University issued a fatwa on adult breastfeeding as a means to circumvent the Islamic restriction on unmarried women and men being together in the workplace. The fatwa relied on classical Islamic rules for breastfeeding infants to stipulate that if the woman breast-fed her male colleagues five times, this could establish family ties that will make gender mixing permissible. The fatwa was an embarrassment and withdrew large criticism and mocking, including from such figures as well known comic actor Adel Imam.

b) Fatwa on the Urine of the Prophet

This fatwa stipulates that the urine of Prophet Muhammad could be sought for blessing and healing (baraka). The fatwa is based on a story of a woman who served as the Prophet’s maid. The Prophet used to put a bowl under his bed to urinate in at night and one of the women of the Prophet’s household woke up one night and drank from it by mistake. Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa used this story to issue a fatwa about the blessings of the Prophet’s body, including his urine.

As detailed in an article in Al-Masry Al-Youm, this fatwa raised great controversy and criticisms, particularly for its implications for the status of the Prophet as an ordinary human being. Abdel-Moaty Bayyoumy, member of the Council of Islamic Studies in Al-Azhar clarified that drinking the Prophet’s urine in the story was by mistake, and was not done with the purpose of gaining a blessing. Second, he warned that such a fatwa could weaken one of the foundations of Islam which distinguishes it from other religions – the belief that Muhammad is a human being that was chosen to carry the message, not a divine being. The Council of Islamic Studies of Al-Azhar rejected the fatwa and Mufti Ali Gomaa withdrew all copies of his book Religion and Life which included the urine fatwa.

c) Hymen Reconstruction Fatwa

This fatwa issued by Mufti Ali Gomaa rules on the permissibility of reconstructive hymen surgery for women who lost their virginity before marriage. The fatwa was originally issued by Soad Saleh, former dean of the faculty of Islamic studies at Al-Azhar University, and it was later endorsed by the Mufti. Khaled El-Guindy, an Al-Azhar Scholar and member of the Higher Council of Islamic Studies, agreed with the fatwa. According to El-Guindy, Islam does not distinguish between men and women. There is no way to tell whether a man is virgin, and therefore a woman should have the same right. As reported in Egypt’s Daily Star newspaper, according to El-Guindy, “Any man who is concerned about his prospective wife’s hymen should first provide proof that he himself is virgin.”

According to the same article, the Grand Mufti not only approved hymen reconstruction, but he also said that women who undergo this surgery before marriage do not have to tell their future husbands, since this is not a question of honesty. The rationale, as presented on Dar Al-Ifta’s website cited above, is that a basic principle of Shari’a is to cover up sins to protect reputations. Gomaa also said that if a married woman had a sexual intercourse with another man and subsequently regretted and repented, she does not have to tell her future husband about it. The purpose, according to Gomaa, is to protect her family and avoid divorce.