The Christians do it; the Jews do it; even the Muslims do it. Ask advice from their priests, rabbis, or imams. We no longer take every single word of the Bible, Torah, or Koran as Gospel. Sure, a few hundred years ago you could stone your neighbor to death for adultery, but nowadays, modern society does not take kindly to people who follow the Ten Commandments literally. Indeed, if we killed all the corporate execs who kept their businesses open on the Sabbath, we would have a pile of bodies so large that it would put Adolph Hitler to shame.
Of course, places like Pakistan and Iran still live in the most savage of dark ages, so when I say modern society, I am speaking about modern civilized, western society.
Living in modern times is difficult enough without bringing religion into the equation. For example, being an atheist, I would have very few questions about hiring a surrogate mother if my wife were unable to carry a baby to term. But suppose you and your wife are Jewish, and you plant a fertilized egg from both of you into a non-Jewish surrogate mother, the question is will the child still be Jewish? Answer: No [according to Rabbi Yisroel Finman of Ask a Rabbi]. The surrogate mother has to be Jewish as well.
What about masturbation, will you go to hell if you masturbate? Probably if you do it to strangers. OK, skip that answer.
But in all seriousness, religious people will find that modern life brings up situations that require an answer from some religious authority. For Muslims that authority comes from receiving a fatwa from an Imam (Fatwas are not just for killing infidels).
Breast Feeding Strangers Makes them Family
Take a recent case in Egypt: many unmarried men and women have to work together but the women have to be veiled which makes working very difficult. Egypt’s grand mufti, Sheik Ali Gomaa recently issued a fatwa that has caused quite a stir: "the restriction on unmarried men and women being together could be lifted at work if the woman breast-fed her male colleagues five times. This is based on early hadiths that allow unmarried men to view the faces of a woman who has breast-fed them."
Well, I have to tell you, before a woman breast feeds me I would like to see her face first. So I guess I would be in a classic catch-22.
Regardless, the Grand Mufti caught hell for that fatwa. Although this one made the headlines there are literally tens of thousands of fatwas each year issued in Egypt alone, almost all of them for mundane, routine questions of daily life.
But the abundance of fatwas has also led to problems:
The Free Republic,
A Compass That Can Clash With Modern Life
The controversy in Cairo has been more than just embarrassing. It comes at a time when religious and political leaders say that there is a crisis in Islam because too many fatwas are being issued, and that many of them rely on ideology more than learning.
The complaint has been the subject of recent conferences as government-appointed arbiters of Islamic standards say the fatwa free-for-all has led to the promotion of extremism and intolerance.
Sheikh Abdel Hamid Tantawy speaks with a
man at the Azhar Fatwa Committee inside of
Al Azhar Mosque in Cairo, one of two
authorized places in Egypt where Muslims
can go to seek out Fatwas.
Photo Credit: Shawn Baldwin for The NYTimes
What do you do when people want to leave your blessed lands?
Ummah News Links [now defunct blog],
9 Jun 2007,
Fatwa seeks to stem Muslim flight from PA
"We hereby declare that emigration from the blessed lands is not permitted according to religious law. The people living in these areas must remain in their homes and must not leave them to conquerors. Those who abide by this ruling will perform an honorable deed and will support the Aksa Mosque."
Even seemingly modern Islamic states can slip backwards.
Home of the Green Arrow,
12 Jun 2007,
Mad as Gibraltar Rock Apes
Kuwait, who gave women the vote in 2006 seems to be stepping back in time to regress to the level of the other ding bat Islamic Countries and has just announced a ban on women working in the evenings and nights.
For those of you who think I'm joking about the fatwa on breast-feeding of work colleagues, it made the front-page of the New York Times, no less (click on image for larger view):