Al-Arabiya is reporting that prominent members of the European Muslim Brotherhood are criticizing a new telephone “fatwa line” designed to bring British Muslims into contact with scholars from Egypt’s al-Azhar University. According to the report, Nuh al Qadri from the European Council for Fatwa and Research and Kamal Helbawy, a Muslim Brotherhood leader living in the U.K expressed concerns about the relevance of religious rulings issued by scholars living in the Middle East:
The world’s most popular Islamic hotline, the Egyptian based ‘dial-a-sheikh,’ is launching in Britain to help the nation’s 1.6 million Muslims deal with everyday dilemmas, but has some questioning the relevance of Middle Eastern-based fatwas to the realities of Muslim minorities in Europe. At just 75p (about $1) a minute, British Muslims will be able to access scholars from Egypt’s al-Azhar University through al-Hatef al-Islami helpline where they can call in and seek help with their daily problems. Callers will be able to speak to a sheikh, who is authorized to issue a fatwa, or religious ruling, about their problems and expect to receive an answer, using a pin code, within the next 48 hours of the call. The facility also includes email advice sent in English, Arabic and Urdu….Yet some scholars in Britain, who welcomed the initiative, nonetheless worried that fatwas and advice from sheikhs not based in Europe may lack the necessary cultural knowledge and understanding of European society and the challenges particular to the British context. “Fatwas or a religious ruling must always be based on the time and place in which the problem occurs,” Dr. Nuh al Qadri from the Dublin-based European Council for Fatwa and Research told Al Arabiya. “The person issuing the fatwa must therefore know what the reality of living in Britain for Muslims is like so that the answer given strikes a chord with them and suits their surroundings,” he explained.”Imam Shafi’i [one of the four main Sunni imams],for instance, gave different fatwas and legal opinions when he was in Iraq and Egypt, because the context of where he lived changed and therefore the application of Islam differed from place to place,” said al-Qadri….Dr. Kamal Helbawy, a Muslim Brotherhood member living in the U.K. concurred with al-Qadri and noted the cultural gap often found between imams imported from the Muslim world and the young Muslim congregants in Europe who associate more with their European surroundings than with their ethnic homelands. “The fatwa line is a good and well meaning initiative, but the question is how relevant and culturally aware will its advice be to the reality of Muslims in Europe, who constitute a religious minority not a majority like the sheikhs from Egypt who will be giving them advice,” Halbawy told Al Arabiya.
Ironically, the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR), the fatwa council for the European Muslim Brotherhood is led by two scholars living in Qatar and Lebanon and the organizational itself has a large number of members residing in Middle Eastern countries. According to a report from the NEFA Foundation, the ECFR was established by the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE), essentially the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe:
Perhaps the best known of the FIOE’s central institutions is the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR). The ECFR was established in March 1997 as a FIOE initiative and, according to an academic study, grew out of a history of attempts by the Muslim community to deal with issue of the presence of large numbers of Muslims in European countries. The study also states that the ECFR was “the realization of a wish” repeatedly expressed by Muslim Brotherhood leaders Youssef Qaradawi and Faysal Mawlawi, who were elected as Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the ECFR, positions they still hold today. Both men are living in the Middle East and not in Europe (Qatar/Lebanon). According to various ECFR membership lists, anywhere from 1/3 to almost 1/2 of the ECFR members were from non-European, mostly Middle Eastern countries, although the ECFR rules limit non-European membership to no more than 25%. As the same academic study explains: “This percentage has further increased in recent years as the leadership of the ECFR pursues a policy of inclusion of muftis based in the Muslim world, to prevent external criticism, rather than in Europe itself, where several tendencies, including the more modernist remain completely absent from the ECFR.”
It would appear that the criticism directed against the proposal, in fact, represents rivalry between Al-Azhar and the Brotherhood rather than any genuine concern about the location of the scholars.