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EGYPT: Al Azhar denies Facebook fatwa

February 7, 2010 |  7:35 am

Azhar-view

Facebook may lead to sexual liaisons and illicit affairs, but Al Azhar's Islamic Research Academy has refuted reports that its fatwa committee issued a ruling against the social network.   

"The committee hasn’t issued any decrees regarding Facebook," said Sheikh Saied Amer, head of the academy's fatwa, or religious-edict, committee. "We haven’t even had any inquiries about the religious legitimacy of using it or not."

Al Azhar is the most influential Sunni Islamic institution in the world, supervising an Islamic university and handing down fatwas to guide Muslims in their religion, behavior and rituals.

News of a fatwa against Facebook spread across the Egyptian and Arab media after a report in London's Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper Thursday quoted the former head of the fatwa committee, Sheik Abdul Hamid Atrash, as saying the website was harmful to Islamic societies because it increased illicit relations between unmarried men and women.

Al Quds Al Arabi said Atrash's fatwa was based on a survey conducted by the Egyptian National Council for Social and Criminal Research, whose results showed that one in five Egyptian divorces was caused by infidelity with a partner found through Facebook.

According to the survey, Facebook has made it easier for lonely, bored men and women to find a partner and form a relationship outside marriage.

Atrash, however, followed up on his comments a few days later, stressing that he didn’t even know how Facebook operated.

"I didn’t ask people to stop using Facebook. All I said was that new media is a double-edged weapon,"  Atrash stressed. "The fatwa I issued was that people can only use the Internet to benefit from it in their work and life, whereas they're forbidden from using pornography or websites that promote illicit relations."

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Al Azhar mosque in Cairo. Credit: Reuters

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