Egypt's grand mufti issues fatwa: no sculpture
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Egypt is dotted with millennia worth of Pharaonic antiquities. Mohsen Said, of the country's Supreme Council for Antiquities, says, "We display statues so they can be studied and so people can get to know their heritage. This is Egypt's national heritage. We don't display them for worship."Skip to next paragraph
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But while artists and intellectuals called the Gomaa's ruling against sculptures "ridiculous" and "a return to the dark ages," several prominent sheikhs supported the mufti.
The influential Sheikh Youssef Al Qaradawi agreed that "Islam prohibits statues and three-dimensional figures of living creatures" and concluded that "the statues of ancient Egyptians are prohibited."
Artists say the ruling stems from a literal reading of religious texts, and worry that it may lead zealots to deface Egyptian's national monuments - much like the followers of the Taliban, who in 2001 infamously dynamited to dust two gigantic statues of the Buddha dating back to the 3rd and 5th centuries AD.
Ayman Semary, a sculptor and art professor, questions why Islamic leaders are only now banning such relics.
"I laughed when I read the paper" and saw the news of the fatwa, says Mr. Semary. "When Islam came to Egypt, [the Muslim invaders] never damaged any Pharaonic statues. How can Ali Gomaa now say that statues are forbidden?"
But in downtown Cairo, tourist shop owner Fathi Ibrahim says, "It's not my role to disagree with the mufti. Anything he says, we must obey."
However, Mr. Ibrahim contends that the mufti's fatwa may have been misunderstood, finding it hard to believe that his merchandise is "un-Islamic." After all, he says, "We're not selling statues for people to worship. They're just souvenirs."
As for Semary, he says he'll continue working as usual.
"I believe in God very much, maybe more than him [the mufti]," says the sculptor. "When I do statues, I'm very close to God. I will continue. I believe in what I do."
• July 6, 1959: Sunni clerics at Al-Azhar University issue a fatwa legitimizing Shiite Islamic beliefs: "The Jafari fiqh of the Shiite is a school of thought that is religiously correct to follow in worship as are other Sunni schools of thought."
• Feb. 14, 1989: Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issues a fatwa against British author Salman Rushdie for blaspheming against Islam in his novel "The Satanic Verses."
• Feb. 23, 1998: Osama bin Laden issues a joint fatwa with Ayman al-Zawahiri declaring it the duty of all Muslims to kill "the Americans and their allies."
• Sept. 12, 2002: Mohsen Mojtahed Shabestari, the spokesman of Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khameini, issues a fatwa calling for the death of Jerry Falwell for his statements against Islam.
• March 11, 2005: The Islamic Council of Spain issues a fatwa on the first anniversary of the Madrid train bombings accusing Osama bin Laden of apostasy. The Spanish clerics called it the first fatwa against Mr. bin Laden.
• Aug. 9, 2005: Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issues a fatwa against the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons. The fatwa is published in a press release from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
• Feb. 17, 2006: Pakistani cleric Mohammed Yousaf Qureshi announces a fatwa offering $250,000 to anyone who kills one of the cartoonists who first published caricatures of the prophet Muhammad in a Dutch newspaper in Sept. 2005.
Sources: Islamfortoday.com, aljazeera.com, christianitytoday.com, BBC, CNN, New York Times, AP