Update: Further research showed there was no validity to the claim that Egypt was considering a "sex after death" law. I followed up with a piece on April 30.
Today, Egypt's state-owned Al Ahram newspaper published an opinion piece by Amr Abdul Samea, a past stalwart supporter of the deposed Hosni Mubarak, that contained a bombshell: Egypt's parliament is considering passing a law that would allow husbands to have sex with their wives after death.
It was soon mentioned in an English language version of Al-Arabiya and immediately started zipping around social-networking sites. By this afternoon it had set news sites and the rest of the Internet on fire. It has every thing: The yuck factor, "those creepy Muslims" factor, the lulz factor for those with a sick sense of humor. The non-fact-checked Daily Mail picked it up and reported it as fact. Then Andrew Sullivan, who has a highly influential blog but is frequently lax about fact-checking, gave it a boost with an uncritical take. The Huffington Post went there, too.
There's of course one problem: The chances of any such piece of legislation being considered by the Egyptian parliament for a vote is zero. And the chance of it ever passing is less than that. In fact, color me highly skeptical that anyone is even trying to advance a piece of legislation like this through Egypt's parliament. I'm willing to be proven wrong. It's possible that there's one or two lawmakers completely out of step with the rest of parliament. Maybe.
But extreme, not to mention inflammatory claims, need at minimum some evidence (and I've read my share of utter nonsense in Al Ahram over the years). The evidence right now? Zero.
There was a Moroccan cleric a few years back who apparently did issue a religious ruling saying that husbands remained married to their wives in the first six hours after death and, so, well, you know. But that guy is far, far out on the nutty fringe. How fringe? He also ruled that pregnant women can drink alcohol. Remember, alcohol is considered haram, forbidden, by the vast majority of the world's Muslim scholars. Putting an unborn child at risk to get drunk? No, that's just not what they do. Whatever the mainstream's unpalatable beliefs (there are plenty from my perspective) this isn't one of them.
It's important to remember that the structure of the Muslim clergy is, by and large, like that of a number of Protestant Christian sects. Anyone can put out a shingle and declare themselves a preacher. The ones to pay attention to are the ones with large followings, or attachment to major institutions of Islamic learning. The preacher in Morocco is like the preacher in Florida who spent so much time and energy publicizing the burning of Qurans.
Stories like this are a reminder of the downside of the Internet. It makes fact-checking and monitoring easier. But the proliferation of aggregation sites, newsy blog sites, and the general erosion of editorial standards (and on-the-ground reporters to do the heavy lifting) also spreads silliness faster than it ever could before.