When the Qur’an was being revealed it was assumed that all Muslims will read Qur’an to seek guidance for their problems and hence no class of priesthood was needed. But when Islam spread far and wide and Muslims speaking different languages entered the fold of Islam, particularly from Iran, Central Asia, India and China, they could not do so as Qur’an was in Arabic and they did not know that language and hence they needed help of experts and Islamic scholars.

Thus they approached Islamic experts who came to be known as Ulama with their questions and the Ulama would seek for answers from Qur’an and hadith with their own interpretations and also in the light of their own cultural background. These answers began to be compiled and the Ulama of later generations would refer to these compilations to answer similar questions.

This is how the institution of fatwas came into existence. Thus fatwa (plural fatawa was the opinion given in the form of answer to a question or series of questions by a layman. Though earlier Ulama were more creative and tried to exercise their brain but later ones only followed their predecessor. The later generations of Ulama simply refereed to these texts evolved by their predecessors in answering the questions.

They hardly bothered to apply their minds and not only that they simply referred to the texts of the schools of law they belonged to i.e. Hanafi, Shafi’I, Maliki, Hanbali or Ja’fari and so on. Such fatwas contributed to making the Islamic society stagnant and created difficulties in bringing about creative e and much needed social change. To this day the fatwas issued in medieval ages are referred to answer modern day problems.  For example in an answer to the question that if a father jokingly says to father of a son that I give my daughter in nikah to your son, will nikah take place? The answer given by Darul Ulum Deoband was yes, nikah shall take place (quoting (Durrul Mukhtar – Bab al-Nikah). This fatwa was issued in 20th century.

Thus one can understand what kind of fatwas is issued by our such important centres of learning. Here we want to discuss a fatwa recently issued by some Muftis of Saudi Arabia in view of rebellion taking place in the Arab world. These muftis have said that the rebellion is haram as it is taking place against a properly constituted authority and it is western conspiracy. Obviously, the rebellion is against the Saudi monarchy and hence the official muftis obliged the Saudi Monarch without caring how ridiculous the fatwa is even from Islamic point of view.

Let us examine the content of this fatwa and its implications for the Arab world. Before we proceed further it should be noted that throughout history of Islamic regimes two types of Ulama were associated with them i.e. Ulam-i-su’ (false Ulama who issued fatwas to suit ruler’s interests) and Ulama-i-Haq i.e. true Ulama who issued fatwas As per Islamic teachings without caring for the consequences like Imam Abu Hanifa and others and even refused to assume the office of qazi for fear of being compelled to issue such fatwas.

But Among Ulama-i-Haq also there were many who took very static view of society and continued to issue fatwas as per earlier texts without taking in view changes taking place around them. And as per Ulama-i-su’ there has been no dearth of such Ulama. The Ulama of Saudi monarchy who issued the above fatwa cannot be Ulama-i-Haq, in any case. They have just catered to the interests of monarchy.

Let us take into account the basic principles involved here and what Qur’an has to say about it. No one would disagree that Qur’an stands for just rule and strongly disapproves of oppression, exploitation and corruption. Also, Qur’an has made it abundantly clear that its sympathies are with what it calls mustad’ifun (weaker sections) and it denounces (mustakbirun (the powerful and the oppressors).

Thus we can easily conclude that Qur’an, in today’s terminology stands for just governance and opposes oppressors and corrupt rulers and if ruler is otherwise people have right to change it peacefully. Qur’an also opposes giving bribes (suhut) and prohibits it. What has happened in Morocco and Egypt and what is happening in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria is a democratic process of peaceful opposition to corrupt dictatorships.

The rulers in these countries have been self appointed dictators, monarchs and sheikhs and what is worse they were utterly corrupt and ruthlessly suppressed any peaceful opposition. Even the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) was asked to consult his people in secular matters (shawirhum – i.e. consult them). When the Prophet of Allah (PBUH) has been asked to consult people in secular matters who are these corrupt rulers to deny any democratic processes and ruthlessly suppress them, if they demanded transparency and democracy in governance?

These Ulama can argue that in medieval ages many Ulama had opined that dictatorship and oppressed ruler is preferable to anarchy. It is true but then this opinion was expressed when there was always a danger of outsiders attacking and taking over. Here there is no such danger whatsoever at all. It is people of the country themselves who are trying to overthrow corrupt rulers and replacing them with just and democratic ones. Instead of anarchy it would result in better governance Qur’an itself is asking for.

The Ulama need to free themselves from medieval text and adopt Qur’anic values and learn more about changes taking place around them. Their fatwas will be more relevant.