A controversy among American Muslims is raising the question of how authority is delegated in the diverse Islamic community.
The controversy surrounds Shaykh Kabbani, leader of the Washington-based Islamic Supreme Council (ISC), who stated in an address at the U.S. State Department last year that many American Muslim groups had connections with terrorist groups, or were silent about such ties among their fellow believerss [see February ’99 RW for more on this issue].
The statement set off a firestorm of protest in the Muslim community, accusing Kabbani and his council of disloyalty and contributing to anti-Islamic stereotypes. A petition of Islamic organizations protesting and calling for a boycott on Kabbani and his followers was put on the Internet and published in the Muslim Observer newspaper. This kind of boycott and condemnation is traditionally known as a “fatwa” in Islamic practice, but making such a ruling in the U.S. is problematic, according to an article in The Muslim magazine (Fall), which is published by the ISC.
The magazine found that no scholarly or professional association of Muslims claimed credit for the fatwah, but rather it was initiated by an aggrieved pharmaceutical engineer in northern California and taken up by others on the Internet. The magazine quotes a Washington Post article on the new influence of “cyber-fatwahs.” “Once Muslims seeking muftis–Islamic legal experts–would have had to travel from village to village to find wise and respected folk.
The muftis . . . would sit face to face with questioners issuing fatwas. These were legal opinions on questions that came up in everyday life . . . But to get one [fatwa] today, Muslims can just surf and click . . . A whole World Wide Web of cyber-fatwas appears, including those laid down by respected muftis from Egypt, some iconoclasts with no credentials at all and a few younger hipper alternative muftis like Khan with Islamic legal backgrounds but without official titles.”
(The Muslim, P.O. Box 1065, Fenton, MI 48430)