Monday, April 10, 2006

Fatwa: Statues are "un-Islamic".



CAIRO: A fatwa issued by Egypt’s top religious authority which forbids the display of statues has art-lovers fearing it could be used by Islamic extremists as an excuse to destroy Egypt’s historical heritage.
Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, the country’s top Islamic jurist, issued the religious edict which declared as un-Islamic the exhibition of statues in homes, basing the decision on texts in the hadith (sayings of the prophet).
Intellectuals and artists argue that the decree represents a setback for art—a mainstay of the multi-billion-dollar tourist industry—and would deal a blow to the country’s fledgling sculpture business.
The fatwa did not specifically mention statues in museums or public places, but it condemned sculptors and their work.
Still, many fear the edict could prod Islamic fundamentalists to attack Egypt’s thousands of ancient and pharaonic statues on show at tourist sites across the country.
“We don’t rule out that someone will enter the Karnak temple in Luxor or any other pharaonic temple and blow it up on the basis of the fatwa,” Gamal al-Ghitani, editor of the literary Akhbar al-Adab magazine, told AFP.
Gomaa had pointed to a passage from the hadith that stated: “Sculptors would be tormented most on Judgment Day,” saying the text left no doubt that sculpting was “sinful” and using statues for decorating homes forbidden.
Gomaa’s ruling overturned a fatwa issued more than 100 years ago by then moderate and highly respected mufti Mohammed Abdu, permitting the private display of statues after the practice had been condemned as a pagan custom.
Abdu’s fatwa had “closed the issue, as it ruled that statues and pictures are not haram (forbidden under Islam) except idols used for worship,” Ghitani pointed out.
Novelist Ezzat al-Qamhawi said Gomaa’s ruling would “return Muslims to the dark ages.”
Movie director Daud Abdul Sayed said the fatwa “simply ignored the spiritual evolvement of Muslims since the arrival of Islam . . . Clearly, it was natural that they forbid statues under early Islam because people worshipped them.
“But are there Muslims worshipping statues nearly 15 centuries later?” he asked.
The notion sounds “ridiculous,” Yussef Zidan, director of the manuscript museum at the prestigious Bibliotheca Alexandrina, told AFP.
“Why would anyone even bring up the issue (of the statues) in a country where there are more than 10 state-owned institutions that teach sculpting and more than 20 others that teach the history of art?”
Ghitani added: “It’s time for those placing impediments between Islam and innovation to get out of our lives.”
The wave of criticisms against the fatwa has put clerics on a collision course with intellectuals and artists, who say that such edicts only reinforce claims— particularly in the West—that Islam is against progress.