As part of a plan to fight the uncontrolled influx of religious edicts, the Algerian Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs launched an online fatwa bank that covers the most common issues that preoccupies Muslims.
The recent prevalence of T.V. shows that issue fatwas to callers inquiring about a variety of issues, also called 'satellite fatwas,' raised concerns in the Algerian government about unqualified clerics who issue controversial edicts that often confuse Muslims and at times might incite sedition.
The idea of the online bank came to Algerian Minister of Religious Affairs Bou Abdullah Ghlamallah when he watched one of the religious shows, said ministry spokesman Edda Falahi.
According to Falahi, a woman called the cleric hosted in one of the shows and asked if she could stay with her smoker husband and the cleric issued a fatwa that sanctions divorce if the husband does not quit.
"The minister did not like the fatwa since smoking might not be preferable in Islam, but it should not be the reason for divorce," Falahi told Al Arabiya.
The new website is divided into 25 sections that cover the issues about which Muslims usually inquire when they seek fatwas from clerics hosted in T.V. shows. These include prayer, alms, inheritance, marriage, and ethics.
Mufti position controversy
It is noteworthy that five years have passed since the proposal to hire a mufti for Algeria was frozen.
Several media outlets argued that the reason for the freezing was a dispute between Ghlamallah and Dr. Bou Omran al-Sheikh, head of the Supreme Islamic Council, about the authorities of the mufti and whether he will be affiliated to the Ministry of religious Affairs.
The importance of having a mufti for Algeria started emerging with the political turmoil that swept the country in the early 1990s.
Amongst the most common controversies at the time was the abortion of women taken hostage by militant groups and which was sanctioned by the Supreme Islamic Council.
Fatwas the reoccupy Algerians in general include the woman's right to marry without a guardian, organ transplants, cloning, and non-Islamic banking.
According to statistics issued in 2007, the Ministry of Religious Affairs receives more than 2,500 fatwa inquiries per week from both organizations and individuals whether via mail or phone or personal meetings between clerics and inquirers.
(Translated from the Arabic by Sonia Farid)