بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
الحمد لله رب العالمين وصلى الله على سيدنا محمد وعلى آله وصحبه
والتابعين ومن تبعهم بإحسان إلى يوم الدين
Muslims today are very fortunate as they are able to refer to, and obtain guidance from, the vast repository of knowledge which has been passed down by scholars (‘ulamā) through their writings and opinions (ijtihād). In every aspect of life, a Muslim is able to receive guidance as outlined by scholars based on their views and in-depth analysis of the main religious textual sources i.e. the Qur’an and Sunnah (Prophetic tradition).
However, with the passing of time, new issues and questions which have not been specifically addressed in Muslim jurisprudence arise. In addition, there are specific questions and issues which individuals and families may encounter. In all these, appropriate solutions and guidance should be sought and offered so as to ensure that Muslims can confidently lead their religious lives. Therein lies the importance of the fatwa institution in guiding the community in overcoming life’s difficulties and challenges.
Throughout Islamic history, the ‘ulamā have devoted their attention to the preservation and development of the fatwa institution. They have produced countless research work and writings, through which they lay the foundations and establish the guidelines which are necessary to ensure that fatwa institutions remain credible.
Amongst the most important approaches that have been employed in achieving this objective is the alignment between the consideration and decision of any mufti or fatwa body, and the concept of public welfare known as maṣlaḥa. Another key instrument which is also central to the fatwa-issuing process is sadd al-dharā’i’, which closes the door that leads to harm or danger. These approaches will lead a mufti to consider the potential consequences of a ruling on individuals, families and societies. A mufti’s role is thus critical in weighing and assessing (muwāzanah) between benefit (maṣlaḥa) and harm (mafsada).
Nonetheless, the fatwa institution may still lose its integrity and relevance if such an evaluation takes place only at the point of fatwa issuance, without a continuous evaluation or review of the effects of any particular fatwa after its issuance. The experience of the Fatwa Committee in Singapore shows that in some circumstances, the outcome of a fatwa on society and individuals after it had been issued could diverge from what the Committee had anticipated. Among the examples is the fatwa on organ transplant. As you may read in this volume, the positions on organ transplant and donation were reviewed several times, the most recent being the inclusion of Muslims under HOTA in 2007.
It is vital that the process of reviewing fatwas such as this is recorded and studied comprehensively so that a legal and ethical framework which defines the standards and fatwa thinking process can be suggested for a wider application in field of iftā’ (fatwa making).
Although Singapore is relatively a small nation and the Muslim community forms a minority, I am of the view that the experience of its fatwa institution can, and should be, offered as a valuable contribution in enriching global discourse on Islamic law and fatwa research. This is especially given Singapore’s position as a nation at the forefront of biotechnological and biomedical research.
Many may not be aware that behind the biomedical industry’s eagerness to explore new areas of development, there have been lively debates on ethics, morality, as well as the value of life-related to the new technologies. This certainly has a considerable impact on the fatwa institution. The establishment of the Bioethics Advisory Committee is a testimony of this, and of Singapore’s commitment to weigh ethical demands amid the industry’s rapid development. The fatwa institution cannot stand idly by in these discussions as these too concern the Muslim community’s religious consciousness and practice.
If the fatwa institution does not keep track of such discussions and developments, it would not be able to comprehend or set relevant guidelines related to it. This will result in a Muslim community that is lacking in guidance, which may consequently affect the community’s participation in potentially-beneficial research that improves the quality of human life in general. At the same time, the fatwa institution must also ensure that it is fully aware of the complexities of the issues discussed, so as not to provide guidance which is based on inadequate knowledge and information. We cannot be an institution that, while not wanting to be an obstacle to development in this industry, ignore the moral and ethical guidelines set by Islamic law.
I humbly call upon fatwa institutions around the world to continue exchanging experiences which will enrich this field of research. This fatwa compilation series is an effort by the Fatwa Committee of Singapore towards that direction. Each analysis of fatwas included in this compilation series aims to describe the context and background behind the formulation of fatwas. It is also an effort that contributes to the ways in which `uruf or local customs and context can be applied as a key principle in the fatwa-making process.
It is my sincere hope that this publication will help readers understand the dynamism of a ruling behind a fatwa. It gives the community an opportunity to appreciate how Islamic legal thought must remain alive and relevant to deal with lived realities.
DR MOHAMED FATRIS BIN BAKARAM,
SOHIBUS SAMAHAH MUFTI,
CHAIRMAN OF THE FATWA COMMITTEE