What the fatwā?

Over the past months the issues surrounding the Iranian nuclear program has been the highlight in Middle Eastern news. Yet one issue was discussed during a lecture on Iran: do fatawā, more specifically the fatwā that the supreme ruler of Iran devised, have credence.

A fatwā is an Islamic pronouncement, which is issued by clerks or mufti, which pertain to a specific issues that are or are not in correlation to Sharia law. A fatwā is not a binding law and is only applicable to those of the Muslin faith, and according to the Islamic Supreme Council of America – a fatwā is optional for the individual to respect or not.

If this is the stance on fatawā then how can the supreme leader of Iran reassure the UN that their endeavors in relation to the nuclear program are for the purpose of ‘peaceful’ study only? The US and the UN do not have immediate concern that Iran will produce WMD’s, as it has been proven that it would take over 6 months for Iran to produce the uranium needed. However it is interesting that Obama has repeated that the supreme ruler ‘promised’ that a fatwā was issued and Iran would not create WMD’s.

Of course there are more legalities to this issue than the reliance of a fatwa however I found it concerning that such a reliance was placed on fatawā and so I have endeavored to provide research on the issues of fatawā and their validity. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in 2012, stated that “The Islamic Republic—logically, religiously and theoretically—considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous” and he proposed the idea of a Middle East free of nuclear weapons, with Iran being committed to this goal. However there has been debate as to if the supreme leader actually issued an official fatwā in regards to the nuclear program and WMD’s.

To complicate the issue further, is the notion that a fatwā can be withdrawn. In an interesting turn of events, a fatwā was issued in Australia which stated that it was a sin to celebrate Christmas. This fatwā was removed shortly after it was issued. In more serious events, the fatwā which was issued on Salman Rushdie, which was withdrawn in 1998 by Iranian president Mohammad Khatami was reissued in 2012. These examples show that in some instances a fatwā can be withdrawn or reinstated. If a withdrawal is possible what is stopping the Iranian supreme leader from withdrawing his fatwā on nuclear weapons? As the US seems to be basing most of its peace negotiations on the providence of this fatwā.

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