Egypt’s Dar al-Ifta Targets Social Media and Reality TV

In the wake of the advance of the Islamic State of Syria and al-Sham (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, Egypt’s Dar al-Ifta has been focused on a campaign combating extremism. Dar al-Ifta, the religious institution, has called on international media to stop referring to the extremist group as the Islamic State, and aims to “promote the true image of Islam. At the same time, issues closer to home have resulted in a series of fatwas and recommendations from the religious body, banning online chatting between strangers, as well as calling for a ban on a belly dancing reality TV show.

On Saturday, Dar al-Ifta issued a fatwa prohibiting online chatting between men and women. According to Ahram Online, the ban would prohibit chatting between men and women who are “foreign to each other,” except in cases that necessitate it. Dar al-Ifta said chatting is “frivolous, evil and open the door for the devil, corruption and Fetna (a disorder that can cause wrong temptations).”  In the same edict, Dar al-Ifta also forbade women from sending photos of themselves to strangers. While the edict was widely criticized on social media, it was welcomed by the Salafist Call.

On Monday, Dar al-Ifta said the fatwa was taken out of context, with secretary of edicts at Dar al-Ifta Magdi Ashour saying, “It is a great scientific and professional error to take this incident out of its special context and generalize it on matters perceived similar without referring to experts,” according to Ahram Online.  According to Shorouk, however, the fatwa was deleted from the Dar al-Ifta website, and is believed to have first been issued four years ago. 

This is not the first time in the past year that Egyptian authorities have targeted online communication. The ministry of interior has been cracking down on Facebook users, arresting administrators of Facebook pages critical of the government. They have faced a range of charges from inciting violence to blasphemy. In June, an Egyptian court sentenced a Facebook user to six years in prison on charges of blasphemy for liking a Facebook page.

On Wednesday, Dar al-Ifta also called for a ban on a new reality TV competition for belly dancers.  It described the show as “obscene,” saying it was part of a “campaign to destroy the moral system of the religious Egyptian people.” It also said “extremists who could use [it] to reinforce the idea that society opposes religion.”

Dar al-Ifta has been particularly vocal on the topic of extremism in light of an ongoing offensive by the militant group, the Islamic State of Syria and al-Sham (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria. Dar al-Ifta launched a campaign calling on international media to refrain from using the name “Islamic State,” and referring to them instead as al-Qaeda separatists to “disassociate Islam from their heinous acts of terrorism.” It is also publishing an encyclopedia to “promote the true image of Islam.” The institution has been particularly critical of Western media, accusing it of serving terrorism, by portraying the conflict with terrorists as a war between east and west. By doing so, Dar al-Ifta, says the media aids militants and sends a negative message about Islam.