Saudi Arabia: King limits clerics who can issue fatwas



Saudi Arabia:
Saudi king limits clerics who can issue fatwas

After a Saudi cleric has declared that “there is no clear text or ruling in Islam that singing and music are haram or religiously forbidden” a decree sent by King Abdullahs office states that only senior Islamic clerics appointed by him can issue fatwas and religious rulings.

According to the decree, the limitation is necessary as many Islamic scholars and ordinary Imams have started issuing religious rulings and fatwas not only surpassing the authority of the country’s official religious bodies but also causing havoc and confusion amongst muslims, reported the Saudi Gazette.

King Abdullah’s decree came after several contradicting statements and fatwas issued by different scholars and imams in the past months have created confusion and uncertainty over who is eligible to issue such religious rulings, among these the question of whether music is allowed or forbidden according to Islam.

According to AFP News Agency, one of several controversies was sparked by the Saudi cleric Adel al-Kalbani of Riyadh when he declared:

“There is no clear text or ruling in Islam that singing and music are haram or religiously forbidden”.

However, in practice non-religious practice and performance of music in public continue to be banned in the ultra conservative kingdom.

As Saudi Arabia hosts some of Islam’s holiest shrines and respected clerics, fatwas and rulings issued by Saudi clerics are often followed and used as guidelines by other clerics in the Muslim world, reported Al Arabiya.

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Al Arabiya News Channel – 12 August 2010:

‘Saudi king limits clerics allowed to issue fatwas’

Financial Times – 13 August 2010:

‘Saudi king seeks to bring order to religious rulings’

AFP – 13 August 2010:

‘Saudi king says only senior clerics can issue fatwas’

Saudi Gazette – 14 August 2010:

‘King’s order on fatwas to ‘prevent confusion’

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Below are excerpts from some of the reviews of Shoot the Singer! Music Censorship Today – the first worldwide presentation of contemporary cases of music censorship.
Scroll down for full listing of media coverage.

“Even the most liberal commentators justify bans on songs that incite hatred. Yet as Freemuse notes, the simple truth is that when it comes to censorship, it doesn’t matter what you decide to ban. What counts is who gets to do the banning.”
The Times, 12 June 2004

“The book is a pragmatic primer about how music has been treated and mistreated in many localities. Music is variously referred to as “the soul of a culture,” the “essence of life,” a “communal basis for social relationships,” our “most essential cultural expression,” “freedom,” and a “sensual instrument of power.” While all those are hard to quantify, the responses to music by a range of would-be censors, be they police, clerics, generals, bureaucrats, broadcasters, or concert promoters, give eloquent testimony to the power they perceive in music. Shoot The Singer provides solid and insightful discussions of music as an element of culture across broad national and religious backgrounds.”
IASPM / The International Association for the Study of Popular Music, September 2004
(Read full review)

“This is non-fiction with a very human touch. There’s everything from the mayhem Paul Simon’s “Graceland” caused in South Africa, to the significance of Pink Floyd in Burma. There’s also an accompanying CD of banned music which provides a great feel for the issues.”
HK Magazine (Hong Kong), 23 July 2004

“Everyone knows that radical opinions, news reporting and photographs are near the top of the list of things that the public need to be protected from, but you might be surprised to find that music is up there too  (…)  In Shoot the Singer you will be taken on a world tour of music censorship. Find out why the legendary Thomas Mapfumo has had to leave Zimbabwe. Listen to the tale of a young white police conscript in apartheid South Africa who was forced to hunt down the radical musicians that he slowly grew to love.”
Bookmarks (UK), Summer 2004, issue 23

“You get a CD taped inside the back cover of this collection of essays about “Music Censorship Today”, so you can listen to the cheerful, plinky waltz-time Mexican song which bigs up Osama bin Laden for frightening the Americans and relates a remarkable scene in which George Bush’s wife tells him to go to Afghanistan and offer Bin Laden “your ass”. The book does not suggest that this particular song has been censored, but it does describe how Mexico has seen many efforts to stamp out undesirable examples of the tradition of corrida, a sort of musical newspaper.
Anyway, singer Andrés Contreras should read the chapter about Bin Laden’s Taliban mates, who banned all forms of music and burned musical instruments, before deciding whose side he’s on. Other stories relate censorship and victimisation of musicians in Lebanon, Zimbabwe and Burma, and a few sparks of hope, such as the gradual reappearance of women musicians in Iran.”
The Guardian, 21 August 2004

“…a bewildering account of music censorship throughout the world. Bewildering, because the reader wonders what fear and fury could drive the Taliban to cut the hands off anybody found with a cassette player or musical instrument? What is it in music that frightens totalitarians so much?”
Charlie Gillett (BBC), July 2004

“It goes without saying that every Songlines reader should be a Freemuse supporter.”
Songlines, July/August 2004

“Censorship is never pretty, especially during an election year. Nevertheless, the CD that accompanies the recently published Shoot the Singer! Music Censorship Today (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), two dozen essays collected by anticensorship activists Freemuse (, is a stunner. With a single notable exception, the consistently terrific tracks on the CD, by performers of Palestinian, Turkish, Mexican, and other origins, are linked by a common contrarian impulse — the kind that can frighten away potential venues and record companies, or get you exiled, thrown into prison or worse.”

e-music, September 2004  (Read full review)