"We have to be clear what is at stake here…When each and every person's unqualified opinion is considered a fatwa, we lost a tool that is of the utmost importance to rein in extremism and preserve the flexibility and balance of Islamic law."

— Sheikh Ali Gomaa, Egypt's Grand Mufti (or Muslim cleric holding the highest official post for Islamic law) quoted in today’s New York Times article about the problems arising from the proliferation of fatwas, or non-binding legal opinions.

The article highlights two highly publicized and amusingly embarrassing fatwas about urine drinking and breast feeding, but it does point to a significant issue: the decentralized nature of authority in Islamic law and a proliferation  helped by technology such as the Internet, phones, and satellite television  of fatwas, many of which typically concern mundane questions that arise in quotidian life about what is appropriate and in accordance with Islamic law. What the article neglects to sufficiently underscore, however, is the fact that there has always been a wealth of legal opinions in the field of Islamic law  the quantity of fatwas should not, in themselves, be alarming. Rather, what is newer and more relevant is the proliferation of new religious authorities in societies where, as the proportion of individuals receiving a traditional religious education declines, the criteria by which to judge a religious authority can be blurred, unclear, or insufficiently scrutinized.

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