Is Local Islam Different than Global Islam?

by Sharif Gindy, Ph.D.

In the aftermath of Dr. Shah’s e-mail exchange, one claim kept resurfacing: Fatwas from the Middle East or Indo-Pak countries do not apply in the United States. In other words, Islam in the United States and Islam in other countries around the world are not consistent.

This claim sounded foreign to my Islamic training and probably did to others as well. This is a dangerous precedent to set, but level headedness warrants some reflection on this viewpoint.

A well-known principle in Islam is that “necessities dictate exceptions.” That is, overwhelming circumstances may temporarily allow a prohibited act. The role of a fatwa is to assess these circumstances and decree whether they warrant an exception, while the rule remains unchanged everywhere else.

A case in point may clarify this concept. No one will seek a scholar’s opinion as to whether wine is permitted or not. But a desert farer may seek a fatwa about drinking some fermented juice he had for several days, if he were to otherwise perish of dehydration. His question is not whether intoxicating juice is permitted, but rather whether it is appropriate as an alternative to losing his life. So the rule remains the same, whether the circumstances justify the exception is the core of the question. So one does not seek a fatwa to find out if something is halal or not. One seeks the fatwa knowing that it is haram, but asking whether the circumstances allow a rukhsah or not. Obviously, the scholar sought for this opinion must be familiar with the environment in which he is giving the opinion.

With this in mind, I went searching for fatwas on line to substantiate what is stated above. Of course, my interest was in the area of converting a masjid into other uses.

It was an eye opening search. The findings were astounding to say the least. Here are some highlights with appropriate references. Arabic cases were translated and summarized for space purposes.

Case I

A community in Atlantic City, USA, found themselves in a very peculiar situation as they looked to expand. City ordinance changes prompted a company to purchase all of the properties surrounding the masjid to build a gambling casino. They could either stay at their current site, face an acute shortage of parking spaces, plus deal with the environment accompanying gambling next door OR they could accept an offer for five times the value of their property and move to a much larger site that would provide for a larger center and a badly needed school. They were perplexed and sought a fatwa asking whether they could abandon the masjid under these circumstances.

Despite the temptations of a larger facility in a cleaner environment and more money than they could ever dream of collecting, their only question was, “Are we allowed from a Sharia point of view to abandon the masjid due to the bad environment?”

One should take his hat off to such leadership.


Case II

The Dubai Fatwa Administration received this query: A new masjid is built to replace the old one. Can the old one be changed to other Islamic venues? The Fatwa Administration not only rejected this action, but also chastised them for not including the old masjid in the expansion plan so that the old masjid could continue to be used as a masjid.


Case III

A masjid was built on a piece of land endowed for that purpose. The community wanted to build a second floor and use it as a school. The fatwa here too deemed this undoable.


Case IV

A man living in Jeddah S.A. on the second floor of a building where a masjid occupies the first floor asked the minister of Hajj if this is allowed. The answer was that it is not allowed unless the intention to commission the masjid was subsequent to the man living there.

Case V

A large piece of land was endowed for a masjid. The question was whether a school could be built on part of this property to avoid sending the community’s children to Christian schools. The answer was if the whole property was endowed for a masjid, a school is NOT allowed on it.


Case VI

And finally, a question was asked about a city trying to acquire a piece of land from a parcel endowed for a masjid to widen a road. The answer was to disallow such acquisition unless under severe need and if the benefit for the general public cannot be fulfilled any other way.


From all these cases, the answer is the same: once a masjid is built or even a piece of land is endowed for a masjid, no schools, roads, etc. are allowed on it. Its parable is that of a slave who has been freed. It was allocated to Allah, and cannot be taken back, sold, divided, or recommissioned.

The one factor that one should not forget in all of these cases is that in all situations, the questioner understood that it was not allowed, but wanted to know if his specific situation allowed for an exception.

Islam is the same everywhere, fatwas are universal (global).

The question remains: What dire circumstances are we facing that require us to change our 30-year-old masjid into a social hall?


5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Anonymous X on October 25, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    It really does make us wonder why our ‘leaders’ wouldn’t have done at least an internet search. How can our place of prayer be taken so lightly? How can ‘leaders’ of a religious institution be so careless about religious matters? This is frightening.


  2. Posted by Momin on October 26, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    One should still thank Allah that they are confining religion inside the political boundaries and still don’t have the courage to say that “these are 1400 year old teachings how can they be practiced in 21st century”.
    Though it is the part of our belief that Prophet Mohammad (Sallallaho alaeehi wasallam) brought the final messege from Allah (SWT) and it is practically good till the day of QIYAMAH.
    May ALLAH give them the guidance .


  3. Posted by Anonymous X on October 26, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    to Momin – The Trustees letter said that a ‘dear and knowledgeable scholar’ explaind to them that the fiqh of 300 years ago in the Indian subcontinent would ban repurposing the masjid because Hindus/polytheists might take over a masjid (from a Muslim minority) and use it for their purposes. How is that fiqh not relevant to us today? Is America suddenly a Muslim-majority country now? would an empty or defunct masajid be wholesomely preserved? That masjid in Atlantic city might say otherwise. A lot of masajid that are being pressured by their non-Muslim neighbors may also say otherwise.

    One of the best things about Islam is that it does not need to change with the times, it is for all time. So why would anyone pretend that Islam isn’t ‘up to date’? And, sometimes, even fiqh answers that may seem ‘bizarre’ or ‘backward’ to ‘modern thinking people’ turn out to have more wisdom than those people could’ve imagined. I heard that when tv was new, the ulema felt it could be a threat (maybe even the one-eyed Djjal), but people pressed on with that new ‘innovation’. Though tv does have some positive aspects, over time we have seen it erode social morals and desensitize violence and sexuality. “modern thinking’ isn’t always sensitive to the future.


  4. Posted by Momin on October 26, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    Agreed to you br .I was trying to say the same thing:-)


  5. Posted by Second on October 27, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    For the people of our community ,leaders like these are perfect because the ladies make fun of head scarves ,men make fun of religious scholars and religious practices .For them masjid is a place where they socialize and not a place for worship and respect .


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