How much does a fatwa cost? The question should be spiritual, but last week an Indian TV channel aired footage of several Indian Muslim clerics allegedly taking bribes from undercover reporters for issuing the edicts. Among the fatwas bought (for as little as $22) were decrees saying Muslims may not use credit cards or double beds. One cleric issued a fatwa in support of watching TV; another wrote one against.
The cash-for-fatwas scandal has renewed debate on what a fatwa is. Scholars should use the edicts to clarify Islamic law in reply to believers' questions. Many Muslims argue fatwas are misused and misunderstood, and not just by non-Muslims, who usually think of them as calls for the death of alleged blasphemers like Salman Rushdie.
India's Muslim leaders plan to create a body to monitor new fatwas. But Islam has no formal hierarchy or clergy. So who can stop someone from issuing--or buying--a fatwa against the fatwa police?