Thursday 9 October 2008 (09 Shawwal 1429)

      Death to Mickey Mouse!
      Abeer Mishkhas | [EMAIL PROTECTED] 
      A sheikh was recently on Al-Majd TV and spoke in great detail about rats. 
He went on and on about how bad rats and mice are, listing all the benefits 
gained by eliminating them. I don't know how informative that section of the 
sheikh's talk was but I am sure most people who were watching the program were 
either not listening or shaking their heads in disbelief. But the talk did not 
end with any obvious statements of harm caused by rats and mice; the sheikh 
continued by denouncing the fact that children these days are not getting the 
message about mice and rats because they have been influenced by Western 
cartoons that represent mice as funny and clever. Think Tom and Jerry and 
Mickey Mouse. To conclude and drive his point home he said, "They like Mickey 
Mouse whereas in reality Mickey Mouse should be killed." Thus ended the talk, 
and although it was as absurd as can be, it seems that such talks have become a 
normal thing on TV these days. As satellite channels proliferate, they pack 
their broadcasts with as much as they can of what they feel will attract 
viewers and religious programs are sure winners, especially in Ramadan.

      The problem lies not only with the channels. Many of the programs often 
depend on people's calls and questions. Those questions can vary from asking 
for advice about a religious duty to asking the sheikh's opinion on any subject 
under the sun - hence the mouse question. On a panel of women scholars on an 
Egyptian channel last week, one of the interesting things the three women 
agreed upon was that some people ask for scholars' opinions on almost anything, 
whether it is a worthy matter or just a mundane everyday triviality. I have to 
say that those women's opinions were refreshing. They wanted people to stick to 
major, sensible and important issues. Which brings us back to the death 
sentence against Mickey Mouse.

      This was not the first - and will not be the last - of verdicts that will 
make us question the person who issues it, or the stream of religious verdicts 
that almost everyone comes up with everyday and which have to be countered with 
questions, debates and discussions. We cannot just sit and listen and accept 
anything. When people hear these opinions, they rightly ask and question and 
criticize if need be. That is what reason dictates and it in no way contradicts 
faith. But this is not what a prominent Saudi scholar said last week. He 
actually demanded that journalists and writers who criticize or object to 
prominent Saudi scholars' pronouncements and fatwas be punished, and eventually 
sacked from their jobs. The punishment he asks for ranges from lashes to long 
imprisonment to firing them from their jobs. 

      I certainly understand that if a writer has insulted or lied about a 
sheikh or any other person, he must face the legal consequences of his actions. 
The offended party has the right to sue the offender and this is how it should 
be. But what the sheikh has asked for is simple punishment for even criticizing 
and questioning the opinions of religious scholars. With all due respect to the 
sheikh, I beg to differ. Criticism and debate does not mean that writers are 
crossing any lines; writers and journalists are citizens and are affected - 
like everyone else - by religious discourse, and if they choose to discuss a 
religious issue, or differ with a scholar that does not warrant that they be 
lashed, imprisoned or lose their jobs.

      This kind of hasty judgment reminds us that what we really miss in Saudi 
Arabia is the ability to discuss matters, and to have the right to disagree if 
we think differently on issues being discussed. And as a reminder we mention a 
small incident from Islamic history. When the second caliph, Omar, said in one 
of his sermons that women should not ask for high dowries, a woman who was 
present raised her voice and disagreed with him and provided proof from the 
Qur'an in support of women's rights for dowries. What did Omar do? He 
acknowledged his mistake in front of everyone. Just a reminder! 

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