Wednesday 25 February 2009 (01 Rabi` al-Awwal 1430) What is tolerant Islam? Muhammad Al-Herfi | Okaz Many people were very happy about the changes recently made in the Council of Senior Scholars. Many also expected to see drastic changes in the nature of the council's work and the decisions that it might make. I said in a previous article that change itself is a legitimate and important demand. I also said that the infusion of new blood into any organ would help develop that organ, particularly when this new blood is qualified and able to give and take. Some writers who wrote about the changes in the council said the entry of new scholars following different schools of Islamic thought would enable the council to make more tolerant decisions. The council was established in 1971 by a royal decree, which authorized it to seek the help of non-Saudi scholars whenever necessary. From its very beginning the council included scholars who did not belong to the Hanbali school - such as Sheikh Abdul Raziq Afifi who was Hanafi, Sheikh Muhammad Al-Shinkiti who was Maliki and Sheikh Abdul Majeed Hassan who was Shafie. This diversification of schools has been recognized in the composition of the new council. So the inclusion of different religious schools on the council was not something new. Apart from the diversification and its importance, two council members - Sheikh Abdullah bin Manie and Sheikh Saad Al-Shithri - have repeatedly asserted that the council was not at all inclined toward a particular school and its members were open to the opinions of other schools. They were also open to the use of the ijtihad (the process of making legal decisions by independent interpretation of the Qur'an and the Sunnah) of other scholars in order to make correct fatwas (religious rulings). Talk about "tolerant Islam" preoccupies the minds of many people. This talk has increased tremendously with the new council, particularly by people who have been looking to the council to find them a tolerant Islam. I do not think there is anyone who does not like tolerance. The very essence of Islam is its tolerance, flexibility and good will. This, however, needs more detail and explanation. The question I would like to put to our scholars: Is there a tolerant Islam and another intolerant one? What are the specifications and features of each? It is difficult for me to count the differences of opinions between Muslims. There are points of difference on music, singing, theater, cinema, mixing between the sexes in schools and work places, the uncovering of the face and so on. When there are controversial issues, we find people talking about tolerant and intolerant Islam. Can our scholars give us accurate Islamic rulings that each one of us should follow? It is imperative for the council's members to be fully acquainted with new and contemporary developments in politics, sociology, culture and others in order to be able to issue correct rulings. They should seek the help of specialists and experts in politics, sociology, science, medicine and other fields of knowledge that may constitute a part of the subject they are discussing. The council should also increase the number of its meetings. At present, it meets twice a year, which is not enough for it to tackle all the issues before it.