The Warped Economics of Fatwa:
Demand Creates Its OWN Supply

Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq

[Originally published in Weekly Holiday, April 12, 2002
VOL XXXVII No. 35]

Fatwa is one of the handful of Islamic terminologies that the Western world has recently learned and has had to contend with. The (in)famous Fatwa of Ayatullah Khomeini against the novelist Salman Rushdie, for the novel Satanic Verses, was a special turning point. Since then, the issue of Fatwa has garnered much attention in both the Muslim world and the West. Although no other work like Satanic Verses, its author Salman Rushdie, and the issuer of Fatwa, Ayatullah Khomeini, has reached similar global attention, every now and then some smaller cases of Fatwa turn up and rekindle our interest.

One such case is of Khalid Duran, the allegedly German-born author, who now lives in America and is being promoted as “An American Rushdie” [July 4, 2001] by Islamophobic authors such as Daniel Pipes. The article of Daniel Pipes about Khalid Duran was published in the website of GAMLA, a Jewish organization, whose stated goal is: “to teach the importance of the Golan, Judea, Samaria and the Gaza strip, for the survival of the Israeli nation in the Land of Israel.”

Khalid Duran is the author of Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Islam for Jews, a book sponsored by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in 2001, with the goal to deepen "understanding and mutual respect between Muslims and Jews”. It seems, however, that instead of deepening the desired rapprochement between Muslims and Jews, there is a new controversy that there might be another “American Rushdie” in the making. Though probably much smaller in stature compared to the original Rushdie, Duran's elevation to the lofty Rushdie level seems to be in the “Pipe”line.

The position of Fatwa in Islam is a topic that is beyond the scope of this article, but there seems to be a new economic dimension of Fatwa that deserves our special attention. We already know that there has been some supply of Fatwa so far, and now there might also be some "demand” for it now. In this article, we attempt to review and understand that economic dimension.

Fatwa and the Say’s Law

According to the Say's Law, as it is attributed to J. B. Say, one of the Classical economists, "Supply creates its own demand." To those who are not adequately familiar with economics, making sense out of this law may not be so easy.
 
Although the statement of Say's Law was based on Say’s thoughts, it was a construct of John Maynard Keynes, who fathered the Keynesian Revolution. He adeptly exploited Say's Law to challenge the Classical School. Economics, since then, as with any paradigmatic change, has never been the same.

According to the Keynesian interpretation of Say's Law, the demand side was irrelevant where "Supply creates its own demand". However, in Keynesian economics, demand (to be precise, aggregate demand) is central to macroeconomic considerations. It was not quite that "demand creates its own supply"; rather, it was that Classical economics was wrong in ignoring the demand side altogether, and Keynes restored the demand side to its due place in macroeconomics. No one ever said "Demand creates its own supply", except a really small percentage of students in introductory economics classes, who could never get the Say's Law right during the exams. But there might be situations where one could argue and state that "Demand creates its own supply." Let me explain this using the Fatwa issue, while clarifying that economists should probably take this piece with a light heart.

Fatwa: That Dreadful Thing!

Fatwa or religious edict is among those Arabic/Islamic words that have become well known to the western world. They might not know that safari, sheriff, earth, algebra, sofa, soda or mattress has Arabic and/or Islamic root, but they are familiar with Jihad, Fatwa, etc. Generally speaking, Fatwa is no more than scholarly opinions of Islamic jurists. Thus, there is a 37 volume collection of such opinions of Imam Ibn Taimiyah (1263-1328 AD) in Majmu' Fatawa Ibn Taimiyah, dealing with all aspects of life from an Islamic viewpoint, including eating, sleeping, prayer, and ablution. Of course, since Islam treats life as an integrated whole, it is commonly held that there is no compartmentalization of life between sacred and secular, religious and non-religious, etc. In such an integrated context, Fatwa or expert opinion covers the entire gamut of life including the political dimension, which also opens the door to its abuse, misuse or inappropriate use.

In many historical contexts, however, Fatwa has played vital socio-political role. Among some of the notable ones are: Tobacco-prohibiting Fatwa during the anti-Tobacco Movement (1890-1892) in Iran, directed against the British rule; Fatwa issued during the Khilafat Movement of 1920s in India, again, against the British colonial rule and declaring India Darul Harb (a state of ongoing conflict, particularly with Muslims); Faraizi Movement (1805), led by Haji Shariatullah, issued a similar Fatwa in Bengal, rendering major Fards (obligatory religious duties) non-obligatory under the non-Muslim rule in India. In none of these cases economic considerations were primary, or even present --from the side of the issuers (suppliers) of Fatwa. Similarly, economic considerations did not play any meaningful role in cases such as the Fatwa issued by Ayatullah Khomeini against Salman Rushdie; by the religious establishment in Bangladesh against Taslima Nasrin a few years ago and in 2001 against two High Court judges who declared, suo moto, all Fatwa illegal.

Even though both Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasrin have achieved some celebrity status – of varying degree – personally I don’t have high regard for either who insults others’ faith. Yet, I do have full regard for their rights (which should be applied, however, consistently and universally to all) and thus I do not support any use of Fatwa in such cases. Rather I like the approach of (incarcerated by the British) Rebel Poet of Bengal, Kazi Nazrul Islam, where he suggested that such people deserve not Fatwa, but bouquet. Inviting the Muslims to rise above pettiness, and stop playing the game of the Islam-bashers, he suggested: "Let them enjoy mud-slinging, their weapons are malice and vilification;/ we (the Muslims) will throw bouquet at them, and trumpet to one God our salutation." Of course, Nazrul did not specify whether the bouquet (had) has to be fresh or not.

The emerging economics of Fatwa

Economically speaking, the Fatwa issued by Ayatullah Khomeini proved to be an economic boon for the publisher of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses. The explanation is rather simple. For example, advertising is used to increase the demand (shift the demand curve to the right on a graph) causing higher volume of sale in the market. (Readers with adequate knowledge of economics must excuse me as this is meant for the general readership.) As advertising is used to manipulate or affect demand, Fatwa, though not intended for similar purposes, serves as a kind of advertisement, often causing greater interest in any banned or condemned publications. Thus, more copies of the Satanic Verses and Shame (the latter by Nasrin) were sold as a result of their associated Fatwa. The religious establishment needs to understand that life is more than just religion and its decisions are not immune to economic considerations.

These Fatwas, especially related to the issue of apostasy, are quite inconsistent with the overall spirit of Islam, even though, in recent times, it is so readily used by the orthodox establishment. The phenomenal success of Satanic Verses was significantly facilitated by the award of Fatwa. Well, what these Fatwa issuers did not realize was that such supply of Fatwa would create its own demand, validating the Say's Law. While Salman Rushdie and the publisher of Satanic Verses did not probably anticipate the bonanza from Fatwa, once the economics of Fatwa was already understood, recognized and appreciated, now the authors or publishers of books on Islam work hard toward eliciting or provoking a Fatwa. Of course, such works must be offensive enough to wound the feelings of some so that the orthodox establishment would play this game quite predictably and issue Fatwa, validating the Say's Law: "supply creates its own demand." Now there are people who want to work toward eliciting or provoking some Fatwa as part of the overall publishing (producing and marketing) plan and strategy. Even the very people that boisterously oppose and condemn Fatwas or the whole Fatwa business seem to have a hidden yearning for earning a Fatwa.

But, that's "Supply creates its own demand." What about "Demand creates its own supply?"

Fatwa: “Demand creates its OWN supply”?

Recently, an author of dubious identity, Khalid Duran, has written a book about Islam and Muslims with patronage from the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which was one of the only two groups to testify before U.S. Congress in support of the use of secret evidence against Muslims and Arabs. The title of the book "Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Islam for Jews" might give an impression that it is meant to help the Jews understand Islam and Muslims better. However, this book, patronized by AJC, has something else in mind, which is quite similar to the anti-Islam, carpet bombing approach that views Islam as the sole surviving enemy of humanity and thus it must be contained, uprooted or declawed. A consistent theme throughout the book is that Islam, except in its Sufist dimension, teaches hate. Thus, as the prepublication publicity started in the U.S., the Muslim community in the U.S. took note of it and exposed this AJC-sponsored author, whose introduction to Islam for Jews is basically to create greater mutual animosity and antagonism than to ameliorate it.

AJC also has sponsored another book about introducing Judaism to Muslims, written by a Jewish author. Comparing the two the Chicago Tribune wrote about the Muslim viewpoint that "the book on Judaism avoids self-criticism and ignores such tough issues as Orthodox extremism, ... the book on Islam slams Muslims for everything from sexism to terrorism...[AJC is] representing to themselves and the Muslim community the best possible face of Judaism and the most aggressive face of Islam." (5/3/2001)

A Publishers Weekly (5/28/2001) review of "Children of Abraham" said: "He [Duran] writes that 'the history of Jewish-Muslim relations is so complex that one can list as many positive as negative examples of their interaction,' yet he relates mostly the negative ones, sabotaging his ostensible purpose. He also misstates facts about Islam and women in Islam, and mishandles the description of dhimmi (minority status) in Islam. His many controversial assertions lack supporting evidence."

There is no room for a review of the book here, but the economics of Fatwa suggests that such a Fatwa is vitally important for a successful bestseller on Islam. It's no surprise that quite predictably a Fatwa came. I guess there was not any prominent personality or group that has taken interest in this book, or the book has failed to draw attention of serious or notable Fatwa givers (suppliers). Apparently, therefore, a Fatwa came from an obscure Islamic group in Jordan based on an article published in a magazine which the U.S. State Department called "a fairly marginal newspaper with a limited readership." But wait, was it a Fatwa?

The AJC and Duran's attorney have been trying to draw the attention of the public to portray the article as a "fatwa" and "death edict" from the Islamic Action Front in Jordan. There is only one problem. That group has recently said no such ruling or Fatwa had been issued. (Associated Press, 6/30/2001)

It is no coincidence that Duran's attorney, Michael J. Wildes, is the same person who promoted a 1998 story about an alleged Pakistani scientist who claimed that that country was planning a nuclear first-strike on India. Scientific experts who interviewed the defector pronounced him a fraud. (USA Today, 7/7/98)

Conclusion

Let's return to the economic dimension. Even the diehard Keynesian economists who view demand as central to macroeconomic considerations have not been able to make any case or found any basis for pushing the Keynesian economics to state the complete opposite of the Say's Law. Fatwa issue might provide the necessary missing link. If Fatwa is not supplied or available for promotional purpose, even though great demand exists, why not create or concoct a Fatwa, as it seems to have happened by those who are trying to make a bestseller out of Khalid Duran's book. Doesn't this new type of Fatwa-earning or Fatwa-seeking enterprise now provide the basis for the reversal of the Say's Law: "Demand creates its OWN supply", i.e., those who need/demand can produce/create/supply their own desired Fatwa?


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Fatwa khalid duran salman rushdi Taslima nasrin khomeini khumayni Ayatullah