Empowering Singapore Muslim Community With Contextualized Religious Fatwas – Analysis



A two-day conference on contemporary fatwas (Islamic religious edicts) was just convened recently in Singapore. Organised by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS), the conference aims to explore the role of fatwas in shaping Muslim communities and guiding them to live effectively and confidently in facing contemporary challenges in plural societies.

Among the prominent scholars who addressed the conference is the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shaikh Dr Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam. Dr Shawki delivered a lecture on the evolution of fatwas in contemporary contexts while the Mufti of Singapore Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir lectured on the transformative role of fatwa in shaping the contemporary Muslim communities.

One of the key objectives of this fatwa conference is to highlight the importance of well-researched, informed, and contextually relevant fatwas which are deemed important for fostering a society that embraces both religious values and social progress. The conference also dealt with issues related to various aspects of modern life, including food technology, medical technology, finance and artificial intelligence. 

These complex contemporary issues have a significant impact on the Muslim community, and as such contextually relevant fatwas are needed for Muslims to navigate present and future challenges.

Contextualized Fatwa

It is no doubt that fatwas in Islamic tradition have a significant role in providing guidance and clarification on Islamic practices and rulings. The term fatwa refers to the legal opinion issued by a Muslim jurist relating to certain rulings of Islamic law. It is normally issued in response to a question or request for guidance on a particular issue, such as religious rituals and observance.

The fatwa is an important tool to provide legal guidance within the ambit of the Islamic law. This is because even though fatwas are not legally binding when it is issued, it carries a significant effect in contemporary society as it provides guidelines and rules for Muslims to follow. 

Islam can be understood as a constant dialogue between religious texts and the reality of life that is constantly evolving and changing. The change of times with the sophistication of technology as well as the increasingly challenging context of life today has demanded Muslim scholars to adjust the approach of fatwa thinking.

In the thinking and process of issuing a fatwa, context is the main consideration. The context meant here is the state of a society, the condition of the era and also the needs of each society and different circumstances. For example, as a minority community, Singapore Muslims practice Islam within a specific legal context and discipline, different from Muslims who live as a majority community. Contemporary scholars have also provided guidance for Muslims who live as a minority community, taking into account cultural aspects, values ​​and the context of life in a place and situation.

Context is an integral part of the scholars’ consideration in issuing a fatwa. One who studies the opinion of the early jurists will find that they changed or modified their fatwa from place to place and time to time to give due consideration to differing situations and circumstances.

The state of the times has necessitated the fatwa institution in Singapore to move more progressively and according to the context. Today’s socio-religious challenges require religious leadership to find solutions that do not exist in religious texts. Therefore, it is important for the Fatwa Committee to explore new ways and initiatives for the benefit of society today.

Fatwa in Singapore

Singapore’s fatwa institution comes under the purview of MUIS which is a statutory board of the government. It is managed by the Fatwa Committee chaired by the Mufti. The committee engages in comprehensive deliberation to provide solutions and religious guidance to the community in navigating their socio-religious life, particularly in response to emerging and pressing needs.

Since its inception in 1968, the Fatwa Committee has formulated fatwas to address a diverse range of contemporary issues such as scientific, finance, medical and health. The complexity and multi-dimensional nature of these contemporary issues warrants new approaches as well as jurisprudential frameworks in interpreting religious texts, and hence providing Muslims with new rulings and guidance. 

One such example is the fatwa on the closure of mosque during the COVID-19 pandemic. Singapore is among the first few countries in the world to close their mosques amid the COVID-19 threat. As the move had never been done before, it required a certain boldness of resolve backed by independent reasoning to formulate the supporting fatwa. 

Singapore’s fatwa has resonated globally as other Islamic authorities and scholars similarly called for the temporary closure of mosques and suspension of Friday prayers in the face of the pandemic. The fatwa reflects the progressive spirit of a minority Muslim community. It also highlights the need for religious scholars to be proactive, courageous and be open to work hand-in-hand with authorities to make decisions that are timely and accurate, yet without compromising religious principles.

This is a clear reflection of the role of fatwa institutions. Fatwas are intended to provide legal solutions to contemporary problems that impact the lives of the Muslim community. 

Fatwa on Cultivated Meat

In his keynote address on the first day of the conference, Mufti Dr Nazirudin announced that the MUIS Fatwa Committee found out that cultured meat is generally halal for Muslims to eat if it meets certain conditions. Among the main conditions placed by the Fatwa Committee in legalizing this cultured meat is that it must be produced using cells taken from animals that are halal or permitted in Islam.

This latest fatwa shows that it is important to have a clear religious position on a matter especially with the description of sustainable food gaining universal attention. This fatwa can also help in the halal certification process of cultured meat products in the future. However, the process of producing this fatwa requires in-depth research, various considerations need to be taken into account, not only from a religious point of view but also from a scientific aspect.

The decision taken by the Fatwa Committee is in line with increasing global awareness of sustainable food production and addressing the concerns of the Muslim community regarding the consumption of new food products such as cultured meat.


Muslim communities around the world are facing various contemporary challenges in the 21st century. This challenge is very complex and multifaceted, covering various social, political, religious and cultural aspects. In Singapore, fatwa institution has an important role to develop confident, resilient and empowered communities, and shaping the socio-religious life of the Muslim community by offering solutions through religious guidance.

There is a need for religious leadership to evaluate and adapt their approach to continuously deal with the complex contemporary issues effectively and guide the Muslim community so that they can adapt their understanding and practice of religion to the current context. By doing so, Muslim can continue to hold fast to the principles of Islamic tradition while navigating the challenges ahead. 

Dr. Mohamed Bin Ali

Dr. Mohamed Bin Ali is Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and Senior Associate Member of the Fatwa Committee of Singapore.

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