A BRIEF DISCUSSION OF A FATWA PROHIBITING POKEMON
The following discussion of old and new fatwas about Pokemon illustrates how even an innocent or innocuous children’s cartoon is made into a symbol of a binary division worldwide by islamist extremism.
09/04/2001 Al Qaradawi prohibits Pokemon http://www.aljazeera.net/news/cultureandart/2001/4/9/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D8%B1%D8%B6%D8%A7%D9%88%D9%8A-%D9%8A%D8%B5%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D9%81%D8%AA%D9%88%D9%89-%D8%A8%D8%AA%D8%AD%D8%B1%D9%8A%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8%D9%88%D9%83%D9%8A%D9%85%D9%88%D9%86
11/07/2016 Pokemon craze sweeps across the Middle East http://english.alarabiya.net/en/variety/2016/07/11/Pok-mon-craze-sweeps-across-Mideast-.html
14/07/2016 Al-Azhar condemns Pokemon ‘mania’ http://gulfnews.com/news/mena/egypt/al-azhar-condemns-pokemon-mania-1.1862458
20/07/2016 Pokemon Go ‘haram’ – The Council of Senior Scholars of Saudi Arabia has explicitly renewed its own 2001 fatwa prohibiting Pokemon, to include Pokemon Go http://www.arabnews.com/node/956681/saudi-arabia
Summary of 2001 Aljazeera.net article (translation by Usama Hasan):
Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi issued a fatwa prohibiting the Japanese Pokemon cartoon series and related films and games, “in order to protect the minds, beliefs and character of our children as well as their money: these people have perfected the art of looting it from them by consent, and gradually drawing their fathers and mothers into agreement also.”
Sheikh Qaradawi explained that his fatwa prohibiting Pokemon was issued after discussion broke out about Pokemon, its Sharia ruling and whether it is halal or haram. The Sheikh added, “I was asked about this by many fathers and mothers concerned about bringing their children up in an authentic Islamic way, in which their beliefs would be sound, their worship correct, their souls purified and their manners and character upright.”
Qaradawi emphasised that his fatwa was based upon the views of devout believers who were also experienced thinkers and who knew the issues of art, drama and TV series etc. He warned that Muslim jurists must not rush to pronounce judgment on such issues before knowing its reality, “for the judgment upon something is derived from its conception, and the jurists usually are not aware of such matters because they do not watch such series or games, especially since these are for children.”
Sheikh Qaradawi specified five reasons that led him to prohibit Pokemon:
- It is a danger to our creed (‘aqidah), since it is based on Darwinian thought, known as the theory of evolution, the development of species and types from lower to higher and more powerful creations.
- It is a danger to a child’s mentality and his good, intellectual upbringing, since it implants in his mind imaginary matters that have no foundation, supernatural things that are not consistent with God’s natural ways. This is because these insects or new creatures (Pokemons) have weird and wonderful qualities that have no basis in either reason or tradition.
- Pokemon is a danger to a child’s character and their good relationship with those around them, since the film has unearthed the theory of conflict and survival of the strongest, which is also a Darwinian theory. The film and TV series promote perpetual conflict, continuous fighting and a cycle of violence amongst its characters.
- The Pokemon game involves a type of gambling [in this case, spending money without equal counter-value], which is prohibited by the Sharia, since the upgrades are sold for tens, hundreds or even thousands of riyals, dirhams, pounds or dinars, especially the most powerful upgrades.
- Pokemon has characteristic symbols that have their own indications, e.g. the “six-pointed star” that is related to Zionism and Freemasonry, and which has become a symbol of the usurpatory state named “Israel.”
 Qaradawi called upon Muslims and Arabs to have “our own special products that express our beliefs, values, laws, customs, heritage and civilisation. Our innovative writers, academics, artists, technologists, the rich and the powerful should work together to do this. Thus, we should present films and cartoon series that carry our message and express our personality and religious, cultural and civilisational identity in simple, eloquent and attractive language.”
Brief comments on the above points by Usama Hasan:
- Darwinism: interestingly, a leading 19th-century Western scientist regarded this as a Muslim theory: “ … the Mohammedan theory of the evolution of man from lower forms, or his gradual development to his present condition in the long lapse of time.” (History of the Conflict between Religion and Science by John William Draper, 1811-1882, Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library, p. 188) Furthermore, Sheikh Qaradawi himself later moved away from this blanket condemnation of evolutionary theory: “Even research into the beginning of creation [is allowed in Islam], as long as one keeps in mind that we are looking into creation, meaning that there is a Creator … Even if we assume that species evolved from species, this is only by the will of the Creator, according to the laws of the Creator … If Darwin’s theory is proven, we can find Qur’anic verses that will fit with it …” Al-Jazeera TV (Al-Shari`ah wal Hayat, Arabic), 3 March 2009
- This discussion could be applied to many weak hadiths and also to fiction, including science fiction that is known to help inspire scientists, e.g. Arthur C Clarke’s famous predictions of the emergence of the internet and other developments. For science fiction in an Arab/Islamic context, see the Sindbad Sci-Fi project (http://sindbadscifi.com/)
- For sure, violence in films, TV shows and computer games is a major matter of concern for humanity worldwide. However, Sheikh Qaradawi’s concern in this regard is undermined by his other fatwas permitting the murder of Israeli civilians, since he regards Israel as a “militarised society” and therefore does not recognise any Israeli adults as civilians.
Note also that the “survival of the fittest” is an aspect of our biological nature that was recognised by Muslim thinkers over a thousand years ago, including Al-Jahiz (776-869 CE) and his “Struggle for Existence” theory that anticipated a type of crude Lamarckism, one of the precursory theories to Darwinian evolution. (See Rebecca Stott, Darwin’s Ghosts, Bloomsbury, 2012, Chapter 3: Al-Jahiz; cf. also Jim al-Khalili, Pathfinders, p. 76)
- Certainly, wasting large sums of money on useless computer games is wrong. But relaxation is part of, and preparation for, worship of God in the Islamic tradition and people are entitled to have a small budget for such leisure. Furthermore, computer games can aid and develop some neural and reflex skills.
- Note that the Moroccan flag, pre-Israel, also carried a six-pointed star, also known as the Star of David (Arabic: najm Dawud) or the Seal of Solomon (khatam Sulayman). Six-pointed stars are also found engraved on the walls built by the Ottoman Muslim ruler Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent around Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, and on the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad’s maternal aunt Umm Haram in Cyprus (http://keehuachee.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/part-2-hala-sultan-tekke-mosque-in.html). Since David and Solomon are revered “Prophet-Kings” in the Qur’an and the Islamic tradition, it is wrong to condemn their symbols. Indeed, Sufis such as Idries Shah and Martin Lings comment on the vertical-horizontal mystical symbolism of the six-pointed star.
Furthermore, researchers into anti-semitism correctly note that “criticising Israel is not anti-semitism, but singling Israel out amongst the world’s states for criticism is anti-semitism.” (Similarly, I would argue that criticising Islam is not Islamophobia, but singling out Islam amongst the world’s religions, philosophies and traditions for criticism is Islamophobia.)
- The desire to preserve one’s own values is understandable, but nationalism taken to an extreme becomes fascism. The above fatwa was issued before 9/11 and smacks of divisive, us-vs.-them discourse, not to mention that it places Japanese Muslims in a very difficult situation, cf. A History of Islam in Japan – https://unity1.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/islam-in-japan.pdf). It is also unhelpful for Western Muslims, Chinese Muslims, Indian Muslims and others. There is a certain irony about an Arab Sheikh using Western and Japanese technology to promote a xenophobic message, as though violence and other problematic issues do not exist within Arab and Muslim culture.
The 99 (Islamic Superheroes) by Dr Naif al-Mutawa, produced 2006-2013, are arguably the kind of thing that Qaradawi was calling for. But here is a sobering reminder of some of the reaction to it (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_99): Saudi clerics ruled the series blasphemous because the superheroes of its title are based on the 99 attributes ascribed to Allah in the Holy Quran. The Grand Mufti Abdulaziz al-Sheikh said, “The 99 is a work of the devil that should be condemned and forbidden in respect to Allah’s names and attributes.” The original comic strip version, first released in 2006, had already run into opposition from Muslims not only in Saudi Arabia but also in neighboring Kuwait, where it was created and produced by media executive Nayef al-Mutawa. Andrea Peyser, columnist at the New York Post, wrote in October 2010: “Hide your face and grab the kids. Coming soon to a TV in your child’s bedroom is a posse of righteous, Sharia-compliant Muslim superheroes, including one who fights crime hidden head-to-toe by a burqa.” In 2014, The Kuwait Times reported that ISIL members had issued death threats and offered unspecified rewards for the assassination of Dr. Al-Mutawa, via Twitter. Al-Mutawa defended the work saying that he had received clearance from sharia scholars and never would have gone ahead with the project had he not.
See also Burka Avenger (http://www.burkaavenger.com/), an award-winning homegrown Pakistani cartoon series (2013-present, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burka_Avenger) that is currently aired by Nickelodeon in Pakistan.
What we do need now is an inclusive discourse of universal, shared values, of replacing a “clash of civilisations” with a dialogue and co-operation of civilisations.
Usama Hasan, 15/07/16 (edited 25/07/16)