JAKARTA - Muslim scholars have joined hands to form a committee to unify the issuance of fatwas (religious edicts) to serve the interest of Muslims across Southeast Asia.
"For a start, we are going to streamline the deliberation process of issuing a fatwa at the regional level," Muhyiddin Junaidi, head of the international relations divisions of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), told Khabar Southeast Asia.
Scholars have agreed to form a regional body to be responsible for issuing fatwas for Muslims in Southeast Asian countries.
The move aims to tackle with contemporary issues facing Muslim communities in the Southeast Asian countries.
The new ASEAN body, which was proposed by an international conference on fatwa in Indonesian last December, will meet twice a year to tackle issues facing Muslims in the region.
"We would monitor the developments over the past two years and see which ones need [Islamic] laws because not all existing fiqh can cater to the needs of today's world, Indonesian Minister for Religious Affairs Suryadharma Ali said.
We would need to issue new fiqh as a reference for Islamic conduct suitable to the current context.
Southeast Asia is home to nearly 230 million Muslims, most of whom live in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei.
There are sizable Muslim minorities in Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam.
The new regional body will also coordinate on fatwa issuance with the Islamic Fiqh Council of the Saudi Arabia-based Muslim World League to help serve Muslims worldwide.
"They can share their experiences in deliberating a fatwa including the methodology and exchange knowledge regarding the fatwas issued in their respective countries," said Secretary General of Islamic Fiqh Council Soleh Zabin Al-Marzouqi.
Suryadharma, the Indonesian religious affairs minister, says the move would help add credibility to issued fatwas.
"A fatwa should be adopted collectively, Suryadharma said.
The more congregations that endorse a fatwa, the more legitimate it would be for the Muslim people.
But Junaidi, of the MUI, suggested that the regional body should coordinate with fatwa-issuing authorities in different countries to help serve interests of all Muslims.
Ratna Shofi Inayati, an ASEAN expert at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), agrees."It is better to also co-ordinate their activities with the governments of ASEAN member states - especially those that have Muslim minority populations," she said.