Pokemon Go and fatwas

A Pokemon Go player in Kuantan seen engrossed while playing the game on Sunday. - Bernama pix

THE worldwide mobile game phenomenon, Pokemon Go was finally released in Malaysia over the weekend.  

Just a day before, the Federal Territories mufti announced that the Islamic Legal Consultative Committee in the Federal Territories had decided in a meeting that Muslims were prohibited from playing Pokemon Go. It would appear that a fatwa has been issued on the game.  

A fatwa is basically a legal opinion or learned interpretation on a particular issue relating to Islamic law. In general, a fatwa issued by a scholar or mufti is not universally binding on all Muslims. The situation is different in Malaysia.  

It must be noted that while there have been concerns expressed by various religious authorities about Pokemon Go prior to the fatwa, it is only the Federal Territories which has a fatwa against the game.  

Other state religious authorities have not come out with a similar fatwa at the time of writing.  

Matters relating to Islam are within the purview and jurisdiction of the state. Each state has its own enactments relating to Islam, which is binding upon persons professing the religion.  

The legislative assembly of each state enacts laws relating to Islam. Each state has different laws when it comes to the religion of Islam although they are mostly similar.  

For the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan, laws relating to Islam are enacted by Parliament. The Act of Parliament relating to the administration of Islamic law in the Federal Territories is the Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Act 1993.  

The Act provides that a mufti may make and publish in the Gazette, a fatwa or ruling on any unsettled or controversial question relating to Islamic law.  

Before a fatwa is made, the mufti must call a meeting of the Islamic Legal Consultative Committee to discuss the proposed fatwa 

The Act also provides that before a fatwa is made, the mufti may cause such studies or research to be conducted as he may direct and a working paper prepared.   

In the case of the fatwa on Pokemon Go, it is unclear whether a research or studies or working paper has been conducted on the game before the fatwa is made, bearing in mind that the game is not available in Malaysia when the Islamic Legal Consultative Committee decided on the issue.  

However, what is clear from the statement by the mufti is that they have looked at fatwas and rulings in other countries on the issue of Pokemon Go, as well as information on the game, which is available in the public domain.  

Once the fatwa is made, it must then be published in the Gazette. A statement by a mufti is not a fatwa until and unless it is published in the Gazette.  

Upon publication in the Gazette, a fatwa is binding on every Muslim resident in the Federal Territories as a dictate of his religion and it shall be his religious duty to abide by and uphold the fatwa, unless he is permitted by Islamic Law to depart from it in matters of personal observance, belief, or opinion.  

More importantly, according to another Act of Parliament, the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act 1997, any person who defies, disobeys or disputes the orders or the directions of the mufti, expressed or given by way of a fatwa, is guilty of an offence and may be liable to a fine not exceeding RM3,000 or imprisoned for a term not exceeding two years, or both.  

Not only that, it is also an offence for any person who gives, propagates or disseminates any opinion contrary to a fatwa that is in force in the Federal Territories commits an offence and may also be punished in a similar manner.   

So while it is unlikely that the religious authority will actually take action against Muslims playing Pokemon Go in the Federal Territories, there is still a risk involved.  

Of course, for Muslims playing the game outside the Federal Territories, since there is no fatwa issued in the various states on the matter, playing the game is not a Syariah offence. At least for the time being.  

Whatever the legal situation is, Pokemon Go players should heed the warnings contained within the game itself about constantly being aware of surroundings and on not trespassing while playing the game.  

At the end of the day, everyone just wants to enjoy the game without any incidents. 


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