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Forbidden By Fatwa: Yoga, Mars, And Divorce-By-Text

A Turkish tattoo artist gets to work on the arm of a young Turk who has already a Turkish flag tattooed on his bicep -- something Turkey's top Islamic body says he should remove.
A Turkish tattoo artist gets to work on the arm of a young Turk who has already a Turkish flag tattooed on his bicep -- something Turkey's top Islamic body says he should remove.

A rare snowstorm hit parts of Saudi Arabia late last week, prompting many to build snowmen and, in a regional twist, snow camels. But after photographs of their frosty creations emerged on social-media sites, cleric Sheikh Muhammad Salih al-Munajjid issued a fatwa against this form of winter frolicking.

"It is not permitted to make a statue out of snow, even by way of play and fun," he said on a religious website, arguing that it is permissible only to build inanimate objects out of snow.

The fatwa was among numerous Islamic religious rulings that have been issued on highly specific activities ranging from exercise to interstellar journeys.

Mars Embargo
If you buy a one-way ticket to Mars, you are in violation of Islamic law, according to the United Arab Emirates' religious watchdog, the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments. "It is not permissible to travel to Mars and never to return if there is no life on Mars. The chances of dying are higher than living," it said in a statement last year. The fatwa was issued after the Dutch nonprofit organization Mars One said it wanted to build a human settlement on the planet by 2025.

Muslims who have tattoos that can't be removed should repent, according to Turkey's top Islamic body. The Religious Affairs Directorate said on January 8 that tattoos should be erased, if possible. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July warned an 18-year-old soccer player with a wrist tattoo that his body art could give him skin cancer.

Malaysia's National Fatwa Council told the country's Muslims in 2008 not to do yoga because of its origins in Hinduism. The council chairman announced the fatwa by claiming that chanting in yoga could "destroy the faith of a Muslim." The council has also banned Halloween, Valentine's Day, and death metal.

Cycling While Female
An Indian cleric issued a 2010 ruling prohibiting females older than 13 from riding bicycles. Mufti Arshad Faruqui said that when a "grown-up girl goes cycling outside her house," it results in them exposing their bodies. He added that it was "harmful for their body structure." Other clerics denounced the ruling, and Maulana Yasoob Abbas, general secretary of the All India Shi'a Muslim Personal Law Board, said that some muftis seem intent on "becoming laughingstocks."

Divorcing one's spouse by text is arguably a lousy way to break the news. But it's also against Islamic law, according to Tajikistan's Council of Ulema. So-called "SMS-Divorce" has become a troubling trend for many in Tajikistan, where wives have been divorced by their husbands working as migrant laborers in Russia with text messages and phone calls. Dubai's Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities ruled that a divorce text sent in anger is invalid, while in other cases, a text containing the word "divorce" is valid.

Mickey Mouse
Saudi cleric Munajjid, who issued the snowmen fatwa, appeared to issue a ruling against Mickey Mouse in 2008. "The Telegraph" quoted him as saying, "Mickey Mouse has become an awesome character, even though according to Islamic law, Mickey Mouse should be killed in all cases." He later tried to clarify that he was not calling for Mickey to be killed but was issuing a ruling on "harmful rodents and mice."

Eating Sea Otters
Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate ruled in March 2014 that kangaroos and grasshoppers are "halal," or acceptable to eat under Islamic law. But the fatwa said that Islam bans eating "badgers, martens, weasels, beavers, and sea otters" because the animals are "wild and carnivorous."

Women Drivers
Women have not been banned from driving in Saudi Arabia by law, but by a fatwa dating back to the early 1990s. Women have tried to challenge the ban by posting pictures and videos online of themselves driving. Saudi woman Manal al-Sherif was arrested and jailed last year after uploading a video of herself driving but was released after 10 days and promising not to do it again.

Breastfeeding Men At Work
A scholar of the words of the Prophet Muhammad issued a 2007 fatwa that allowed women to breastfeed their male co-workers. Dr. Izzat Atiya, chairman of the Department of Hadith at Egypt's Al-Azhar University, ruled that if a woman fed her male co-worker "directly from her breast" at least five times daily, it would allow men and women to be alone at work. Women could take off their veils in the presence of men they were breastfeeding, he said. He later retracted the ruling amid a widespread outcry in Egypt and elsewhere, saying it had been a "bad interpretation of a particular case."

-- Luke Johnson

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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