Fatwas and Deadly Sins

Fatwas and Deadly Sins

JimCoffinBy James Coffin

Just in case you haven’t heard, Saudi Arabian cleric Saleh al-Fawzan has issued a fatwa against all-you-can-eat buffets.

Now for those who aren’t familiar with the word “fatwa,” its meaning can range from “strong denunciation” to “prohibition” to “holy war against.” At least that’s my non-Muslim understanding of it.

At best, the cleric’s fatwa means he thinks all-you-can-eat buffets aren’t good. At worst, he thinks they’re damnably bad and should be prohibited. Many Westerners view his perspective as extremism.

As if former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s war on the Big Gulp wasn’t bad enough, we now have a Saudi cleric denouncing Golden Corral and its ilk (at least if they try to set up shop in Saudi Arabia).

Let me lay my cards on the table right now. I’m not a fan of legislating good behavior. Much as I agreed with Mayor Bloomberg’s concern about excessive sugar, obesity and unhealthful practices within our nation, I didn’t go for his 16-ounces-is-enough legislative attempts. And I spoke up about it.

I saw it as the wrong cure for a real problem.

And I don’t resonate with Muslim al-Fawzan’s fatwa. I like to leave decisions to the individual as much as possible. Educate, yes. Inspire, yes. Persuade, yes. But legislation–or even heavy guilt-tripping–to ensure conformity is going after a worthy goal in the wrong way.

However, to my fellow Christians I say: Before we hyperventilate about a Muslim’s fatwa, let’s remember that as Christian’s we’ve long recognized that certain behaviors and attitudes are sufficiently counterproductive to merit being catalogued as totally unacceptable.

Back in 590 CE (roughly the time Islam arose), Pope Gregory I constructed the list of Seven Deadly Sins as it appears to this day. And on that list is gluttony.

Now I’m not suggesting that everyone who goes to an all-you-can-eat buffet is a glutton. I’m just saying that if anyone is having trouble avoiding gluttony, such an eating establishment isn’t conducive to maintaining a New Year’s resolution for moderation!

As is so often the case, when we get right down to core issues, the Muslims’ concerns and the Christians’ concerns are really quite similar. And had those of us who are Christians paid more attention to our own historic teachings, we might not so easily get bent out of shape when we see a Muslim getting animated about a behavior that Christians also have long recognized as a problem.

James Coffin is executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.