Since the popular Pokémon Go game came out in the market, some interpretation in the Muslim majority countries renewed an old fatwa to declare that the game is un-Islamic and must be avoided.

The straightforward response for me is why forbidding a game should be a concern that is deserving of writing or reading about it? Now, there is nothing wrong that certain interpretations could have objection to certain practices in the society. These interpretations are protected by virtue of laws of freedom of belief and freedom of expression. However, the real concern is where the basis upon which the religious position is based is just to demonise the other on a religious basis which in my view has a potential threat to a pluralistic cohesive society.

This fatwa was issued by different institution in the Muslim majority countries, but I have chosen two samples of these fatwas because of the risks involved in the reasoning of their fatwas. The first is issued by the popular Qatari based scholar, Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi and the second some clerics of Saudi Arabia.

Among the reasons of his fatwa, Shaykh al-Qaradawi argued that the game is forbidden in order to protect the minds, beliefs and character of our children because Pokémon has the “six-pointed star” that is related to Zionism and Freemasonry. The game is also poses danger to creed (‘aqidah), since it is based on Darwinian Theory. Saudi clerics, on the other hand, agreed in principle with al-Qaradawi but further added that the game also uses other symbols of other religions such as crosses of Christianity and other images that are associated with polytheism.

Nothing in these reasonings actually promotes violence or even directly calls for hatred. But, this reasoning is a very powerful tool for “otherisation”. It offers the addressee of the fatwa another lens for viewing those who are not Muslims: the others. Thus, in order to be true Muslim, you must be different from the other. The others could be from the same religion but hold a different view, or belong to other religions or those without faith. Those who are not subscribing to this interpretation are as presented as danger to soundness of Muslims’ belief and identity. Therefore, you cannot be Muslim but still able to play Pokémon go, you cannot be Muslim and tolerating other religious symbols and practices. Or in broader terms, you cannot be Muslim but still able to reconcile religious beliefs with ever changing life realities.

I just wonder what this fatwa would look like if this game was invented by Muslims. Or what would be the case if Star of David is replaced with Muslim crescent. Would it sort the problem out? Indeed it would, the fatwa would have changed dramatically to the opposite. So the whole crisis is not the game itself, but with those who produced it. This is ‘otherisation’ is full swing.

In spite of the fact that this exclusive interpretation to the treatment of others is just a viewpoint of some scholars, their impact is immense on some Muslims. Some of the vulnerable audience would take this with good-will and trust thinking that this view represents intention of God but in fact it is does not. Within Saudi Arabian circle of clerics, Shaykh Salman al-Ouda, without commenting if it is allowed or not, he has described the fatwa as reckless.

Looking closely at the reasoning would also demonstrate that it clashes with other more tolerant and accommodating attitude toward religious symbols and beliefs. Forbidding the game because it has The Star of David, for instance is highly questionable. In Islamic belief David is a Prophet and his heritage is cherished. Muslims believe in all prophets making no distinction between each of them as the Qur’an proclaimed in 2:285. Surprisingly, early Muslims used the Star of David for decoration in Islamic Arts. They equally used to perform their prayers while carrying some coins which contain religious symbols. The Prophet Muhammad himself was given a Coptic (Christian) dress by the Bishop of Egypt as gift. As a sign of respect to other faith, the Prophet used to wear this dress on a special day of Friday in preparation for the delivery of his sermon.

Thus, for me these interpretations whether it is regarding Pokémon go or other issues, the main driver is the same, it is the fear and suspicion from others. The accumulation of these interpretations over a period of time would subconsciously build layers of emotional isolation with those who are different. The formation of this emotional isolation would pave the way for the growth of all kinds of extremism, depending on other factors and personal circumstances.

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