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A rare imam who juggles fatwas, interfaith confabs

Sheikh Ishaq Abdel-Jawad Taha issues scores of religious rulings every day to average Palestinians and also participates in interfaith dialogue with Israelis.

Mr. Advice: Sheikh Ishaq Abdel-Jawad Taha fields calls about applying Islam to daily life.

Ilene R. Prusher/The Christian Science Monitor

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Sheikh Ishaq Abdel-Jawad Taha's phone is ringing off the hook.

"You're welcome, go ahead," says Sheikh Taha, sitting behind his desk at the Palestinian Authority's Al-Fatwa Council, of which he is the director. "She's still recovering, so she doesn't have to pray," he says.

The voice on the other end of the phone is that of a man, asking if his wife – who recently gave birth by Caesarean section – is required to return to five-times-daily prayers.

While a fatwa is often equated in the West with extremism, in the East it's simply a religious guideline that can be useful in daily life, especially for those who know whom to call for a ruling that fits the context of a reasonable Islam.

That's where Taha comes in. His council dispenses advice across the Palestinian territories, and across the party lines of rival Fatah and Hamas factions. While he commands much respect among Muslims, Taha is pushing boundaries for his ongoing conversations with others – the Israelis.

Taha is involved in dialogue forums and meetings with both Christians and Jews: a controversial practice since many of his colleagues deem such meetings as normalization, which is frowned on here and across the Arab world in the absence of a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On one recent evening, for example, he met with an Israeli-Jewish group in a West Jerusalem neighborhood, and talked alongside a prominent rabbi on the subject of forgiveness in the Koran and the Torah. Organizers of the event said that Sheikh Taha's appearance was sensitive, and therefore asked that it not be covered by journalists.


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