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Reporters on the Job

Egyptian Fatwas: During the past three years of living in Egypt, contributor Ursula Lindsay has seen a variety of fatwas - or Islamic religious decrees. "I've read about many strange fatwas in the newspaper and heard about them from Egyptian friends. I've wanted to do this story for a long time but it's complicated. There are so many sources of fatwas," she says.

Islam is not like, say, the Roman Catholic church, she notes. "Any cleric can issue a fatwa. There's a hot line. The website IslamOnline.net has a live fatwa chat daily. The grand mufti [whose fatwa is the subject of today's story] also has a website, with a convenient table that lists what's forbidden or allowed. The previous Mufti issued fatwas against watching solar eclipses, bullfights, and beauty pageants."

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As she did her reporting, Ursula was struck by how many people already knew that Islam forbids sculptures - and how many ignore it. "The vendors who sold statuettes agreed that it was forbidden. But they also said they need to make a living, and that it didn't apply to them."

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