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Fatwas from Islamweb.Net on Robotics and Artificial Intelligence

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Abstract

The aim of this chapter is to deal with perceptions of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) from an Islamic perspective. Since this discourse has not spread much yet, I use the analysis of fatwas as a starting point. Fatwas are legal opinions expressed by a Muslim scholar or anybody with expertise in Islamic Law (Arab. mufti). Fatwas give scholars the opportunity to react to innovations (social, legal, technological et cetera) from an Islamic point of view and to judge these according to Islamic law. The 14 Arabic and English Islamic legal opinions I analysed were all coming from the Qatari Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, which is linked to the conservative Wahhabi branch of Islam. They were issued between 2002 and 2019 on the web page Islamweb.net. A comparison between the different Islamic currents is not possible since so far no other fatwas dealing with robotics and/or AI are to be found. The analysis of these Islamic legal opinions is done through the lens of the following questions and by the use of qualitative content analysis: To what extent can Islamic positions on AI and robotics be found in fatwas? What statements are made by the scholars? How do the attitudes to robotics and AI differ?
An analysis of the content and the methods shows that the scholars: (1) have a fairly clear stance on the treatment of robotics but not on AI; (2) are not concerned that these technologies could harm humans or that their creators usurp God’s power to create; and (3), rather tend to avoid dealing with difficult issues such as the impacts of developing strong AI.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    The Christian discourse on AI is much more diverse and explicit than the Islamic one. Lukas Brand, Michael Burdett, and Noreen Herzfeld, among others, deal with it from a scientific perspective. Robert Geraci and Beth Singler work mainly in a comparative perspective and analyse how different cultures and religions react to new technologies like AI.

  2. 2.

    The Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (IKIM) is an Islamic Think Tank currently preparing a publication based on their round table discussion “The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence” (20.02.2019).

  3. 3.

    At this point it is important to mention that I am not interested in whether something can be called AI in terms of the technical side. Rather, my focus is on how Islamic scholars talk about AI, how they react to it, and what views they take.

  4. 4.

    See, for example, the official website for the “Vision 2030”: https://vision2030.gov.sa.

  5. 5.

    Several examples of praying robots can be found on YouTube with the keywords “islam”, “praying”, and “robot”.

  6. 6.

    For the reception of fatwas (by Yusuf al-Qaradawi) and popularization of knowledge see: Gräf (2010).

  7. 7.

    See: https://www.Islamweb.net/en/fatawa/?tab=3.

  8. 8.

    By using sites such as www.wolframalpha.com and www.similarweb.com, it is at least possible to assess the fatwa web pages in terms of visitor numbers and awareness, although, of course, all the presented figures are only estimates.

  9. 9.

    For some websites, the year of foundation remains unclear as well as the influential person(s) behind.

  10. 10.

    This becomes clear as the title of the fatwa often receives element of the response of the mufti.

  11. 11.

    Since this article does not provide the space for a detailed discussion of this topic, please refer to the bibliographies of the later mentioned encyclopedia articles or to the following further literature: Hawting (1999) and Noyes (2013).

  12. 12.

    Fatwa no. 3 (2004).

  13. 13.

    Fatwa no. 11 (2018).

  14. 14.

    Surah 22 (al-ḥajj): 73.

  15. 15.

    Surah 22 (al-ḥajj): 73–74. Translated by Arthur Arberry (Arberry 1955).

  16. 16.

    For the exact passages in the quran and the hadiths, please refer to Wensinck and Fahd (2019).

  17. 17.

    Fatwa no. 1 (2002).

  18. 18.

    Fatwa no. 2 (2003) and no. 7 (2016).

  19. 19.

    Fatwa no. 1 (2002).

  20. 20.

    Fatwa no. 2 (2003), no. 5 (2009) and no. 7 (2016).

  21. 21.

    Fatwa no. 2 (2003).

  22. 22.

    The Arabic term “mubāḥ” is the third category of the five decisions (al-aḥkām al-khamsah) by which actions are judged.

  23. 23.

    Fatwa no. 1 (2002), no. 2 (2003) and no. 7 (2016).

  24. 24.

    Fatwa no. 1 (2002).

  25. 25.

    Fatwa no. 10 (2017).

  26. 26.

    Fatwa no. 6 (2013).

  27. 27.

    Fatwa no. 13 (2019).

  28. 28.

    Fatwa no. 6 (2013) and no. 13 (2019).

  29. 29.

    Fatwa no. 12 (2018).

  30. 30.

    Fatwa no. 14 (2019).

  31. 31.

    Fatwa no. 14 (2019).

  32. 32.

    Fatwa no. 12 (2018).

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Acknowledgements

This chapter is part of my doctoral research which focuses on “Media Representations of Robotics & Artificial Intelligence in the Gulf Region” under the supervision of Prof. Andreas Kaplony. I am also very grateful to Martin Šotola for the proofreading and his helpful feedback.

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Correspondence to Julia Singer .

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Appendix a – List of Fatwas with Web Links

Appendix a – List of Fatwas with Web Links

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Singer, J. (2021). Fatwas from Islamweb.Net on Robotics and Artificial Intelligence. In: Azar, E., Haddad, A.N. (eds) Artificial Intelligence in the Gulf. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-16-0771-4_12

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