Cucumber “fatwa” seems to be only shoddy reporting
by Sheila Musaji
There was supposedly a fatwa written which would deserve ridicule if it exists. The original article about this was posted on Bikyamasr, an Egyptian news site, and the article was written by an individual named Manar Ammar. Manar Ammar is identified as a Senior Reporter and Women’s Editor for Bikyamasr.com.
The article quotes an UNNAMED Islamic Cleric residing in Europe who “has banned women from touching bananas, cucumbers and other elongated fruit and vegetable due to their sexual resemblance” The Bikyamasr article refers to the source as “The unnamed sheikh, who was featured in an article on el-Senousa news”.
I tried searching for el-Senousa news, but got nowhere. There is no site for any such entity. I can find nothing about them searching the net except for hundreds of articles reposting the article from Bikyamasr which mentions el-Senousa as its source.
Muna Khan at al Arabiya reports the same problems I had in finding the actual source of this story, and says “According to the Canadian news site Straight.com, it’s been difficult to find the El-Senousa site on which Bikya Masr based its article on. A simple search of the website takes you to a list of articles on the story being quoted but not to the main site itself.” She points out that there have been enough of what I call “stupid fatwas” to make anything easy to believe, but, it is an irresponsible rush to judgement to just assume something is true and publish it without any fact checking.
I found the article from Straight here, and it says “That’s some pretty good flame-bait, but is it legit? According to the article in bikyamasr.com, the story originally appeared on something called “el-Senousa news”, but good luck finding it. In fact, a Google search for “el-Senousa news” only points back—many times over—to the article in bikyamasr.com. Between that and the somewhat intangible location and identity of the “unnamed sheikh” in the article, the tale of the vegetable-fearing Mullah is starting to look a little short on authenticity. What’s more likely is that the independent news service bikyamasr.com is reacting to the troubling emergence of the hard-line Salafi Al-Nou party in Egypt’s (reportedly fraud-ridden) election—a story that, sadly, isn’t so cockamamie.
This article was immediately picked up and posted with appropriate anti-Muslim comments by just about every site in the Islamophobic echo chamber.
Robert Spencer posted the “story” from Bikyamasr on Jihad Watch and included in his lede “It’s all about controlling women, like so many aspects of Islamic law. Sharia Alert from Eurabia”.
The always ladylike Pamela Geller posted this on Atlas Shrugs under the heading No cucumbers or bananas for you, slut! and included in the lede “Obama say, “Respect it!” Jay Leno’s wife Mavis say, “The Qur’an is more liberal with women than the Bible.” Geller say, “One banana split, please, and a side of cukes, with extra whipped creme, thankyouverymuch.”
Weazel Zippers simply posted the article with no lede, but the comments their readers posted in response are truly hateful. For example: — ALL of Islam is a plague, a disease of the mind and soul. — Folks there is going to be a war—-I mean a real war where winner takes all and these animals will gladly die for their cause so we better get ready to do the same…..and I don’t ever again want to hear the term moderate muslim….my reply to that is show me one—just one.
You get the idea about the response to this article, and that response is not to a particular unknown shaikh, but to all Muslims. Perhaps the author of the article and the Egyptian site that posted it are unaware that there is a problem with Islamophobia out there.
Why would anyone post an article about an unnamed person residing somewhere in one of the 47 countries of Europe who had supposedly issued a stupid fatwa without any corroborating evidence that this was even true. What is the point of raising this issue in such a thoughtless way? This is not a satirical article making fun of the stupidity involved in such a fatwa. This is not an article that provides concrete facts about the author of the fatwa, or that provides any counter arguments. There are no facts here that others could use to counter the fatwa, or to make a judgement about the author.
Whatever the reason that Bikyamasr had for posting this bit of unsubstantiated nonsense, the only effect it has had was to give the Islamophobes yet another item to use for years to come to bash Muslims. This article was not just irresponsible, it was as stupid as the supposed fatwa would be if it in fact exists.
I would like to see either a clarification of the article with actual information about the supposed fatwa and its supposed author (that can be verified), or an apology for engaging in reckless speculation and passing on of rumors.
It’s not as if we don’t have enough actual members of the Muslim lunatic fringe that need to be countered, that we need to make them up.
I received an email from the Founder and Editor of Bikyamasr
Thank you for your email. I am Joseph Mayton, the Editor and Founder of Bikyamasr.com. I would like to bring your attention to the corrected version of the article, which now has the appropriate name of the publication where the information first appeared in Arabic, with a link.
We take full responsibility for this error and have stated so on the article. It is unfortunate that it has been taken out of context, but we feel that by talking about the anger it initially sparked was properly done. At the end, these places are going to take any little bit of information for their own purposes. It is sad.
I hope you will understand that we do our utmost to source anything from a third party, as any other news website would.
If you have any other questions, or would like to interview me, or our staff, please let us know.
Thank you very much for the email, Joseph
The article now lists the source of this “fatwa” as el-Sawsana news and the link takes you to a site that is only in Arabic. I don’t speak Arabic, so am unable to make out what the original article of this “news” item might have been.
I received a second email from Joseph Mayton asking me to check out a follow up article that they have now posted Cucumber sheikh “far from the truth,” says Egypt Islamic leader. This new article quotes Sheikh Gaber Taye’ Youssef, identified as “An Islamic scholar and chairman at Egypt’s Religious Endowments Ministry said this sheikh could not be more “far from the truth.” ... He expressed serious doubts that the sheikh sourced is even qualified for his position. “Nonesense and wrong, such talk is empty of any logic or sense and has no roots or relations with Islam or its belief system,” said Youssef when Bikyamasr.com interviewed him over the phone early on Saturday.
Sheikh Youssef’s opinion is exactly what any mainstream Muslim already knew.
I am glad that Bikyamasr has made the correction and published this follow-up article. However, I believe that republishing this information from el-Sawsana or any source without information on the scholar who issued the fatwa was still irresponsible. I can’t find any information in English about el-Sawsana, the original source of this, so have no idea about their motivation or even their respectability as a source of information.
Joseph Mayton, the editor of BikyaMasr has just published the following update on this incident
The past week has seen unprecedented scrutiny of our work here at Bikyamasr.com. The responses, comments and emails we have received over the article, “Islamic cleric bans women from touching cucumbers, bananas for sexual resemblance,” have been numerous. As a young news organization striving to report the news in the most honest, straightforward and timely manner possible, we are concerned over the manner of both our reporting on this issue and the way our article was used by a number of global organizations to promote their own partisan agendas.
Looking back, it was my own editorial oversight that failed in allowing this story to be published. Editorially, it was my duty to not publish this story before we could gather independent verification about the details behind the original Arabic article from Assawsana.com, the article that we referenced in writing our piece. Furthermore, I originally and mistakenly quoted Assawsana.com as “El-Senousa.com,” only furthering the confusion and mistakes involved in this report.
As Editor of Bikyamasr.com, I am disappointed that I did not catch and hold this piece. The “Islamic cleric bans women from touching cucumbers, bananas for sexual resemblance,” article should not have run when it did. Arguably, it should not have been run at all. We should not have published about an “unnamed sheikh” in an unnamed European country unless we were able to garner more information on the issue, both on the sheikh himself and the news website the information was gathered from, independently.
We realize that as a growing news organization with a growing reputation and readership, we have an increased responsibility to not only verify our own material at the highest levels, but further investigate the quotes and articles of other news organizations before referencing their work.
This is our error. We apologize for the poor judgment on the matter. It is inexcusable. While the exact quote reported by Assawsana.com may well have been exactly what it was reported to be by that website, without a name and location behind this person and comment, it is difficult to find the information credible.
We recognize our pitfalls and their repercussions. The fact that this story was quoted by a large number of news organizations across the globe shows that our error in judgment can have serious, detrimental effects. For this, we would like to apologize to our readers for the inadequate editorial judgment I, as Editor and Founder, made in this instance.
This said, we will learn from our mistakes, as larger and more established news organizations have learned and continue to learn from theirs. Journalism has a steep learning curve, and as a news organization grows, the costs of learning become more difficult to bear. The repercussions of our lessons learned are becoming more serious and are imposing a higher cost on our readers.
The reality, in this circumstance, is that we should not have sourced a piece published by a small website based on such limited, unverifiable information. We accept responsibility for doing so and are working to correct the aspects of our organizational culture which allowed this mistake to occur.
We view this mistake as a significant learning opportunity for us; a chance to grow and improve the work we do here at Bikyamasr.com. As such, and as part of a greater expansion plan we have been developing for the past few months, we are working hard to expand our operations and bring a number of new, experienced editors and writers to our small editorial team. Despite this mistake, we will continue to maintain our independence and provide the best and most credible news possible to our readers.
Reporting in a fair and accurate manner on Islam is a difficult process, and one that Bikyamasr.com takes very seriously. We will continue to push for more information on this story, from Assawsana.com and other sources, in order to interrogate the accuracy of their original article. If we cannot uncover more information, then we take it as our duty to make this clear and do everything in our power to spread that revelation to those who have sourced and quoted us this past week.
At the end of the day, we employed poor judgment on this article, for which we apologize. We are working to correct our mistake and guarantee that the potential validity or invalidity of this story is quickly verified. We apologize to our readers for letting them down, and will strive to assure them with our future work that we are making fundamental, institutional changes to assure that mistakes like this do not happen again.