If there is anything to be learned from the fatwas that made headlines in 2007 is that they have little to do with the precepts of Islamic law. Rather, they are another reminder of the circumspection needed when dealing with the unholy trinity of politically biased religious leaders, sensationalist journalism and the public appetite for scandals.The furore surrounding Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa’s statements concerning the 26 Egyptian migrant workers who drowned off the coast of Italy in September, exemplify this. The media reported that Gomaa – who has repeatedly been accused of serving government interests in his pronouncements – had described the drowned men as “greedy. Gomaa responded in the pro-government weekly, Rose Al-Youssef. He accused the press of distorting his comments and not bothering to find out what was actually said, pointing out that his comments about the migrant workers were made during a talk he gave as a guest-speaker in a university.He did state that generally speaking, an individual who puts himself at risk for money cannot be considered a martyr.He also pointed out that there is a critical difference between a fatwa, and a personal statement. Gomaa explained that an opinion given by a Mufti which has no basis in fiqh (the sources of Islamic law) cannot be considered a fatwa – which, he said, was the case in his comments about the migrants.Gomaa was again the subject of controversy in November after it was alleged that he issued a fatwa stating that a driver who runs over and kills someone deliberately standing in the path of the vehicle is not to blame.Press reports stated that it was issued only days after a woman was killed by a microbus under the control of the police as she tried to stop them from arresting her sister-in-law.The uncertainty in this case surrounds the fatwa’s timing: on the Dar El-Efta website – a repository for fatwas issued by Al-Azhar clerics – the request for a fatwa on traffic-related deaths was made in June. The site does not however, state when the query was answered.But it wasn’t all fire and brimstone against Gomaa in 2007. His two highly controversial fatwas concerning women’s issues earned him a lot of kudos among women’s rights activists, despite the fact that they raised the ire of many in the religious institution. In February he gave an edict that reconstructive hymen surgery for women who lost their virginity before marriage is halal (religiously permissible). Even more shocking to many observers in a country where honor crimes are still committed, Gomaa said that if a married woman had sexual intercourse with another man but truly regretted her actions and asked God for forgiveness, she should not tell her husband.And in late June, Gomaa put an end to a raging religious debate over female circumcision when he issued a fatwa banning FGM completely following the tragic death of 12-year-old Bodour Shaker during an FGM procedure in Minya.A month later, he caused another stir when he wrote in an article published on the Washington Post and Newsweek’s joint website that it was permissible for an individual to convert from Islam. Under the sub-heading “Freedom of religion in Islam, the Mufti wrote, “The essential question before us is: Can a person who is Muslim choose a religion other than Islam? The answer is yes, they can, because the Quran says, ‘Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion,’ [Quran, 109:6], and, ‘Whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve,’ [Quran, 18:29], and, ‘There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is distinct from error’ [Quran, 2:256]. Referring to it in Arabic as redda, the Grand Mufti stressed the concepts of freedom and responsibility that come with a person’s choice to abide by a certain religion. The Mufti’s spokesperson said the article was misinterpreted, citing translation from Arabic to English and then back to Arabic by local press. Newspapers, the spokesperson claimed, also left out the parts in which the Mufti talked about responsibility and focused on freedom instead. Not for the first time, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Sayyed Tantawy provoked the ire of Egypt’s political opposition in October, when he cited a passage of the Quran as support for his conviction that those convicted of libel should be sentenced to 80 lashes. Several journalists were tried and convicted of publishing false information about members of the ruling National Democratic Party and the president in 2007.The most memorable fatwa of the year is arguably that issued by Dr Ezzat Attiya, a Cairo University lecturer who pronounced that a woman who breastfeeds her male colleagues at least five times establishes a familial bond which allows them to be alone together legitimately. The fatwa provoked widespread criticism, not to mention international ridicule, and Attiya was dismissed from his post.