Sharia exam (why is copying called stealing even though the original does not disappear?)

Since i am going to iran in less than two weeks i thought it might be useful to go take the sharia exam at paradiso tonight. but as i was kind of late, i did not get a chance to participate (no more voting machines). the whole thing was about screening recordings of questions posed to TV imams (like Yusuf al-Qaradawi) who have shows on arabic TV stations such as Al Jazeera. After a questions was shown you would be given three possible answers and had to decide which of the three answers would be given by the imam (typical questions are something like ‘is it allowed to kiss my husband while i am fasting?’ with ‘yes, the prophet did this himself’, ‘no, humans are too easily tempted for more intimate conduct’ and ‘yes, but only on the cheek’ as possible answers’).

Both questions and answers were highly entertaining and it is hilarious to see how blunt these TV imams are: generally someone would pose questions in third person (‘my friend has not been doing his prayers since….’) and the imam or TV anchor person would respond by directly addressing the caller (‘so you have not been doing your prayers…’).

After the show there was the possibility to pose questions to 4 locals imams which made me go and ask 2 of them if downloading/copying things from the internet is considered equally bad as stealing (which clearly is considered to be haram). the first imam (Yassin el Forkani) expressed the opinion that this can only be considered stealing if it is done while there are other ways to obtain the work that do respect the interest of the author to get paid (e.g if i am downloading a film that is not available legally, it is ok, even if the film is protected by copyright). guess this means that there would be no orphan works problematic under sharia law.

Now unfortunately the other imam was of a slightly different opinion, as according to him downloading/copying is haram if it violates other peoples copyright regardless if there is actual harm being done to them. Sounds a bit strange to me to make the interpretation of the sharia depended on local copyright legislation, but then the guy works as imam for the Dutch prison service so i guess he values local law a bit more than your average imam. Guess i will stick with the first interpretation for now…

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