Chat GPMufti

On September 8, the Egyptian cabinet’s media center denied widespread rumors that the government intended to use artificial intelligence to prepare Friday sermons, displacing the imams who currently write them.  The statement came on the heels of comments by the Minister of Religious Endowments, who declared that he had experimented with using AI to write a sermon and rated the output an “8 out of 10.”

Perhaps he expected a more muted public response given the recent flurry of Islamic experimentation with AI. In Iran, leading clerics and technology entrepreneurs have openly affirmed the complementary role that AI can play in issuing fatwas, or religious decrees. Iran’s Qom Seminary—the largest Shia institution in the world—has entered into a partnership with the city’s leading AI research center. The UAE has also experimented with AI-generated fatwas, with the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department in Dubai setting up a “Virtual Ifta’” program in 2019. Even Egypt had previously announced in January 2020 an ongoing project to develop an AI-enhanced fatwa system.

But the success of these three projects has been mixed. While religious leaders in Iran have stressed that AI efforts are simply another tool in the toolkit of Islamic leaders, others have been more critical. In the UAE, the government discontinued the Virtual Ifta’ program within two years as it shifted focus to more business-oriented applications of artificial intelligence. And in Egypt, the government’s flirtation with AI has exacerbated pre-existing tensions between the state and religious leaders over state overreach into the work of clerics.

But those seeking to generate AI fatwas at home will run into a barrier: ChatGPT declines to issue fatwas, arguing that “it requires legal and religious expertise, and I can’t offer such advice.” The clerics’ jobs are safe for now.

Martin Pimentel
Program Manager and Research Associate, Middle East Program