Abu Dhabi, Oct.10 : Believe it or not, religious advice pertaining to the Koran and other Islamic injunctions is now available on the Internet. All this is thanks to 48-year-old Abdul Rahman Ammoura, one of the most distinguished muftis in the Gulf.
Ammoura usually dispenses his religious advice to the faithful at a nearby mosque, but can often be found answering the telephone at the world's first call centre for people seeking a fatwa, or religious edict from a small cubicle in Abu Dhabi.
According to The Times, the popularity of the service has easily eclipsed attendance at his Friday prayers.
It is being used by Muslims all over the world, and its organisers say it now takes about 3,700 calls a day, including queries from Britain.
"I am tired, so tired," the mufti says, midway through a six-hour shift. "I hear ringing in my ears."
His advice now counts as an official fatwa in the United Arab Emirates, under new rules issued by the General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowments.
The UAE Government established the call centre three months ago in an attempt to root out extreme interpretations of Islam issued by unqualified scholars.
All fatwas issued through the call centre comply with the Government's moderate religious stance. Any others are considered invalid instructions.
The 48 muftis who staff the phones - there is also a handful of female scholars - are screened by the authority and must show impeccable credentials in Islamic law. They work in teams, with six men and two women on six-hour shifts, between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on working days. A skeleton staff takes calls for "religious emergencies" during the night.
The UAE follows the Maliki school of Sunni Islam, which the Government considers a "moderate, middle way" of the religion. Callers can select the service in Arabic, Urdu or English. Each workstation is equipped with religious reference texts and the internet so that the muftis can consult a variety of sources before issuing their rulings.
Most callers have questions concerning the rules of worship, relationships and business.
Apart from the free phone line, the muftis get thousands of questions via their website, awqaf.ae - although the site is Arabic only - and by SMS, with a maximum 270-character response. Each call is limited to three minutes, but the muftis complain that some callers break the rules, refusing to hang up or calling again and again with the same question.
Officials will not disclose the cost of the call centre. Depending on his qualifications, a mufti can earn between 1,250 pounds and 2,300 pounds a month, not including overtime.