Top Egyptian Cleric Issues Facebook Fatwa

Social networking site 'breaks up families,' says Cairo Sheikh after survey links online surfing to divorce.

One man's profile certainly does not appear on Facebook - Abd al-Hamid al-Atrash, an Egyptian cleric who this week ordered the Muslim faithful to boycott the Arab world's favorite social networking site, Army Radio reported.

Atrash heads the fatwa - or religious edict - committee at Cairo's Al-Azhar University, considered one of the highest authorities in Sunni Islam.

The leading Sheikh was reportedly affronted by a survey that claimed one in five Egyptian divorces is caused by infidelity with a partner met through Facebook.

Facebook "breaks up families," Atrash reportedly said in his ruling forbidding Muslims from using the popular site.

Religious leaders are not the only authorities to see Facebook as a threat in Egypt, where police have in the past arrested activists who have used the site to orchestrate protests against the government.

However, according to one report by Marc Lynch, an analyst and blogger for Foreign Policy magazine, the cleric later denied issuing the Fatwa at all.

"He never issued a fatwa against Facebook, he says - indeed, he doesn't even know how to work the website," Lynch wrote, quoting the Arabic-language Islam Online website.

"Maybe they are just backtracking in the face of the controversy, but it doesn't really look like it," Lynch added.

This type of fatwa was not so unusual, however, Lynch said. A previous edict had banned Islamic ring tones on cellular telephones, on the grounds that they showed a "lack of respect."