Indonesia’s Islamic council of ulemas, MUI, has concluded their session with the issuance of the nineteen fatwas, or legal opinion concerning Islamic Law. Contrary to what the non-Muslim world thinks, a fatwa is not a sort of death sentence, although in certain circumstances and for some people they can be. Most are mere clarifications on where Islam, or that country, or sect, stands on a particular issue. The 19 fatwas in this case were about some controversial issues — a much debated anti-pornography law (a good thing, MUI says) — and the less controverial — such as “It is forbidden to recieve prizes via SMS.”
Now, on first blush this may seem somewhat odd. Why is such an august body troubling itself with pronouncing whether it’s OK to receive prizes via your cellphone? And as far as I know no further explanation is given for the reason, or why they’re discussing it. But actually, it’s a good thing, and here’s why. Indonesia is rife with scams — I think that’s why I love monitoring scams so much — and SMS is no exception. The most common one is a message that claims to be from a cellular operator saying that you’ve won a prize. All you need to do is to call a given number and register for your prize.
Of course, the number given to call doesn’t look anything like the cellular operator’s number — it’s often located in a remote suburb, where businesses rarely venture — and the source number doesn’t look very kosher either. Still, I’ve tried ringing a couple of these and they’re usually along the lines of either requesting your full bank details and PIN number plus faxing your ID card (presumably to empty your account instead of filling it) or else telling you, Nigerian scam-like, that you have to pay a registration fee before collecting your winnings. Similar scams have been discovered in China and Malaysia.
I somehow doubt that MUI had this in mind when they declared SMS prizes haram. But if it stops a few gullible folk falling for the scam, it’s probably a good thing.