Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh: Twitter is Source of All Evil and Devestation
Saudi grand mufti denies issuing fatwa permitting man to chop up and eat wife in event of extreme hungerGetty

Mickey Mouse, cannibalism and sex with the dead are just three hot topics that have found their way into the Islamic religious edicts over the past five years, as clerics from Morocco to Malaysia and every Muslim country in between issue fatwas as guidance to their flock.

Prior to the arrival of the internet, fatwas by parochial clerics in the wilds of northern Saudi Arabia or the desert tribes of the Maghreb would have little effect on either the Muslim or non-Muslim consciousness, but now once obscure religious leaders are transformed into global celebrities.

Take Abdelbari Zemzami, the Moroccan preacher who has issued thousands of fatwas from the disgusting – he argued it was halal for Muslim men to have sex with their deceased wives – to the salacious, including dozens relating to masturbation and sexual positions.

More recently, it has been Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah who has been in the news due to his alleged fatwas. It was widely reported that Sheikh Abdullah issued a fatwa permitting men to eat their wives if they were starving.

The story was reported in Arabic by an obscure Lebanese newspaper and a pro-Iranian news channel, unsourced and with no indication of where it had come from. It was quickly denied by the Grand Mufti through Saudi state media and emerged to have come from a satirical column by a Moroccan blogger.

The piece first appeared in CNN Arabic and was picked up by a number of newspapers including the Daily Mirror. IBTimes UK also reported the story, but has since clarified it to emphasis Sheikh Abdullah's denial.

Sheikh Abdullah pulled off a switch-a-roo, quoting the Quran back at those who would put words into his mouth: "Oh you who believe, if an unrighteous man brings you news, look carefully into it, lest you harm a people out of ignorance, and then regret it."

That said, the fact remains Sheikh Abdullah has made some radical proclamations before, famously calling for the destruction of churches, while other prominent Saudi clerics have also issued fatwas banning the building of snowmen and insisting the earth was flat.

Other fatwas have targeted selfies, Halloween celebrations and online chatrooms.

Snowmen
A Saudi Arabian cleric ruled that making snowmen was haramReuters/Kim Kyung Hoon

The issue is that any religious scholar of appropriate standing can issue a fatwa. The system was designed so Muslims who had a specific question about the fast-changing world could quickly and decisively get an answer of how Islam relates to it.

A number of online resources for Muslims seeking decisions on both religious practices and life in general, including Fatwa Online, which covers everything from disciplining a naughty child and filing a long tooth (both allowed) to cracking one's knuckles during prayer (not allowed).

But there are bigger issues too. America's Islamic Supreme Council cites the example of cloning, which was obviously not around in the time of the Prophet Mohammed, but which Muslims today may feel that they need guidance on. The ISCA compares fatwas to rulings by the US Supreme Court.

Except, of course, that since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, there has been no central Islamic governing authority, so providing a cleric is sufficiently learned he can issue an edict. They must be able not only to recite the Quran, but also to distinguish when and where the passages were revealed to Mohammed. They must also be aware of the fatwa of other muftis and how they relate the topic at hand.

Of course, that does not always happen. In 2012, a Cairo cleric at Egypt's al-Azhar University got in hot water after suggesting women could breastfeed their male colleagues in order to get around segregation laws at work.

Dr Izzat Atiya said this would enable men to be symbolically linked to a women and preclude any sexual relations between them - but it would need to happen at least five times in order to set up a family bond and allow them to work together alone.

The head of al-Azhar, one of Islam's most prestigious learning centres, denounced the fatwa, which was hastily retracted by Atiya. It was pointed out that although the Hadith does allow a woman to breastfeed a child that is not hers and for that to establish a family bond, it cannot be applied to adults.

There are also many other cases where fatwas have been reported as fact turned out to be untrue. In 2011, a fatwa that claimed to forbid women from touching bananas, cucumbers and other phallic-shaped fruit in case they become aroused was widely reported online.

Man Buys Car With Bananas
A 2011 fatwa that turned out to be false forbid women from touching bananas

The false fatwa was reported in an Egyptian news site, Bikya Masr, and followed up by a number of newspapers, including the Times of India. It was attributed to an "unnamed Shaikh" living in a European country. It was scrutinised by Sheila Musaji, founding editor of the American Muslim blog, who was able to expose it as false, leading to a retraction by Bikya Masr.

In his denial of the false fatwa allowing men to eat their wives, Sheikh Abdullah pointed to Iranian involvement in slandering its biggest rival, Saudi Arabia, and it has been noted the two media outlets that originally reported the story were pro-Iranian channels.

It would not be the first time a fatwa has been used to stir up political tensions in the Middle East. A story came to light in 2012 that claimed the Egyptian government under Islamist president Mohammed Morsi was to pass a law allowing for men to have sex with their dead wives - which stemmed from the fatwa issued by Morocco's Zemzami.

The story was picked up by a number of UK tabloids after being translated by Al Arabiya and ran in the Daily Mail under the headline: "Egyptian husbands will soon be legally allowed to have sex with their dead wives."

As the Christian Science Monitor and Al Arabiya exposed soon after the story went viral, it was completely false and likely to have been spread by those opposed to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Mail amended the story and published an apology.

Isis fatwa table football beheaded figures
Islamic State (Isis) committee issues fatwa allowing table football only with figures' heads cut offReuters

The declaration of a new Islamic caliphate by Islamic State (Isis) in 2014 has led to the group and its supporters declaring fatwa of its own, including recently in Mosul where it was reported that its leading committee had outlawed table football unless players were decapitated.

It also banned the game of billiards and betting generally, as well as "blasphemy, cursing, scorn, resentment and hatred".

But arguably the most famous fatwa is that pronounced by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, when he sentenced writer Salman Rushdie to death over his book, The Satanic Verses.

The price on Rushdie's head is now $3.3m (£2.3m), having been raised by $500,000 in 2012 when a film of his controversial book was produced.