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Wednesday, 25 July, 2001, 20:36 GMT 21:36 UK
'Millionaire' fatwa rejected
Who Wants to be a Millionaire logo in Arabic (courtesy of MBC)
The hit show has found an enthusiastic Arab audience
The Sheikh of Cairo's Al-Azhar University - one of the highest authorities in Sunni Islam - has ruled that game shows offering big cash prizes are legitimate.

The decision contradicts a earlier ruling by another religious authority, Egypt's Grand Mufti, that shows modelled on the British show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? were un-Islamic.

These competitions address a series of useful cultural questions and their goal is to spread knowledge

Sheikh of Al-Azhar
In a statement, the Sheikh of Al-Azhar - the religious institution revered by Sunni Muslims throughout the world - said there was no objection to such shows since they spread general knowledge.

The verdict will come as a relief to Egypt's television chiefs - and to the Saudi-owned broadcaster, Middle East Broadcasting Company (MBC), which makes the programme.

The original ruling was a big setback to the Egyptian broadcasting authorities, who appealed to the Sheikh to intervene in the thorny issue.

Their show, Who will Win the Million? - with its Lebanese (Christian) presenter George Kurdahi and prize of one million Saudi riyals (about $270,000) - is hugely popular with Arab viewers.

'Useful questions'

The fatwa - a religious edict - provoked a fierce debate by ruling that game shows offering big cash prizes were a form of gambling, and therefore contrary to Islamic law.

Millionaire winner with host George Kurdahi (courtesy of MBC)
Winners can receive a million Saudi riyals ($270,000)

In his fatwa, the Grand Mufti said such programmes were "forbidden by Islamic law"

But a statement from the Al-Azhar committee said: "These competitions address a series of useful religious, historical, cultural and scientific questions and their goal is to spread knowledge among the public".

Game shows boost the revenues not only of TV companies but of mobile phone operators, since many viewers take part in the show by calling in on their mobile phones.

See also:

02 Jul 01 | Middle East
Egypt issues 'Millionaire' fatwa
16 May 01 | TV and Radio
ABC halves showings of Millionaire
18 Jun 01 | Country profiles
Country Profile: Egypt
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