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Islamic Ideology ( 20 May 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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For the love of bad fatwas

By Javed Anand

 21 May 2010

Reference recent news reports on the Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband fatwa regarding women working in the proximity of men without the veil — and be you hereby informed that the Indian Muslim chargesheet against the national media is long and ready.


The charges: It’s a malicious bid to defame Islam’s “ulema-e-karaam” to create a gulf between them and the aam Mussalman. There is another angle, in this dark conspiracy: to undo sincere efforts by the ulema in the recent period to unite the ummah by building bridges between hitherto warring sects.

And there’s more. This is but the latest instance of the media’s pursuit of its favourite pastime: habitual Muslim-bashing. The managing editor of a Muslim concerns portal,, Kashif-ul-Huda, says it best: “Everybody loves a bad fatwa. And why not? It fills column space for newspapers; it brings in viewers for television channels; it plays into the image of Muslims as a backward community for communalists; and it gives activists a chance to reinforce their secular credentials.”


Strong stuff alright. Let the media do the explaining, if it will. As for me, I love a bad fatwa more than the media does. The “badder”, the better. But I love bad fatwas for a good reason.

A fatwa issued by a mufti saheb is often only as educative and illuminating as the attempts of many among the Mr/Ms Muslims to sanitise it while simultaneously crying foul at the media’s alleged distortions and habitual Muslim-bashing. The recent Deoband fatwa and its aftermath is a good case in point. Some glibly claim that Deoband has denied issuing the fatwa the media is publicising. The better informed accuse the media of twisting the fatwa’s real intent.


Really? Here is what is posted on the Dar-ul-Uloom’s website:

Question: Assalam Aleikum. Can Muslim women in India do government or private jobs? Shall their salary be “halal” or “haraam”?

Answer: It is unlawful for Muslim women to do a job in the government or private sector, where men and women work together and women have to talk to men frankly and without a veil.

Citing the above, the media-bashers claim the fatwa obviously says nothing about the salary of such women being “haraam” as reported by the media. This is verbal jugglery. If it is unlawful (“haraam”) for a Muslim woman to work in such situations, the only logical conclusion is that the earnings from such work will also be “haraam” for the woman herself, not to mention anyone else.


Next comes the fallback argument: a fatwa is merely an opinion expressed by an Islamic scholar in response to some specific query concerning a matter of faith posed by a particular individual in specific circumstances. Different muftis, we are told, will have different opinions to offer on the same question and that explains the diversity in Islam.


Isn’t that lovely — let a thousand flowers bloom! But if the fatwa is only for the consumption of one person who asks in his or her specific context, why post it without any qualification on the Web for global publicity and cross-referencing? If its only one opinion among many possible opinions, why is lyricist, Rajya Sabha MP and president, Muslims for Secular Democracy, Javed Akhtar being bombarded with hate mail and death threats merely for expressing a different point of view? Why has he been denounced as an apostate, atheist and “enemy of Islam” by a coterie of top maulanas from Mumbai?

We all love a bad fatwa, Mr/Ms Muslim. If you don’t it’s perhaps because you can’t see the wood for the trees. A humble suggestion: Quit pondering over fatwas in isolation. See the big picture, the universe of fatwas which the overwhelming majority of our maulanas, maulvis and muftis inhabit.


You surely know what I am talking about. In the “best case” scenario for a Muslim woman, nothing but her hands (up to the wrist only) and face should be seen by any namahram (any man with whom marriage is permissible in Islam), co-education is a strict no. For all practical purposes working in the proximity of men or engaging in politics are out of the question (for supporting the Women’s Reservation Bill, effigies of Javed Akhtar and Naish Hassan of the Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan were burnt in Lucknow in March). A Muslim woman is not permitted to travel distances however short unless in the company of a mahram relative. For either sex, working in banks is prohibited for all Muslims because interest is haraam in Islam. Life insurance, personal accident insurance and mediclaim and such other abominable practices amount to interference in Allah’s intent. Celebrating birthdays? Tauba, tauba!


All this and lots more can be accessed from the website of the Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband or numerous other fatwa online portals. So we are not talking only about the Dar-ul-Uloom, Deoband here. However much they may differ on other issues, on those outlined above, we only fool ourselves in pretending that other mainstream Muslim organisations — Jamiat-ul-ulema, Tableeghi Jamaat, Ahl-e-Hadith, Jamaat-e-Islami, televangelist Dr Zakir Naik — think any differently.


A fatwa is nothing but the opinion of a qualified Islamic scholar; there could be many alternate opinions on the subject? Go tell that to Maulana Faridul Abedeen, Sharif Cookerwala, Yunus Trolleywala, a handful of other poor Muslims from Malegaon and their families all of whom have spent sleepless nights since May 8, fearful of their lives. Spearheaded by the local unit of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema (Maulana Arshad Madni’s faction), announcements have been made from local mosques ex-communicating them all.


Fellow Muslims have been warned to stay far away from the condemned. Inciting mobs, maulanas are issuing a daily warning that unless the “enemies of Islam” are banished from Malegaon, the police alone will be responsible for their fate. Abedeen, Sharif and their minuscule following have been declared as Bahais and Qadiyanis. Why? Because they are preaching a dangerous message: “Ishwar and Allah are one and the same”. As of now, not one Muslim religious or political leader, not one Urdu paper has had the courage or the conviction to speak out against the Taliban in Malegaon.

The writer is general secretary, ‘Muslims for Secular Democracy’

Source: The Indian Express