By S. Arshad, New Age Islam
20 August 2020
The village heads of a Muslim dominated village in Murshidabad district in West Bengal have issued a Fatwa banning lottery, listening music and watching films on mobile and TV, selling and consuming liquor, playing carrom and gambling. They have also put penalty of RS 500 to RS 7000 depending on the severity of the 'crime'. Apart from the penalty, the offenders will also be paraded around the village with shaved heads. To ensure better enforcement of the Fatwa, they have also announced reward for persons informing the Social Reform Committee about the offenders. This initiative has been taken under the banner of the Social Reform Committee of the village headed by one Azharul Shaikh. The Fatwa has been supported by the head of the TMC- led panchayat who is a Muslim.
According to the Secretary, Azharul Shaikh, the Fatwa was issued to save the Muslim youth from moral degradation.
The village called Advaitpur is dominated by Muslims. The problems that the Social Reforms Committee saw in that village is not an exception to that village alone. Unemployed youth play carrom to pass the time or purchase lottery tickets to try their luck. The youth spend most of their time on mobile phones listening to music or watching films on the TV. Sale and consumption of liquor is also a common problem of the society and the government has formed laws to deal with it. But issuing Fatwa in the name of social reforms only reflects the immaturity of the guardians and elders of the village. No non-governmental body can take law in its own hands and punish citizens according to their own laws. The committee has also decided to make the offenders to do sit-ups while holding their ears and shaving their heads and parading them around the village. This shows their Talibani mentality and the lack of the knowledge of Islamic principles of punishment.
In fact, the members of the Social Reform Committee and the village Pradhan seem to be uneducated and religious zealots. They seem to be unaware of the social and economic realities of their own community of the district. Murshidabad district is a Muslim majority district and has been mentioned in the Sachar Committee Report as one of the most economically and educationally backward Muslim majority districts of the country. The Muslim population in the district is 67 per cent. The literacy rate among the Muslims is 65 per cent while the literacy rate among Hindus of the district in the district is average 75 per cent. Only 43 percent of Muslim children of the district enrol in primary schools and only 3 per cent of them complete higher secondary education. Only 2 per cent of the Muslims of the district are graduate. There are not sufficient number of primary schools within easy reach and there are a few institutions of higher education. After Sachar Committee recommendations, the then Congress government had decided to open a branch of Aligarh Muslim University in Murshidabad but this move had been opposed by the Bengali intelligentsia of the state as well as some communal and so-called secular parties. The branch has been running there but it is facing many problems.
Since the district is Muslim dominated the successive governments ignored it leaving the Muslim population educationally and economically backward. No major industries have been set up here so that Muslims could have benefitted. Since employment opportunities are dismal, Muslims of the districts take less interest in studies and parents are forced to send children to work as labourers.
In this scenario, the Fatwa issued by the so-called Social Reform Committee becomes questionable. First, they cannot run a parallel police system of their own. Second, if they are concerned about the social reform of their community, they should know that social reform is not brought about by wielding lashes or by parading people with shaved head. The holy Prophet Pbuh toiled hard to bring social reforms among the people of his area for eleven years and when the ordainments against wine was revealed Muslims discarded wine over night without any use of force. The youth who are unemployed pass their free time playing carrom which is not an un-Islamic act though Islam discourages such an unproductive pastime and for which the law of the land does not prescribe any punishment. How can then the village committee punish them? The village committee has banned watching TV while our Ulema use TV and YouTube for preaching their views and ideas. In fact, the village committee members are ignoramuses ignorant about the indispensability of the modern means of communication.
The representatives of Muslims like Azharul Shaikh need to think ways to bring about educational and economic reforms among the community. Instead of forcing the youth not to play carrom and purchase lottery tickets, they should work with the government to open more and more schools for their community in the district and pressurise the government to set up more industries in their area. Moreover, they should run campaigns for greater enrolment of children especially girls in primary schools. They should work towards bringing about all round development of the Muslim community.
Issuing Talibani fatwas devoid of any religious justification will only give leverage to communal groups against Muslims and will not yield any positive results.
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