Fatwa for nobody
By Aijaz Ilmi
Nov 10, 2009
The pointlessness of the Deoband resolution on ‘Vande Mataram’
Every Madrasa outside the subcontinent follows a government-approved curriculum which includes modern life sciences. But our religious clergy is reluctant.
The Supreme Court had managed to put a firm lid on the Vande Mataram issue, but, true to form, the religious clergy cannot desist from their desire to keep the communal cauldron boiling. When there is no compulsion, what is the need for any resolution or fatwa? Meanwhile, the reaffirmation of an earlier resolution of the Darul Uloom condemning terror is good news — but at the same time we must name the LeT, Jaish and others and send a strong message.
The home minister should be careful about the bouquets, as the brickbats can be as swift. As citizens of a secular democratic country with a vibrant judiciary, fatwas have little meaning in present-day India. Salman Khursheed’s timely rejoinder about the futility of a fatwa about non-issues and the need for addressing the real, burning issues — education and employability of Indian Muslims, for example — are laudable. I wish resolutions at Deoband had addressed the following questions: Why do Indian Muslims have the highest levels of illiteracy, both male and female, in the country? Why do we have the highest number of school drop-outs? Why do we have the lowest representation in both the public and the private sector? What steps are we taking to stop pernicious recruiters who lure young impressionable minds towards terror ideologies?
A failure to tackle the rapid socio-economic slide will push the faithful instead towards being the last amongst the least. With the Shiv Sena and the VHP joining in, the zealots will raise this needless debate to a crescendo overshadowing real issues.
The legal implications of the fatwa even in Islamic countries are often overruled by the ruling dispensation. There is a binding rule that saves the fatwa pronouncements from creating judicial havoc, even in a country like Saudi Arabia. It is unanimously agreed that a fatwa is only binding on its author. One example widely cited that emphasises this is the statement of Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Al-Obeikan, then vice-minister of Justice of Saudi Arabia, in an 2006 interview with an Arabic daily: “Even the fatwas of the official authority (official Saudi fatwa institute) is binding on no one, whether individuals or the state.” Al-Obeikan was promoted recently, as an advisor to the royal court. The tendency to nevertheless sometimes present a fatwa as mandatory — even by leading religious authorities — should be fought.
The Sheikh of al-Azhar in Cairo, Muhammad Sayid Tantawy, who is the leading religious authority in the Sunni establishment in Egypt (alongside the Mufti of Egypt) said the following about fatwas issued by himself: They “are not binding, but they are not just whistling in the wind either; individuals are free to accept them, but Islam recognises that extenuating circumstances may prevent it.” According to the traditional principles of jurisprudence, the fatwa must be adequate with the needs of the contemporary world in order to be valid.
Over 50 Muslim-majority countries have over the last fifty years managed to modernise and alter personal laws in tune with changing societal norms. Egypt has announced 12 per cent reservation for women in Parliament, Saudi Arabia is opening coeducation universities for science and technology, many Islamic countries have banned the “triple talaq” at one go and women are being educated — and incentivised to work in all sectors. Every madrasa or school outside the subcontinent follows a government-approved curriculum which includes modern life sciences. All these reforms have come from within the religious systems, as they have a larger chance of success. But our religious clergy is reluctant to move on such contemporary issues.
This politics of isolation is ill-fated in a multi-plural democracy like India. In the last sixty years the community has consistently slipped to the lowest rung of the knowledge and economic ladder, caught in a vicious trap the helps nobody but self-serving political and religious leaderships. A growing revulsion against such leadership is beginning to be apparent — especially in the present generation of young, educated Muslims whose sole aim is to be competitive and employed gainfully.
The writer is chairman of the editorial board at the Kanpur-based Urdu newspaper ‘Daily Siyasat Jadid’
Source: Indian Express