The Critical Analysis of Fatwas Issued on Muslim Women in India

PHOTO: AFP/FILE.

Fatwa is basically an Islamic legal opinion which has its roots in the Islamic history. However, in the modern time, starting from the Imam Khomeini’s Fatwa against Salman Rushdie, this term often creates chaos in the society. Recently in India also, many controversial Fatwas on Muslim women coming into the limelight and brought dilemmas in the Indian society. There is a highly myth in the society that Fatwa is binding in nature; however being merely a legal opinion Fatwa is not binding at all. . As we consult a lawyer over a legal problem to clarify our doubt, Muslims consult a Mufti (one who is authorize to issue Fatwa) when faced with a doubt on what is prohibited and what is permissible in Islam. It is only the Mufti, not even Imam, who can issue fatwa only in repose to a query referred to them. It is up to the Mustafti i.e. one who questions whether to accept this fatwa or not and if the person is not satisfied with the opinion then he/she can refer his/her matter to some other Mufti. A Mufti has to write in the end of the Fatwa wa allah alam i.e God only knows the best and with his knowledge, he can try to determine it. Therefore, it is the utmost requisite to understand the methodology of Fatwa to over come from the chaos and wide misunderstanding regarding this in society.

In India, there have been some controversial Fatwas like the one against Taslima Nasreen, the exiled Bangladeshi writer pronounced by the Majlis Bachao Tehreek, which offered unlimited financial rewards to anybody who would kill her or the Fatwa issued by a Maulvi in Midnapore (West Bengal) on the dress code of Sania Mirza, tennis star of India, which aroused the highest controversy and raised people’s doubts about the relevance of Fatwas in modern times. Is it just an opinion? Then why is it depicted as compulsory? What are the factors associated with this?

Media plays an important role in this context by giving wide and often undue coverage to this kind of Fatwas. Journalists working under the pressure to meet dead lines often consult the local Imams to provide quick opinion on a given subject without realizing that only a trained Mufti could issue Fatwa and not even Imam. This resulted in media coming up with the sensational news at the cost of accuracy. Conservative attitude of the Mullahs i.e. clergy is also responsible who have been considered to represent Islam. Their unwillingness to come out of their narrow approach and their reluctance to accept any changes adds further complications, as, for them, everything modern is western and they refuse to differentiate between the two. It is also observed that Fatwa has been used as a license to justify an unjust act under the guise of religious rulings especially by those who are not authorized to issue Fatwa or those not possessing sufficient knowledge of Islamic law. In all such cases, Fatwa loses its core objective and becomes the object of chaos in the society.  Therefore, this study focuses on and analyzes various Fatwas issued in relation with the Muslim women in India and aim to determine this on the basis of Quranic injunctions and also legal parameters of Islam.

This project covers extensive assessment of various Fatwas taking into account Muslim women which have been issued by the Darul Uloom Deoband which is the highest Islamic seminary in India, next to the world renowned Al-Azhar in Cairo. Though there are number of important seminaries issuing Fatwas in India but the reason underlying for the selection of Fatwas of Darul Uloom Deoband is due to the very important role it plays in the realm of ordinary Muslim lives. They have the credit of issuing lakhs of Fatwas since it started the separate wing of issuing Fatwa i.e. Darul Ifta under its umbrella organization. Its biggest credit is due to the fact that Darul Uloom emerged in response to the first freedom struggle in India in 1857 and lent total support to Mahatama Gandhi and Indian National Congress against the British. On the religious front, the Darul Uloom brought about reforms and on political front it was nationalist and moderate. Darul Uloom Deoband is presently one of the authentic institutions for issuing Fatwa in India.

But it is such an irony that despite their selfless endeavors and historically important role it plays, the present institution often comes under the attack of media and various civil society organizations, due to the controversial Fatwas which they issued from time to time. Recently also, they have issued number of such Fatwas especially related with the Muslim women such as Muslim women cannot hold government or private jobs and women cannot become judges, are nothing but highly misogynist. Further more, the very recent Fatwa on triple Talaq accepting the validity of three pronouncements of divorce given by husband to his wife on Skype, and to remarry again, asking wife to go through the Halala where she has to marry another person and establish conjugal relations with him and after he divorces her, then only she can marry her former husband. Suck kinds of Fatwas made not only the entire society anxious but it largely affected and victimized Muslim women. Nevertheless, such kinds of rulings are actually a product of the medieval jurisprudence (and nothing to do with Quran) which needs to be reformulating in the contemporary time.

Such Fatwas produced negative repercussions for the image of Islam as well. Media often portrays Islam as a misogynist religion without going into much depth. One must understand that whether these Fatwas are according to the Quranic injunctions. There is a vast difference between religion as an umbrella term and Schools of thought as a part of it. We cannot generalize about former on the basis of latter. Nevertheless, Quran has not objected to women’s right to work and hold important positions, in fact, Quran approved of Queen of Sheeba for her leadership. There is no concept of triple Talaq in Quran. Regarding this, Quran says Talaq is only twice…(Surah Baqr, Verse 229).  In fact, Quran has not approved of arbitrary Talaq given by the husband to wife but prescribes proper procedure as mentioned in Surah Baqr. Hence, any attempt to generalize about Islam without understanding the dynamic of Quran would be highly unjust.

Therefore, our main purpose is to highlight whether these Fatwas are in congruence with the Quran. Quran has given absolute rights to women in the patriarchal society and uplifted not only their social status but equipped them with the several important rights, for example, right to education, right to work, right to choose her partner in marriage, right to divorce etc. But in spite of this, Muslim women more often does not get these rights in practice and people generalize that it is due to the religion. However, it is vice-versa. Quran has given absolute rights to women but society usually under the control of men interest deprived women of all the significant rights enshrined in the holy Quran. Ulema i.e. Muslim clergy played very important role in this respect in the absence of priesthood in Islam, and also lack of knowledge of Quran and Islamic law amongst the Muslims.  They denied Quranic rights to women and enforced duties on them in the reverse manner of Quran. They often issues Fatwas on women to take back their rights which Quran granted them. One of the strong reasons behind these misogynist Fatwas are the hegemony of male clergy over issuing Fatwa and absence of female Muftis. Though Quran has set no barriers and even Islamic history witnesses women Muftis but the existing shortcomings demands dynamic change in the current set up.

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