By Navaid Hamid,
Indian Muslims are not aloof from the global Muslim community which is feeling the brunt of a crisis from within. They suffer from an identity crisis in spiritual, social and political spheres. Muslim intellectuals today follow western modules in order to pretend that they are secular and liberal. On the other hand, Muslim clergy fails to give weightage to changed times, conditions and social realities while pronouncing edicts – opinion – fatwas – on issues of social importance while Muslim politicians are not only busy safeguarding their petty interests but also feel shy to actively take up the case of the community to which they belong. Most of the time, the only common thread between all of them is a visionsless approach to deal with a crisis.
The recent fatwa issued by the Islamic seminary of Deoband in India on the issue of working Muslim women says Ã¢â‚¬Å“it is unlawful for Muslim women to do any job in government or private institutions that entails men and women working together and women having to talk to men without the veil.Ã¢â‚¬Â It created a storm not only in the national media but also within the Muslim community and has given another excuse to the detractors of the Muslim community to attack the fundamentals of Islam.
The fatwa came in response to a querry which said, “Can Muslim women in India do government or private jobs? Shall their salary be halal or haram or prohibited?”
Common Muslims are confused and seem to be lost between Islamic luminaries on one side and ultra secularists and media on the other. The national media flashed the news that an Islamic seminary has decreed that “it is Ã¢â‚¬ËœharamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and illegal according to the Sharia for a family to accept a womanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s earnings”, inspite of the fact that the seminary had responded only to the first part of the query and kept silent about the other part for reasons best known to the mufti.
Almost all national dailies and major news channels carried the news prominently and it received wide attention and condemnation by every Tom, Dick and Harry of the secular tribe without verifying the contents of the fatwa in its totality.
After verifying the contents, I was confused as others too may have been, as nowhere in the fatwa, the clerics have quoted any Hadith or Quranic injunction to substantiate their ruling. Moreover, the fatwa concludes with a rider: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) knows bestÃ¢â‚¬Â which relieved me to some extent because, yes, it is the Almighty alone who knows the best and not men who respond to social issues with a religious brush without clear references from Islamic scriptures.
No practicing Muslim would disagree that in a multi-cultural and multi-religious society like India, every Muslim – man as well as woman, must guard his/her modesty. Do the revered clerics doubt the integrity of the Muslim women? Unfortunately, the fatwa is giving that impression which is contrary to the basic tenets of Islam which do not discriminate between man and woman.
It is not the Indian Islamic seminaries alone which issue such contentious religious edicts. In the recent past, a Malaysian Islamic scholar issued a fatwa prohibiting the use of the word Ã¢â‚¬Å“AllahÃ¢â‚¬Â by non-Muslims in Malaysia. During a recent visit to Malaysia, I tried to understand the views of a highly respectable politician. I was not impressed by his response that Ã¢â‚¬Å“Malaysia is not in the Arab peninsula. We have a different culture and the argument by those who have given and support the fatwa needs to be understood in the right context.Ã¢â‚¬Â How can one justify the appropriation of of Allah (God) by Muslims? And if this is correct, there should be one answer for this applicable to the whole Muslim world.
The understanding of Islamic jurisprudence in the contemporary world is a matter of great importance. A good number of scholars have argued for the opening of the avenues of “Ijtehad”. The renowned Islamic scholar and author of Radical Reform : Islamic ethics and Liberation, Tariq Ramadan, recently proposed “radical reform in the way we deal with the scriptures – rethinking the classical way of reading the scriptural resources and also addressing the contemporary challenges of promoting and applying Islamic ethics of our time”. Tariq Ramadan holds the firm view that “Muslims need to go from adaptional reform to transformational reform, which is not to adapt ourselves to the way things are, but to propose applied ethics to change them for the better.”
The so-called Ã¢â‚¬Å“liberalsÃ¢â‚¬Â in the Indian Muslim community always try to hijack issues for gaining publicity and shed crocodileÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tears on the plight of Muslim women whenever there is a semblance of conflict between Islamic scholars and common Muslim masses.
These Ã¢â‚¬Å“liberalÃ¢â‚¬Â Muslims never speak on the general empowerment of Muslim women. They even vigorously opposed the demand of the educated Muslim women to have their due share in the political empowerment through the Women Reservation Bill.
These liberals have also never voiced their concern on the plight of the Muslim women of West Bengal where they have been marginalized the most during the last 33 years of the Left partiesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ rule. I have not read a single statement of these so-called Ã¢â‚¬Å“liberalsÃ¢â‚¬Â when the goons of the CPM raped, attacked and killed hapless Muslim women of Nandigram not long ago.
Most of these liberal, ultra-secular Muslims have made personal gains in the shape of cosy posts and rewards from all political parties. Most of them have always been on the right side of the establishment from Shiv Sena to BJP to Congress. And every ruling party paid them handsome rewards for their dissenting and discordant voice.
Lyricist Javed Akhtar deserves congratulations for getting a “good Muslim” certificate by Balasaheb Thackeray in Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece Samna for confronting and denouncing the Deoband fatwa. I admired this renowned lyricist not only because of his famous lyrics but also because of his courage to stand out and share dais with the Shiv Sena around 10 years back when the Sena was in its peak demonizing Muslims of Maharashtra and for his “special love” for Vajpayee when he had recited Vajpayee’s Ã¢â‚¬Å“poemsÃ¢â‚¬Â.
I was also amused to read a reaction of Shabnam Hashmi, a good friend of mine, who indeed is a secularist at heart and a courageous activist. She was correct when she reiterated that she does not recognise Deoband and I do agree with her because time and again she had reiterated that she is a non-believer. What amused me was the second part of her statement in which she said that this fatwa will not impact educated women like Ã¢â‚¬Å“herselfÃ¢â‚¬Â but that Ã¢â‚¬Å“there was a certain section in the society that would have to bear the brunt of such pronouncements.Ã¢â‚¬Â I can only assure Shabnam that the fatwa on working Muslim women has little importance in the contemporary lives of the Indian Muslims at large.
Most of the electronic channels have an impression that by attacking and highlighting the conflicts in the Muslim society they would gain more funds by improving their TRP. The same is the case with the print media. Every media house is in a blind race to give prominence to views expressed by muftis of Deoband. The invented story that a fatwa said that it is “haram and illegal according to Sharia for a family to use a woman’s earning” found prominence in the media. The irony is that the fatwa is available official website of the Islamic seminary of Deoband. When the seminary denied the fake story published by the media, there were few takers for their denial. The damage was done. From the mufti who pronounced the fatwa to the liberal Muslims to media, everybody played a role in damaging the image of Islam and Muslims and used it to further their politico-economic ambitions.
(The writer is Secretary, South Asian Council for Minorities (SACM) and Member, National Integration Council)