A Fatwa in Islam is a suggestion or instruction issued by an Islamic scholar in accordance with Sharia and Islamic laws. Usually only a Mufti can issue a Fatwa. Many Islamic institutions have even constituted a separate committee of scholars for the purpose of issuing these. One more thing should be clear regarding Fatwas – they are only suggestions, and not Islamic orders or directions. To follow any Fatwa or not depends entirely on individual Muslims. Fatwas are not binding. Muslim clerics from time to time have issued Fatwas relating to economic matters, marriage, women’s ethics and religious rituals etc.
At a global level, Fatwas first came to light when in 1989 the leader of Islamic Revolution in Iran and the topmost cleric of the Shiite community Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a Fatwa of death against the author Salman Rushdie for his controversial book ‘The Satanic Verses’ which allegedly showed Prophet Mohammad in a bad light. More recently, a similar kind of Fatwa was issued against Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen. I must clarify here that in Islam, there is no place for debate and criticism vis-a-vis Islamic issues. Islam doesn’t show any kind of tolerance on such matters. Therefore, such Fatwas are being issued against people who speak against Allah (God), the Holy Quraan or the Prophets. Some years ago a death Fatwa was issued in Afghanistan against a Muslim youth, Abdul Rehman, who had converted to Christianity. He was saved after much international pressure. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that these kinds of death Fatwas are filled with intolerance, and are against the basic Human Rights of expression and freedom.
Islamic Fatwas are often controversial. For instance, in November 2008, a Fatwa was issued in Malaysia which prohibited practising yoga, calling it anti-Islamic. Darul Uloom Deoband, in India, at one of the biggest Islamic seminaries in the world, in his last days, issued such Fatwas that openly violate basic Human Rights.
According to these Fatwas:
Women doing any private or government service are anti-Islamic. Muslim women are told to be in the home and if they go outside, they should wear a burqa. Women are prohibited to talk to outsider men. They are told not to use perfumes and deodorant. Bangles are also called anti-Islamic.
According to this Fatwa, it is by use of all these things that men are attracted towards women. Man and woman are compared with petrol and matchstick which when they come in contact, can destroy everything. There is even a fatwa that suggests keeping women like goats. Wherever a man should go, he should take his wife along with him, like a goat, and if leaving her at home alone, she should be locked up so that any ‘wolf’ is not able to reach her.
These so called Islamic clerics who also issued a fatwa against the famous Bollywood star Salman Khan because he organised a Ganesh Pooja (a Hindu ritual) at his home. A similar fatwa was issued against superstar Shah Rukh Khan. A Fatwa has also been issued prohibiting Indian Muslims to chant the national song Vande Mataram. In Kerala, Mullahs also issued fatwas prohibiting Muslim women to marry Communist Party members. Fatwas exist against listening to music, watching TV and singing and dancing, and have been issued many times. Fatwas have even been issued against using Credit Cards and Camera phones. Islamic ‘scholars’ also treat working in a bank as anti-Islamic. According to their fatwas, it is anti-islamic to work in an insurance company, as well as taking or providing an insurance scheme.
The above fatwas may have some significance according to Islam, but in the present social environment and real life, these seem cheap, irrelevant and useless. Moreover, these fatwas are in contradiction to established Human Rights and values. When fatwas are in accordance with the requirements of present day society, and talk about social upliftment, then they are welcomed not only by Muslims but also by the followers of other religions. Such positive fatwas not only present a clear and bright image of Islam, but Human Rights are also protected by such fatwas.
For example, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa in 2005 according to which, the production, storage and use of nuclear weapons was termed anti-Islamic. Similarly in 2004, Muslim clerics in Spain issued a fatwa against Osama Bin Laden and his violent activities. In the same way, popular Islamic scholar Dr. Tahir-Ul-Qadiri this year issued a 600-page detailed fatwa and religious instructions in which, apart from the activities of Osama and Al Qaeda, the whole business of making Suicide bombers is also termed anti-Islamic. In this comprehensive fatwa, Dr. Qadri has point-wise refuted each and every claim of Osama Bin Laden and his concept of jihad in the light of Sharia. Dr. Qadri has also rejected the view of those Muslim youths who are hoping to get to heaven after becoming a suicide bomber. Similarly, a recent fatwa prohibiting electricity theft was issued in Pakistan.
Since Islam has 76 different sects, every sect has so many different religious instructions. Every sect has its own Maulvis, Maulanas and Muftis. Therefore, it is not necessary for a fatwa issued by the clerics of one sect to be followed by the people of another sect. Clerics of every sect can issue fatwas for the people of their own sect.
The narrow-visioned Mullahs, who have no respect for Human Rights, are entirely responsible for giving fatwas a negative image. In today’s progressive era, not only Islamic clerics, but all religious leaders should think in accordance with the present social circumstances and requirements. Such positive fatwas would surely go a long way in improving the image of Islam.