Of fatwas and Deoband – who rules Indians – mice or men?

Posted on August 2, 2008. Filed under: India, Muslims, Politics, religion |

On 1st June, 2008, the Bharatiya Janata Party president Rajnath Singh praised the recent ‘fatwa’ issued by Darul Uloom Deoband describing any attempt at “breach of peace and killing of innocent persons” as “most inhuman crimes.” The Deoband ‘fatwa’ was read out and approved by Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind leaders at an anti-terrorism and Global Peace Conference. BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters that the BJP executive fully supported this move by Islamic organisations. The move was described as a “historic” step in India’s fight against terrorism.

We need not go here into the more than a century long bitter fight between two trends within the Muslim community in India over modernization represented by the Deobandis on one hand and the group crystallizing into the Aligarh Muslim University. But the Deobandi’s have in general taken up the more retrogressive Saudi interpretation by Wahab of Islamic faith literature (as needed and shaped by the House of Saud’s desire to militarily unify the Arabian peninsula – the unifier’s admirers usually praised him for his equal skill at wielding the swords of “steel and flesh”). Deoband’s utterances have always been quoted as inspiring for the most inveterate of Muslim extremism, and especially directed against Hindus or the Indian state. Elsewhere in this blog I have written about the dubious nature of the basis of the claims of “peaceful” treatment of non-Muslims based on Islamic faith literature, and the Quranic verses are quoted and used out of context to try and misrepresent Islam’s attitudes towards non-Muslims as “peaceful” and “tolerant”. Who defines and judges “innocence”? There are so many instances in core Islamic texts of attacking groups of civilians by surprise and who were not in preparation for war, had no discernible quarrel, but sometimes simply a group which had refused to accept “Islam” (which was also almost always equivalent to personal submission at the same time to the Prophet of Islam) -or simply did the heinous crime of “being rich/ plying caravans in trade/having beautiful women”.  Most of the times, simply “being a pagan” was sufficient qualification to be “non-innocent”. Any non-Muslim group that resists being converted, or submitting to the authority of the Muslims, or giving up their possessions and their women to Muslims, could be seen as opposing “Allah’s will” and therefore “non-innocent”.

Before going into the significance of “praising” fatwas, let us look at a media sensation 3 years ago. A Muslim woman, allegedly raped by her father-in-law in the Charthawal town of Uttar Pradesh, said that she was ready to abide by the fatwa issued by Darul Uloom Deoband, which ruled that she could no longer cohabit with her husband. “Me and my husband are willing to abide by the fatwa if the Darul Uloom Muftis want us to,” Imrana, the wife, said. Mufti Habibur Rehman of Darul Uloom Deoband said in a fatwa that Imrana’s life with her husband Noor Ilahi has become untenable as per Islamic law after the alleged rape on June 3. Reacting to the ruling, Imrana, who had been staying with her parents at Kukra village, said she had full faith in the Shariyat. The All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board took strong exception to the Deoband fatwa, claiming that it was not consistent with the Quran.

The two cases illustrate, how subtly the “fatwa-ists” have made their position strong in India. They can inspire complete subservience and submission on the part of Muslim women to the “Shariat” and inspire desk-thumping praise from the BJP. This sophisticated strategic approach is aimed at getting a parallel legal and subsequent state authority established within India. It is a pity that the BJP fails to understand this or is acting too clever in hoping to appear flexible and not hardline towards Islamic consolidation.

The issue of fatwas and their acceptance in public discourse should be seen as one of the gravest of threats for the modern Indian state and people. Nothing, absolutely nothing should be allowed to come in between the individual citizen and the democratically elected and maintained state authority and interpretative institutions. There should be legal steps and penalties on anyone or any body that issues prescriptions of a legal nature that does not originate from the state. Similar laws should be there, and the state should show extreme firmness (of the order it could so easily show ruthlessly in dealing with the Sikhs or Bengal Naxals, but never with Muslim extremists, or upper-caste private armies in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh) in dealing with religious bodies claiming to speak on behalf of their “communities” and in reality preventing nation formation and modernization.

I do really wonder from time to time, who rules Indians – mice or men?


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