I am not saying, like liberals, that fatwas are un-Islamic. The truth is fatwas issued so far have all been based on Islam.
Feminist, humanist, progressive, free-thinker liberal Muslims exist. There are poets, writers, artists, scientists who fight against discrimination. But a majority of non-Muslims believe that being a Muslim is being fundamentalist, oppressive, killing critics of Islam, imposing burqas on women and pronouncing ridiculous fatwas. A fatwa in the Islamic faith is a non-binding but authoritative legal opinion qualified jurist or mufti can give on issues pertaining to the Islamic law.
The authority to pronounce fatwas rest with only a few institutions, notable among this is Egypt’s Al Azhar University. Al Azhar is a very old Islamic university. Any fatwa issued from this institution carries a lot of weight and importance. They once issued a fatwa saying women have to feed their male co-workers their breast milk. Only this will make them a part of the family and then they can work together in the same room without women wearing burqas. The same university decreed a fatwa against eminent professor Farag Foda for questioning an Islamic law. The university accused the professor of ‘blasphemy’. In 1992, Foda was murdered by Islamic fundamentalists as a result of the fatwa. Islamic law department of Al Azhar University also banned women from swimming and punishment decreed for those who did. Women, apparently, commit adultery when swimming. The word ‘sea’ is male, so while swimming, the sexual organs of women would touch the water, which would be adultery. Also, if men and women get naked while making love, the marriage would break. These are some of the fatwas issued by this ‘prestigious’ university.
There is no doubt that fatwas are increasingly becoming unethical, unscientific, irrational by the day.
In India, the Darul Uloom Madrasa in Deoband, is only second to Al Azhar in the importance of fatwas. Darul Uloom is also famous for another reason, and that is for supporting Gandhi and the Congress instead of the British during the independence of India. But any dignity this institution had is now being ruined by it. Its latest fatwas are extremely oppressive and infringe upon the rights of women. For instance, women have no right to lead the country, or work, or to become judges. If her father-in-law rapes her, then he would not be punished, but the survivor will. It doesn’t stop at that, the father-in-law will then become her husband, and her actual husband, her son. They also currently support the practice of triple talaq, as well halala marriage.
The fatwas of many other institutions, apart from Darul Uloom, is considered valid by Muslims. Indonesian scholar Ulil Abshar Abdalla received a death sentence by Ulama Umat Islam for an article he wrote. A fatwa was issued against Kurdish writer Mariwan Halabjaee as well. Nigerian journalist Isioma Daniel has also been issued a death sentence because she wrote, “If Prophet Mohammed was alive, then he would have chosen a candidate from the Miss World pageant to marry.”
I haven’t heard any country condemn or take action against those who issue fatwas. Moderate Muslims have not raised their voices, and have accepted these decrees. Only a few rationalists have protested.
There are quite a few fatwas against me in India. Raja Academy, All India Muslim Law Board, Majlis Bachao Tehreek, Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen, are some of the institutions which have put a price on my head.
The most infamous fatwa is the death sentence issued by Iran’s religious leader Khomeini against writer Salman Rushdie. He is alive, but his Japanese translator has been killed, his Norwegian publisher was shot, and his Italian translator was stabbed. As for his Turkish translator, the hotel he was staying in was set on fire. Thirty-six people lost their lives in that fire.
Fatwas are extremely dangerous. You can declare a death sentence against a critic of your religion, and then walk away from the crowd. You won’t kill but some foolish fanatics will carry out the deed without any thought. They consider it their religious duty. You escape arrest because you are a friend of politicians. But you are more guilty than the killers who are indoctrinated by you.
Hyderabad’s Jamia Nizamia, one of the oldest Islamic seminaries, has declared a new fatwa. Muslim women shouldn’t marry men who work in banks. They have fatwas against food as well. Muslims should not eat prawns because they are not fish, but insects. Eating insects is un-Islamic. Many stories from the Hebrew Bible, many Jewish customs and culture, many of their superstitions have been adopted by Islam. Probably Jamia Nizamia is trying to adopt the Jewish custom of not eating shellfish. This explains the fatwa.
Saudi Arabia has also issued weird fatwas. Women can’t watch football, because women apparently don’t watch the game but ogle at the thighs of the players. They also declared that women driving cars would destroy their ovaries. Saudi Arabia is overturning these with new legislations.
Fatwas may have been important for some people in some ancient time, but educated people now do think that fatwas are barbaric and inhuman and give a bad name to Islam and negatively affect public respect for Muslims.
Not even a Muslim will say that all Muslims know Islam well. Many Muslims do not know what Islam has asked them to do or not do, so they go to the Islamic scholars or Muftis with their questions. Muftis answer and advise them.
Even if people accepted these fatwas in the dark ages, they don’t anymore. People now know the meaning of democracy, they are learning about women’s right from feminists, and of human rights violations. Fatwas continue to make societies irrational, anti-women, foolish and regressive.
Depending on a 1,400-year-old script isn’t a solution to any problem, it is actually inhuman. We can’t view women with the lens of the barbaric Arabs. One day people will start to doubt religion, and if not today, someday, they will refuse to accept fatwas. People believe in laws that sees all as equal, and not ones that spread hate or give ludicrous decrees.
Muftis will have to stop declaring fatwa. Every nation needs to create laws against fatwas. I am not saying, like liberals, that fatwas are un-Islamic. The truth is fatwas issued so far have all been based on Islam, they don’t make it up themselves. And we should be well aware that if we impose values and laws of the 7th century today, then society will lose its balance.
To maintain progress, religion has to be restrained for personal belief. Religious scriptures are just the documents to be kept in museums. Let not religion be allowed to create chaos in the everyday lives of people.
Taslima Nasreen is a celebrated author and commentator.
(Translated from Bengali by ThePrint journalist Neera Majumdar)