The World of Fatwa's  

by: Arun Shourie

Publisher: ASA Publication , Price: Rs. 300

Reviewed by: Harindra Srivastava


A fatwa, defines the author in his introductory note, "is a decree, a ruling". The sequence being that a Muslim puts an issue before an authority, and the latter rules on the matter. The authorities who can do so can be individuals as well as institutions. Dar al-Ulema at Deoband, for instance, has a special department for this very purpose. They have already come out with a 12-volume collection of fatwa. But that is not the end. Fatwas are eternal. They accumulate and go on from man to man and from time to time.

Whenever a Muslim is in doubt at some point of conduct or when he is involved in a dispute with another person for any problem of life, he will turn to some authority to find what the authority has decreed in its fatwa on the matter. Issuing fatwas, therefore, is an art to solve all human problems. Obviously, the fatwa-issuing agencies (mufti, maulvi, maulana or ulema) are no ordinary human beings. They are luminaries gifted with an encyclopaedic vision plus celestial omniscience so as to pronounce verdict on infinite problems ranging from personal hygiene to marital relations, from sex with goat and mare to rape and adultery, from finer points to law on inheritance to all those confusions about the cosmic order, i.e., the interplenatary relations of the earth, the sun, the moon and the like. So far, so good.

But as fatwas are the "Shariah in action", the question is - how many of these thousands of fatwas are known (or have been made known) to an average Muslim? If not, why? And if yes, how many of these fatawas are really cared for and put into practice; or they work only as interior decor of their sacred scriptures?

To build up his thesis and comment upon several other associated aspects of fatwas, the author takes into account five collections of fatwas:

  1. Fatawa-i- Rizvia, Vol I to XII
  2. Kifayat-ul Mufti, Vol I to IX
  3. Fatawa-i-Ulema Dar al-Uluma, Deoband Vol I to XII
  4. Fatawa-i-Ahl-Hadis, Vol I to IV
  5. Fatawa-i-Rahimiyyah Vol I to III

Elaborating upon each one of them, the author comes to the main corpus of the work. But - and that is the crux of the matter - with a caution and appeal, for he knows the Muslim psyche too well.

"It is possible that the reader will feel embarrassed or angered by what is said in the fatawas, as well as in the primary sources. But he must remember that that is what the texts actually say, and that both the collections of fatwas which I have used and of course the Quaran and the collection of Hadis are available in bookshops throughout our country. Indeed they are the high literature of the community. They constitute the texts which students learn and memorize at the 'centers of Islamic learning' that we are forever being told are among the prides of India. Instead of being embarrassed or angered by what he reads now, he should ask himself why has he not encountered the material earlier?

Why is he embarrassed at reading it? Is it because it punctures the image of Islam that he ahs been maintaining in his social circle? is it because it knocks out the premise - "Islam is the religion of tolerance" - on which he has rested his 'secularism'? (pp. 12-13). (All page numbers refer to the book reviewed.)

I would therefore hope that instead of doing the usual thing, that is expending their energies in pasting motives, the ones who are angered or embarrassed at encountering this material in original, that they will read it, analyze it, and broadcast their findings. That way they will be devoting themselves to something useful, indeed to something lofty - they will be helping free Muslims from the thrall of the ulema, they will be helping in their liberation."

To establish the hard core of Islam that "I'm a Muslim first and a Muslim last", the book starts off with Mahatma Gandhi - Ali Brothers' alliance (holy or unholy) during the Khilafat movement. These Ali Brothers (maulana Mohammed Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali) who, as politicians, readily bent down to kiss Bapu's feet and hailed him "the most Christ-like man of our times", has the cheek to say at Aligarh and Ajmer: "However pure Mr gandhi's character may be, he must appear to me from the point of view of religion, inferior to any Mussalman though he be without character". (p.23)

Even after this statement of Mohammed Ali "created a great stir" (wrote Ambedkar) the Maulana remained unruffled. Asked during another speech at Aminabad Park, Lucknow whether his sentiments were really true, he not only reconfirmed it but went a step further: "Yes, according to my religion and creed, I do hold an adulterous and a fallen Mussalman to be better than Mr Gandhi". (p. 24)

Moral: A Muslim is a Muslim. And a maulana, being a bare mian, is Subhanallah. He is above law, nay, a law unto himself, unquestionable, unchallengeable. That is why, concludes the author: "Throughout, the fundamentalists have foreclosed all possibilities of any foundational critique of Islam by standard heads-I-win tails-you-lose accusations: if the critique has been from a Muslim, they dismiss it, maintaining: "But he is a murtaad, an apostate; there is no reason to listen to him." If it has been from a non-Muslim, they have ruled it out of court, maintaining: "But he is a kafir, why should he be listened to?" (p 69)

So the buck is passed on to a kafir. Who then is a kafir? Well, collecting and counting all definitions and examples compiled in this book alone might exceed ten thousand, making the question boomerang at the quiz-master. If all of them are kafirs, can anybody single out just one who is not? If so, who shall fling the first stone? For example, Fatwa-i-Rizvia warns that dhoti is a mark of the Hindus, and therefore if a Muslim wears it with the intention of (but how to ascertain the intention?) becoming like the kafir, then he is gulty of kufr. That is, he is automatically out of Islam, and his wife is automatically out of nikah. To restore the status quo ante he must not only embrace Islam again, but go through the nikah again. Similarly, wearing trousers, hat, jacket, "ulta purdah" are prohibited. "Even to stitch such clothes is haraam for a Muslim." (p. 133) According to Barelvis, "proclaiming jai of a kafir like Mahatma Gandhi would ensnare a Muslim in kufr. (p. 134) To trim the beard to less than fist-length is forbidden (haraam) declares the Fatwa-e-Rahimiyyah (p.135) while to shave off the beard is abominable - a person who does so is a fasik. (p. 135) Are you listening? You the ashiks (Romeos) of Lucknow and all the Khans of Bollywood???

Full 43 pages of Vol VI of the fatawa Dar al-Ulum, Deoband are devoted to considering what breaks the roza fast and what does not. Mufti Kifayatullah gives a very qualified ruling on watching wrestling or kabaddi, "To see wrestling in such a way that private parts come to be seen is "na-jaiz". Maulana Ahmed Riza Khan's fulminations against doing anything which entails association with kafirs, Hindus in this case, extend over more than a hundred quarto-sized pages of closely packed text. These fatwas are grouped under the heading "Nafrat ke Ahkam" "The Ordinances of Hatred". (P.245)

Chapter 6 entitled "Women and Shariah" is an exhaustive study of the man- woman or the husband and wife equation; and redundant to add that "the husband is always the master". A woman is wickedest thing. And "when excited, she is a hundred times more passionate than man... A woman is "mom ki naak" (white hot tip of the candle), "balki raal ki pudiya" (a tight little packet of resin), "balki barood ki dibiya" (in fact a packet of explosives). If she is brought near a spark (of temptation) it will explode. She is defective in reason as well as in faith. And by nature she is crooked. (p.289) Which is why the husband has the power the absolute, unconditional power to exercise talaq for which he is not accountable to anyone on earth - to throw the wife out by just uttering the word talaq. (p.292). The chapter is replete with hundreds of examples of talaq, and every time the husband stands victor and superior.

Then there are fatwas on money (prohibition on interest, insurance, share business); on western medicine (as they contain alcohol), on listening to music or playing musical instruments or even getting photographed. The current rage of course is fatwas on literary writings (just Rushdie and Taslima) which is a big blow to literature and the freedom of expression. The apology by celebrated Urdu writer and Sahitya Akademi award winner Mohammed Alvi of Ahmedabad for a poem he wrote 17 years ago is a shocking story. The lines in question were: "Agar tujh ko fursat nahin to na aa, Magar ek achcha nabi bhej de Qayamat ke din kho na jaye kahin Yes achchi ghadi hai abhi bhej de. (O God, if you are too busy to visit us, send some good angel to guide us; and senf him now instead of an the Day of Judgement). Now this fine piece of poetry was found to be "an attack on the Faith and derogatory to the Prophet". A fatwa was issued by Mufti Shabbir Siddiqi of Darool Ulum Shahe Alam, a religious school of Ahamdabad on April 4, 1995 and Alvi was declared a kafir. Fearing excommunication from the faith, Alvi tendered an apology.

What remains to be seen is the fate of this book when it reaches to the common public, and is really read/studied in between the lines with a catholic generosity, i.e., with a head in the heart and a heart in the head. Al Hamdullillah.