Vir Sanghvi writes, on his website, about the seeming propensity the media has to report stories that make Islam seem reactionary. Is it the case that the media reports every medieval statement made by a Muslim cleric? There have to be, for instance, equally mental loons or ‘protectors of culture’ in other groups too. Why aren’t the media running stories of silly pronouncements by the ‘leaders’ of other faiths? Or perhaps not running these stories at all?
I’m sure there is some truth to what is being said here. People usually stereotype other people, other groups, other religions around them, and almost never question a story that reinforces their preconceptions. I’m not sure that this is the entirety of what has happened here, however.
The ruling that drew flak from the media and hence from everybody else was one issued by the Darul Ifta, the section of the Darul Uloom Deoband that answers questions from people. In their own words:
Darul Ifta It is one of the most significant departments of Darul Uloom from which people all across the world question in their religious and social matters. Darul Uloom has issued fatwas from its inception but when questions started coming in bulks and it was hard for the teachers to reply them in their part time, Darul Uloom set up this department in 1310 H (1892). Darul Ifta has always been centre of attraction and held great respect and trust in public and court circles. So far more than 7 Lakh fatwas have been issued from this department. The present Darul Ifta was built in 1368 H (1949) while the adjoining hall has been recently added.
Darul Ifta has always been centre of attraction and held great respect and trust in public and court circles. Darul Ifta, besides guiding in religio-social matters is also a very forceful means of rapport between Darul Uloom Deoband, and the common run of Muslims. The Fatwas of Darul Uloom have been highly esteemed in and outside the country; besides, the masses the law court in the country also honour them and consider them decisive. [Emphasis mine]
Sounds important, does it not? “More than 7 lakh fatwas have been issued so far”, they say. Vir Sanghvi asks indignantly why people choose to believe that an answer on a website constitutes a fatwa. Maybe this is why, hmm?
The particular answer that was taken to task was this:
Question: 21031. 4 April, 2010
Asalamu-Alikum: Can Muslim women in India do Govt. or Pvt. Jobs? Shall their salary be Halal or Haram or Prohibited?
It is unlawful for Muslim women to do job in government or private institutions where men and women work together and women have to talk with men frankly and without veil.
Allah (Subhana Wa Ta’ala) Knows Best
Vir Sanghvi quotes Syeda Hameed from the Indian Express, who says that the person answering the question was saying that the ruling he gave was his opinion, but Allah knows best. A look at the website would show that the line ‘Allah knows best’ goes at the bottom under every question answered and every fatwa issued. It’s as if it’s all right for the people answering the questions to say whatever they want, and end the answer with ‘AKB’ and all’s forgiven. I call, to borrow a phrase from Rachel Maddow, bull-puckey.
Sanghvi and Hameed may also be entirely right that this was some publicity-seeking junior cleric who wants to take Islam back to the Middle Ages. My problem with the whole matter is this: even people who criticised the inanity of the fatwa did so because they thought the Darul Uloom was declaring a woman’s salary to be Haram. Nobody even notices, let alone objects, that the idiot who was answering the question had matter-of-factly condemned women to the confines of their kitchens. Nobody objects that Muslim women who want to be outside their houses have to walk around in mobile tarpaulins, wear elbow-length gloves, and cover their faces. And this is what passes for liberalism and being moderate.