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11 May 2017

Assassinations to the Azaan row: Understanding fatwas

Fatwas: Controversy, legality, blasphemy and more!

Fatwas have been at the centre of eye-catching news stories in recent times, especially in the wake of the Sonu Nigam Azaan controversy. They make for interesting reading material both due to reflection of radicalism in some and the sheer absurdity in certain others.

While they have been subject to rampant misuse, fatwas hold a meaningful purpose under Islamic law.

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In context

Fatwas: Controversy, legality, blasphemy and more!


What is a fatwa?

Fatwas are non-binding informal legal opinions issued by a qualified Islamic jurist (mufti).

While a fatwa may be issued in response to an act or an incident, in the religious sense, it refers to an answer to a question from an Islamic point of view and carries more weight than the former.

They show regional variations based on differences in interpretation of the Sharia.

Principles to be followed while issuing a fatwa

Under the Usul-al-fiq (legal principles), a fatwa has to be supported by legal principles mentioned in the Quran or prescriptions from Prophet Mohammad. It is further expected to be suited to the needs of the contemporary world and free from politics and individual opportunism.

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World affairs

Fatwas on major international issues

Iran's supreme leader, Al Khameini in 2003 issued a fatwa against "banning the acquisition, development and use of nuclear weapons". Iran later followed it up with an official affirmation at the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Fatwas have also been issued against participation in terrorist attacks and suicide bombings, joining Al Qaeda and ISIS and illegal hunting in US, Canada and Indonesia respectively.

On women and sexuality

Fatwas against women

On women and sexuality

A fatwa issued from Europe in 2011 noted that women should stay away from bananas to avoid sexual thoughts. Further, a fatwa issued by the ISIS in 2014 banned women from sitting on chairs, stating it could lead to sexual arousal.

A Saudi cleric in 2015 issued a fatwa against women football fans, suggesting, "all they care about is watching the player's thighs".

Fatwas on authors

When they don't like what you write

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against famous author Salman Rushdie's book, "The Satanic Verses" for his depiction of Islam incorporating pagan goddesses and blasphemous statements.

Death threats were also issued against Taslima Nasreen for her writings exploring women's treatment in Islam and against Mariwan Halabjee, the Iraqi Kurdish author who penned, "Sex, Sharia and Women in the History of Islam".


Against Bollywood

A fatwa issued by two clerics in 2009 referred to SRK as a "kafir" and made him liable to be killed.

Salman Khan was targeted for his statue at Madame Tussauds, stating it was forbidden to build a statue for a living person

A Muslim group issued a fatwa against the crew of Iranian film "Messenger of God", including Indian maestro, A R Rahman.

Don't name your child Shahrukh or Salman

A cleric based in Meerut issued a fatwa in 2013, asking people to not name their children after SRK or Salman Khan. The cleric cited that the actors tried to monetize the festival without contributing to the community, by releasing their movies on Eid-ul-fitr.

Azaan & Singing

Latest controversies

A fatwa was issued by the West Bengal Minority Council against famous singer, Sonu Nigam for tweeting against the disturbance caused by loudspeakers during azaan. The fatwa urged for the singer's head to be cut off.

In another recent instance, 46 clerics in Assam signed a fatwa against Indian Idol contestant and playback singer, Nahid Afrin, stating that singing was against the Sharia.

How should fatwas be viewed in the contemporary world?


How should fatwas be viewed in the contemporary world?

While fatwas are seen dangerous in countries with a prevalence of extremely radical Islam, in India such instances seem to be mere expressions of opinion.

Further, such opinions more or less fall within the purview of freedom of expression. Media portrayal of such instances as reflective of the nation's religious sentiments is inaccurate and serves to take focus away from issues that really matter.

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