Shaping the mind of the believer

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14 Aug 2012

14 the mind of the believer&id=nc

A fatwa is a decree, a ruling. The mufti who is authorised to issue fatwas has to have encyclopaedic knowledge – for he will be required to pronounce on matters that range from personal hygiene, to marital relations, to the fine points on the law of inheritance, to whether the Earth moves around the Sun or the Sun moves around the Earth, to the way a Muslim should live in and the extent of allegiance he should owe to a country like India. In a line, fatwas are the shariah in action.

In his path-breaking book The World of Fatwas or the Shariah in Action; scholar, author, celebrated journalist, former editor and Minister and one of the foremost voices in India’s public life and discourse, Arun Shourie delves into the vast and fascinating world of fatwas as they have accumulated over the years and produces a body of work that provides a deep insight into a key aspect of Islam at home and abroad.

A revised edition of the book, with startlingly new material, has just been published by Harper Collins Publishers India. Over the coming days we will bring you excerpts from the fresh material.

The querist asks—

But first a word about the manner in which what they ask is set out: so that nothing may be lost in translation, so to say, the questions and answers, including their spellings and grammar, are given exactly as they appear in the official website of the Darul Ifta, Dar-ul Ulum, Deoband. To get back to the querist, he asks,

I would like to refer to book Fadaail-e-Hajj (English version)by Shaykhal Hadeeth Maulana Mohammad Zakariyya, published by Kutub Khana Faizi Lahore, Pakistan, on Section 9; Manners of Ziarat, story no. 9,a story about Syed Ahmad Rifaee (rahmatullahialaih) which performs a hajj and ziarahrasulullah  grave. On the grave, he recited a couple of poems. After that, the sacred hand of rasulullah came out of the grave and the syed kissed it. It is said that the occasion is witnessed by 90,000 people. My question,

•    Can I trust the story because as what I knew, dead people cannot at any circumstances be brought alive. So, can dead people become alive? The 90,000 witnesses also seem superflous as can people with that huge number see the hand of  rasulullah come out from the grave and kissed by the syaikh? To me, the story is merely sufism in nature which lay people like me could potentially misunderstand about the story and brought forward false story to other. Only Allah knows best.

The ulema of the Dar-ul Ulum, Deoband, the institution that is often referred to as the‘Al Azhar of the East’, answer as follows:

Answer: 23583
Jul 28,2010
This event does not belong to tasawwuf (mysticism), rather the people saw the holy hand coming out of the blessed grave with their naked eyes. It  is  proved that the dead can be alive with the permission of Allah. The book “TazkiraShah AbdurRahim Dehlavi…,” published from Al-Furqan Lucknow, contains a booklet with the title “Murdon Ki Zindon Se Ham Kalami.” In this booklet, Hadhrat Maulana Manzoor Nomani…has substantially proved in detail that the dead can talk to those who are alive. For details, study the same.
Allah (Subhana WaTa’ala) (Mighty and Great) knows Best Darul Ifta, Darul Uloom Deoband

That is not a fatwa issued in the middle ages. It was issued on 28 July 2010. Two points are worthy of notice here: What the ulema of this high authority regard as fact, and what they regard as proof of that fact. That something is written in a book to the effect that 90,000 persons witnessed the hand rise out of the grave 1,400 years ago is both necessary and sufficient for them to maintain that the hand did indeed rise out of the grave; that a booklet written by Maulana Manzoor Nomani says that the dead can talk to the living establishes that they can indeed talk…

A believer in the United Kingdom is in search for answers to equally vexed questions. “1- I have heard that when a baby is born a shaitan is also born and the shaitan stays with that person until he dies. Is this true and what is the reference?” he writes. “2- If the above is true then when the person dies then does the shaitan who was with the person also die as well or does the shaitan go by someone else?”
The   ulema answer   with   becoming   gravity   and satisfaction, and also modesty:

You are right. Every man is born with a jinn companion who accompanies him till death…
We could not find whether this Satan dies after the person or goes anywhere else, but it is reported from scholars that if a dead is buried after reciting the verse… the Satan companion is also buried with him.

The fatwas  issued  in  response  to  such  queries  give  us a glimpse of one of the root causes of two, indeed twin, fundamental problems.For the ulema as well as the community they have weaned, that something is said in the Quran or narrated in the Hadis, that something has been asserted by a person whose chief claim to being an authority on matters ranging from the mundane to the entirely unknown was that he could invoke a verse from the Quran or recall an opposite Hadis or, indeed, cite the passage from the work of someone like himself—each of these is sufficient as proof of an assertion. The other side of this feature is that the liberal is always on the defensive. He would proceed by evidence—as it is understood in, say, empirical sciences. But he has no way to discount a proposition if his interlocutor can invoke the Quran or some old authority in its support.
The third difficulty for the community, and therefore for the rest of the world, is also in evidence in such pronouncements: the mind of the ulema remains rooted so far in the past as to be incomprehensible.
That is not all. For there is the other side to the coin—the mind of the followers whom they have weaned.

[Tomorrow: Fatwas on talaq and other such issues. Reproduced with permission of the author and publisher.]

(c) NiTi Digital. Reproduction and/or reposting of this content is strictly prohibited under copyright laws.

14 the mind of the believer&id=nc

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  • sanjeev nayyar

    Great to read Arun Shourie again. Missing his wisdom backed by able research for some years now. Keep writing Arun Sir.

  • Suvie

    I used to read these web-sites where mulla answers the questions for amusement. The questions range from whether one can have sex in the tub or if it is allowed to clean ones private parts with a tissue!

    Ripleys believe it or not!!

    I am sure Arun Shourie’s book would be a serious take on this issue. Thanks for the excerpt.

    • Tapan Patnaik

      I have read the first edition published couple of years back. It has covered all those issues there are some real incredibly silly ones quoted in the book.

  • manan ahmad

    Poor old Arun shourie still unable to get over his obession with fatwas.

  • Afroz Pasha


    First of all, Mr Arun Shori is absolute non sense who tries to create a illusion of being an educated critic of Islam and succeeds with the lesser intellects but does not have the courage to stand up for a debate with the literate Muslims about the topics he covers. Eg: We have invited Arun Shorie for a debate with Dr Zakir Naik many times in public which he has declined.

    The book in discussion above is Fazail – e- Amaal which the literate Muslims DISREGARD as a book of knowledge. So what ever mentioned in these books if of no importance.
    Islam is based on the teachings of the Holy Quran ( which is revealed from God himself ) and the teachings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad ( Peace be upon him ) which are recorded in the authentic Hadiths.

    As for the comments on peoples questions on Sex etc.. Islam has prescribed ways of everything ( Islam in context is not a religion, but a way of life). Sex is one such concepts. There are various methods of lawfull sex mentioned in the Hadiths, which are considered permissible. So Muslims, instead of lingering into animal sex, get their doubts clarified on permissible ways.


    • Vikas Arya

      And we have invited Joker Nalayak many times to debate Arya Samaj…openly…but he has always declined to come…so you and your joker nalayak are nothing but non-sense

  • A

    I am a muslim and am fasting today. To me also the replies(or fatwas, as you want to put it) of the Moulvi look ridiculous. Please realize that just like the questionner of the first query, there are tons of sane people in the Muslims. And I don’t think he/she will take the Moulvis reply on face value.

    In fact based on my interaction and experience the majority is of very sane and rational people, who find a lot of gains in the religion and ignore things which are controversial or are dated.

    For example a common thing which even the Moulvis abide by in the religion are for the human to apply his/her mind (the concept of ‘Fikr’). So with that ‘Fikr’ alone a lot of ridiculous things can be just ignored. One must realize that the religion and its literature has evolved. And its obvious for anybody doing ‘Fikr’ is that the Moulvis create an Ala Carte as per the times and context, choosing things which they think is best for the current populace.

    So I wonder, what is the target readership of this book of Mr. Shourie. As the Muslims who perhaps go literally by the Moulvis fatwas are not going to be reading it. Nor a ‘liberal’ but practicing Muslim like me is going to be reading it. Simply because I don’t need logic to know that I don’t need anybody’s fatwas in my life.

    So its going to be a some right wing intellectuals who are just going to have some fun at the expense of the “foolish” muslims. Well to each, his own. But I felt like commenting my honest thoughts.

    • M.S.


      Your reply that you dont follow the Fatwas is rather naive. You cant promulagate are rule/law and say ‘who cares I dont follow it’. if a wrong or irrational rule is being quoted by offical sources of Islam it has to be debated and countered. Cant dismiss that as I dont follow what maulvis say in tote and hence it does not apply to me’. In case a dispute comes and is to be decided by Muslim Personal Law Board, such notification like fatwas will be used to the disadvantage of the women.

  • Smita

    Comical. It is scary to think that many parts of the world’s second largest religious group may rely on such interpretations to make decisions about their personal, social and political ideology

  • ahmad husain

    An essay by Professor Emeritus C.M. Naim, University of Chicago.

    A messenger brought me some news. It began:

    Darul Uloom Deoband, the self-appointed guardian for Indian Muslims, in a Talibanesque fatwa that reeked of tribal patriarchy, has decreed that it is “haram” and illegal according to the Sharia for a family to accept a woman’s earnings. Clerics at the largest Sunni Muslim seminary after Cairo’s Al-Azhar said the decree flowed from the fact that the Sharia prohibited proximity of men and women in the workplace.

    “It is unlawful (under the Sharia law) for Muslim women to work in the government or private sector where men and women work together and women have to talk with men frankly and without a veil,” said the fatwa issued by a bench of three clerics. The decree was issued over the weekend, but became public late on Monday, seminary sources said.1

    One should not shoot the messenger if one does not like the message. True. But, allow me at least to discover what was being “messaged.” Strictly speaking, it was the following exchange on the website of the Darul Ifta (‘fatwa office’) of the Deoband seminary. No changes in language and punctuation have been made in all the quotations below.)

    From the section on women’s issues.

    [1] Question: 21031, India.
    “Asalamu-Alikum: Can muslim women in india do Govt. or Pvt. Jobs? Shall their salary be Halal or Haram or Prohibited?”

    [2] Answer: 21031. 04 Apr, 2010 (Fatwa: 577/381/L=1431).
    “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.”

    A question asked, an answer given. No decree, only a response. My dictionary tells me, decrees are what kings and judges issue. Most importantly, a court or a king can issue a decree suo motu—of his own volition. Not so a mufti. And yet, “decree” was thrice used in the above report to describe a fatwa, delivering a “message” distinctly independent of the original “incident,” as evident in the opening descriptions: “Darul Uloom Deoband, the self-appointed guardian for Indian Muslims, in a Talibanesque fatwa that reeked of tribal patriarchy….”

    But what about the person who started it all, the questioner, and his struggle to frame the question? He wished to know if the woman’s salary was “Halal or Haram or Prohibited.” Three categories, clearly labeled. The response, however, used a fourth word, “unlawful,” without explaining how it differed from the earlier three. (Goes to show the Deoband muftis are as sloppy in their own tradition as in English.) The messenger then made the situation worse by replacing the muftis’ one word with his own two: “…it is “haram” and illegal according to the Sharia for a family to accept a woman’s earnings.” Are “unlawful,” “illegal,” and “haram” synonymous in Islamic legal discourse?

    The last sentence in the fatwa, “Allah (Subhana Wa Ta’ala) Knows Best,” was entirely erased—perhaps because it was considered trite. Most Muslims, however, would say that the customary closure is a confession of the fatwa-giver’s own fallibility, as opposed to Allah’s unique infallibility. In practical terms, it has always meant that the questioner was free to go to other muftis and obtain a response more appropriate to his precise circumstances. That is why there is no single, all-encompassing, totally binding tome of fatwas even after fourteen centuries of Islam.

    Earlier, Islamic judicial system required a qadi/qazi to put into effect the mufti’s generalized opinion—with the backing of the state’s authority and only after examining the specific circumstances of the case. Colonial judicial system gradually ended the role of the qazis. It would not, however, end the role muftis played in Muslim lives, exactly because muftis were not judges. They were at best only consulting lawyers, speaking up only when asked. When some people today demand that the muftis at Deoband must stop issuing fatwas, they are being unjust. They should instead ask Indian Muslims to abstain from seeking opinions.

    Reverting for a moment to the earlier analogy, the Deoband fatwa, in my view, was itself only a “messenger.” The actual message to note and ponder over lay in the question that triggered it—the anxiety about women in work places, and the use of their wages by other members of the family. Would it not be more useful to try and discover why there should be that anxiety in 2010? Is it exclusive to Muslims, or does it represent a malaise that is independent of Islam?

    Now consider the following two fatwas from the same authorities.

    A. From the section on women’s issues.

    [1] Question: 21388, India.
    “What is tatheer (katna) in some arab & afrikan contries they perform this on girls, As per hadees is it correct?”

    [2] Answer: 21388, 19 Apr, 2010 (Fatwa: 630/630/M=1431).
    “According to the reliable opinion, the circumcision of girl is not sunnah, for it is not proved from authentic hadith. [Quotation in Arabic from a commentary.] Allah (Subhana Wa Ta’ala) Knows Best.”

    B. From the section on Islamic beliefs.

    [1] Question: 20940, India.
    “AS SALAMU ALIKUM.. Can we use KHUDA for ALLAH. mUFTI SAHAB, PLZ reply in light of QURAN N HADITH.”

    [2] Answer: 20940, 24 Mar, 2010 (Fatwa: 697/543/H=1431).
    “The word ‘Khuda’ is similar to the word ‘Allah’ in denoting the existence of Almighty Allah, hence it is allowed to use the word. Some Asma-e Husna (the Beautiful Names of Allah) are mentioned in the holy Quran not in hadith, while some are in ancient scriptures not in hadith too. And if any glorious name from the Asma-e Husna (the Beautiful Names of Allah) is applicable like the word of Allah, there is no doubt in its permissibility though it does not exist in the holy Quran and hadith. It is written in Fatawa Mahmoodia: a word which is not the sign of other religious communities one cannot be prevented to use it, such as Khuda, Ezad, Yazdan; these names are not the sign of any particular non-Muslim community rather they repeatedly occur in the works of Muslim scholars.” (Vol. 5, P 377, printed Meerut, old). Allah (Subhana Wa Ta’ala) Knows Best.”

    Are the two fatwas regressive? They may not go far enough, but in intent they are as progressive as fatwas come. No women’s organization in Africa would hesitate to use the first fatwa in a campaign to eradicate the terrible practice. Likewise, the second would be most welcome to many South Asian Muslims, disturbed by the absurd controversy swirling around the use of the expression, Khuda Hafiz (“God be your protector; goodbye”). That traditional expression is now almost erased from usage in Pakistan, having been replaced by Allah Hafiz, and might soon meet the same fate in India. I, for one, would gladly use the above fatwa in any future argument with the deniers of Khuda Hafiz. Lohe ko loha kaaTta hai (“You use steel to cut steel”).

    Now consider one last fatwa, again from the section on women’s issues.

    [1] Question: 11231, India.
    “My wife has multiple fibroids in her uterus due to which she suffers from heavy bleeding all the time for the last few years.since she says its not possible to differentiate between her menses and the bleeding from fibroids she does not do her namaaz anymore.we have tried all forms of treatment but nothing has helped so far.we are avoiding the operation as she has undergone five operations.what does the shariat say for a problem like this. how and when can she offer her namaaz .jazak allah in advance for your reply.”

    [2] Answer: 11231, 21 Feb. 2009 (Fatwa: 385/D=30/K/1430).

    “A women bleeding continuously will count the menstruation days according to her last schedule i.e. the days of menstruation cycle before this disease will be counted as the menstruation days after the disease. During these days, she will not offer prayers, while in rest of the days after having bath after menstruation will she offer every prayer with wudhu. With one wudhu, she can pray as much salah as she can, provided there happens no other thing which nullifies the wudhu. Allah (Subhana Wa Ta’ala) Knows Best.”

    Surely no one would question the sincerity that underlies both the question and the answer. The fatwa is neither “regressive,” nor “progressive.” It is a statement concerning acts that are beyond the binary habit of the present day English-language discourse concerning fatwas. And that exactly is the nature of the vast majority of all recorded fatwas. They are sincerely attempted answers to sincerely asked questions. They still serve an important purpose in the lives of the devout.

    I am not unaware that we have now lived for two decades under the pall cast by Imam Khomeini’s so-called fatwa— strictly speaking it was a hukm or command, like a qazi’s—against Salman Rushdie. But I place more faith in the history of fatwas in South Asia. Altaf Husain Hali devotes nearly ten pages of his famous biography to all the fatwas that were given against Sir Syed. The great reformer was repeatedly accused of repudiating Islam. His actions and views were declared heretical. At least one detractor traveled to Mecca to obtain a fatwa declaring him a kafir (un-believer). More than sixty divines in India expressed similar separate judgments. Similar fatwas were issued against several Muslim leading figures of the past century. But life went on. And change did happen. The countless fatwas against women’s education, issued at the beginning of the 20th century, did not stop Muslims from educating their daughters. Nor would similar fatwas prevent the daughters’ daughters now from seeking professional jobs in every field.

    It would be much better all around, in my view, if the fatwa-seekers and fatwa-givers were alike given a respite—call it benign neglect—by an overheated press and well-intending reformers. Let us ignore all fatwas—at least for one year—the way we recently ignored the infamous cartoons and the inane Pakistani reaction to them. Let us allow some breathing space to those who can’t live without a fatwa, as well as to those who perforce must meet that need. Meanwhile, the muftis at Deoband would be well advised to learn English well, and urgently develop a precise terminology in it to communicate all the nuances developed over centuries in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu.
    – C.M. Naim

    • Smita

      Mr Hussain,

      While your recommendation to ignore fatwas is altogether a good suggestion, the problem is that even if 25 per cent of the Muslims do take the fatwas seriously, they result in great harm. People get killed unless they go into hiding; women are torn between a husband who was assumed killed, and a husband she married on that assumption; women are stopped from wearing jeans and carrying moblies; Wrtiers are beaten up – not to mention the Jehadi fervour that is whipped up by fatwas. You cannot deny that the worst of the Fatwas are very, very effective on the large population that believes without even thinking of questioning the moral implications of the fatwa in a non-islamic way.

      There should be no fatwas. All questions on legality should be directed towards the constitution, all questions on physical health towards doctors, and all questions on employment must be dictated by need and self/family’s decision. That is being modern. Not asking for a fatwa and then deciding whether to follow it or not.

    • Tapan Patnaik

      Dear Mr. Hussain,
      I wish only all Muslims thought like you. Most of the problems the community faces today will disappear.


  • Ketan

    Anybody who thinks Arun Shourie is poor has to get out of his cave in Tora bora!

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