The Darul Uloom Deoband in Uttar Pradesh has found itself in the public glare for two fatwas - one that says women cannot cut their hair or shape their eyebrows and more recently, that posting pictures of oneself or one's family on social media is prohibited by Islam. These fatwas are issued by publicity-seeking mullahs and certainly shouldn't be considered diktats, says former minister Nafees Fazal. She tells Aksheev Thakur and Ralph Alex Arakal that a small percentage of regressive Muslims have brought a bad name to the entire religion
Recently, Deoband was criticized for prohibiting Muslim women from cutting hair and reshaping their eyebrows...
Deoband and Berelvi fatwas are the only two revered Islamic scholarly institutions we hold in high regard. The scholar at Deoband merely answered a question asked by someone, which electronic media blew out of proportion as usual. The scholar quoted the Quran, which says one cannot modify their appearances. This holds good both for men and women. Everybody does it today, so why should Muslim women be an exception? Women in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries wear jeans and colour their hair, so why should their counterparts in India, a secular nation, not do the same here?
Another fatwa asked Muslims to avoid posting pictures of themselves and their families on social media. Can this be attributed to the Quran?
Fatwas have their own ways of interpreting verses from the Quran and differ with each other at times. The Deoband fatwa asking people to avoid something simply isn't practical We live in the 21st century! The holy verses have asked people not to draw human figures. But perhaps it bears pointing out that there were no computers and cameras at the time, so can the fatwa be anything other than an interpretation? The people who raise these questions need to be blamed first. We must also keep in mind that fatwas are never diktats!
Do you believe that only Muslim women are being targeted when the holy book holds everyone equal?
Precisely. The Quran does not differentiate between a man and a woman. The modification of one's appearance has been prohibited for men and women alike, so why don't the mullahs say anything against the former? My daughter wears jeans. Moreover, mullahs and maulvis are not authorized to issue fatwas, which they do from time to time nevertheless. There is no mention either, in the Quran, about women covering their faces entirely - this is prohibited at Mina and Arafat, when men and women stand shoulder-to-shoulder as the Hajj is performed. Only the hair needs to be covered in keeping with the holy verses. The regressive practices we see now have been introduced by the mullahs. And why are the same mullahs who oppose the emancipation of women given air time on news channels?
Are you saying that channels have, or are propagating a bias when they debate these issues?
Most channels lean towards BJP. One of them is even being funded by a BJP politician, so can we expect anything else? Mullahs want publicity and the anchors, who act like feudal lords, call them on their shows. This sort of media attention puts Islam in a bad light. Terrorist organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad are a miniscule part of Islam, although they bring a bad name to the whole religion. Why don't the same channels speak out against Pramod Muthalik when he attempts to ban Valentines' Day, or Bajrang Dal, which is accused of lynching Muslims in the name of beef? Don't they terrify people too? Why then, are they exempt from questioning?
Hindus got away with the purdah system through the Hindu Code Bill, can Muslims get away with the Burkha?
Even today, Gujaratis and Marwaris cover their head as per custom. I do not see anything wrong with this. Those women who do not wear a burkha have every right to make that choice. Islam is not a regressive religion when it comes to women.
43% of Muslim women in India are uneducated. How can the situation be improved?
Most Muslim girls are married before the age of 18. I believe they should follow the law of the land, which clearly prohibits marriage at such a young age. Moreover, madrassas apart from imparting the teachings of the holy book, also teach students science and mathematics, which show they are expanding their horizons. The situation need not always be what is presented on television. The expansion in the education system of madrassas is ongoing. However, the Sachar Committee report said that the condition of Muslims is worse than that of backward class Hindus. They maintained that every muhullah should have schools, but this is not done either.
Did PM Narendra Modi perform a master stroke by supporting triple talaq?
He played a clever role. So far, the BJP accuses the Congress of following appeasement politics when in actuality, the Muslim vote is splintered. The verdict on triple talaq finally came from the apex court and until then, the Congress didn't say a word. 'Talaq' is the most hated word by Allah. Women were divorced through text messages and e-mails which obviously, doesn't exist in the Quran. The BJP has already benefited from this and they formed the government in Uttar Pradesh with a thumping majority.
Can Uniform Civil Code (UCC) put an end to the problems faced by Muslim women?
There will be a blood bath because really, one can't change even a comma. Rajiv Gandhi got into trouble during the Shah Bano case. The Quran already says that if the husband dies, the wife will get 1/8th of the share, so what does the BJP hope to prove by enforcing UCC. This has existed in Islam for 1000 years. Hinduism doesn't have a textbook to dictate personal laws but Islam does. And it is not an oppressive religion.