The Ulema at Deoband do not only engage in complex theological debate. Sometimes they plumb the depths of the ludicrous in response to questions from the public. More so, because of the solemn manner in which they are answered—as fatwas. We culled out these gems from a 10-volume set of Fatawai Darul Uloom.
Q: If while breaking wind it does not smell or sound, does it still break the wazu (cleaning before prayers)?
A: If you are sure you broke wind and you are not under a false illusion and are not physically challenged, then you should do the wazu again.
Q: What is the punishment for a man who tells his wife that having sex with her is like having sex with his mother?
A: There is no punishment for what a man says in private to his wife.
Q: If a chicken defecates in my well, has it become impure? How do I purify my well?
A: Throw out 110 buckets of water from your well. Then it will be purified and the water can be used for wazu.
Q: If my bathroom does not have high walls and a roof, should I still bathe in the nude?
A: If the walls are high enough to cover your body then bathe in the nude. If not, then don't bathe naked.
Q: Will Allah accept my prayers if I pass wind while doing my namaz?
A: Only if you have kept the wind within you and restrained from releasing it are your prayers valid. If not, you should say your prayers again.
Salma, Novelist: ‘Nothing they say seems to affect menfolk. It is undemocratic, beyond reforms. What we really need is a fatwa against all fatwas.’
Shaista Amber, All India Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board: ‘Sania is first an Indian. She is wearing the dress of her profession. Why should these men comment? Fatwas embarrass Muslim women.’
Syed Mustafa Siraj, Writer: ‘An aberration in the Muslim community and the media goes to town with it. As for fatwas, no Muslim takes them seriously.’
Nurur Rehman Barkati, Shahi Iman of Calcutta :‘Uneducated mullahs with regressive, dogmatic views issue such fatwas. But most Muslims treat them as a bad joke.’
Mushirul Hassan, Vice-Chancellor, Jamia Millia: ‘Islam does not accord a formal status to the ulema. The whole practice of issuing fatwas emerges from this search for legitimacy.’
Imtiaz Ahmad, Sociologist: ‘Allah revealed the Quran for all but considering the theological illiteracy, the right to offer opinions has become a Mullah’s license.’
"Sheikh saheb se rasmo raah na ki/ Shukr hai zindagi tabah na ki (I did not engage with the religious sheikh/ Thank god I did not destroy my life)"
—Faiz Ahmad Faiz
Irreverence is a finely honed tradition among the Muslim elite. All the great Urdu poets from Ghalib to Faiz have poked gentle fun at the ulema. Yet there is a great mass of Indian Muslims who cannot take recourse to elegant verse when confronted with a religious dilemma. Some are neo-converts anxious not to commit any sin in their journey to a promised paradise. A few place their concerns before the local mullah. They ask a question; the mullah ponders and gives a reply, sometimes in writing. That is a fatwa in Sunni Islam, which is followed by the majority of Indian Muslims.
Yet, ever since Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini gave the fatwa demanding the death of Salman Rushdie, worldwide there has been an impression that a fatwa is a command or edict. In Shia tradition, an imam's fatwa is binding but not every two-bit mullah can issue one. But as Maulana Mehmood Madani, president of the Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Hind says: "In Sunni Islam, a fatwa is nothing more than an opinion. It is just a view of a mufti and is not binding in India. In principle, only those Muslims who wish to live by Sharia laws should ask us for fatwas."
Any Muslim can ask for a fatwa.
By Saba Naqvi Bhaumik with Jaideep Mazumdar in Calcutta and S. Anand in Chennai
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