Fatwa: Take a look

Fatwa: Take a look

Fatwa is fast becoming a buzzword. After Osama bin Laden, Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen, the Indian tennis sensation, Sania Mirza, also got the taste of fatwa recently.

A million-dollar question is: What is fatwa? A fatwa is a legal pronouncement in Islam, issued by a religious law specialist on a specific issue. Usually a fatwa is issued at the request of an individual or a judge to settle a question where “fiqh”, Islamic jurisprudence, is unclear.

Contrary to what is believed by many non-Muslims, and even by the majority of Muslims, a fatwa is not binding on all persons professing the Muslim faith. The only ones who are obliged to obey any specific fatwa are the Mufti who issued it and his followers.

A scholar capable of issuing fatwas is known as a Mufti. Because Islam has no centralized priestly hierarchy, there is no uniform method to determine who can issue a valid fatwa and who cannot. Some Islamic scholars complain that too many people feel qualified to issue fatwas. Ulema are the community of legal scholars of Islam and the Sharia. Different Islamic clerics can issue contradictory fatwas. The effect depends upon whether or not this takes place in a nation where Islamic law (sharia) is the basis of civil law.

Now lets take a look at the people who were issued fatwa. The most recent one to get the fatwa is Sania Mirza. When she was making history for India at the US Open, her short skirts, body hugging sleeveless t-shirts were making headlines back home.

Muslim clerics issued a fatwa against her dress .The fatwa – in effect, a demand that she cover up – was issued by a senior cleric of the Sunni Ulema Board, a little-known group. “The dress she wears on the tennis courts…leaves nothing to the imagination,” Haseeb-ul-hasan Siddiqui said adding that she will undoubtedly be a corrupting influence.

It may be recalled that at the US Open last year, Sania became the first Indian woman to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam event. From 326th position on August 30, 2004, the 18-year-old tennis sensation recently climbed to her career-best 34th rank in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) ratings.

Taslima Nasreen also knows fatwa real well. Born in Bangladesh to a Muslim family, Taslima Nasreen gave up a successful career in medicine to protest the way women were being treated in Islamic law.

Stirred up by her experience of the oppression of Bengali women, she spoke out about the oppression of women under Islam. By 1990, her literary activities had enraged the Muslim fundamentalists in Bangladesh, who proclaimed a fatwa and demanded her arrest and execution.

Taslima continued her criticism of the Islamic law in her writings. Her novel Lajja (Shame) (1993) described the plight of a Hindu family under attack by Muslim fundamentalists. The novel, which was a best seller in India, was banned in Bangladesh. It also brought a bounty on Taslima’s head forcing her to go in to hiding. Thousands of protesters, incited by the Islamic fundamentalists, demanded Taslima’s public hanging. The Bangladesh government also charged her with “blasphemy”.

At this point, however, several human rights organizations such as PEN and Amnesty International, as well as the European Union, took up her cause. In August 1994, Taslima escaped Bangladesh and received asylum from the Swedish government.

She has changed homes several times since then, living mainly in Europe and the US. Since 2004, she spent much of her time in Kolkata where she feels at home due to the Bengali language and culture. Currently, she resides in Kolkata and has requested the government for an Indian citizenship.

Next in the list is Salman Rushdie for his novel The Satanic Verses. The death sentence, issued in the fatwa, called on Muslims anywhere in the world to kill Rushdie for alleged blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad.

The controversy started as the novel in question had made references to verses in the Koran that refers to the worship of idols, something forbidden in Islam.

Even after 16 years of the decreeing of the fatwa, Iran’s current supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei still upholds the death sentence against Rushdie.

Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei first issued the fatwa in 1989 after publication of Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses. Khomeini died shortly after issuing the fatwa.

In 1998, Iran stated that it is no longer pursuing Rushdie’s death. Tehran also promised the British Government that Iran would do nothing to implement the fatwa.

Iran’s reformist President Mohammad Khatami had also said the death sentence should be considered closed.

In 2004, the Khordad Foundation, a charity that put a $2.8m bounty on the novelist, declared the fatwa remained valid.

Since the 1989 decree, Rushdie has received constant protection in the United Kingdom. He has had to keep his whereabouts secret and lived in 30 different addresses in the UK over nine years.

Next in the list is the ‘Most-wanted’ man in the world Osama Bin Laden. Not only is he the issuer of a fatwa against the US but has a fatwa on his head too.

Believed to be one of CIA’s most wanted men, in 1996, bin Laden issued a fatwa urging Muslims to kill US troops in Saudi Arabia. In 1998, bin Laden issued a second fatwa, this one calling for attacks on US civilians.

His fatwa “against the United States government because it is unjust, criminal and tyrannical” was first published in a London-based newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi on February 23, 1998.

With a bounty of over $50 million on his head, the old man is believed to be responsible for the worst terror attack – the effect of which boomeranged in the form of the Afghanistan war – the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

Along with the 9/11 attacks, which killed over 3,000 people, Osama is wanted for many other terror attacks across the world. The prominent among these being the 1998 bombings of the United States embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi and the 2004 Madrid bombings.

More than 1,500 people were injured when 10 backpack bombs exploded on packed commuter trains on March 11, 2004. Muslim clerics in Spain issued a fatwa against Osama bin Laden as the country marked the first anniversary of the Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people.

A man who accused the US of being unjust and criminal was himself accused of abandoning his religion by the clerics in the fatwa against him.