Fatwas & Muslim working women

Last Updated : 22 May 2010, 16:04 IST

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The spate of ‘fatwas’ (religious decrees) by the prestigious Deoband-based islamic seminary Darul Uloom, concerning Muslim women and telling them what to do and what not to do, may not have much impact but they have sparked a social debate, including among Muslim women.

The seminary's latest ‘fatwa’ that barred Muslim women from working in the government or the private sector that necessitated mixing freely with men without `hijab' (veil) is seen as clearly detrimental at a time when there is a rising clamour for job quotas for Muslims in India.

A fatwa is a religious ruling, a scholarly opinion on a matter of Islamic law
and is issued by a recognised religious authority.

The people, who pronounce these rulings, are supposed to be knowledgeable, and base their rulings in knowledge and wisdom. They need to supply evidence from Islamic sources for their opinions, and it is not uncommon for scholars to come to different conclusions regarding the same issue.

A fatwa is not necessarily binding but it is generally obeyed by religious minded people, according to experts.

While the Deoband denied having issued any ‘fatwa’ on the earnings of the working Muslim women, it did issue a ‘fatwa’ saying that it was unlawful for the Muslim women to work in government or private offices with men without veil.

“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’, the fatwa issued by the Darul Ifta (the department of fatwa) of the seminary said in response to a query.

“Can Muslim women in India do government or private jobs? Shall their salary be Halal (proper) or Haram (improper) or Prohibited,” was the question in response to which the fatwa was issued.

Fatwas are always issued in response to queries and they are supposed to clear doubts on controversial issues.
Interestingly, while the question had also sought a reply on whether the salary of the working Muslim women was `haram', the answer by the seminary excluded the point.

Media twist
“The media twisted the fatwa...we never said that the Muslim women cannot work with men....they can but only where it can be done with dignity (with hijab). It is wrong to generalise the fatwa,” Mufti Shakeel, a prominent Deoband cleric associated with the issuance of the fatwa told Deccan Herald from Deoband.
On whether the fatwa implied that the income of the working Muslim women would be ‘haram’, the mufti said that the ‘income will be haram if the working condition is not in accordance with the ‘sharia’ law (religious code for living).

Damage control
Although the seminary embarked on a damage control exercise by clarifying that it had not issued any such fatwa and had only asked the Muslim women to dress properly at work, it evoked a sharp reaction not only from the Muslim clergy but also from Muslim men and women, who strongly opposed it.

Despite the protest, the clerics are not ready to withdraw the fatwa. “There is no question of withdrawing it... it has been issued in the light of the sharia (islamic law)”, Mufti Shakeel said.

Another fatwa issued by the seminary some months back allowed the widows to work if there was no one to look after them but only at places ‘here there is no mixing with strange men’. “She should also wear veil”, it said.

Jeans, perfume, hairstyle
The seminary has issued several fatwas on women’s issues in the past. Earlier it had decreed that wearing jeans was ‘un-Islamic’. It had also said that the Muslim women must not take part in modelling.

The seminary had, in response to a query, said that it was ‘not lawful to use perfume by Muslim women while going out of the house’.

Similarly, it had decreed that having ‘western hairstyle’ was ‘unlawful’ for Muslim women. The seminary had issued a fatwa saying that ‘waxing from knees to navel is not allowed in Islam’.

Text of Fatwa
Question: 21031
Asalamu-Alikum: Can Muslim women in India do Govt. or Pvt. Jobs? Shall their salary be Halal or Haram or Prohibited?

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)

Published 22 May 2010, 16:03 IST

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