Syed Sha Atef Ali Al Quaderi – does the name ring a bell? If it didn’t earlier, it should now. He is the cleric from West Bengal who had issued a fatwa against singer Sonu Nigam for speaking out against azaan through loudspeakers. He announced a Rs 10 lakh reward for anyone who would tonsure the celebrity and decorate him with a garland of torn shoes. He also said such people should be driven out of the country.
'Boo', said Nigam. He did the tonsuring on his own and demanded that the cleric deliver on his promise, by paying him Rs 10 lakh. Quaderi has since been busy cooking up excuses to escape payment. Of course, we know all this is a farce. The fatwa itself was not supposed to be of any consequence, like all frivolous fatwas issued by muftis. Such pronouncements are more in the nature of opinion on a particular matter and are not binding in nature. Even many Muslims don’t treat these with much respect. The fatwa itself was not supposed to be of any consequence, like all frivolous fatwas issued by muftis. Such pronouncements are more in the nature of opinion on a particular matter and are not binding in nature. Even many Muslims don’t treat these with much respect.
What then makes people like Quaderi issue fatwas at the drop of a hat? In 2005, there was a fatwa against tennis star Sania Mirza, asking her to dress properly during matches, as she was corrupting the youth. Responding to a case in Uttar Pradesh, in the same year, where a man raped her daughter-in-law, the Islamic court issued a fatwa asking him to marry her.
It opined that after the incident the husband of the woman had become her son. A couple of years ago, a Mumbai-based Muslim organisation had issued a fatwa against music composer AR Rahman for composing the background score for a movie on the Prophet. In 2007, there was a fatwa against the Indian Army for reconstructing mosques damaged in Kashmir. The list of such stupid fatwas is endless.
Given the lack of gravitas in the pronouncements and the disdain with which they are treated, one wonders why they are issued in the first place. They neither serve any benign purpose nor convey an intelligent worldview. The purpose could be cheap publicity, nothing else. Quaderi, hitherto little known, has got his moment in the sun. Nigam may have mocked him but it has served a purpose for the cleric.
But, what kind of image the practice conveys of the Muslim community to the wider world? It’s a question the community must address with some urgency. Such fatwas make them look ridiculous, regressive and cynical. It gives the impression that Muslims are stuck in some pre-historic age and are completely out of touch with today’s reality. It’s baffling that the educated in the community would keep silent, like they did back in 2013, when a cleric in Uttar Pradesh would issue a fatwa against polio drops, claiming it was some kind of a conspiracy.
In times when Muslims everywhere are being viewed with suspicion, for the association of some of their members with terrorism, the silly fatwas only deepen the suspicion. It only enhances the perception that the community is not prepared to reach out to other communities or open to fresh ideas.
The problem perhaps has to do with weak leadership, both intellectual and social. With no intellectual challenge to their position, the clerics have the freedom to operate with impunity. That a practice like triple talaq should be defended vociferously by a vocal section of the community is a sad statement on the state of affairs.
The fatwas should be treated as an embarrassment to the community and those issuing them should be pulled up. But whose responsibility is it? This again is a question the intellectuals in the community must answer. Meanwhile, the likes Quaderi can enjoy their 15 minutes of fame.
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Updated Date: Apr 21, 2017 16:01:13 IST