Deoband fatwa and media politics

A fatwa was picked up recently by a national daily, known for its periodic itching to make fun of Islam and Muslims. It splashed it on the front page on 12 May with a misleading headline saying "Women’s earning haram, says Deoband" as if it was the hottest news of the day affecting lives of thousands if not millions of people. There is no proof that even a single Muslim working woman left her job due to this fatwa.

The fatwa itself relates to a question sent to the Mufti of Darul Uloom Deoband on 4 April 2010, asking him: "Can Muslim women in India do govt. or pvt. jobs? Shall their salary be halal or haram or prohibited?" In reply the Mufti said, "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 Mufti nowhere said that a Muslim woman cannot work outside her home and he specifically avoided to address the other part of the question, viz. if the salary of such a woman is halal (permissible) or not. But TOI’s headlines and subsequent coverage by all other media organisations said that the Mufti has forbidden Muslim women to work outside their homes and has said that the earning of such a woman is not permissible. This was not the case as is clear from the reply quoted above.

The issue does not end here. There are other fatwas of similar nature on the same website which specifically allow Muslim women to work outside their homes if need arises. Moreover, the website page has a clearly visible reference to the "terms of use" which say that the fatwas are individual and that they may change according to changed situations. The terms of use further say that the fatwas cannot be published or used by media organisations without a written permission of Darul Uloom. All of this was flouted by the mediahouses which not only twisted the fatwa but also lied about its contents.
Having said this about the origin and contents of this particualr fatwa, it is also pertinent to know what a "fatwa" is. It is an opinion expressed by a Muslim jurist about a religious issue raised by someone and per se it is a reply to a given situation. It is not a judicial verdict or obligatory as the Mufti does not enjoy any judicial or executive powers to enforce his opinion and as such it is left entirely to the questioner to accept it or not. As there are a number of schools of juristic thought in Islam, fatwas may differ from one mufti to another.

The basic issue raised by the fatwa is that Islam does not encourage free mixing between sexes. Islam seeks to promote a clean and healthy society which is free from promiscuity and illicit and secret relationships between men and women. Islam does not allow sex by consent and as such it does not allow cohabitation. The only permissible and legitimate way of having sexual relations in Islam is through marriage. Islam tends to discourage any social behaviour which may lead to unacceptable consequences and societal decadence. Within this context, Islam discourages women to work with unrelated men in a close environment. And for this reason, women are required not to show off their beauty. Islam orders women to be in hijab, i.e., modest clothing while outside their homes. This means that a Muslim woman should cover her whole body when going out with the exception of her hands and face. Use of ornaments, perfume etc too is also discouraged during a woman’s stay outside her home as this will attract unwanted attention from the opposite sex. Some people, especially in the Subcontinent, believe in full purdah or niqab but it is their social and cultural choice, not an Islamic requirement.

The Islamic way of life does not encourage free mixing between sexes while it does not prohibit women from pursuing various legitimate outdoor pursuits within limits of decency though rearing and caring for children remain her basic responsibility. Islam and Muslims firmly reject the western-style promiscuous life which demolishes social fabric and leads to social anarchy seen in the West in the form of wrecked women, abandoned illegitimate children and uncared for aged parents.

The author is an alumnus of Al-Azhar (Egypt)
and holds a PhD in Islamic Studies from Manchester Uni.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 June 2010 on page no. 1

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