Opinion

AR Rahman shows how best to respond to fatwas (and a note about what they actually are)

The musician's response to the diktat against him for composing music for Iranian director Majid Majidi's film is also reminder of how a genuine man of faith speaks.

In 2017, we shall celebrate the 200th birth anniversary of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the Indian Muslim who was declared a kafir by the mullahs of India on more counts than any other person before him or after.

Here is a partial list of the reasons why some mullah or other thought Sir Syed was beyond the pale of Islam.

  • He did not believe that wearing Western clothes was against the Shari’a. 
  • He believed that Angels and Satan were not real beings and instead believed them to be human powers, as endowed by God, to do good or bad. 
  • He believed that the Quran did not mention any miracle attributable to the Prophet Muhammad. 
  • He believed that Islam ended slavery forever even during the Prophet’s life.  
  • He ate at a table, while sitting on a chair, and used a knife and a fork. He shared his table with Christians, and also ate at their homes. 

As countable in his biography by Altaf Husain Hali, the list runs to more than 50 similar accusations.

How best to respond to fatwas

One of Sir Syed’s most persistent detractors was a Maulvi Ali Bakhsh Khan, a subordinate judge in the colonial administration. When Ali Bakhsh Khan went on the Hajj, he spent more time in obtaining fatwas against Sir Syed and publishing them back in India.

Sir Syed’s response was something to this effect: I’m proud of my kufr because it made possible my friend Ali Bakhsh Khan to obtain the blessings of a Hajj.

On another occasion, when his detractors fell silent for a while, Sir Syed wrote in his journal, Tahzib-al-Akhlaq, “I feel like that old biddy who was regularly teased by market urchins, and if any day it didn’t occur she would say, ‘What happened to the boys? Has some plague taken them?’”

Until now they used to be my examples of how best to respond to the fatwas that are headlined every other Thursday in the press – issued by some obscure entity eager to seek some easy publicity and written-up by some perfervid newsperson anxious to get into print that day. Now I have a third example, the statement issued by AR Rahman in response to the fatwa issued by Mufti Mahmood Akhtarul Qadri, the imam of Haji Alig Dargah Masjid, in response to a request made by Saeed Noori of the Raza Academy, Bombay.

And what a classy response it is.

“What, and if, I had the good fortune of facing Allah, and He were to ask me on Judgement Day: ‘I gave you faith, talent, money, fame and health... why did you not do music for my beloved Muhammad (Peace be upon him) film? A film whose intention is to unite humanity, clear misconceptions and spread my message that life is kindness, about uplifting the poor, an and living in the service of humanity and not mercilessly killing innocents in my name.”

Read it in full – see how a genuine man of faith speaks, bearing witness to the faith that feeds his spirit and the talent he earns his living from, and considering both as gifts from the Divine and thus fully in tune with each other.

Rising sectarianism

The trouble with people like Qadri and Noori is that they have split personalities and have as much stuff to hide as they profess to strut before us. And the news-writers go along out of ignorance, but also due to a lack of genuine curiosity. Qadri earns his living at a mosque attached to a dargah. Now if we went to a Deobandi mufti, he would be happy to issue a fatwa against anyone whose source of income is a dargah, for that is not what the Deobandis allow. For them: no dargahs; no grave-worship; no belief in any miracle-making saint. And the same savant would happily declare Noori a mushrik – one who shares his belief in God with a belief in another god – for Noori, when he goes to his Bareli Sharif, bows before the grave of Ahmad Raza Khan and touches his forehead to it.

Likewise, God help that Deobandi who attends a meeting to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet but fails to stand up and sing along with the congregation when the preacher announces the Prophet’s birth. So it goes, and it gets worse every day. This rising sectarianism is to be blamed as much on the silence of the liberals in India, Muslims and non-Muslims – as on the belligerent vociferousness of the mullahs.

I am old enough to remember the time when the same kind of mullahs objected to the use of sound amplification in mosques. Even its use during the sermon part of the service on Fridays and the two Eids was considered an abominable innovation – a bid’a. Now even the tiniest mosque has two loudspeakers on its roof. One of the joys of my childhood in Barabanki was to wake up in the morning and listen to the music of the azaan as it came wafting over the air – in human dimensions. Now the same words turn into a painful cacophony as they blast into the air from at least eight different sets of loudspeakers.

Fatwa facts

So here is a request to the newsperson who next goes to get the details of some fatwa from one of the savants from Bareli, Deoband, Nadva, Firangi Mahal, and so forth: please ask the savant what he thinks of the loudspeakers on his mosque; also ask him if there is not a ruling in several religious texts that no mosque should be built so close to another that its azaan – unamplified, of course – be heard in the other mosque? Then, if the mullah convinces you of the religious sanctity of his two loudspeakers, please move next door to his mosque, but please spare us his blathering calling it a fatwa.

Please remember that a fatwa is:

  • not an edict; 
  • not binding on anyone; 
  • can be countered by another fatwa; 
  • dies with the death of the person who issues it; and 
  • never issued against some specific person. 

And please always tell us who might expect to gain some money or power from that fatwa.

CM Naim is professor emeritus at the University of Chicago.


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