Free Expression

The ‘fatwa’ against Assam singer Nahid Afrin that never was

While there was a pamphlet campaign to shut down the event at which the 16-year-old was to perform, a top Assam cleric says there is no fatwa against it.

Nahid Afrin is an over-achiever by all standards. At 16, she has been a playback singer in a mainstream Bollywood film, finished second in the country’s most high-profile musical reality show and has won so many awards in singing competitions across the country that she doesn’t even bother to count them.

Not that it is very consequential, but she also got promoted to Class 10 this year.

So, when news broke that a fatwa had been issued against her by some 46 Muslim clerics, warning her to stop singing as it was “against the Sharia”, there was, understandably, an outrage. Enough outrage for even national news channels to take notice and Assam’s chief minister to tweet condemning the “fatwa” and assuring the young woman of his government’s commitment to protect her freedom of speech and safety.

Even Taslima Nasreen tweeted out, expressing support and solidarity for Afrin.

According to a report in the Times of India, the Assam Police was also looking to investigate an Islamic State angle to the episode.

All extremely heartening, expect for that fact there may not have been a fatwa at all. The primary evidence of the supposed fatwa is a leaflet signed by 46 Muslim men, which was distributed in the districts of Hojai and Nagaon.

While the leaflet does categorically mention that the March 25 programme at Udali Sonai Bibi College in Lanka in Hojai district, where Afrin was scheduled to perform was “against the Sharia”, it does not as much as even mention Afrin’s name. The leaflet, which is headlined Guhari (translates into request/appeal), asks people not to attend the March 25 event. “If anti-Sharia acts like musical nights are held on grounds surrounded by masjids, idgahs, madrassas and graveyards, our future generations will attract the wrath of Allah,” it reads.

Referring to a magic show that was recently held in the venue, the pamphlet proclaims that magic, drama, theatre, dance, etc. are intrinsically against Sharia. “If we don’t keep our children away from such things, Allah will not spare any of us,” it says. In context of the musical show that was to be held on March 25, the pamphlet warns that such an event so close to religious places would “definitely anger Allah”.

“We humbly request you to restrain not only yourself from attending such an event but also encourage others to do the same,” it concludes.

The 46 signatories of the pamphlet include office bearers of the Assam State Jamiat Ulama and teachers from various madrassas around the state.

Afrin, too, told Scroll.in that she only got to know about the so-called fatwa, when “a few media people called up my father last night.” The controversy has, however, left Afrin highly perturbed. “I didn’t even know what a fatwa means,” she said. “For a few minutes, I thought I had done something wrong and I should give up singing.”

What fatwa?

A fatwa is a non-binding but authoritative legal opinion or learned interpretation that a qualified jurist or mufti, can give on questions pertaining to Islamic law. The secretary of the Assam State Jamiat Ulama, Maulvi Fazlul Karim Qasimi, stressed that no fatwa has been issued in this case and blamed the media for spreading misinformation. “Is this how a fatwa is issued? On a piece of paper?”

The venue in question, Qasimi said, was in close proximity to religious and educational institutes and there have been instances of people creating a ruckus during similar shows in the past. “The appeal simply states that people might as well avoid the event since there have been instances of people getting drunk and vitiating the atmosphere in the past,” he claimed.

The Maulvi insisted that the community was proud of Afrin – and the notice had nothing to do with her in particular. “It is just that she was performing in that particular venue.”

That may, however, not be strictly true. According to Afrin, a few local clerics had also objected to her participating in the reality show where she finished second. “They had dissuaded people from voting for me, saying it was a gunah [a crime] to do so as it was against the Sharia,” she said.

While there is little doubt that Afrin has been at the receiving end of bigotry more than once as a result of her singing, the outrage about a fatwa appears misinformed at best.

Also See: Full text: ‘Sing on Nahid, sing on Suhana,’ says Muslim group against ‘blinkered brand of Islam’

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Decoding the symbolic threads and badges of one of India’s oldest cavalry units

The untold story of The President’s Bodyguard.

The national emblem of India; an open parachute and crossed lances – this triad of symbols representing the nation, excellence in training and valor respectively are held together by an elite title in the Indian army – The President’s Bodyguard (PBG).

The PBG badge is worn by one of the oldest cavalry units in the India army. In 1773, Governor Warren Hastings, former Governor General of India, handpicked 50 troopers. Before independence, this unit was referred to by many titles including Troops of Horse Guards and Governor General’s Body Guards (GGBG). In 1950, the unit was named The President’s Bodyguard and can be seen embroidered in the curved maroon shoulder titles on their current uniforms.

The President’s Bodyguard’s uniform adorns itself with proud colours and symbols of its 245 year-old-legacy. Dating back to 1980, the ceremonial uniform consists of a bright red long coat with gold girdles and white breeches, a blue and gold ceremonial turban with a distinctive fan and Napoleon Boots with spurs. Each member of the mounted unit carries a special 3-meter-long bamboo cavalry lance, decorated by a red and white pennant. A sheathed cavalry sabre is carried in in the side of the saddle of each trooper.

While common perception is that the PBG mainly have ceremonial duties such as that of being the President’s escort during Republic Day parade, the fact is that the members of the PBG are highly trained. Handpicked by the President’s Secretariat from mainstream armored regiments, the unit assigns a task force regularly for Siachen and UN peace keeping operations. Moreover, the cavalry members are trained combat parachutists – thus decorating the PBG uniform with a scarlet Para Wings badge that signifies that these troopers are a part of the airborne battalion of the India Army.

Since their foundation, the President’s Guard has won many battle honors. In 1811, they won their first battle honor ‘Java’. In 1824, they sailed over Kalla Pani for the first Burmese War and earned the second battle honour ‘Ava’. The battle of Maharajapore in 1843 won them their third battle honor. Consequently, the PBG fought in the main battles of the First Sikh War and earned four battle honours. Post-independence, the PBG served the country in the 1962 Indo-China war and the 1965 Indo-Pak war.

The PBG, one of the senior most regiments of the Indian Army, is a unique unit. While the uniform is befitting of its traditional and ceremonial role, the badges that augment those threads, tell the story of its impressive history and victories.

How have they managed to maintain their customs for more than 2 centuries? A National Geographic exclusive captures the PBG’s untold story. The documentary series showcases the discipline that goes into making the ceremonial protectors of the supreme commander of the Indian Armed Forces.

Play

The National Geographic exclusive is a landmark in television and is being celebrated by the #untoldstory contest. The contest will give 5 lucky winners an exclusive pass to the pre-screening of the documentary with the Hon’ble President of India at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. You can also nominate someone you think deserves to be a part of the screening. Follow #UntoldStory on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to participate.

This article was produced by Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic and not by the Scroll editorial team.