“Fatwa issued against MP Nusrat Jahan by Darul Uloom for marrying non-Muslim, applying Sindoor.” Headlines to this effect kept the print and television media busy over the weekend. The items referred to a fatwa against the newly-elected Trinamool Congress MP who had taken an oath last month wearing sindoor after her marriage to businessman Nikhil Jain.

The news led to an uproar, with politicians and social media users coming out in support of Jahan and condemning the Darul Uloom. The controversy was widely reported by all major news outlets and was a topic of debate on television. India Today referred to the Islamic seminary as the “fatwa-happy Darul Uloom”, while The New Indian Express referred to it as the “fatwa-loving Darul Uloom”.

However, no one checked with the Darul Uloom whether it had actually issued such a fatwa.

Where is the fatwa?

Darul Uloom, a Islamic religious and academic centre, is located in Deoband, a town in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur district. The institution has an online service where anyone can ask a question and get a fatwa or an opinion from a mufti.

There are two important points to note about fatwas given by Darul Uloom:

1) The institution does not decide on its own to issue a fatwa. A fatwa or opinion is issued only in response to a specific query by an individual.

2) A fatwa is given by a mufti or religious scholar in writing.

In the past, journalists have posed questions to the institution with the sole purpose of creating sensational stories.

In Nusrat Jahan’s case, if there was such a fatwa, it would have been in response to someone seeking their opinion on the matter and it would be in writing. However, none of the media reports carried a copy of the fatwa.

Source of confusion

Alt News found that the controversy did not start with a fatwa but a statement that was reportedly given by a Deoband cleric Asad Qasim.

On the morning of June 28, ABP News quoted the cleric as saying: “I found through the media that Nusrat Jahan, who was recently elected as an MP from Bengal, wore sindoor and mangalsutra in the Parliament. After investigating, I found that she married in the Jain community. In Islam, a Muslim can marry only a Muslim. She works in movies and actors don’t care about customs do it’s pointless to talk about the matter. I am only stating to the media what Sharia says.”

Soon after this, some journalists contacted Bharatiya Janata Party politician “Sadhvi” Prachi for a statement. This is when the Muslim cleric’s opinion was transformed into a fatwa.

The earliest report of the alleged fatwa that Alt News found had been published by News18 Hindi on June 28 at around 4 pm. The media outlet reported BJP leader Prachi’s statement against a fatwa issued by a Deoband Mawlawi or religious scholar. However, News18 did not mention the Mawlawi’s name.

The news subsequently gained pace across mainstream media outlets. Times Now featured Asad Qasim on a television broadcast and promoted it with the Twitter hashtag #NusratVsClerics. Times Now introduced Qasim as a ufti, unlike ABP News, which had referred to him as an ulema.

In the clip below, Asad Qasim can be heard making a statement similar to the one reported by ABP News: “After investigation, we got to know that she married into the Jain religion. Islam says that a Muslim can only marry a Muslim. Second, I want to say that Nusrat Jahan is an actor and I believe these actors do not care about religion. They do what they feel like doing. This is what she did when she came to Parliament with sindoor and mangalsutra. It is a waste of time to talk about this. We cannot interfere in her life. I’m just explaining what Shariat says on the topic through the media.”

Qasim’s statement does not contain any mention of a fatwa. Though the Deoband cleric was explaining his opinions on Sharia law, the Times Now’s broadcast flashed the word “F-A-T-W-A” on television screens.

After this, other news reports added “Darul Uloom” to the story.

The New Indian Express cited Asad Qasim’s statement and published a report on June 29 claiming that a fatwa had been issued by Darul Uloom Deoband in opposition to Nusrat Jahan’s marriage outside her religion. Though the newspaper did not claim that Qasim was a member of Darul Uloom, it nonetheless published an article stating that a fatwa had been issued by the institution.

When Alt News contacted Asad Qasim, he clarified that he is not associated with Darul Uloom Deoband in any manner but used to be a student in the institution. Qasim is currently a ufti in Deoband. He told Alt News that he was approached by two journalists from Aaj Tak and Etv to explain the Sharia perspective on Nusrat Jahan’s choice to apply vermilion and wear a mangalsutra. He gave them his opinion and not a fatwa.

“There’s a difference between a fatwa and a statement,” he said. “A fatwa is akin to an order while a statement is merely an opinion. When someone wants to know Islam’s take on an issue, they send queries and a fatwa is issued after scholars scrutinise the problem and give the corresponding solution according to the Quran. Darul Uloom issues fatwas in writing after it is reviewed by the authorised uftis of the institution. But a misunderstanding has been prevailing lately. Any statement given is propagated by the media as a fatwa.”

He added: “A few media personnel had approached me about Nusrat Jahan. I said that Islam does not give permission to interfere with somebody’s personal life. I can only tell what the scriptures say – a Muslim can marry only a Muslim and a non-Muslim can marry only a non-Muslim. No fatwa has been issued against her [Nurat Jahan], stripping her of her Islamic identity.”

Qasim clarified that while he is authorised to issue a fatwa, he cannot do it on his own volition and without consulting other Muftis.

Alt News was unable to locate the fatwa on Darul Uloom’s website. A senior administration official at Darul Uloom, Ashraf Usmani, confirmed that no fatwa had been issued by the organisation against Nusrat Jahan. “The Indian media is becoming irresponsible,” he said. “They pick up any random maulvi’s statement and portray it as a fatwa issued by Darul Uloom.”

Despite this, the non-existent piece of document found a mention in the reports of Aaj Tak, Dainik Bhaskar, Dainik Jagran, Zee News, India TV, The Hindu, NDTV, The Indian Express, ANI, Deccan Chronicle, Scroll, The Economic Times, Amar Ujala, ABP News, Etv Bharat and Prabhat Khabar.

Right-wing websites OpIndia and Swarajya also carried similar misreports.

This article first appeared on Alt News.