Friday, May 14, 2010

Why everybody loves a bad fatwa?

Everybody loves a bad fatwa. And why not? Newspapers, for it fills the front page for its readers; Television channels, for it brings in the audience; communalists, for it plays into the image of Muslims as backwards; and activists, because it gives them a chance to reinforce their secular credentials. Never mind that this fatwa will not change the lives of millions of Muslims and may be text of the fatwa is not what it has been reported or may be the said fatwa doesn't even exist. 

A fatwa is nothing but a religious opinion from a religious scholar to a question asked by a Muslim on a particular situation that he or she may be facing or might face in future, and does not know what should be appropriate way to act in light of Islamic teachings. A mufti then issues a fatwa or opinion based on his understanding of the question and Islam. Just as different medical doctors will have difference of opinion regarding diagnosis and a treatment plan, it is common for different muftis to give different opinions on the same question. 

Media circus

At least once every year, on a slow news day, some enterprising journalist finds a fatwa that will fit the stereotype about Muslims being backward or Muslim scholars being ignorant or out of touch with the real world or both, and publish a news story based upon this 'prized' fatwa. Let's take the example of the fatwa issued by Darul Uloom Deoband that is making the round in news cycles this week. 

The fatwa in question was issued more than a month ago and one can ask, why the sudden interest by media in this particular fatwa? A fatwa that is only a sentence long has had numerous newspaper columns space and hours of airtime devoted to it. The media bosses have decided that it is an important fatwa because it has all the right keywords to keep the readers, audience, and therefore revenue coming in. 

One has to question the motive of the major media regarding this fatwa. There is more to this than meets the eye when the Indian media which is obsessed with breaking news and exclusives these days picks up a fatwa that was issued more than a month ago. Within 24 hours of this news being flashed on NDTV on Tuesday (May 11th, 2010) this week, all major media of India have reported it. And every new report had added information that was not even there.
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One thing is clear that Muslims have no say or control over the media's actions, but that doesn't mean that they have to be passive. Polite but firm emails should be sent to reporters and their editors. Muslim community organizations should send a letter on their official letter-heads to the editors and seek meetings with the editorial staff. In these meetings, examples of serious lapses by media when reporting on issues related to Muslims should be brought to their attention.

Media is not a one-way street and they don't exist in vacuum. In this day and age, readers and viewers have much more power than anyone would like to acknowledge. This power should be used to demand correct and factual coverage. At the same time Muslims need to take these kinds of episodes as opportunity to engage with their non-Muslim colleagues and friends to explain Islam and Muslim practices.

Muslim religious leadership is not above criticism but they need to be engaged to develop a new kind of thinking that takes what Islam has to offer and apply it to the modern world. Religious scholars need to offer solutions to the problems associated with modern life without dragging the whole community to a medieval view of the religion and the world. For this to happen both university-educated and madrasa-educated Muslims need to interact and engage each other.

As Prof. Tabassum Khan rightly states, "It is important for middle-class Muslims to become more vocal and not let uninformed and biased opinions be representative of the community."
From Kashif-ul-Huda's gem of an article in Two Circles and The Hoot.
To read the full article click here and here and here. 
Kashif-ul-Huda is the editor of news website and can be reached at 

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