For the 16-year-old Nahid Afrin, life has bee smooth with her achieving a lot of accolades in singing, which includes recording a Bollywood song.
However, things took an ugly note in her life recently after she was asked to stop her scheduled singing performance by a few clerics in Assam. The matter got worse after the media hastily reported that a ‘fatwa’, or an Islamic ruling, was issued against her.
Local media in Assam first broke the news, saying 46 Muslim clerics had issued a fatwa against Afrin, asking her to stop her scheduled performance. The diktat was circulated through leaflets which were widely distributed across Hojai and Nagaon districts in central Assam.
Soon the “story” was picked up by the national media, which is accustomed to obscurantism on certain issues. It also spilled onto social media, where the issue started gathering a lot of traction. It also became a tailor-made situation for BJP leaders where they could portray themselves as champions of Muslim rights, women’s rights and even cultural rights.
Assam’s chief minister jumped into the fray on social media saying the ‘government will protect her freedom of speech and safety.’
We strongly condemn putting restrictions on performance by young talented singer Nahid Afrin by some organisations.— Sarbananda Sonowal (@sarbanandsonwal) March 14, 2017
Freedom of artists are essence of democracy. Spoke to Nahid and reiterated our Govt's commitment to provide safety and security to artists.— Sarbananda Sonowal (@sarbanandsonwal) March 14, 2017
Condemnation also came from exiled Bangladeshi author and critic Taslima Nasreen, who tweeted expressing support and solidarity for Afrin.
After getting fatwa from 46 mullahs in Assam,16 yrs old Nahid Afrin said she'll never bow down and will never leave singing. Bravo girl!— taslima nasreen (@taslimanasreen) March 15, 2017
While the leaflet does brand the March 25 program, where Afrin was scheduled to perform as ‘against the Sharia’, it does not even mention her name. The leaflet, headlined Guhari (request/appeal in Assamese), asked people not to attend the 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 read. “We humbly request you to restrain not only yourself from attending such an event but also encourage others to do the same,” it concluded.
There were 46 signatories on the leaflet, who did not give any fatwa but only agreed from stopping the musical from holding near a religious place.
Interestingly, as per a report in an English newspaper, “Some Muslim clerics who are said to have issued the fatwa” as per the pamphlet, “were neither traceable nor could be identified by local residents.”
How the media played it up?
The national media, which is habitual of Muslim bashing, it took no time for them to run this story on prime time with demonising titles.
For example, an English news channel came up with the title ‘Indian idol vs Indian Taliban’ and requested Afrin to sing songs as a mark of protest.
It did not end there.
The latest fascination with Islamic State too came into the picture where according to an English daily report Assam police was investigating a possible ISIS link on the issue.
This story was played by almost all news channels, news websites and shared on social media. Many journalists, activists, Bollywood celebs came in support of Afrin, denouncing the fatwa without doing any fact-check.
A national news channel later apologised on prime time for running the story on their channel and journalist Ravish Kumar said that media is making news out of unverified substances.
What is a fatwa?
According to the Shafi’i school of thought, 1 among the 4 Islamic schools of thought, says that “in order to issue an authorised fatwa using his individual skills of reasoning, the mufti or scholar must be able to distinguish between the other scholars positions and their supporting evidence, and judge one stronger according to the strength or weakness of the evidence.”
A fatwa is also not legally binding as the Supreme Court ruled in July 2014 and, thus, has “has no legal status”.
Secretary of the Assam State Jamiat Ulama, Maulvi Fazlul Karim Qasimi, stressed that no fatwa was issued in this case and blamed the media for spreading misinformation. “Is this how a fatwa is issued? On a piece of paper?” he asked.
For Muslims, it has become routine to be at the receiving end on Islamic issues not only from non-Muslims but from Muslims as well. And one of the prime examples is a news show titled as ‘Fatah ka Fatwa’, where a Pakistan-born Canadian Muslim Tarek Fatah dubs both mullah’s and Islamic practices as ‘orthodox and conservative’ on national TV.
At the end of the day, the issue is done and dusted, news channels have raked up their TRPs, misinformation has been spread and discussed, the name of Islam has been demeaned and Muslims have been branded as ultra-conservative. But in the end, very few came forward to apologise for the ‘fatwa story’ that never existed.
Being a journalist myself, I feel my fraternity failed to do a fair job with this story.
Uzair Hasan Rizvi is a journalist at Hindustan Times. He tweets as @rizviuzair
The views expressed are personal.