Even Muslims are smarting under the April 4 fatwa issued by Islamic seminary Darul Uloom, Deoband, which said women should shun workplaces that require them to mingle with men.
It’s being asked, “is this what Islam makes of women?” If one knew where Deoband came from, “fatwa no. 21031” would neither be surprising nor unexpected.
A famous Muslim college founded in 1867, Deoband saw its founders fight against the British. Alongside, their aim was to create an order of ulama or clerics who would be committed to a conservative reform of Islam based on their interpretation of the Hadith (collections of sayings attributed to Prophet Mohammed) and Shariah, the body of Islamic laws.
Deoband settled on the Hanafi tradition, the dominant of the four schools of Islamic thoughts, each named after four of Islam’s greatest scholars. No one school is less conservative than the other.
Yet, the need to reconcile Islam to modern values has been recognised as a challenge by Muslims and attempts are being made around the world, essentially by Muslim scholars outside the clerical orders.
Devoid of a world view, utterly conservative and cut off from aspirations of its own community, Deoband has failed to fulfil a critical function — that of reconciling Islam with modernity.
Islamic feminism is now an accepted term. Places like Malaysia and the south Indian state Kerala, have seen a thriving Muslim women’s movement to enable women to lead prayers and form jamaats (congregation). Egypt’s top Muslim cleric, Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, sometime before his death in March, agreed women could take off their veils inside their classrooms and that they could work. Qatar requires women working in public places to avoid the veil. These may be baby steps but are giant leaps nonetheless.