For more than a quarter century, Habibur Rahman, 76, has been signing Islamic decrees or fatwas from his small cell in Darul Uloom Deoband, the 143-year-old Islamic school.
Now, the grand mufti has imposed a decree on himself. Henceforth, he will get his team to closely vet the “identity and intention” of those seeking his opinions.
“I am deeply worried some questions are deliberately posed to us and our opinion is then used to attack Islam,” the frail, wire-framed mufti told Hindustan Times from Deoband.
Anonymous, online queries are of particular concern to this cleric, who has never allowed himself to be photographed. “I may have to avoid taking up requests unless the motive is clear.”
Islam has no Pope, no Vatican. For guidance, Sunni Muslims worldwide turn to either Egypt’s Al-Azhar University or India’s Darul Uloom.
In March, Darul got a mail which asked: “Can Muslim women in India do Govt. or Pvt jobs?” When it came up before him, Rahman asked his team to prepare an answer strictly in accordance with Shariah or Islamic laws.
On April 4, Deoband posted its verdict: “It is unlawful for Muslim women to do job in institutions where men and women work together…without the veil.” This kicked up a storm.
“I am not a devil seeking to put fetters on women,” he said. “I only go by the books.”
Rahman’s legendary fatwa came in 2008 when he declared terrorism and killing of innocents as “un-Islamic”.
Asked if he really thought Muslim women could not work, he answered in a way he knows best: “They surely can, if they remain in purdah (veil).”