Darul Uloom, the seat of Sunni Islam in Deoband, in separate fatwas or edicts, has said activities, such as adolescent girls cycling or women wearing perfumes, were un-Islamic. They should cover themselves even in women-only settings, it also said.
Together, these recent fatwas, or legal advisories, are seen driving a further wedge between Islamic obligations and women’s choices.
In May, Darul’s fatwa, advising women to avoid workplaces requiring them to freely mingle with men without the veil, made headlines.
For religious guidance, Sunni Muslims widely turn to Darul Uloom, ranked next to Cairo’s Al Azhar University in the theological pecking order.
The seminary’s responses, usually endorsing strict compliance of Shariah or Islamic laws, have not helped resolve emerging conflicts, experts within the community have said.
“I do not agree that cycling is un-Islamic for girls but it is true that a fatwa has to be within the broad framework of the Quran and Hadith,” Zafarul Islam, chairman of Islamic Studies department at Aligarh Muslim University, said.
Hadith, or a collection of sayings attributed to Prophet Mohammed, is the second-most authoritative source for Muslim laws, after the Quran.
Islam said historically, it was common for texts to be re-interpreted to accommodate changing realities and Darul Uloom could do the same.
The professor, however, said purdah, which takes many forms, such as the burqa or headscarf, was required under Islam and did not curb a woman’s freedom. He cited his daughter’s example, a postgraduate medical student, who wears the veil to class.
Fatwas are not binding, including on those who seek them. If not satisfied, a fatwa-seeker can approach another “school of thought” for a second opinion.