Darul Uloom Deoband, India's foremost Islamic seminary, on Wednesday denied asking Muslim women not to work along with men and said it only suggested that working women should dress "properly".
"We had only given an opinion based on Sharia that women need to be properly covered in government and private offices," said Maulana Adnan Munshi, spokesman for the seminary in Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh.
He denied a media report that the seminary was opposed to men and women working together.
"No new fatwa was issued," Maulana Munshi told IANS on telephone, adding that even the opinion on dress code was given when a Muslim woman desired to know if women could go to work without a 'purdah' or veil.
"That too is one-and-a-half months old," he said.
But the media report claiming that the Deoband seminary had issued a "fatwa" against working women has led to sharp reactions from leaders and scholars from the Muslim community.
Maulana N.A. Farooqui, secretary of the Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind, said the Deoband fiat "should be understood in the correct perspective".
He said Islam does not prohibit women from taking up jobs or moving outside the house but it was obligatory for them to keep themselves "properly covered".
Congress MP Rashid Alvi said every religion had its own rules but the law of the land must prevail ultimately.
"Whatever a preacher says, it is according to religion. But if there is a conflict between religion and constitution, then the law of the land will prevail," Alvi told IANS.
Former MP Syed Shahabuddin said Muslim women in contemporary life were educated, had taken up jobs and, in some cases, were helping their husbands in running businesses.
"It is not possible to follow such a fatwa."