Hunching over a low wooden desk in a small cell inside Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband, an influential Islamic school in Uttar Pradesh, 80-year-old chief mufti Habibur Rahman pours over hundreds of mails from many countries each day, seeking his opinion on some very personal issues.
Islam has no Pope, no Vatican. For guidance, Sunni Muslims worldwide turn to either Egypt’s Al-Azhar University or India’s Dar-ul-Uloom.
For more than a quarter century, Rahman has been signing these Islamic decrees.
Some of his fatwas or edicts, delivered after a meticulous study of the Muslim scriptures, can spark a storm in the secular world, like the one that did on April 4 2010.
It read “It is unlawful for Muslim women to do job in institutions where men and women work together…without the veil.” It was widely slammed by those who feel such edicts deepen the conflict between Islamic laws and modernity.
Rahman feels fatwas are a human service.
“I am not a devil seeking to punish women,” he said, adding: “I only go by the book.”
Fatwas are meant to have a “personal touch,” he says. “It is only for those who seek it. Sometimes, it is crucial for people who desperately want guidance,” he said from Canada, where he’s on a personal visit.
Rahman’s legendary fatwa came in 2008 when he declared terrorism and killing of innocents as “un-Islamic”.
Rahman says his fatwas — a word the world took dreadful notice when Ayatollah Khomeini passed one, baying for Salman Rushdie’s blood — aren’t the last word.
“Only Allah knows best,” he says quoting the Quran.