Wide Criticism Of Fatwa

The mufti of Asir, a region in the south west of Saudi Arabia, answered a student’s question asked at a religious lecture. His response, reported as a fatwa, has been widely criticized and has sparked a heated debate on social networking sites. There have undoubtedly been umpteen fatwas issued by various Islamic leaders that can be said to be ludicrous, but should this answer to a question asked at a lecture be considered a fatwa?

The Mufti’s Opinion

The mufti, Saad Al-Hajri, had answered: “if people who perform traditional dances imitate women, this dance should be haram”.

He was referring to traditional dances performed at official events in the Asir region. Many of the dancers pretend to be women during the performance.

Comment On The Fatwa

The attention given to Mufti Saad Al-Hajri’s opinion has led to comment on who should issue fatwas. Mohammed al-Nujaim, a professor at the Superior Institute of Justice told Arab News, “All fatwas should be issued in light of the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah by senior scholars. And one should avoid weird fatwas from unknown scholars”.

Arab News also drew attention to a previous warning from the Council of Senior Scholars about issuing fatwas outside its purview, and to a previous royal decree that the Grand Mufti should ensure that fatwas are issued only by members of the Council of Senior Scholars and other permitted people.

What’s A Fatwa?

A fatwa is not legally binding but it has been defined as a ruling on a point of Islamic law given by a recognized authority, or a legal opinion or decree handed down by an Islamic religious leader. Islamic scholars are expected to base their fatwa on Islamic scripture, not just on their personal opinion.

Think About It

Mufti Saad Al-Hajri was answering a question posed by a student at a lecture. Should such an opinion be taken as, or reported as, a fatwa?  Or should muftis be very prepared never to give an opinion off the cuff? Or should there be strict criteria for what opinions can be considered to be fatwas?

It Is Forbidden

Some enterprising businessmen may think of it as an easy way to make money.  Consumers may think that it is religious to use it.  But Darul Uloom Deoband has come out to say it is forbidden in Islam.  The product at the center of this fatwa is none other than the so-called religious ringtone of mobile phones making use of Koranic verses and even the Muslim call for prayers.

Why Koranic Verses As Ringtone Are Forbidden

The fatwa, issued by Mufti Arif Kasmi, Ustad of Darul Uloom Deoband, gave the following reasons as to why it is forbidden to use Koranic verses as ringtone of mobile phones:

1.   The Koran is for reading, understanding and living the life according to the principles laid by it.  It is therefore an insult of the Koran and of Islam to use any part of the Koran in mobile phones, whether as caller tone, ringtone, alarm tone, etc.

2.  The ringtone or caller tone as a full Koranic verse is never played in phones, as people answer phone calls before the full verse is heard.  This partial recitation of the Koranic verse can change the meaning of the full verse.

3.  Listening to a truncated Koranic verse is like listening or reciting a Koranic verse partially.  An incomplete Koranic verse is not good.

4.  The mobile phone may ring when the owner is using the toilet.  Now a Muslim would not think of reading the Koran in an unclean place.  Therefore when a mobile phone rings and a Koranic verse is heard, it is tantamount to causing disrespect to Islam and the Koran.

Why The Call To Prayers Is Not Good As A Ringtone

Mufti Arif Kasmi gave one reason why it is also forbidden to use the Muslim’s call to prayers as a ringtone.  The reason is simple.  He said that the call to prayers is issued only 5 times a day.  However the mobile phone can ring many times over a 24-hour day.

Think About It

Should people profit from religion?  Or rather should they profit from people who want to be religious?  How widespread is this trend of using Koranic verses and the call to prayers as ringtones?  Will Muslims in India heed this fatwa by Mufti Arif Kasmi, Ustad of Darul Uloom Deoband?  What prompted the issuance of this fatwa in the first place?

Concern About Attitudes Of Certain Muslims Towards Women

Two government ministers, one in Peninsular Malaysia, and one in East Malaysia, have spoken out about how women are being discriminated against. What prompted these remarks was different between the two cases, but they draw attention to the attitudes of certain Muslims towards women.

Attitudes Towards Muslim Women Athletes In Peninsular Malaysia

Peninsular Malaysia’s Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin was commenting on comics posted on Facebook. One showed a woman in sleeveless top and a cap proudly holding a medal and announcing that she had just won a marathon. The types of comments received were of the following type: “Even if you want to participate in sports, you should wear a headscarf! Stupid!”, and “Aren’t you afraid of going to hell?”.

Another comic also showed a woman holding up a medal she had won, but this woman was wearing a long-sleeved top and headscarf. She was not commended for being fully covered. Instead the comments were of a sexual nature, wondering about her breast size.

In a tweet, Khairy Jamaluddin said that, though these were comments about comic strips, they show the kinds of attitudes toward women. He commented in particular about the “bad holier-than thou culture of judgmental Malays”.

Such judgmental comments were made in June when Malaysian gymnast Farah Ann Abdul Hadi won medals at the 2015 SEA Games. Instead of being praised for her achievements, she was criticized for the “revealing” gymnastic attire. However, Khairy Jamaluddin defended her, saying that judgment should be left to the Almighty.

Plan To End Discrimination Against Women In Sarawak, East Malaysia

Speaking at the Women’s Day celebration on Oct 17, the state of Sarawak’s Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem said that he will amend laws and policies that discriminate against women. He said that he has directed Sarawak’s women’s ministry to go through the state’s laws and identify those that discriminate against women.

He said that it is the state’s policy to allow women to explore their full potential, and that he will not allow women to be ruled by “conservative, narrow-minded religious teachers or ulamas”. He also encouraged women to stand up and be assertive if they were abused by their husbands.

Think About It

Two ministers in Malaysia have spoken out against narrow-minded, judgmental Muslims. Will they be backed by other moderate Muslims? How optimistic can Muslim women in Malaysia be about being discriminated against by conservative elements in their society?

Previous post

Malaysia – When Sports And Religion Mix, Gymnast’s Gold Medal Is Condemned As Aurat Takes Center Stage

Reason For Honor Killing

A Muslim man and his wife, originally from Pakistan, are on trial in Darmstadt, German, for the murder of their daughter in January this year. Asadullah Khan, aged 51, has admitted that he killed his daughter because she brought dishonour to the family through her relationship with a boy he didn’t approve of.

The Murder

Lareeb Khan, aged 19 was a dental assistant, whose parents wanted her to undergo an arranged marriage, as they had done. However, Lareeb Khan had a boyfriend, whom her parents had forbidden her to see. But Lareeb Khan defied her parents and spent some nights away from home. When her parents received a letter from the police saying that she had been caught trying to steal condoms, her parents took that as evidence that she was having sexual relations with her boyfriend.

There was a quarrel between father and daughter, during which she hit him. Later that night, he crept into her room as she slept and strangled her.

Asadullah Khan and his wife Shazia then dressed her in her work attire, took her in a wheelchair from their high-rise apartment to the family car, and drove to a secluded area where they tipped the body down an embankment.

Mother’s Role

At the trial, which is still underway, Lareeb Khan’s father admitted to strangling her, but her mother claimed that she was totally under the control of her husband and could not save her daughter. However, the couple’s other daughter, Nida, aged 14, who had been sent to a relative on the night of the murder, contradicted her mother’s evidence. She said that her mother was not a suppressed woman and could do what she wanted, and used to hit her with a stick.

Nida is now under therapy and is estranged from her parents.

Think About It

The family were living in Germany. There would stealing be seen as a greater dishonor to the family than having sexual relations with a boy the parents did not approve of? Lareeb Khan was a dental assistant. Why did she have to steal condoms? Whatever the reasons for the various actions by various people in this whole story, what is the action that brings greatest dishonor to the family?

An UnIslamic Practice

Imagine giving birth to a baby girl, and then finding oneself divorced because the husband doesn’t want a daughter. Such a situation is not uncommon in some Muslim communities, because Islam allows a man to divorce his wife easily just by saying “talaq” (divorce) three times to his wife. But women will be glad to know that the Darul Uloom Deoband, an influential Islamic seminary in Uttar Pradesh, India, has declared that a triple-talaq divorce on grounds that the newborn baby is a girl is illegal and haram (strictly prohibited by Islam).

Case That Prompted The Fatwa

Darul Uloom Deoband had been approached about this kind of divorce, but the case that triggered the fatwa was that of a couple from Muzaffarnafgar, a town in Uttar Pradesh. The husband worked in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and when he heard that his wife had given birth to a baby girl (their fourth child), he called her from Riyadh to divorce her by the triple talaq. The case went to the community panchayat (an assembly of elders), which approved the divorce.

However, somebody from Muzaffarnagar approached the seminary for its opinion on this case.

The Fatwa

The seminary declared the talaq to be completely unacceptable and haram. Its spokesman, Maulana Ashraf Usmani, explained that its opinion was based on the fact that that a woman has no control over the sex of the baby, and also that a boy and a girl are equal in Islam. He added that “The very thought of divorcing one’s life partner while sitting thousands of miles away on phone is outrageous. This shows nothing but extreme highhandedness of this society towards woman which is quite inhuman and goes against Islamic spirit of the relationship between husband and wife”.

He also described the local panchayat’s approval of the talaq as “quite unfortunate” in not taking into account the rights of the woman.

Comments About The Fatwa

According to a faculty member of the seminary who did not want to be named, talaqs on grounds that the baby turns out to be a girl are generally found in rural areas, especially backward ones. He added that this was probably the first time that Darul Uloom Deoband was asked for an opinion on divorce on these grounds, and said that “No religion can justify this kind of logic of any man”.

Welcoming the fatwa was Shandar Gufram, who runs a girl’s school in Muzaffarnagar. He said that “Though the sex ratio among Muslims is better than other communities, Islamic institutions like Darul Uloom should come rather more boldly and more frequently, if for nothing, then just to clear the charge against them that they are anti-woman”.

Think About It

The Darul Uloom Deoband was quite clear about the unacceptability of divorce on grounds that a wife has given birth to a girl. However, a fatwa is no more than an opinion, and therefore not legally binding. Will the community take heed of the fatwa? Will the panchayat do likewise? What do Muslim leaders have to do to make people take heed of this fatwa? Will they do anything?

“Islam Is My Religion, Music Is My Profession”

A Muslim convert who wears the niqab and is a professional guitarist is causing a stir wherever she performs on stage.  Some consider her cool, others express surprise that she is a music performer.  But this does not affect the Muslim convert who simply said: “Islam is my religion, music is my profession”.

About The Convert

42-year old Gisele Marie was born a Roman Catholic.  Shortly after her father died, Gisele Marie converted to Islam in 2009.  Although her grandparents hailed from Germany, Gisele Marie grew up in Brazil.  Her love for music brought her into her brother’s band called Spectrus, with which she performed on stage for several years.  Gisele Marie has since left Spectrus over “professional differences” and is now working on her new band’s first album due for release next year.  She prides herself for taking music seriously, studying it religiously for six hours daily.

Regarding her conversion to Islam, Gisele Marie said: “‘I come from a Christian family, but I had no problems in my family about the fact that I became a Muslim woman.  In fact, they supported me”.

The Niqab Wearing Guitarist

The sight of a female thrash metal guitarist performing on stage wearing a niqab is quite unusual.  But Gisele Marie never let this bother her.  She said in a recent press interview: “‘I do not care about people looking at me because I wear the niqab, but I hope that people understand that Islam is just my religion and music is my profession, and indeed these two things are only my personal characteristics”.

Then Gisele Marie added: “‘Music is my focus and the fact that I’m Muslim has no influence on the music”.

But is it practical to wear a niqab while performing on stage?  Gisele Marie said: “You know? I’ve worn the niqab for a long time. For me it’s a normal clothes, my clothes, and there is nothing different about wearing the niqab on stage. I think I’m even able to climb a wall wearing my clothes, and I will not have difficulty with this”.

Think About It

Is Gisele Marie breaking the stereotype by wearing a niqab while performing on stage?  And does being a thrash metal guitarist in a live performing band go down well with the average Muslim?  Can Gisele Marie set a precedence for other Muslim women to also break the stereotype?

Public Chiding

In Malaysia, where Islam is increasingly becoming more conservative, instead of congratulating 18-year-old Hajar Nur Asyiqin Abdul Zubir for winning Bank Negara Malaysia’s Kijang Emas Scholarship 2015, Facebook users chided her for not wearing the tudung, the Muslim headscarf. However, other Facebook users came to her defence.

The Scholarship

The scholarship was awarded on the basis of applicants’ performance in the national examination results, on their leadership abilities, on their values, and on their involvement in co-curricular activities. There were 212 applicants this year. One of the 4 recipients of the scholarship is Hajar Nur Asyiqin Abdul Zubir, who had scored nine A+s in the examinations taken by 5th year secondary students last year. She also plays the violin and actively represented her school in quiz challenges and spelling competitions. The scholarship enables her to study at the university of her choice. She hopes to study chemistry at Oxford University.

Chiding On Facebook

The comments were not confined to Hajar Nur Asyiqin Abdul Zubir but also included her father. Facebook user, Rozaidi Jai, posted on Friends of BN’s Facebook (BN is Barisan Socialis, the ruling coalition) “Congratulations. . . but it’s a pity the ‘aurat’ (parts of the body that should not be exposed) is not covered. Her father bears the sin”.

Nazri Toushirou called for conditions of the scholarship to include covering the aurat, whilst Mohd Sabri Hussien said, “Pretty looks, good at studies. It’ll be better if she wore a tudung”. And Mohd Khairudzaman Bahaudin said, “All right, congratulation, Allah hates His servants who do not cover their ‘aurat’, we succeed not because we are clever”.

Defence On Facebook

However, other Facebook users have come to Hajar Nur Asyiqin Abdul Zubir’s defence. Ag Sha said, “It doesn’t necessarily mean that not wearing a tudung means you’re not religious. Congratulations. . . prove to them that you’re not shallow in your religious knowledge”.

Another Facebook user, Ravindran Kunjan, drew attention to a commentary entitled Insecure Malaysians Breed Sexism, by Lyana Khairuddin, a scientist and educator at a local university, who recently attended the Asian Women Empowerment conference in Yogjakarta, where she met people who had mentioned how Islamic extremism was curtailing the freedom of women and imposing restrictions on the way women dressed and lived. One of the examples that Lyana Khairuddin mentioned in her commentary on this kind of restriction was the way Facebook users were pressurising Hajar Nur Asyiqin Abdul Zubir to wear the tudung.

Think About It

Will Hajar Nur Asyiqin Abdul Zubir cave in to pressure on Facebook to wear a tudung, or will she think for herself? What kind of thinking is it that calls for a scholarship in a multiracial society to include covering the aurat as a condition of the scholarship?

Much Ado Over Serving Inflight Alcohol

What happens when a Muslim convert working as a flight attendant refuses to serve alcohol onboard the planes?  One such flight attendant working at ExpressJet  Airlines found herself suspended for 12 months, and may yet be given the boot after that. Now the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Michigan has stepped into the fray in support of the flight attendant, and the row has now escalated into a religious discrimination case.

No To Serving Alcohol

Charee Stanley joined ExpressJet Airlines as a flight attendant about 3 years ago.  But last year, Charee Stanley converted to Islam.  Recently Charee Stanley became aware that Sharia law forbids her not just from consuming alcohol, but it also forbids her from serving alcohol to passengers.

Last June Charee Stanley informed her supervisor about her situation.  The supervisor then encouraged her to work out an arrangement with her non-Muslim colleagues to prevent disruption to inflight services.  And that’s what Charee Stanley did.

Charee Stanley made arrangement with her non-Muslim colleagues so that when a passenger requests for alcohol to drink, then her non-Muslim colleagues will take care to serve alcohol to passengers.  However something went wrong in August when another flight attendant filed an official complaint about Charee Stanley refusing to serve alcohol.

Responding to this complaint, EasyJet Airlines suspended Charee Stanley for 12 months, with no guarantee that she won’t be dismissed thereafter.  Lena Masri, an attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) puts it this way: “We notified ExpressJet Airlines of its obligation under the law to reasonably accommodate Ms. Stanley’s religious beliefs. Instead, ExpressJet chose to violate Ms. Stanely’s constitutional rights, placed her on administrative leave for 12 months, after which her employment may be administratively terminated”.

To which EasyJet Airlines replied: “At ExpressJet, we embrace and respect the values of all of our team members. As Ms. Stanley is an employee, we are not able to comment on her personnel matters”.

The Discrimination Complaint

Charee Stanley, in a bid to get back her job without the  need to serve alcohol,  has now filed a complaint about being discriminated against in the workplace.

The complaint was filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  Lena Masri said: “What this case comes down to is no one should have to choose between their career and religion and it’s incumbent upon employers to provide a safe environment where employees can feel they can practice their religion freely”.

Lena Masri said: “It was at the direction of the airlines that she began coordinating with the other flight attendant on duty so that when a passenger requested alcohol, the other flight attendant would accommodate that request. We know that this arrangement has worked beautifully and without incident and that it hasn’t caused any undue burden on the airline. After all, it was the suggestion of the airline”.

On August 25, the EasyJet Airlines sent a letter to Charee Stanley informing her that it was revoking its religious accommodation to exclude her from service of alcohol and placing her on administrative leave.

Lena Masri said: “They placed her on unpaid leave and they advised her that her employment may be terminated after 12 months. We are requesting that her employment be reinstated and the accommodation of her religious beliefs be reinstated as well”.

About Religious Discrimination & Reasonable Accommodation

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines religious discrimination and reasonable accommodation quite simply.

The law requires an employer or other covered entity to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices, unless doing so would cause more than a minimal burden on the operations of the employer’s business. This means an employer may be required to make reasonable adjustments to the work environment that will allow an employee to practice his or her religion.

Examples of some common religious accommodations include flexible scheduling, voluntary shift substitutions or swaps, job reassignments, and modifications to workplace policies or practices.

Think About It

EasyJet Airlines operates regional flights where there are usually 2 flight attendants.  If one of them cannot serve alcohol, would that constitute more than a minimal burden on the operations of EasyJet Airlines?  That remains to be seen.  But then again, couldn’t EasyJet Airlines reassign Charee Stanley to some other job that don’t require serving alcohol to passengers?

Missing Women’s Futsal Championship

One of Iran’s top female soccer players will not be able to join her team-mates at the Asian Football Federation Women’s Futsal Championship, to be held next week in Malaysia, because her husband does not want her to go. Niloufar Ardalan, aged 30, is kicking back by taking the dispute with her husband to the press.

The Dispute

Niloufar Ardalan, a midfielder, is the Iranian national team captain, and has been nicknamed Lady Goal. She told Nasimonline, “These games were very important to me. As a Muslim woman, I wanted to work for my country’s flag to be raised [at the games], rather than travelling for leisure and fun”. She has also posted a photo on Instagram, with the caption, “I am only a national soldier who fights to raise the flag of our country”.

Her husband, however, wants her to stay in Iran for her son’s first day at school, so he has refused to sign the papers that allow his wife to renew her passport. He is sports journalist and television presenter Mehdi Toutounchi. He has not responded publicly to his wife’s comments.

Pressure To Allow Women To Travel Abroad Without Husband’s Permission

What Mehdi Toutounchi is doing is perfectly legal in Iran, where Sharia law prevails. Under Sharia law, a woman needs her husband’s consent to travel abroad.

Niloufar Ardalan has long advocated for women’s rights in Iran, especially for equal treatment in sports. In 2005, she made headlines for being one of the first women to attend a man’s national team match after petitioning Iran’s soccer authorities for permission to do so. Referring to the present stricture on her travelling next week, she said, “I wish the authorities would create [measures] that would allow female athletes to defend their rights in such situations”.

She has the support of many people who have commented on social media and also of Shadi Sadr, a prominent Iranian women’s rights advocate and the director of Justice For Iran, a London-based group. Shadi Sadr points out how the law that allows a woman to travel abroad only with the permission of her husband can affect women. She said, “Even if a woman reaches the highest ranks in politics, sports, or culture, she still needs her husband’s consent for one of her most basic rights – travelling abroad”. Shadi Sadr has also praised Niloufar Ardalan for publicly drawing attention to her plight because it could encourage others in similar situations to do so.

Think About It

Niloufar Ardalan’s husband has been silent on the issue so it is not clear why he should insist on her staying around for her son’s first day at school. Might not one expect him, as a sports journalist and television presenter, to be a modern man able to play as big a part as the mother in a child’s life and accompany the boy to school? Would not the child, already of school age, be able to understand that his mother being away playing for the country could be something to be proud of? Has Niloufar Ardalan jeopardized family relationships by making her case public? Would she not have had as much support and sympathy if her case came to light just from her absence at the games? But not many others whose husbands restrict their movements would have their plights noticed. So was Niloufar Ardalan being noble in possibly sacrificing domestic harmony for the sake of others at the mercy of a law that denies women their rights?

The Controversy

Is the Ministry of Labor’s recent decision to impose fines on recruitment agencies for failing to bring in foreign workers on time haram or not?  A top scholar has come out to say that this is not haram, and the Ministry of Labor is allowed to impose that penalty for delayed workers.  But recruitment agencies have got an unnamed senior scholar to come up with a fatwa that says the opposite.  So where do we go from here?

The Financial Penalties

The Ministry of Labor recently issued a standing ministry order fining recruitment agencies for delayed delivery of foreign workers.  If there is a 90-day delay, then the recruitment firms must pay employers back their SAR 1,750 (USD 466) signing fee, which is 25% of the SAR 7,000 (USD 1,865) contractual fee.They must also pay employers a further SAR 3,000 (USD 799) for the one month delay past the 60-day period stipulated by the ministry for hiring workers.

Why Fatwa Says It’s Haram

Majid Al-Haqas, spokesman and representative of the recruitment agencies, said that an unnamed senior Saudi scholar had issued a fatwa calling such fines haram.  The effect of this religious fatwa is to ban the Ministry of Labor from imposing fines as penalty for delayed workers.

This fatwa declared that fines are considered riba (interest bearing), which is unlawful in Islam.  Majid Al-Haqas refused to name the senior Saudi scholar who issued this fatwa, but he said that this scholar is a member of the Council of Senior Scholars and a specialist on financial matters.

Armed with this fatwa, about 100 recruitment agencies formally objected to the Ministry of Labor’s penalties. They have also brought their case to the Board of Grievances in Riyadh which scheduled a session on October 5 this year to hear the case.

Why Minsistry of Labor Says It’s Not Haram

Minister of Labor Mufrej Al-Haqabani said: “We support the [recruitment] offices and interact with them regularly to exchange ideas and experiences, but I am calling for the protection of the rights of the party requesting the worker, and will not allow them to wait extended periods for [the] arrival [of workers]. It is not acceptable for the [recruitment] office to receive large sums of money from employees, only to inform them nine months later that they were unable to bring them a worker.”

Supporting the Ministry of Labor is Sheikh Abdullah Al-Mutlaq, a top Saudi scholar, who said it was permissible for the Ministry of Labor to institute fines and that this did not constitute a form of interest.

Think About It

Why didn’t Majid Al-Haqas name the senior Saudi scholar who issued that fatwa calling on the Ministry of Labor to stop imposing fines on recruitment agencies for late delivery of foreign workers to employers?  What is his reason for refusing to name that scholar?  A fatwa issued anonymously cannot be taken seriously by Muslims.  This is particularly so when a contrary view is stated by top Saudi scholar Sheikh Abdullah Al-Mutlaq who has no qualm in disclosing his name.