A Fatwa is not as harmless a thing as it is made out to be

Recently when Bollywood singer Sonu Nigam tweeted about the problems he was facing due to the voice of Azaan from the nearby mosque, a Muslim cleric from West Bengal issued a Fatwa (which wasn’t technically a fatwa).

Since, according to the cleric (and of course according to our sec-liberal rage groups) Sonu had insulted Islam and Allah, the cleric offered a Rs. 10 lakhs bounty for whomever tonsured the singer, blackened his face and garlanded him with the filthiest of shoes.

Such a call to carry out a punitive action to avenge insult of Islam and the Prophet is often termed as a Fatwa, although a Fatwa isn’t always issued to carry out violence. A Fatwa can also be issued against some bad habit. Multiple Fatwas have been issued against the ISIS and other terrorist organizations.

Among the“non-faithful” the word Fatwa was made famous when it was issued against author Salman Rushdie, for some blasphemous lines in The Satanic Verses. The Iranian supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a Fatwa against Salman Rushdie, ordering him to be killed, in 1989. A bounty of $6 million was also announced (in case call of religious duty didn’t work).

Multiple attacks, including bombings and abductions, happened. The Japanese translator was stabbed in the neck and killed. The Italian translator was seriously injured. A bomb was thrown at a British publication office. Multiple bookshops in England and America were set on fire. Bookstores were bombed. Riots took place in India and Pakistan culminating in multiple casualties. 37 Turkish intellectuals died during a literary festival when the venue was set on fire by an angry mob protesting against the book. The Norwegian publisher was shot and seriously injured. Salman Rushdie went into hiding. He even had to change his name to Joseph Anton (hence the eponymous book). Although after about 10 years the government of Iran declared that the death sentence no longer remained, the Fatwa was never withdrawn. Someone can still go and kill Salman Rushdie. The list of outcomes mentioned above is but just a small glimpse of the extremely violent events that took place in the wake of the Fatwa.

Recently a flutter of sorts was created on Twitter when noted Supreme Court lawyer Karuna Nandi said that a Fatwa isn’t a very serious decree. It’s just an opinion.

Technically, she is, or whomever she was reiterating or quoting was, correct. Whether a Fatwa is a suggestion or an order depends on the authority the person issuing the Fatwa wields. The text of the Khomeini Fatwa clearly says that the call to eliminate Rushdie was an order (and not a suggestion or an opinion) and it was the duty of every pious Muslim to carry it out.

Various websites on the Internet interpret a Fatwa as a suggestion, or an opinion. For example, one can issue a Fatwa urging people to save the environment.

Unfortunately, only those Fatwas become headlines that have a violent call to action.

Many Muslims and their liberal apologists tried to play down the threat the recent Fatwa by a West Bengal cleric posed on Sonu Nigam.

When the cleric issued the Fatwa, he wasn’t obviously expecting someone to go knock at the singer’s door, give him a hug and say “salaam walekum”, make him sit on a comfortable chair, cover him with a sheet, and then give his head a nice shave using a Panasonic shaver. Physical violence was expected.

And as the cleric declared on various news channels (and hence refused to pay the reward for the head shaving show Sonu Nigam put up), shaving the head was just a small part of the Fatwa. His face had to be blackened. He had to be garlanded with the filthiest of shoes (the cleric particularly laid stress on the filthiest shoes part). So it wasn’t some funny prank, it could have had some serious implications.

Often, definitions and real world applications of the Fatwas are different. Even if most of the Fatwas are peaceful (and nobody has a problem with such Fatwas), these religious decrees are often used with ominous ramifications. The Fatwa on Sonu Nigam, for example, was not a laughing matter. It was issued by a fanatic cleric and if it is carried out (the Fatwa still stands) by an equally fanatic and pious follower of the Faith, it can endanger the singer’s life.

And for what? Just for saying that the Azaan disturbs him?

A Fatwa, as mentioned above, is issued by a religious figures. Religious figures among Muslims are taken very seriously. Every utterance can become a matter of life and death (at least for the non-faithfuls). A Fatwa becomes more dangerous when attack on the Faith is attributed to the person against whom the Fatwa is being issued. For example, Fatwas against Salman Rushdie and Tasleema Nasreen are not matters of opinion. They are orders. They are edicts. It’s the duty of every pious faithful to carry out the Fatwa and put an end to the lives of these authors.

Fatwas are serious because authority figures issue them. Your regular Salim tailor cannot issue a Fatwa standing atop his sewing machine. Even if he does, nobody is going to pay attention.

A cleric or a priest, on the other hand, has a public address system at his disposal. He can immediately communicate his message to hundreds of people who are too eager to prove their faithfulness. These faithfuls anyway feel their religion is constantly under attack, and even if it is not under attack, it’s their religious duty to punish those who don’t follow their faith. For them, a Fatwa becomes an order directly from God’s mouth, and not carrying it out can incur God’s wrath.

This is why, instead of playing down the menace such Fatwas pose, clerics and religious heads should be cautioned against using Fatwas so recklessly.