'Fatwa' kicks up a row in Delhi

NEW DELHI JULY 26. A fatwa issued by the prestigious Deoband-based Darul-Uloom against the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind's vice-president has created a rift among the Muslim community here.

While the silent majority has termed it historic, as it is one of the rare occasions when a woman has been successful in getting a fatwa issued against a religious scholar, another vocal section of scholars have questioned its credibility and allege that the mufti who issued it was misled.

The Darul-Uloom is considered to be the highest seat of Islamic learning in South Asia.

The incident has resulted in a ``war of words'' and a ``leaflet war'' among the rival sections in the Muslim-dominated area of the Walled City, Okhla and Jamia Nagar.

Safia Iqbal, member of the All India Personal Law Board and author of about 30 books, including `Women and Islamic Law', had approached the Darul-Uloom alleging injustice and mental torture in the hands of the Jamaat-e-Islami vice-president, Mohammad Shafi Moonis. Mr. Moonis, in his 80s, is highly respected among the Muslims in the country.

The fatwa issued by the mufti of Darul-Uloom, Habeeb-ur-Rahman, condemned Mr. Moonis' activities and declared it ``haraam'' (non-permissible), ``kabeera'' (a major sin) and an act against ``Shariah''.

An official of Darul- Uloom confirmed that the fatwa had been issued and a copy was available for the public. A fatwa is issued in response to a question from an individual and does not seek the point of view of the other party.

Asserting he had done no wrong, Mr. Moonis accused Ms. Iqbal of misleading Darul-Uloom by not putting the facts before them. ``Questions (asked by Ms. Iqbal to Darul-Uloom) are misleading and far from the facts,'' he said.

The controversy originated from a dispute — which finally ended up in the Delhi High Court — connected with a popular ``Scholar School'' in Jamia Nagar owned by the Ishaat-e-Islam Trust of which both Mr. Moonis and Ms. Iqbal were trustees. In an order dated February 15, 2002, the Delhi High Court asked Ms. Iqbal to vacate the Scholar's School ``under due process of law''. The problem began here.

In her communication to Darul-Uloom, Ms. Iqbal alleged that Mr. Moonis forcibly entered the school premises with his supporters and stayed inside the campus for two months. ``During this period, I was forced to live in confinement in the school. Md. Moonis continued to stay in the same room, in the absence of my husband,'' she wrote to Darul-Uloom.

Mr. Moonis finally left the school premises following a public outcry and pressure from parents of the students.

Denying the allegations, Mr. Moonis conceded that he stayed in the school, but said he was in another room.

The Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, said it was a matter of great concern that the episode had affected the studies of hundreds of students of the school, which had now closed.

``It would be better if both parties sit across the table and solve the problem amicably. Such a popular school should not be closed down,'' he said.

Ms. Iqbal, who is receiving both kudos and life-threatening calls, alleged that she had been targeted and victimised because she introduced modern education among the Muslim children in the area. ``The Jamaat is opposed to this,'' she said.

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