What is the religious sanction behind a fatwa and how does the fatwa-issuing cleric ensure that the ruling is enforced? This is the question that arose when the country's oldest Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband recently issued a fatwa (religious edict) decrying modelling and acting by women as "unislamic" and a "serious offence" under Shariat Law.
"Veil is an important principal of religion. Unveil is illegal under Shariat Law. But modelling and acting in movies is a serious offence under Islamic law since women who model or act in movies not only remove the veil but also make an exhibition of their bodies," Deputy Vice chancellor of Deoband, Maulana Abdul Khaligue Madrasi said.
He said Muftis were justified to issue a fatwa against modelling in the light of the Islamic law, "But what is the sanctity of a fatwa if people do not follow its directives?" Madrasi was asked, in the context of an earlier fatwa which had advised tennis star Sania Mirza not to wear shorts or revealing tennis skirts.
However, on persistent questioning, he clarified that "fatwa is not mandatory. Fatwas are not meant to be a general pronouncement. Madrasi clarified that a fatwa issued by the Darul Uloom is not in conflict with the law of land while orders of Khap panchayats in India and Jirgas in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan are implemented by force."
"A Mufti issues a fatwa only if someone comes to him for guidance. Fatwa is not an order but a guidance of principal and even the person seeking guidance has the option to follow it or not", Madrasi said.
This is the first time in recent memory that a senior cleric has clarified that a fatwa can be followed or ignored. But, Mumbai film celebrities disagreed with the Deoband cleric's view that modelling and acting in films was un-Islamic.
Contacted, noted lyricist Javed Akhtar said, "There is nothing un-Islamic in it. I do not know why it has become an issue."
Actor and model Zulfi Syed was of the opinion, "Islam is a modern religion and does not bar acting or modelling. I feel people who do not have knowledge of it make a hue and cry for no good reasons."
His views were also endorsed by actor Shahwar Ali saying, "No religion bars acting or modelling. Like other professions this also requires hard work. I do not understand what is the need to issue fatwa against it."