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Fwd: Deobands War on Television: Fury Over A Fatwa

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  • shaheen ansari
    Message 1 of 2 , Mar 14, 2005
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      --- Begin forwarded message:

      From: Yogi Sikand <ysikand@...>
      Date: 14 Mar 2005 08:27:09 -0000
      To: shaheen@...
      Subject: Deobands War on Television: Fury Over A Fatwa

      Deobands War on Television: Fury Over A Fatwa

      Yoginder Sikand


      Some months ago the Dar ul-Ulum at Deoband, Indias largest Islamic seminary, issued a fatwa declaring watching television, including Islamic channels, impermissible. Predictably, the fatwa stirred a major controversy in the columns of Urdu newspapers, although it seems to have gone unnoticed in the mainstream press. Muslim critics of the fatwa declared it null and void, while supporters decried what they called the immorality being spread by television channels and called upon Muslims to strictly abide by the opinions expressed by in the fatwa.

      Issued by Mufti Mahmud ul-Hasan Bulandshahri, a senior scholar at the Deoband madrasa, the fatwa declares that television if forbidden to Muslims because in itself television is a means for [frivoulous] entertainment. Hence, using it even for religious purposes, such as for broadcasting Islamic programmes, is wrong. Islam, the fatwa says, has clearly laid down the methods to be used for propagating its message, and television is not included among these. People who watch Islamic programmes on television, so the fatwa claims, do so simply for entertainment, and so Muslims must strictly refrain from doing so.

      Although the fatwa did not clearly specify this, critics argued that it had in mind the new and increasingly popular Urdu Islamic television channel Q TV, which now has millions of viewers in India and Pakistan. Based in Dubai, Q TV offers a mix of traditional Barelvi Sufi piety, regarded by many Deobandi ulama as nothing short of anathema, and neo-Islamist apologist rhetoric by lay preachers such as the Pakistani Israr Ahmad and the Mumbai-based Zakir Naik, both of whom are trained medical specialists. Presumably, being non-ulama, they are regarded by the Deobandi ulama as a major challenge to their authority. This, in addition to the Barelvi factor, probably has much to do with both the timing and the contents of the fatwa. As Bangalore-based Maqbool Ahmed Siraj writes (Islamic Voice, January 2005), new age Islamic preachers using television to reach a mass audience have set off sirens of alarm for the traditional clergy who feel threatened. Hence, the fatwa, which, Siraj insists, must be rejected with the disdain and contempt it deserves.

      Whatever be the actual reasons behind the fatwa, it has set off a major debate on the Islamicity of television as well as on the authority of the ulama itself, with rival views being heatedly exchanged in the Urdu press. A good indication of the issues involved is provided by the numerous articles on the fatwa that appeared in the New Delhi edition of the Urdu Rashtriya Sahara some months ago (22 August, 2004). In their articles, both supporters as well as opponents of the fatwa frame the terms of the debate in Islamic terms, some seeing the fatwa as Islamically valid while others viewing it as a gross misinterpretation of Islam.

      A vociferous backer of the fatwa is a certain Mufti Aijaz ur-Rashid Qasmi, a Deobandi graduate. In his provocative article he declares watching television, including even Islamic programmes, prohibited for Muslims. He argues that no film (and he includes Islamic television programmes here as well) can be made in an attractive and persuasive manner without including pictures of women in it or without reducing it to sheer entertainment, both of which he castigates as un-Islamic. He backs this ridiculous claim by declaring that many ulama, mainly Deobandis, believe that television has become an expression of Satanic wiles (shaitani umur ka mazhar) and hence Muslims must stay away from it as far as possible, or else they would be threatened with moral decline. Seeking to preempt his critics who believe that television could be used for Islamic missionary purposes, he writes that while the duty of propagation ( dawat-o-tabligh) is binding on all Muslims, this should be done only through proper means. Since television, or so he alleges, is used largely for broadcasting immoral programmes and is basically a means of entertainment, it is not a proper means for Islamic propagation work. Hence, he writes, Muslims refrain from watching television programmes, whether Islamic or otherwise. Since he believes television itself to be a source of immorality, he declares that Islamic television programmes necessarily insult Islam, and will inevitably destroy Muslim identity. He ends his anti-television tirade by claiming, wholly exaggeratedly, that The Muslims of the entire world respect the fatwas of Deoband, expecting all Muslims to wholeheartedly endorse Deobands fatwa against television.

      The Muftis defence of the controversial fatwa is backed by a declaration by none other than the deputy rector of the Deoband madrasa, Maulana Abdul Khaliq Madrasi, whose article is revealingly titled The Fatwa is Right and True. He repeats the same basic arguments put forward by the Mufti, and adds that another reason why television is impermissible is because photography is forbidden in Islam. While thus castigating television, he approves, interestingly enough, of the Internet, which, he claims, is to a large extent, free of pictures. He declares that the Internet can be used for legitimate purposes, provided pictures are not used. Accordingly, Deoband, while disapproving of television, has its own website and numerous Deobandi groups now offer online fatwas.


      While the majority of the Deobandi ulama probably back the controversial fatwa, a number of younger Deobandi graduates appear to be extremely critical of it, as appears in their articles in the Rashtriya Sahara. A good example is the lengthy piece by Waris Mazhari, editor of the Tarjuman Dar ul-Ulum, the official organ of the Deoband madrasas alumni association. Mazhari makes no bones about his opposition to the fatwa, which he sees as based on faulty reasoning. The fatwas claim, he writes, that television is basically a means of frivolous or immoral entertainment, and, hence, Islamically impermissible, is incorrect. While it is undeniable that many television programmes are indeed of that sort, television can also be used for proper purposes, such as for providing news and information, rebutting anti-Islamic propaganda and for explaining Islam to Muslims as well as to others. Indeed, many Arab television companies host Islamic programmes, which Mazhari wholeheartedly approves of. Hence, rather completely shunning television, Muslims should stay away from improper channels while not hesitating to watch other channels that are useful. In addition, Mazhari writes, Islamic television channels are fully legitimate. Despite being a trained alim himself, Mazhari comes down heavily on the conservative ulama, including the author of the anti-television fatwa, for their hostility to change and progress. He sees the anti-television fatwa as carrying on in a long tradition of ulama opposition to new inventions. He cites numerous such instances, such as the nineteenth century Saudi ulamas denunciation of the wall-clock as a Devilish device and their branding the telephone and wireless as Satanic inventions that produce voices after performing sacrifices to beings other than Allah.


      Maulana Iklhaq Husain Qasmi Dehlavi, another Deoband graduate, backs Mazharis arguments against the fatwa. He claims that Muslims the world over are faced with the conspiracies of Jews and Christians, and hence must use the mass media, including television, to rebut anti-Islamic propaganda and to engage in Islamic missionary work. Television can also be used for educational purposes, he says, although, he adds, Muslims must refrain from watching immoral programmes. By castigating television as wholly evil, he says, the fatwa threatens to make Muslims appear foolish in the eyes of the world. To condemn television outright simply because many television programmes are immoral is, he says, as ridiculous as demanding that colleges and universities be closed just because in some institutions of higher learning men and women freely mix. Further, he caustically comments, if the logic of the author of the fatwa were valid, why is it that no similar fatwa has appeared banning films, many of which also spread immorality and licentiousness?

      Yet another Deoband graduate who has spoken out against the fatwa is Maulana Asrar ul- Haq Qasmi, a widely respected Muslim scholar. In his article he comments that the fatwa is based on ignorance of the real world, and pleads that it be reconsidered. If a doctor is not skilled, he writes, he cannot administer a proper cure, and will, in fact, make patient worse. The same logic applies in the case of the ulama when they issue fatwas, he contends. Questioning the authority of the author of the anti-television fatwa, he says, If the alim is not well-versed with the spirit of the shariah and its aims he does not have the right to issue a fatwa and the fatwa that he gives will have a wrong effect. Without naming the author of the fatwa but indirectly referring to him and other such ulama, he says,

      According to a tradition of the Prophet, at the end of times there will be great strife (fitna) and ulama will issue fatwas that would be against the Quran and the Prophetic Traditions. They will speak out of inflated pride matters that have nothing to do with real religion. They will give wrong fatwas, out of greed for power and money. These fatwas will create severe problems for people. All this is against Islamic principles, leading to strife and bloodshed, for which ignorant, half-baked Muftis will be responsible. On issues on which the Muslims might get divided and fight against each other one must restrain from giving fatwas.


      In a similar vein, Maulana Anzar Shah Kashmiri, a leading alim associated with the Dar ul-Ulum (Waqf), Deoband, a rival faction of the main Deoband madrasa, critiques the fatwa for giving Islam a bad name [by depicting it as] intolerant, narrow-minded and obscurantist. He argues that television can be used for proper purposes, such as for education, rebutting anti-Islamic propaganda and for Islamic missionary work. To ban it simply because it is also used for broadcasting immoral programmes is as ridiculous as demanding that telephones be banned because they can similarly be misused. He believes that the fatwa is based on the outdated views of medieval scholars as contained in the books of fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence, and calls upon Muslim scholars to evolve understandings of Islam more relevant to todays context.


      This view is echoed by yet another Deoband graduate, Mufti Ahmad Nadir Qasmi, who declares that it is proper to use television for permissible aims. Since the Quran and the Prophetic traditions are silent on television, neither permitting or forbidding it, he says that it is, in fact, permissible, provided it is used for educational or Islamic purposes. Countering the opinion of many Deobandi ulama, he writes that the use of pictures is permissible in Islamic programmes, although he adds that programme presenters and participants must observe the rules of the shariah while on screen.

      Like Mufti Ahmad Nadir Qasmi, some other ulama participants in the debate on the fatwa who support television lay down strict, and, in some cases, impossible conditions for watching television. Thus, for instance, Mufti Muhammad Amin of the Mazahir ul-Ulum (Waqf), Saharanpur, writes that Muslims can see television provided all that they watch are Islamic programmes that do not have any pictures at all! If a picture appears on the screen, he says, viewers must lower their eyes because, he claims, to see a picture is forbidden in Islam. Television programmes, whether Islamic or other, that feature women are against the shari ah, he declares, and so these are forbidden to Muslims. In addition, womens voices must not be heard on the television, for this is anti-shariah, since a womans voice, in addition to her body, must also remain in purdah, or so he claims. Presumably, the Mufti believes that womens images or voices might excite male Muslim viewers, and the fact that male faces and voices on Islamic channels might titillate female viewers is completely lost on him.

      A similar misogynist and conditional approval of television is provided by Mufti Mukarram Ahmad, Imam of the Shahi Masjid, Fatehpuri, Delhi, who, while disagreeing with the fatwa, says that Islamic television programmes are permissible provided they abide by the shariah, and do not display womens images and relay their voices. If these programmes are forced to show images of men, he concedes, it is not impermissible.


      The Delhi-based Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, intensely disliked by many conservative ulama for his somewhat liberal views, is, predictably, furiously opposed to the fatwa. In his article, titled Television is Gods Gift, Not the Gist of the Enemies of Islam he berates the author of the fatwa for claiming that television is in essence anti-Islamic. Like the other ulama opponents of the fatwa, he writes that while Muslims should refrain from watching immoral programmes, they can use television for educational purposes, for countering anti-Islamic propaganda and for Islamic missionary work. As a means of communication, television is morally neutral. It can be used for good as well as bad purposes, and Muslim leaders, including the ulama, must ignore the latter and, instead, focus on developing suitable Islamic television programmes. He cites Prophetic precedent for this, arguing that the Prophet Muhammad used the Kaaba in Mecca as a venue for preaching Islam at a time when the Kaaba hosted 360 idols. The Prophet ignored the idols and carried on with his missionary work. Similarly, he says, Muslims must ignore immoral television channels and programmes and use television for Islamic purposes. As such, then, he says, television is not a hidden conspiracy of the enemies of Islam to subjugate Muslims and spread anti-Islamic propaganda, as many ulama claim. Rather, it is Gods gift, a manifestation of Gods power, and a use of Gods law. Khan claims that possibility of television was hidden in Gods creation till humans discovered it. Hence, to declare it wholly impermissible, even for Islamic purposes, as the author of the fatwa does, is simply ridiculous.


      Wahiduddin Khans statement is backed by Dr. Akhtarul Wasey, Professor of Islamic Studies at the Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, who argues against the fatwas claim that television is completely un-Islamic and insists on the validity of Islamically appropriate programmes. The fact that television is misused for immoral purposes, he says, does not make television as a medium un-Islamic, as the author of the fatwa claims. If this logic were to be consistently applied, Wasey caustically remarks, even pen and paper should be declared impermissible, for they, too, are used to spread all manner of un-Islamic views. The solution to the problem of immoral programmes on television, he says, is not to ban television outright, but, rather, to produce better programmes in their place. In addition, Wasey writes, banning Islamic programmes on television is completely counter-productive from the Islamic point of view, for through them a large number of people gain at least some understanding of Islam. If these were also declared forbidden, as the fatwa seeks to, the only consequence would be that people who now watch these programmes would switch to immoral programmes instead.

      Besides critiquing the fatwa on Islamic grounds, some contributors to the debate also raise the interesting question of the clear double-standards in the arguments used by the author of the fatwa and his defenders. Thus, for instance, Maulana Umaid ul-Zaman Qasmi Kairanwi, Acting President of the Deoband madrasas alumni association, makes so bold as to point out that despite the fatwas banning of television, numerous Deobandi ulama regularly appear on television and arrange to have their rallies broadcast on television channels. Similarly, Maulana Riyaz ul-Hasan Nadvi, Convenor of the Milli Council of Uttaranchal, points out what he regards as a serious contradiction in declaring television wholly impermissible (on the grounds that some channels promote immorality) while allowing for the use of the Internet. Surely, he argues, immoral material is more abundantly available on the Internet, which, unlike television, is not subject to any sort of censorship.

      Despite the hue and cry being made by defenders and opponents of the fatwa, it appears that not many Muslims seem to have taken it seriously. Certainly, there has been nothing like the organized smashing of televisions by Deobandi activists in Pakistans North-Western Frontier Province some years ago. Fatwas like this one might be remarkable simply for their nuisance value, but, as many Muslims themselves realize, they serve little positive purpose at all. The only fall-out of the controversy, as Ghatrif Shahbaz Nadvi writes (Afkar-i Milli, November 2004), appears to be to reveal the utter irrelevance of many of the edicts routinely churned out by the maulvis of the madrasas who have little or no understanding of the complexities of the modern world.


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    • zubair hudawi
      The controversy about the use of television followed the Deobandi Fatwa was another example for me which shows the widespread clash of modernity and tradition
      Message 2 of 2 , Mar 14, 2005
      • 0 Attachment
        The controversy about the use of television followed the Deobandi Fatwa was another example for me which shows the widespread clash of modernity and tradition among the community. How to modernise and what does it mean with modernisation is the actual crux of the controversy.
        It is very simple that what ever achivement the sceince has added to the convinience of humanity as a whole, there are both negative and poisitive aspects for all and it is obviously depend upon which and for what it is used.
        The knife can be used to clear vegitables and other homely and fruitlfull or needed affairs at the same time it can be used to stab the fellow human being. We can not ban it provising its mis use. Can the so called scholares ban Pardha which is used in some parts as a cover by call girls and prostitutes.
        So we have to think about both aspects and utilise all means for the benifit of community and humanity as a whole.
        Thanx

        shaheen ansari <shaheen@...> wrote:



        --- Begin forwarded message:

        From: Yogi Sikand <ysikand@...>
        Date: 14 Mar 2005 08:27:09 -0000
        To: shaheen@...
        Subject: Deobands War on Television: Fury Over A Fatwa

        Deobands War on Television: Fury Over A Fatwa

        Yoginder Sikand


        Some months ago the Dar ul-Ulum at Deoband, Indias largest Islamic seminary, issued a fatwa declaring watching television, including Islamic channels, impermissible. Predictably, the fatwa stirred a major controversy in the columns of Urdu newspapers, although it seems to have gone unnoticed in the mainstream press. Muslim critics of the fatwa declared it null and void, while supporters decried what they called the immorality being spread by television channels and called upon Muslims to strictly abide by the opinions expressed by in the fatwa.

        Issued by Mufti Mahmud ul-Hasan Bulandshahri, a senior scholar at the Deoband madrasa, the fatwa declares that television if forbidden to Muslims because in itself television is a means for [frivoulous] entertainment. Hence, using it even for religious purposes, such as for broadcasting Islamic programmes, is wrong. Islam, the fatwa says, has clearly laid down the methods to be used for propagating its message, and television is not included among these. People who watch Islamic programmes on television, so the fatwa claims, do so simply for entertainment, and so Muslims must strictly refrain from doing so.

        Although the fatwa did not clearly specify this, critics argued that it had in mind the new and increasingly popular Urdu Islamic television channel Q TV, which now has millions of viewers in India and Pakistan. Based in Dubai, Q TV offers a mix of traditional Barelvi Sufi piety, regarded by many Deobandi ulama as nothing short of anathema, and neo-Islamist apologist rhetoric by lay preachers such as the Pakistani Israr Ahmad and the Mumbai-based Zakir Naik, both of whom are trained medical specialists. Presumably, being non-ulama, they are regarded by the Deobandi ulama as a major challenge to their authority. This, in addition to the Barelvi factor, probably has much to do with both the timing and the contents of the fatwa. As Bangalore-based Maqbool Ahmed Siraj writes (Islamic Voice, January 2005), new age Islamic preachers using television to reach a mass audience have set off sirens of alarm for the traditional clergy who feel threatened. Hence, the fatwa, which, Siraj insists, must be rejected with the disdain and contempt it deserves.

        Whatever be the actual reasons behind the fatwa, it has set off a major debate on the Islamicity of television as well as on the authority of the ulama itself, with rival views being heatedly exchanged in the Urdu press. A good indication of the issues involved is provided by the numerous articles on the fatwa that appeared in the New Delhi edition of the Urdu Rashtriya Sahara some months ago (22 August, 2004). In their articles, both supporters as well as opponents of the fatwa frame the terms of the debate in Islamic terms, some seeing the fatwa as Islamically valid while others viewing it as a gross misinterpretation of Islam.

        A vociferous backer of the fatwa is a certain Mufti Aijaz ur-Rashid Qasmi, a Deobandi graduate. In his provocative article he declares watching television, including even Islamic programmes, prohibited for Muslims. He argues that no film (and he includes Islamic television programmes here as well) can be made in an attractive and persuasive manner without including pictures of women in it or without reducing it to sheer entertainment, both of which he castigates as un-Islamic. He backs this ridiculous claim by declaring that many ulama, mainly Deobandis, believe that television has become an expression of Satanic wiles (shaitani umur ka mazhar) and hence Muslims must stay away from it as far as possible, or else they would be threatened with moral decline. Seeking to preempt his critics who believe that television could be used for Islamic missionary purposes, he writes that while the duty of propagation ( dawat-o-tabligh) is binding on all Muslims, this should be done only through proper means. Since television, or so he alleges, is used largely for broadcasting immoral programmes and is basically a means of entertainment, it is not a proper means for Islamic propagation work. Hence, he writes, Muslims refrain from watching television programmes, whether Islamic or otherwise. Since he believes television itself to be a source of immorality, he declares that Islamic television programmes necessarily insult Islam, and will inevitably destroy Muslim identity. He ends his anti-television tirade by claiming, wholly exaggeratedly, that The Muslims of the entire world respect the fatwas of Deoband, expecting all Muslims to wholeheartedly endorse Deobands fatwa against television.

        The Muftis defence of the controversial fatwa is backed by a declaration by none other than the deputy rector of the Deoband madrasa, Maulana Abdul Khaliq Madrasi, whose article is revealingly titled The Fatwa is Right and True. He repeats the same basic arguments put forward by the Mufti, and adds that another reason why television is impermissible is because photography is forbidden in Islam. While thus castigating television, he approves, interestingly enough, of the Internet, which, he claims, is to a large extent, free of pictures. He declares that the Internet can be used for legitimate purposes, provided pictures are not used. Accordingly, Deoband, while disapproving of television, has its own website and numerous Deobandi groups now offer online fatwas.


        While the majority of the Deobandi ulama probably back the controversial fatwa, a number of younger Deobandi graduates appear to be extremely critical of it, as appears in their articles in the Rashtriya Sahara. A good example is the lengthy piece by Waris Mazhari, editor of the Tarjuman Dar ul-Ulum, the official organ of the Deoband madrasas alumni association. Mazhari makes no bones about his opposition to the fatwa, which he sees as based on faulty reasoning. The fatwas claim, he writes, that television is basically a means of frivolous or immoral entertainment, and, hence, Islamically impermissible, is incorrect. While it is undeniable that many television programmes are indeed of that sort, television can also be used for proper purposes, such as for providing news and information, rebutting anti-Islamic propaganda and for explaining Islam to Muslims as well as to others. Indeed, many Arab television companies host Islamic programmes, which Mazhari wholeheartedly approves of. Hence, rather completely shunning television, Muslims should stay away from improper channels while not hesitating to watch other channels that are useful. In addition, Mazhari writes, Islamic television channels are fully legitimate. Despite being a trained alim himself, Mazhari comes down heavily on the conservative ulama, including the author of the anti-television fatwa, for their hostility to change and progress. He sees the anti-television fatwa as carrying on in a long tradition of ulama opposition to new inventions. He cites numerous such instances, such as the nineteenth century Saudi ulamas denunciation of the wall-clock as a Devilish device and their branding the telephone and wireless as Satanic inventions that produce voices after performing sacrifices to beings other than Allah.


        Maulana Iklhaq Husain Qasmi Dehlavi, another Deoband graduate, backs Mazharis arguments against the fatwa. He claims that Muslims the world over are faced with the conspiracies of Jews and Christians, and hence must use the mass media, including television, to rebut anti-Islamic propaganda and to engage in Islamic missionary work. Television can also be used for educational purposes, he says, although, he adds, Muslims must refrain from watching immoral programmes. By castigating television as wholly evil, he says, the fatwa threatens to make Muslims appear foolish in the eyes of the world. To condemn television outright simply because many television programmes are immoral is, he says, as ridiculous as demanding that colleges and universities be closed just because in some institutions of higher learning men and women freely mix. Further, he caustically comments, if the logic of the author of the fatwa were valid, why is it that no similar fatwa has appeared banning films, many of which also spread immorality and licentiousness?

        Yet another Deoband graduate who has spoken out against the fatwa is Maulana Asrar ul- Haq Qasmi, a widely respected Muslim scholar. In his article he comments that the fatwa is based on ignorance of the real world, and pleads that it be reconsidered. If a doctor is not skilled, he writes, he cannot administer a proper cure, and will, in fact, make patient worse. The same logic applies in the case of the ulama when they issue fatwas, he contends. Questioning the authority of the author of the anti-television fatwa, he says, If the alim is not well-versed with the spirit of the shariah and its aims he does not have the right to issue a fatwa and the fatwa that he gives will have a wrong effect. Without naming the author of the fatwa but indirectly referring to him and other such ulama, he says,

        According to a tradition of the Prophet, at the end of times there will be great strife (fitna) and ulama will issue fatwas that would be against the Quran and the Prophetic Traditions. They will speak out of inflated pride matters that have nothing to do with real religion. They will give wrong fatwas, out of greed for power and money. These fatwas will create severe problems for people. All this is against Islamic principles, leading to strife and bloodshed, for which ignorant, half-baked Muftis will be responsible. On issues on which the Muslims might get divided and fight against each other one must restrain from giving fatwas.


        In a similar vein, Maulana Anzar Shah Kashmiri, a leading alim associated with the Dar ul-Ulum (Waqf), Deoband, a rival faction of the main Deoband madrasa, critiques the fatwa for giving Islam a bad name [by depicting it as] intolerant, narrow-minded and obscurantist. He argues that television can be used for proper purposes, such as for education, rebutting anti-Islamic propaganda and for Islamic missionary work. To ban it simply because it is also used for broadcasting immoral programmes is as ridiculous as demanding that telephones be banned because they can similarly be misused. He believes that the fatwa is based on the outdated views of medieval scholars as contained in the books of fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence, and calls upon Muslim scholars to evolve understandings of Islam more relevant to todays context.


        This view is echoed by yet another Deoband graduate, Mufti Ahmad Nadir Qasmi, who declares that it is proper to use television for permissible aims. Since the Quran and the Prophetic traditions are silent on television, neither permitting or forbidding it, he says that it is, in fact, permissible, provided it is used for educational or Islamic purposes. Countering the opinion of many Deobandi ulama, he writes that the use of pictures is permissible in Islamic programmes, although he adds that programme presenters and participants must observe the rules of the shariah while on screen.

        Like Mufti Ahmad Nadir Qasmi, some other ulama participants in the debate on the fatwa who support television lay down strict, and, in some cases, impossible conditions for watching television. Thus, for instance, Mufti Muhammad Amin of the Mazahir ul-Ulum (Waqf), Saharanpur, writes that Muslims can see television provided all that they watch are Islamic programmes that do not have any pictures at all! If a picture appears on the screen, he says, viewers must lower their eyes because, he claims, to see a picture is forbidden in Islam. Television programmes, whether Islamic or other, that feature women are against the shari ah, he declares, and so these are forbidden to Muslims. In addition, womens voices must not be heard on the television, for this is anti-shariah, since a womans voice, in addition to her body, must also remain in purdah, or so he claims. Presumably, the Mufti believes that womens images or voices might excite male Muslim viewers, and the fact that male faces and voices on Islamic channels might titillate female viewers is completely lost on him.

        A similar misogynist and conditional approval of television is provided by Mufti Mukarram Ahmad, Imam of the Shahi Masjid, Fatehpuri, Delhi, who, while disagreeing with the fatwa, says that Islamic television programmes are permissible provided they abide by the shariah, and do not display womens images and relay their voices. If these programmes are forced to show images of men, he concedes, it is not impermissible.


        The Delhi-based Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, intensely disliked by many conservative ulama for his somewhat liberal views, is, predictably, furiously opposed to the fatwa. In his article, titled Television is Gods Gift, Not the Gist of the Enemies of Islam he berates the author of the fatwa for claiming that television is in essence anti-Islamic. Like the other ulama opponents of the fatwa, he writes that while Muslims should refrain from watching immoral programmes, they can use television for educational purposes, for countering anti-Islamic propaganda and for Islamic missionary work. As a means of communication, television is morally neutral. It can be used for good as well as bad purposes, and Muslim leaders, including the ulama, must ignore the latter and, instead, focus on developing suitable Islamic television programmes. He cites Prophetic precedent for this, arguing that the Prophet Muhammad used the Kaaba in Mecca as a venue for preaching Islam at a time when the Kaaba hosted 360 idols. The Prophet ignored the idols and carried on with his missionary work. Similarly, he says, Muslims must ignore immoral television channels and programmes and use television for Islamic purposes. As such, then, he says, television is not a hidden conspiracy of the enemies of Islam to subjugate Muslims and spread anti-Islamic propaganda, as many ulama claim. Rather, it is Gods gift, a manifestation of Gods power, and a use of Gods law. Khan claims that possibility of television was hidden in Gods creation till humans discovered it. Hence, to declare it wholly impermissible, even for Islamic purposes, as the author of the fatwa does, is simply ridiculous.


        Wahiduddin Khans statement is backed by Dr. Akhtarul Wasey, Professor of Islamic Studies at the Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, who argues against the fatwas claim that television is completely un-Islamic and insists on the validity of Islamically appropriate programmes. The fact that television is misused for immoral purposes, he says, does not make television as a medium un-Islamic, as the author of the fatwa claims. If this logic were to be consistently applied, Wasey caustically remarks, even pen and paper should be declared impermissible, for they, too, are used to spread all manner of un-Islamic views. The solution to the problem of immoral programmes on television, he says, is not to ban television outright, but, rather, to produce better programmes in their place. In addition, Wasey writes, banning Islamic programmes on television is completely counter-productive from the Islamic point of view, for through them a large number of people gain at least some understanding of Islam. If these were also declared forbidden, as the fatwa seeks to, the only consequence would be that people who now watch these programmes would switch to immoral programmes instead.

        Besides critiquing the fatwa on Islamic grounds, some contributors to the debate also raise the interesting question of the clear double-standards in the arguments used by the author of the fatwa and his defenders. Thus, for instance, Maulana Umaid ul-Zaman Qasmi Kairanwi, Acting President of the Deoband madrasas alumni association, makes so bold as to point out that despite the fatwas banning of television, numerous Deobandi ulama regularly appear on television and arrange to have their rallies broadcast on television channels. Similarly, Maulana Riyaz ul-Hasan Nadvi, Convenor of the Milli Council of Uttaranchal, points out what he regards as a serious contradiction in declaring television wholly impermissible (on the grounds that some channels promote immorality) while allowing for the use of the Internet. Surely, he argues, immoral material is more abundantly available on the Internet, which, unlike television, is not subject to any sort of censorship.

        Despite the hue and cry being made by defenders and opponents of the fatwa, it appears that not many Muslims seem to have taken it seriously. Certainly, there has been nothing like the organized smashing of televisions by Deobandi activists in Pakistans North-Western Frontier Province some years ago. Fatwas like this one might be remarkable simply for their nuisance value, but, as many Muslims themselves realize, they serve little positive purpose at all. The only fall-out of the controversy, as Ghatrif Shahbaz Nadvi writes (Afkar-i Milli, November 2004), appears to be to reveal the utter irrelevance of many of the edicts routinely churned out by the maulvis of the madrasas who have little or no understanding of the complexities of the modern world.


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