The making of the modern maulvi — XI

Published: October 28, 2011

The writer edits a quarterly Urdu literary journal Aaj from Karachi, runs a bookshop and City Press, a small publishing house

The difference of opinion among maulvis of same or different denominations has not been limited to political matters alone, as we have seen in the case of those in the early 20th century, even though taking a stand on serious political issues still divides even the Deobandi camp. One glaring contemporary example is whether to declare suicide bombing halal or haram. While the Darul Uloom of Deoband had no qualms declaring such terrorist acts totally forbidden according to their interpretation of the Sharia, the Deobandi maulvis on this side of the eastern border, especially those located near the north-western border, find it increasingly difficult to say anything straightforward about it, because they face the same danger to their life as Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi did when he decided to oppose the supposedly popular movement in favour of the Ottoman Khilafat. While Thanvi thought nothing of sacrificing his life for a stand that he considered correct in the religious sense, today’s modern (or shall we call them postmodern?) maulvis think otherwise.

However, the chaos created by this multitude of conflicting religious fatwas — each fatwa-giver considering his own to be the only correct opinion — crosses the boundaries of politics and terrorism and enters people’s everyday lives. It tries, quite successfully, to confuse the minds of individuals facing big or small decisions affecting their lives.

There is an interesting, though a little anachronistic, remark by Khwaja Azizul Hasan, the official biographer of Thanvi in his Ashraf-us Sawaneh, which points to a recurring theme in the circle of the maulvis of the modern era since its beginning: whether to consider certain new technologies and resources halal or haram. While describing Thanvi’s personal traits, Khwaja mentions his murshid’s impressive voice and remarks that although technological advancements had made voice recording possible, Thanvi’s voice could not be saved for posterity because recording human voice is not allowed in the Sharia.

However, later maulvis, including Thanvi’s devoted followers, saw no problem in allowing their sermons to be recorded using modern technology. Having oneself photographed was considered absolutely haram until recently, not to mention the moving image of celluloid and television screen. Now one hardly finds a TV channel not blessed by the presence of maulvis of all descriptions. Another example is the loudspeaker, which was initially considered haram, but later became not only halal but an integral part of every mosque. Radio, motion pictures, TV, VCR, dish antenna — all have had their rightful place in the list of means of Satanic communication that were haram, but sooner rather than later got their status changed to halal. These days you may find in Karachi’s Urdu Bazar pamphlets such as CD ki Shar’i Haisiat (‘The Status of CD according to Sharia’) and the internet is still being considered by maulvis as the latest source of Satanic technology. One wonders what fatwa will greet the all-pervasive, almost omnipresent communication tool of the present age — the cellular phone — but the astonishing thing is that in the same Urdu Bazar one can find booklets advocating against the teaching of English language to young Pakistani Muslim girls, because it is going to take away their modesty — haya!

From turning the mission of teaching religion into a regular worldly profession in the face of unambiguous decrees against it in the Holy Quran, Hadith and categorical opinions of respected experts of Islamic jurisprudence, to the above decisions regarding new gadgets and ideas, one could appreciate the ease with which the modern maulvi swims this way and that in the familiar waters of fatwa. However, when it comes to matters such as changing his attitude towards women, he finds it extremely difficult to do so.

For Thanvi this was a matter settled permanently, as he considered women naqis-ul aql wal-iman (deficient in reason and religion). He wrote the classic treatise called the Bahishti Zevar to guide the deficient women of the shurafa background in every aspect of their limited, secluded and segregated lives. He did not allow a woman any power to make a decision even when it concerned such highly personal issues as marriage and divorce. A woman, according to Thanvi, has to follow the dictate of her wali (guardian) — typically, her father, but in his absence any male closest to her in blood relation from a brother to an uncle, a cousin or even a nephew — while being married off. In the matters of divorce, Thanvi interpreted the scriptures in such a way that the husband had absolute power to divorce his wife, while the woman had no right whatsoever to make a decision in this regard, as she is considered incapable of making a reasonable and religiously sound decision.

In the 1930s, Allama Iqbal pointed in one of his lectures, included in the book Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, to a pressing problem of that era, mainly in Punjab, concerning women who either wished to break out of their unpleasant marriages or wanted to have their marriages declared annulled because their husbands (probably serving in the British colonial army) had been missing for several years. The Hanafi fiqh required the wife of such a person to wait for 70 years before finding another husband. The Allama — whose devotees gave him the title of Hakeemul Ummat, just as those of Thanvi suggested that maulvis could use their great powers of ijtehad (re-interpretation of religious scriptures) for once to ease the severe problem of those women, some of whom had started declaring themselves Christian in the courts of British law in order for their painful marriages to be declared void. Thanvi wrote a book called Heela-e Najeza on the subject, without acknowledging either the Allama or the real issue of the time, and found a way of apparently giving such women a right to take their case to a male qazi (religious judge) who had the absolute power to make a binding decision on the matter.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 29th, 2011.

Reader Comments (22)

  • Shahid
    Oct 28, 2011 - 10:24PM

    The best of this series yet.

    Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli
    Oct 28, 2011 - 10:36PM

    If some body dont understand the books then bothers to pointing out wrong please try to
    understand or just leave it if u dont like it.

    Recommend

  • Meekal Ahmed
    Oct 29, 2011 - 12:02AM

    Not to sound disrespectful but is this a book?

    Recommend

  • Zulfiqar
    Oct 29, 2011 - 2:36AM

    internet is devil shaytan’s tool for indoctrinate to western propaganda.

    English language is only using for prostitution and this indecent talking killed innocence.

    please stop mobile phone to Pakistan people, TV also should be forbidden for young girl to the modesty. Shame for all good people to watching debauchary and crimes on TVs. Wats in next – we can give homosixuls a rites in this lands? This is sick theery of West.

    Recommend

  • irfan
    Oct 29, 2011 - 2:48AM

    it seems the writer has put a lot of research into this article . I appreciate his work. One point is quite clear from the above article. Different schools of thought lack the wisdom to lead their people for a better standard of life. As you can see it even today how women are treated as weak and incapable in terms of making decisions for her life and family because we maltreat them.
    This point totally obliterate the case of equality in islam. Unless these maulvis have worldly education with religious education, they will continue to mislead the masses through their callous fatwas.

    Recommend

  • Ajmal Kamal
    Oct 29, 2011 - 9:05AM

    @Meekal Ahmed Sahib:
    What’s so disrespectful about the idea of writing a book, even if in installments, as a series of articles? In my view, the subject needed to be dealt with in detail, and a newspaper column has a word limit, so I decided to write it as a series. Also, I wanted be benefit from the feedback from readers. I am however thinking of writing it in Urdu as a small book, to reach another set of readers in Pakistan.

    Recommend

  • observer
    Oct 29, 2011 - 11:40AM

    @Ali Tanoli

    please try to understand or just leave it if u dont like it.

    Why don’t you follow your own advice? Read, Understand and Leave (without adding your two bits) if you don’t like it.

    Recommend

  • observer
    Oct 29, 2011 - 11:50AM

    @Zulfiqar

    internet is devil shaytan’s tool for indoctrinate to western propaganda.
    English language is only using for prostitution and this indecent talking killed innocence.

    And you are indulging in both (internet+English)? Man, you have lost your ‘piety’ and ‘innocence’ at one go. Recommend

  • Pasha
    Oct 29, 2011 - 5:10PM

    Maulvi & Mulla are the biggest excuse for our Secular Liberal elites, though they have had power for 60+ years but some how mulla is the source of failure for Foreign Policy, Interior Policy, Education Policy, Planning & Development Policy, Social Policy, Judicial Policy, etc.

    Why don’t we accept our short comings and say that we have failed? We love to transfer blame to India or USA or Mulla, this denial of reality has to stop or else we will continue revolving in circles!

    Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli
    Oct 29, 2011 - 5:42PM

    @ Observer,
    Indian sub contienent has been like this for centuries divided in class, race, reliegen, professions, and big of all languages so how you gonna make equal for all???

    Recommend

  • Muhammad Ilyas Khan
    Oct 29, 2011 - 5:54PM

    What an amazingly enlightened and scholarly writer Ajmal Kamal is. He is really doing a great service by presenting our not-so-bright history of religious conservatism and myopia so eloquently and analytically. Hats off to the writer. Kindly keep writing and yes it would be great to publish the series in Urdu in a booklet form. I think the Express Urdu newspaper should translate and publish it in a series of columns on their Op-Ed pages.

    Recommend

  • Raj
    Oct 29, 2011 - 6:25PM

    @Ali Tanoli,
    How you gonna make equal for all?

    That is very simple, respect each other and share generously, but hard to achieve with all prejudices.

    Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli
    Oct 29, 2011 - 7:41PM

    @Raj sahab,
    Yes this was my point sir the situation in that time when Thanvis sahab give Fatwas was
    diffrent than now and now u can see peoples does not care too much mullana logs. and
    please next time can Ajmal sahab start writing about libral and seculars what they have
    done to indian and pakistanis societies and specially our english institutions seculars its
    really help us towards understanding the suncontienent.

    Recommend

  • dream for a better pakistan
    Oct 29, 2011 - 8:47PM

    I wonder the women who were declaring themselves as chiristians…………..were not declared murtad and killed………………..what can u expect from a mulla who thinks women are deficit in religion

    Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli,
    Oct 29, 2011 - 8:50PM

    @Ajmal sahab,
    Imagine yourself in that time and society is not changed since then for poors of poorer and
    even after creation of so called islamic pakistan nothing changed either and that class which came to exist after english and non english is so wide now who knows what next.

    Recommend

  • Deb
    Oct 30, 2011 - 12:59AM

    @Author
    Please publish it as a compilation.

    Recommend

  • observer
    Oct 30, 2011 - 11:12AM

    @Ali Tanoli

    now u can see peoples does not care too much mullana logs. and please next time can Ajmal sahab start writing about libral and seculars what they have done to indian and pakistanis societies and specially our english institutions seculars

    To begin with I would contest your view that, ‘ peoples does not care too much mullana logs. I would like to point out that,
    A. Qadri did what he did because a ‘mullana’ declared Taseer sahab wajibul qatl. And.
    B. Ahmadias and Shias are being repeatedly attacked because ‘mullanas’ keep on making hate speeches. And,
    C. it was a ‘mullana’ who suggested on prime time TV that a rape victim should keep her mouth shut in the interest of the ‘ummah’.

    Now coming to ‘libral and seculars‘ and what ‘,they have done to indian and pakistanis societies‘ let me humbly point out,
    A. Pakistan was created by a man who was most comfortable in ‘English’ and was quite ‘secular’ in his personal life. He was not averse to even getting the Pakistani anthem written by a Hindu.
    B.The ‘seculars and librals’ of India have contributed to making what India is today. The world by and large seems to agree it is not altogether a bad place.
    C. I think Pakistan was on course till it was dominated by ‘english institution seculars’. In my opinion it has gone rapidly downhill as rabidly Arabic spewing non-seculars have gained ascendance.

    I am sure Ajmal sahab has alluded to the same by pointing out that while the Indian Deobandis are willing to call Terrorism unIslamic, the Deobandis in KPK may not be as forthcoming.

    Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli
    Oct 30, 2011 - 9:46PM

    @ Observer,
    Seculars are not angels either systematic crruption and class diffrences are made by these
    socalled librals and after creation of pakistan librals doesnot bother to established equall
    system which they learn in english mediam schools if. and by the way u ever seen discrimination these black enlish seculars.and one last thing in india and in pakistan three
    schools systems are running this is also these socalled honoralbe librals and seculars implemented jinnh or gandhi were also foriegners production put in on us ………………..

    Recommend

  • observer
    Oct 31, 2011 - 9:16AM

    @Ali Tanoli

    one last thing in india and in pakistan three schools systems are running this is also these socalled honoralbe librals

    I do not fully comprehend your meaning, but I assume you are referring to three kinds of syllabus being taught in schools.As no one can claim a monopoly on knowledge, I do not see any issue with that, however it must be ensured that the text books do not preach hatred and do not glorify violence. In India even though all states have their own School Education Boards and then there is the Central Board, the Indian School Certificate, the International Certificate and the Madrassa Board, none of them are allowed to teach hatred towards anyone.

    and seculars implemented jinnh or gandhi were also foriegners production put in on us

    You really want to go into this local v/s foreigner issue, including the arrival of Turks, Iranians, Arabs etc in India? Would you also like to examine whether Tolerance is an indigenous value?
    My suggestion would be to desist. Instead, concentrate on which thought and value systems promote harmony and well being and which do not. Accept the first, irrespective of origin and discard the latter.Recommend

  • gouri patwardhan
    Oct 31, 2011 - 9:38AM

    Were women from all castes had same rules to guide them? Or did Bahisti Zewar address only the Shurfa women?Recommend

  • observer
    Oct 31, 2011 - 10:26AM

    @Ali Tanoli

    Seculars are not angels either systematic crruption and class diffrences are made by these
    socalled librals

    I have several objections to this formulation,

    A. On Theological grounds let us remember He created everything and ‘seculars and librals’ are far from being He.

    B. On historical grounds we find He made some people prophets (some 1,20,000 of them) and He made rest of us into followers.

    C. Take this essay, “For Thanvi this was a matter settled permanently, as he considered women naqis-ul aql wal-iman (deficient in reason and religion)”.
    Thanvi is obviously creating a class of less equal beings out of women and he is not ‘seculars and librals’ by any stretch of imagination.

    D. In fact if you look at the Marxists who are widely accused of being the most ‘seculars and librals’ you would find that they want to dismantle all Creed,Caste,Class,Gender barriers. They would in fact challenge the right of the ‘King’ of Narnia or any IA be it ..BIA or ..SIA for that matter. Do ‘mullanas’ also challenge that?

    My doubts persist.

    Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli
    Nov 1, 2011 - 12:06AM

    @Observer,
    Women have all the rights in islam and they got when world dont even considerd them a
    Human and u know how bad women treated in india that time even now widow of india are
    not respected in society and the say about women are Nakis ul aqal so u are intllegent man u can understand what direction or meaning this word came in and by the united states after 235 years of democracy is not ready for woman president.
    @2. we all know how marxist treated there women i dont wanna go in detaile.
    @3. Why he bother to send prophet because mankind get lost the right path thats why.
    @4. Theology peoples made indopak worst but last half even more than that seculars are
    rulling why its getting worst?..

    Recommend

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