Highlights

  • Attack on Salman Rushdie highlighted threat of 'fatwas'
  • Fatwas are religious edicts issued on variety of topics
  • Many people accused of blasphemy attacked under fatwas

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Fatwa Attacks: before Salman Rushdie, other victims; bizarre anti-selfie, smiley fatwas

The attempt to murder author Salman Rushdie has once again highlighted the threat of the Fatwa - a death warrant issued against people labelled blasphemers. So, what is a fatwa?

The attempt to murder author Salman Rushdie has once again highlighted the threat of the Fatwa - a death warrant issued against people labelled blasphemers.

So, what is a fatwa? Who issues it, and why? And, who are the others who have fallen victim to it?

From India to Europe, and everywhere in between - fatwas have been issued, and in many cases, people hurt.

One of the cases which shocked the world was that of Samuel Paty, a French school teacher who was killed in October 2020. Paty had reportedly showed Islamic religious figure Mohammad's cartoons in class during a discussion. Following this, a fatwa had reportedly been issued against him by a student's father, and a terrorist. Paty's killer had beheaded him in public, and was later shot by police.

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The same year, Kamlesh Tiwari, President of a group called Hindu Samaj Party, was shot and stabbed to death in Uttar Pradesh's Lucknow. A fatwa had been issued against him in 2016 by 2 UP clerics, according to Tiwari's wife. The fatwa had been issued over remarks made by Tiwari about a religious figure.

Rafiq Tagi, an Azerbaijani journalist, was killed in 2011 over a fatwa issued by an Iranian cleric in 2006. The fatwa was issued over articles critical of Islam written by Tagi. He was stabbed, and died in a hospital.

Another high-profile target of a fatwa was Pervez Musharraf, the former military ruler of Pakistan. In 2010, a conference in Quetta issued a fatwa which reportedly labelled Musharraf 'fit to be killed'. The death warrant was issued over the assassination of some Baloch nationalists.

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In 2002, riots broke out in Nigeria amid a fatwa issued against a journalist, Isioma Daniel. Some of her comments in an article on the Miss World pageant had sparked a controversy, and over 220 people died in subsequent riots. The fatwa calling for Daniel's death was issued by the Zamfara state government, and the journalist had to flee the country.

A recent case in India involved a person named Dr Mohammad Nizam Bharti, who claimed that he was the target of a fatwa issued over his support to the BJP's ideological parent organisation RSS. The accused Hafiz Imran Warsi was arrested by UP police, but denied issuing a ₹1 lakh bounty against Bharti.

We've seen the dangerous consequences of a fatwa. But what exactly is it?

Fatwas are rulings or edicts under Islamic law. They can range from dietary guidelines to worship styles. In some extreme cases, fatwas are issued as death warrants. Fatwas are written by clerics trained in Islamic law and customs. They are legal opinions, and so clerics can have different stands on the same topic. Fatwas can also be cancelled or rescinded by the issuers.

Since fatwas can cover a wide variety of topics, some very bizarre rulings have been issued in the past.

In 2021, a Bangladeshi cleric issued a fatwa banning the use of smiley emojis to mock people. 3 years earlier, a fatwa against life insurance policies had been issued by Indian clerics. The document reportedly said that life and death are in the hands of Allah, and the income from interest earned by insurance companies is 'haram' or forbidden.

The same clerics had earlier issued a fatwa banning women from uploading their photographs online. The fatwa said that Muslim women cannot show their faces in public. It was issued by Darul Uloom Deoband in Uttar Pradesh in 2017. The seminary issued another fatwa banning designer, and slim-fit burqas. Burqas are meant to protect women from prying eyes, the 2018 fatwa by Darul Uloom Deoband said.

But out of all these, the death fatwa remains the most destructive. It's latest high-profile victim - Salman Rushdie - had been facing the threat for over 30 years.

The fatwa against Rushdie was issued for his book 'The Satanic Verses'. Calling the book blasphemous against Islamic Prophet Mohammad, Iran's religious leader Ruholla Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1989. The fatwa asked "brave Muslims" to kill Rushdie and others who had helped publish the book. A $3 million bounty was also attached to the death warrant. Rushdie was forced to go into hiding for a decade. The controversy led to the United Kingdom and Iran breaking diplomatic ties. The two nations resumed diplomatic relations in 1998, when Iran diluted its stand saying that it would neither support nor hinder threats against Rushdie's life.

'The Satanic Verses' had sparked violent protests in many parts of the world, including India. In 1989, 12 people died in riots in Mumbai, while 6 people died in Pakistan's Islamabad. Meanwhile, UK stores selling 'The Satanic Verses' were reportedly bombed.

While Salman Rushdie managed to evade the fatwa against him for over 3 decades, others were not so lucky.

In July 1991, Hitoshi Igarashi, who had translated 'The Satanic Verses' into Japanese, was murdered. He was stabbed to death in a university building hallway in Tokyo. There was a deep knife wound in his neck, and cuts on his hands and face.

A few days earlier, Ettore Capriolo had been attacked in Italy. Capriolo had translated Rushdie's book into Italian. He was attacked at his Milan apartment, suffering knife wounds in his neck, chest, and hands, but survived.

In October 1993, William Nygaard was shot 3 times. He was the Norwegian publisher of 'The Satanic Verses'. Nygaard was shot outside his home in Oslo, but managed to survive, spending many months in a hospital.

The story so far would have given you the impression that fatwas are dangerous weapons used to hurt helpless civilians. But fatwas are also used for good.

In 2021, a fatwa was issued by Bangladesh which called terrorism 'haram' or forbidden in Islam. The fatwa was issued by over 1 lakh Islamic scholars, and also said that suicide attackers would be cast in hell.

Another socially responsible fatwa was issued in Pakistan which condemned so-called 'honour' killings. It was issued by the Pakistan Ulema Council in 2014. A similar fatwa against 'honour' killings had been published by Canadian Islamic clerics in 2012.

A fatwa issued in India in 2016 called female foeticide 'haram'. It was issued by Darul Uloom, Deoband, which said that Islam orders that daughters be treated well.
Recently, a fatwa was issued against the beheading of a tailor in Udaipur. Kanhaiya Lal was killed allegedly for supporting Nupur Sharma over her remarks against Islamic Prophet Mohammad. The fatwa against his murder was published by Dargah-e-Aala Hazrat in UP's Bareilly.

From calling for murder, to condemning it; from imposing restrictions on women, to saving girl children - fatwas are just tools, and it depends on the wielders how they are used.

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