By Sandhya Jain
In a surprise development for the Hindu community, the famous Deoband Darul Uloom has asked Muslims nationwide to avoid slaughtering cows on the occasion of the forthcoming Id-ul-Zuha on January 11, out of respect for Hindu sentiments. The measure is fraught with significant possibilities for inter-community relations, but even more importantly, contains the seeds for progress and change for the Muslim community itself.
The Islamic seminary has been at the centre of unseemly controversy for the past two years. In September 2004, a cross-section of the Islamic clergy virtually ganged up to browbeat a young Muslim girl, who had remarried in the belief that her husband was dead and was in an advanced stage of pregnancy, to return to her first husband who unexpectedly returned from a Pakistani jail. Owing to the media interest in the story, it was widely known that Gudiya wanted to stay with second husband Taufeeq, who was also the father of her child. The ulema should have facilitated a discreet divorce with Arif, but contrary to all norms of human decency, they chose a highly public route to bulldoze the young, sick and vulnerable girl to leave the father of her child. The result is that barely 18 months later, young Gudiya is dead after a prolonged illness that must have some relationship with her psychological condition; her infant is motherless.
Deoband came briefly into the limelight once again in 2005, when Imrana, wife of a rickshaw-puller in UP, was allegedly raped by her father-in-law. When the local Ansari community learnt of the rape, the panchayat declared that Imrana stood automatically divorced from her husband and father of her five children; they directed her to marry her father-in-law and treat her husband as her son. The decision caused widespread outrage in the country, but Deoband gave a fatwa upholding the Ansari panchayat decision, until a national uproar forced it to backtrack by claiming that no fatwa had been issued in the matter.
Now, like a breath of fresh air, Deoband has brought out a book on the concept of qurbani (sacrifice) associated with ?Bakr Id,? and specifically suggested that the Muslim community avoid slaughtering cows during the festival as a mark of ?respect for the feelings of Hindus.? This not only marks a welcome departure from its hitherto orthodox and regressive decision-making process, but indicates the seminary'sability to be flexible and innovative in matters of faith, should it only wish to be so. Political parties that kow-tow to Muslim orthodoxy in the false belief that the community cannot be reformed without seriously compromising its religious identity, would do well to ponder the deeper significance of this little-noticed but profound gesture from Deoband.
The fatwa argues that the Hindu demand for stopping the killing of cows is just their insistence. It informs Muslims that where cow slaughter is banned by law (in Hindu-ruled areas), the responsibility for social disturbances would fall upon Muslims, and hence they should refrain from this activity (which indicates that it is optional and not mandatory). However, wherever there is no prohibition, Hindus will be held responsible for the social unrest.
Hindu leaders should in fact demand that henceforth this be an article of faith for the Muslim community, and not be treated as an issue of blackmail, as in the past. It is well known that during the Khilafat agitation, some Muslim leaders offered not to slaughter cows as a gesture of goodwill to the Hindus, and it is equally well known that Muslim leaders have felt free to exhort the community to slaughter cows whenever they wished to agitate the majority community.
In The World of Fatwas, Mr. Arun Shourie cites the Fatwa-i-Rizvia, which claims, ?We have set the sacrifice of the cow and the camel among the marks of the Din of Allah.? The fatwa quotes several ulema to the effect that slaughtering cows is essential and a long-standing practice of Islam, and if Hindus object to the killing of cows on ?communal grounds,? then it is not right for Muslims to refrain from killing cows. This fatwa in fact decrees that on every occasion Muslims should keep up what has been prevalent in Islam for so long. If they stop it, they shall be sinners.
The Fatawa-i-Rizvia points that if someone restrains Muslims from sacrificing a cow, it becomes obligatory to sacrifice it, because Muslims cannot give up their religious work under duress. It argues that those who advocate the contrary to please the polytheists (that is, Hindus) are out to undermine Islam; they are great sinners and enemies of Islam, who, according to the Koran, shall be consigned to Hell forever.
The fatwa argues that the Hindu demand for stopping the killing of cows is just their insistence. It informs Muslims that where cow slaughter is banned by law (in Hindu-ruled areas), the responsibility for social disturbances would fall upon Muslims, and hence they should refrain from this activity (which indicates that it is optional and not mandatory). However, wherever there is no prohibition, Hindus will be held responsible for the social unrest. Indeed, it goes so far as to argue that in Hindustan, cow slaughter is an act that greatly glorifies Islam: ?By our fatwas we have proven that here the sacrifice of cows is proper and to abandon it out of regard for Hindus is improper.?
Now, this act of consideration for Hindus, this attempt to promote communal amity, once denounced as ?qatai haram? (completely prohibited) is being propagated suo moto by Deoband. Whatever the political calculations behind the measure, it is nonetheless welcome as a step forward in the move towards a national ban on cow slaughter. Religious leaders from both communities should step forward and seal this as an immutable pact which cannot be undone whenever Muslims feel less pressured by the international vigilance against their community.