A recent fatwa issued by a leading Indian Islamic seminary advises women to refrain from working as receptionists, describing the job as un-Islamic and against Sharia law. The influential Darul Uloom Deoband offered the ruling in response to a question posed by a Pakistan-based company on 29 November on the seminary’s website, and states that Muslim women cannot work as receptionists because they are not allowed to appear before men without veil.
There are approximately 160 million Muslims in India, of whom 60 million are women. An overwhelming majority of them are illiterate.
Muslim journalist Bilal Zaidi told Index that although the Deoband is one of many schools of Islamic jurisprudence in India, it does have an impact on media and perception-building in general. The Deoband has a strong web presence, and as a result its fatwas are easily picked up and disseminated via mainstream media. Zaidi added that although the fatwa is just an opinion, “in practice, there are many who feel such fatwas are law… and then a large portion of the Muslim society tries to enforce them. Eventually, the opinion becomes identity.”
Some who support the logic of the fatwa, such as Saeed Hashmi, a columnist for the conservative Urdu newspaper Dainik Inqelab, point out that it is not mandatory. Hashmi told Index he feels this fatwa is a sensible warning to protect Muslim women from prying eyes, but understands it is difficult for everyone to follow such a directive in a big country like India.
In her paper analysing the effects of fatwas on Indian Muslim women, academic Shazia Shaikh feels that while the Darul Uloom Deoband has in the past brought about reforms in the Muslim communities, fatwas that seek to stop Muslim women from taking government jobs, becoming judges, and even working as receptionists, are nothing but misogynist, despite the fact the Koran is claimed to guarantee women’s rights.