Saturday, September 23, 2006

India's Cash-for-Fatwa Scandal

TIME.com: India's Cash-for-Fatwa Scandal -- Page 1

Last week, many Muslims in India, like their counterparts around the world, gathered on the streets to burn effigies of the Pope and shout slogans denouncing him for his remarks on Islam and violence. Even before that fully died out, however, a new controversy erupted — one that has turned Muslim ire against some of their own local clerics.

India’s “cash-for-fatwas” scandal broke out last weekend when a TV channel broadcast a sting operation that showed several Indian Muslim clerics allegedly taking, or demanding, bribes in return for issuing fatwas, or religious edicts. The bribes, some of which were as low as $60, were offered by undercover reporters wearing hidden cameras over a period of six weeks. In return for the cash, the clerics appear to hand out fatwas written in Urdu, the language used by many Muslims in Pakistan and India, on subjects requested by the reporters. Among the decrees issued by the fatwas: that Muslims are not allowed to use credit cards, double beds, or camera-equipped cell phones, and should not act in films, donate their organs, or teach their children English. One cleric issued a fatwa against watching TV; another issued a fatwa in support of watching TV.

Adding to the shock in India, home to the world’s third-largest Muslim population (approximately 150 million), is that some of the clerics apparently caught in the sting operation teach at important institutions — one belongs to India’s most famous Islamic seminary, the Darul Uloom at Deoband. At least two of the clerics have been suspended from their posts, but that hasn’t satisfied everyone. Students at one madrassa in north India denounced the clerics, and in the city of Meerut, where a mufti, or cleric, had been caught on camera, the congregation at one mosque refused to offer prayers until he came before them, admitted to taking the money, and apologized.

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