(Editorial, New Age, June 17, 2009-supplied by SACW)


Issuing of Fatwa should be made illegal, argue Women’s organizations in Bangladesh.


Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (Women’s organization) has called upon the government to make a law under which the issuing of fatwa (arbitrary religious decree) will be considered a criminal offence. The Parishad also urged the Home Ministry to issue a circular declaring fatwa a criminal offence pending enactment of the law. The demand came in the context of several incidents of women being punished, publicly flogged and humiliated and sometimes driven to suicide in the name of implementation of fatwa. In one recent instance a woman in a village in Moulvibazar was publicly flogged for no other offence than talking to a non-relative male in the street. The woman’s husband had made no objection to his wife’s action but the village elders were unsparing.


While such incidents remain isolated and infrequent, there is little room for any degree of complacency on the part of either the government or the democratically oriented sections of society, as fatwa incidents could become an infectious malady gradually taking over the lives and liberties of poor rural women. It is all the worse when such inhumanities are committed through perverse interpretation of religious doctrines by obscurantist and often self-seeking clerics.


Each case of fatwa signals a leap backward and threatens social progress itself. Society in the twenty-first century cannot afford to live with fatwa. Allowing the issuance and implementation of fatwa also implicitly infringes upon the primacy of the country’s legal and judicial systems; after all, there cannot be two laws and two judicial systems in a country. The debate over fatwa had been clinched years ago by the High Court when a two-member bench (including a woman judge) declared fatwa illegal. An appeal against the High Court’s verdict was preferred with the Appellate Division and a stay order was issued. Unfortunately, during the seven years that has passed since, the government has made little or no effort to pursue the case and get the stay order vacated.


The government’s inaction could very well be interpreted as indulgence and embolden the obscurantist and often self-seeking clerics to run havoc with their perverse interpretation of religious doctrines. The government needs to be decisive in its action vis-à-vis fatwa. Hence, as Mahila Parishad has demanded, the Attorney General’s office should immediately initiate a move to get the stay order on the High Court’s verdict against fatwa vacated.

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