Indian Muslim Women’s Group Denounces Darul Uloom Deoband’s Divorce Fatwa

Sheila Musaji

Posted Nov 26, 2010      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Indian Muslim Women’s Group Denounces Darul Uloom Deoband’s Divorce Fatwa

by Sheila Musaji

A lot has been written about a recent series of fatwas issued by Darul Uloom Deoband in India, and many have said that reform of this institution is desperately needed.  A. Faizur Rehman wrote an article demanding that the Muftis of this institution Go Back to the Text (referring to the Qur’an).  Rehman notes

The abhorrent practice continues only because Muslim women are reluctant to show dissent and have allowed themselves to be indoctrinated into prioritising comparatively smaller problems such as the ban on the burqa. If the present-day shariah is to be reformed and brought into conformity with the original teachings of the Quran and the Prophet, Muslims must come out and intellectually challenge patriarchal interpretations of Islam.

Today, the Express News Service reported that the Darul Uloom Deoband fatwa that a man pronouncing divorce on the phone even if the wife did not hear what was said is valid has been denounced by many Muslim women’s groups in India.  It would seem that the situation might be changing, and that women are beginning to challenge such fatwas.  One of these groups, the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan staged a protest on November 25th.  They also issued the following open letter to Darul Uloom Deoband:


We the activists of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan condemn the fatwa issued by Darul Ifta, Fatwa department of Sunni Islamic seminary, Darul Uloom Deoband stating that divorce pronounced by the husband on phone is valid even if the wife has not heard it due to network problems. It says that ‘for talaak to take place it is not necessary that wife should hear it or witnesses are present.’ In October this year they also ruled that talaak pronounced in jest is also valid. 

We demand an answer from all those mullas, muftis and qazis who have nothing better to do than pass fatwas which ruin the lives of so many women. We ask you 5 questions and we demand an answer to all of them:

Who are you and what is your authority in passing fatwas? In a secular democracy like India and in a religion that denounces clergy ship, from where do you get the authority to pass dictates which are unConstitutional and unIslamic?

What is the source of illogical, stupid and laughter-evoking fatwas like women should not be riding bicycles, women should not talk loudly, they should not work in male company and without a veil, that women cannot be a judge and that she cannot be talking to her fiancé before marriage and many other much much more ridiculous rulings? Don’t you think twice before you defile a rational, progressive and liberal religion like Islam? Don’t you have an iota of a sense of responsibility? 

A Muslim man today feels empowered and emboldened when irresponsible muftis and qazis send letters and notices on his behalf to his unsuspecting wife abruptly terminating her marriage. Divorcing ones wife by letters, emails, SMSs is a recurring phenomenon which gives no opportunity to a harried wife to even know what went wrong where and how. Instead of dissuading men from resorting to this unIslamic method of divorce, the qazis are actually providing an easy conduit to men who think of marriage as some joke and his wife to be some piece of furniture to be discarded at his will. What do you feel when you read the verse no. 4:35 which insists on arbitration before divorce? Do you suffer from selective amnesia and forget all those verses which are just and fair to women?

Is there no control over the qazis and maulana? Are they free to speak nonsense and defile the religion and hurt the dignity of Muslim women? You have given a bad name to Islam. Give us one good reason why Muslim women should not approach the police station and put these irresponsible mullas behind bars?

When practically all Islamic/Muslim countries have codified the family law, why is the Darul Uloom not taking an initiative to call for codification of Muslim personal law in India? You have to tell us your views on codification.

We challenge the Darul Uloom Deoband to be answerable to Muslim women on the above and many more such pressing issues. We urge you to stop taking the community and Muslim women for granted.

Yoginder Sikand has written a very interesting article discussing this issue Deoband’s Anti-Women Fatwas: A Partial Explanation.  In this article he notes

Although ‘traditionalist’ and ‘orthodox’ in terms of theological interpretation (kalam) and jurisprudence (fiqh), the men who man the Deoband madrasa are not, contrary to what some might believe, wholly anti-modern. They willingly embrace, for instance, modern technology, which they press into the service of propagating their particular version of Islam. Thus, the madrasa has an impressive, tri-lingual website (, which hosts hundreds of articles and thousands of fatwas, dozens of photographs, and a couple of books. Six booklets can be downloaded from the English section of the site, all written by senior Deobandi scholars. One of these, by Ashraf Ali Thanvi (1863-1943), among the pioneers of the Deobandi tradition, is titled Nikah [Marriage] in Islam.  Thanvi continues to be widely revered in Deobandi circles, a good indication of which is the fact that three of the six English booklets available on the madrasa’s website are translations of essays penned by him.

Since Thanvi’s booklet that purports to discuss marriage rules in Islam is hosted on the madrasa’s official website, one may take the booklet to represent the authoritative Deobandi interpretation of Islamic rules and practices related to marriage. Since the Deobandis assume, and fervently believe, that their interpretation of Islam is the sole authentic one, they do not feel compelled to qualify the title of Thanvi’s booklet as being a Deobandi interpretation of Islamic marriage rules. In this way, they conflate the particular Deobandi version of Islam with Islam itself.

An examination of Thanvi’s booklet is instructive in providing an insight of how the Deobandis imagine the institution of marriage and some of the many rules related to it that they consider as normative and binding. It can also help us better understand, and, at least partially, explain, the flurry of anti-women fatwas that routinely issue forth from the portals of the Dar ul-Ulum.

He then goes on to discuss Thanvi’s work at length providing a much needed understanding of Darul Uloom Deoband’s attitudes towards marriage and women. 

We can only hope that the discussion being stirred up by this particular fatwa will lead to a re-examination of Darul Uloom Deoband’s misogynistic views by the institution itself.  It is well past time for ijtihad and reform.