Fatwas have been misrepresented time and again in media. Fatwa should not be considered as a binding order or a royal decree. To understand a fatwa, one has to understand its process. Usually, a fatwa is an answer to a specific question. An individual approaches a mufti with a query. The reply - in the light of Quran and Hadith- is called a fatwa. It is a solution based on Sharia law to an individual's query and not something that can be generalised. So here it's important to understand the context and situation in which that question was asked.
In fatwa, every word of the question is taken into consideration. With the changing of even one word the answer to that query changes, sometimes, completely.
Passing judgment or a directive on a particular Shairah matter is the job of a Muslim ruler and is beyond the scope of a Mufti. The fatwas replied by a Mufti is mere a suggestion or solution to his or her problem in the light of Shariah. Their duty is to show guidance in the light of Qur'an and Sunnah to those Muslims who want to practice their religion. Though it is the duty of every Muslim to follow what has been said in Shariah, but it is up to him or her to obey the fatwa.
For instance, in Gudiya-Taufiq-Arif' case of 2004, when media was echoing for the justice of a women, whose husband Arif went missing soon after the Kargil war, was repatriated from Pakistan. By then, Gudiya had married another man and was pregnant. However they have willingly accepted the Islamic rulings in such confusing and painful situation.
Comparatively, Islam is more practical than any other religion. There still remains a curiosity among Muslims to know what their religion says in any matter. It is a key to ask fatwas with an intention to follow the religious guidance. The problem arises when people post the reply they received from a Darul Ifta on internet or share it with media. No sooner do the news channels and dailies come across the fatwa, they hurry to twist it and make it breaking news as if a Mufti issued a decree which is something new and is against the Islam. However, in most cases the fatwa is exactly about what has already been mentioned in the mother books of Islamic Fiqh.
For instance, the fatwa of Darul Uloom Deoband for a query about the salary of Muslim women doing government or private jobs being Halal or Haram, the media started making breaking news with headlines such as "Women's earnings haram, says Deoband", "Muslim women can't work: Deoband", Darul Uloom says Muslim women can't work in public" etc.
The original text of the fatwa was "It is unlawful for Muslim women to do job in government or private institutions where men and women work together and women have to talk with men frankly and without veil," According to the fatwa, what is 'unlawful' is 'working' in an un-Islamic environment. It does not say anything about their earnings being halal or haram.
Tragically, media never care to contact the Islamic seminaries where the fatwa was answered, to seek explanation about it. Instead, they invite so called Muslim intellectuals and Islamic scholars who best utilize their freedom of expression and interpret what the fatwa would have never meant. This is taken as a golden opportunity by those liberals with Muslim names who have no interest in following even the fundamentals of Islam. They come in the forefront against any fatwa criticizing Ulama and Islamic laws.
Sometimes, opinions are misinterpreted as fatwa like in the recent case of statement of a Kashmir's top clergyman about Kashmir's all-girl band. Mufti Bashiruddin issued a "statement" against three Kashmiri girls for being part of a rock band which performed in Srinagar in December 2012. Since it was not a reply of query submitted to him, it could never be termed as fatwa. Rather, it is a guiding suggestion – as long as there is no harsh or aggression in the statement - to Muslim girls to remain away from a bad deed. Mufti was of the view that "The parents of the girls should try to correct erring teenage girls and teach them Islamic values instead of exhibiting them as source of entertainment for thousands of people.
However, the incidents of threatening the girls on social sites are highly condemnable. As I mentioned earlier that every Muslim should obey the Islamic laws and no doubt music is Haram in Islam. But one has no right to forcefully impose any religion or ideology on others.
Maulana Ubaidur Rahman Qasmi (Editor-in-Chief of India's Only Muslm Lifestyle Magazne)