MUMBAI - The application of fatwa is dividing Muslim scholars in India, with religious leaders opine that the enforcement of the edict may differ according to situation and context.
"Fatwas cannot be mandatory for everybody to follow, Professor Akhtarul Vase, head of department of Islamic studies at Jamia Milia Islamia, told the Press Trust of India.
Controversy about the application of fatwa grew last week after a leading Islamic seminary banned Muslim women from working as receptionists.
Darul Uloom Deoband ruled that it was un-Islamic for Muslim women to work in offices as receptionists.
The fatwa was an answer to a Pakistan-based company which had asked whether it could appoint a Muslim woman as a receptionist.
The seminary argued that Muslim women can't work as receptionists because they are not allowed to appear before men without veil.
Another fatwa issued by the seminary termed tattoo and use of perfume with alcohol content as un-Islamic.
But Professor Vase opines that both fatwas should not be applied to all Muslims as they deal with certain situation and context.
Usually, a fatwa is an answer to a specific question. So here it's important to understand the context and situation in which that question was asked, he said.
For example, the recent fatwa which says Muslim women cannot work as receptionists, this cannot be binding on everybody.
Founded by a group of Indian scholars in 1857 CE, the Deoband is the most influential Muslim intellectual school of thought in South Asia.
The school, which follows that of Imam Abu Hanifah with regard to fiqh and minor issues, has thrust into the spotlight in recent years after it has issued several fatwas denouncing terrorism. Mandatory
But other scholars opine that fatwas issued about general rules in Islamic shari`ah should be followed by all Muslims.
"Fatwa should not be considered as an order or a directive, Mufti Mukarram Ahmed, Shahi Imam of Fatehpuri Masjid, said.
It is an Islamic outlook which people can follow.
It is the duty of every Muslim to follow what has been said in Shari`ah (Islamic law), he said.
Shari`ah govern issues in Muslims' lives from daily prayers to fasting and from to inheritance and marital cases to financial disputes.
The Islamic rulings, however, do not apply on non-Muslims, even if in a dispute with non-Muslims.
On a daily basis, Darul Uloom issues 30-40 fatwas. Similarly, Bareilly Markaz also issues fatwas, the scholars said.
Muslims make up about 13 percent of India's population, making the country the third largest Islamic population after Indonesia and Pakistan.