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Cleric's fatwa against cartoonists: Govt looks the other way

Crying blood is in. At least pretty much in Uttar Pradesh where two virtually unknown Shariat courts have joined the issue with a minister of the state in calling for the death of the Danish cartoonists who drew caricatures of prophet Mohammed.

BUSH FIRE: Protestors burn an effigy of US President George W Bush in Lucknow February 19. Thousands of protesters participated in the rally. Shia and Sunni sects joined hands to stage the protest. Some protestors turned violent when they broke show-window panes of a Café Coffee Day outlet and a Domino Pizza outlet in a posh locality. (Reuters/Pawan Kumar)

While one fatwa (religious decree) was issued by the Irada-e-Sharia Darul Qaza on Monday, another was issued by the Ifta Firangimahli Taksal on Tuesday. Both have been signed by Maulana Naimul Haleem Qadri, a member of both institutions, according to the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS).

The cleric, a Press Trust of India (PTI) report said, asserted it had been clearly stated in the Quran that whosoever hurt the prophet deserved to be sternly punished. Asked whether the fatwa had any significance in India where Islamic laws do not apply, Qadri declared, ''It is applicable wherever Muslims live.'' The cleric has so far found little support in Uttar Pradesh, which has a sizeable Muslim population.

The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) said the fatwa had no meaning. AIMPLB legal advisor Zararyab Jilani told IANS: "The board has nothing to do with these fatwas; but even if we consider that the Shariat does prescribe death penalty for anyone committing blasphemy with the name of the Prophet, such a fatwa would have legal sanctity only in a country governed by Islamic law."

Firangi Mahal head Maulana Khalid Rasheed said categorically: "Let me make it clear that Firangi Mahal, which is among the country's oldest institutions authorised to issue fatwas, has nothing to do with the fatwas issued by some organisation which has given itself a name similar to ours." Rasheed said, "A fatwa can be issued only when a formal reference is made by someone before the authorised institution; and a 'darul qaza' (Islamic court) can issue a verdict only after hearing both parties involved in a dispute."

The cleric's call comes at a time when condemnations are still pouring in of a state minister's announcement of a bounty of Rs 51 crore (about $11.5 million) to anyone who beheads the cartoonists. The Minister of State for Haj and Minorities Welfare, Hazi Yakoob Qureshi, had also Friday last told a 25,000-strong crowd of protestors in Meerut, that the assassin would get gold equivalent to his weight.

FANATIC AND WORSE: Uttar Pradesh minister Hazi Yakoob Qureshi, second right, addresses a gathering in Meerut, about 60 km northeast of New Delhi, Friday, February 17. Qureshi announced a reward of Rs 510 million (US$11.5 million) for beheading Danishs cartoonist who lampooned prophet Mohammed. He also promised that the assassin would get gold equivalent to his weight. (AP Photo)

Though according to a number of provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) Qureshi could have been arrested, the Union government has been softpedalling on the issue. On Tuesday, Union Minister for Parliamentary Priyaranjan Dasmunshi simply said Qureshi's act was "understandable" but went on to add that he ought to be "restrained." "People holding constitutional posts should maintain restraint," the minister said. "This is a sensitive matter and a strong reaction is understandable," he said.

A criminal case has, however, been filed in a local court in Ghaziabad against Qureshi for his inflammatory speech. The case was filed in the court of Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Narendra Singh Monday. The hearing will be held on February 24.

Shahid Siddiqui, a senior leader of Qureshi's Samajwadi Party (SP), told the Rajya Sabha on Monday that neither his party nor the UP government approved of Qureshi's remarks. He said the remarks, made in a fit of rage, were "unfortunate". The state's SP Chief Minister, Mulayam Singh Yadav, is yet to castigate his minister. The Left parties, which are to hold a joint rally with SP in Agra shortly to protest against US President George W Bush's forthcoming visit to India, have chosen to look the other way.

The strongest criticism of Qureshi has, in fact, come from some clerics. Rasheed had earlier sought to remind the minister that such vengeance was something the prophet was himself opposed to. "I would like to remind the minister that the prophet had gone to the extent of pardoning the killers of his own near and dear ones," he said. "As true followers of the great prophet, we ought to keep that spirit alive", Rasheed said. He felt that such irresponsible statements by a person holding an important office would only send a wrong message across the globe about Indian Muslims.

Maulana Naimur Rehman, secretary of the Lucknow-based Islamic Centre of India also echoed Rasheed's views. "The minister's declaration was uncalled for and thoroughly irresponsible; if he is truly so worked up over what has happened, why doesn't he step down from the minister's chair and carry out the task himself?" he said.

HE SEETHED, THEY RESPONDED: Head priest of Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, addresses a gathering before the Friday prayers in the old quarters of Delhi February 10. Bukhari flayed the government for not condeming the cartoons. The Indian government promptly expresed "deep concern" over the cartoon row the very next day.(Reuters/B Mathur)

Rehman, according to IANS, went on to say: "I would like to suggest to him that instead of offering Rs 51 crore for the contract killing, he should use the money to engage the world's best lawyers to file a case before the International Court of Justice and have the cartoonist punished." He charged Qureshi with merely playing to the Muslim gallery. "Such statements would send a wrong message that Indian Muslims were intolerant."

The minister has, nevertheless, been definant and unrepentant. "It was no rush of blood. I was only the voice of lakhs of Muslims who wanted this reward to happen. I am willing to resign from my seat but will not retract the statement. Why should anyone have an objection to the statement? Have I said something against any Indian? No one except the BJP leaders are complaining–all of Meerut, including the Hindus, is supporting me. Where have people been incited to spread violence? Anyone having an objection is anti-Islam,'' he told the Indian Express.

The lack of political will to crack down on Qureshi or the maulana can be seen in the light of the frenzied crowds that have been participating in the protest rallies that have been held in many parts of India, particularly in UP, over the last few days.

The Conress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has been caught in a bind. Wary of losing support among its traditional Muslim votebank following the Iran vote and US President George W Bush's forthcoming India visit (both of which has been drawing much flak from the Muslim community), the UPA government happily fell in line with the sentiments expressed by the Shahi Imam of Delhi's Jama Masjid.

The government expressed "deep concern" over the controversy, and said attempts to hurt the religious sentiments of the people should be avoided. "The Government of India is deeply concerned about the growing controversy over the publication of cartoons that offend the Muslim community worldwide," an official statement said on February 11.

ISLAMISED SAFFRON: Muslim supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) burn a Danish Flag at a protest in New Delhi February 18. The activists were protesting the publication of the cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. The BJP has only demanded the resignation of Hazi Yakoob Qureshi in Uttar Pradesh, but not his arrest. (AP Photo/ Mustafa Quraishi)

The statement came immediately the day after Shahi Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari lambasted the UPA government for not condemning the caricatures being printed in the European media. "The entire Muslim world is protesting the blasphemy, but this so-called progressive and secular UPA government is not taking a bit of pain while leading a country where 200 million Muslims live," Bukhari said.

This Monday, Congress president Sonia Gandhi wrote to Bukhari saying the cartoons were "insensitive" and that she shared the sense of outrage of the Muslim community. The Congress party has the greatest regard and respect for all faiths and is committed to protecting their rights and beliefs for preserving and strengthening the secular nature of our society, Gandhi said in reply to a letter written by Bukhari.

Date posted: February 21, 2006 Date modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 12