Wednesday, October 08, 2003

FEMALE FATWAS: The Washington Post on women in India issuing fatwas:

Last month, a woman here approached a panel of religious scholars on a vexing matter of Islamic law. What did the prophet Muhammad have to say about beauty aids such as tinted contact lenses, cosmetics, nail polish, leg waxing and creams for lightening facial hair?

The scholars consulted their religious texts and a few days later got back to her with an answer: Yes to limited applications of blush and eyeliner. No to everything else.

The answer was supplied in the form of a fatwa, a religious edict that is normally issued by a panel of male Islamic judges known as muftis. But this fatwa carried an extra measure of expertise. Its authors were women.

"Within limits, makeup is okay," said one of them, Nazima Aziz, from behind the black veil that obscured all but her large and apparently unmade-up eyes. "But when you use a colored contact lens you're trying to change the way you look. You're not allowed to alter or change the form that Allah has given you."

Aziz, 22, is a muftia, one of three who make up a newly inaugurated, all-female fatwa panel -- or dar-ul-iftah -- that operates out of a girls' religious school in this once princely capital about 750 miles south of New Delhi.

School administrators, Indian news reports and some academic experts say the panel is the first of its kind in India and perhaps the Sunni Muslim world. In any case, it is a striking departure from the norm. For centuries, Muslim women have had to rely on men for official religious guidance on gender-sensitive matters from makeup to menstruation. Now they can drop a line -- in writing or by e-mail -- to the muftias of Jamiat-ul-Mominat, as the girls' religious school is known.

Questions received so far have addressed the wearing of high heels outside the home, the obligation of fathers to provide child support after a divorce and the propriety of wearing bangles before marriage, among other things.

"Before, they would go to their husbands, or to the man of the family, and he would take her problems to the mufti, and the male would bring the answer back to her," said Mohammed Hassanuddin, who has often figured in that process as the school's chief mufti.
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