A coalition of 42 mullahs have issued a fatwa against Indian Idol contestant Nahid Afrin — a teen Muslim singer who has used her reality TV celebrity to condemn the Islamic State — because she is scheduled to perform at a venue near a mosque.
Afrin is set to perform at Udali Sonai Bibi College in Lanka, Assam, on March 25. On Tuesday, pamphlets announcing the fatwa, signed by 42 Islamic clerics, appeared in the area near the venue, demanding Afrin stop singing entirely. The pamphlets note that the college is near Islamic facilities, which, they claim, makes the performance haram. “If anti-Sharia acts like musical nights are held on grounds surrounded by masjids, idgahs, madrassas and graveyards, our future generations will attract the wrath of Allah,” the pamphlets read, according to the Times of India. The fatwa goes on to condemn a recently-held magic show in the area as well as other musical performances and demands Afrin end her singing career.
Afrin is the 16-year-old runner-up of the 2015 season of Indian Idol Junior and has since performed in Bollywood films and released songs condemning the Islamic State. Law enforcement officials told the Times of India that they were “looking at this angle” (her Islamic State condemnation) in addition to the stated reason for the fatwa.
Sarbananda Sonowal, the Chief Minister of Assam, has issued a public statement supporting Afrin and condemning the clerics’ demand for an end to artistic performances in places they consider too close to Islamic facilities. “We strongly condemn putting restrictions on performance by the young talented singer, Nahid Afrin by some organisations,” Sonowal said on Twitter, adding that he had personally spoken to Afrin and promised “to provide safety and security to artists.”
Afrin has told Indian media that she was “shocked and broken from inside” when she heard about the fatwa. “Allah has blessed me with this voice for singing, and I’ll die if I am not allowed to sing,” she said at a press conference Tuesday. To not sing, she said in another statement, was “ignoring Allah.” She added that “many Muslim singers gave me inspiration to not quit music.”
In another interview with the outlet Mid-Day, Afrin noted that this is not the first time Islamic leaders have condemned her for singing in public. “Even when I was part of Indian Idol, some maulanas and maulvis spoke ill of me,” she said. “Some imams and maulanas criticised me in the jumma namaz. My maternal uncle attended one namaz where they said, ‘If you have voted for Nahid [on Indian Idol], do tauba (repent), since she is doing a gunah (crime) by singing.'”
Anti-Islamist public figures have also come out in support of Afrin. Taslima Nasreen, a Bangladeshi writer, demanded the government punish mullahs who publish inane fatwas. “In a democracy, everybody should have human rights, freedom of expression… without freedom of expression democracy means nothing,” she told Zee News, adding, “Recently some Hindu fanatics were arrested for issuing threat on someone, why aren’t Muslim fanatics arrested?”
Even some Muslim clerics have come out against the fatwa. Imam Omar Ilyasi of the All India Organisation of Imams acknowledged that the mullahs were correct about Sharia forbidding her singing. However, “this is the wrong way to issue fatwas,” he said, suggesting the mullahs should have privately explained to the young girl how and why her performance was supposedly a violation of her religious duties.
While Muslims are a minority in India, Sharia law adherents have long attempted to impose Islamic legal codes within their communities and have them respected by the Indian government. In an attempt to diminish the influence of Sharia law, some Indian politicians have called for a Uniform Civil Code, which would replace Sharia courts in civil cases and issues of family law. The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) has condemned this move, claiming women feel more “safe and secure under the Sharia.”
The Indian Supreme Court rejected a proposed ban on Sharia courts in 2014. As Pakistan’s Dawn noted at the time, “India’s 150 million Muslims follow their own laws governing family life and other personal issues such as marriage and divorce, with Sharia courts used to rule on such matters and mediate in disagreements.” The Supreme Court noted, however, that Sharia courts are not legally binding.