Fatwa has not yet been banned even after the High Court declared it illegal ten years ago in 2001, speakers told a roundtable titled “No more fatwa” yesterday.

Speakers urged the government to make fatwa a punishable offence following the HC verdict soon as 503 women fell victim to fatwa in between 2000 and 2011.

“Fatwa means legal opinion. Only court can give legal opinions. The man who announces fatwa has no legal authority to do it,” Justice Mohammad Gholam Rabbani said referring to the judgment he passed in 2001.

“Fatwa should be made punishable as it goes against the existing law of our country,” he added.

Mohammad Gholam Rabbani and Nazmun Ara Sultana in the landmark 2001 judgment declared that the “legal system of Bangladesh empowers only the courts to decide all questions relating to the legal opinions on the Muslim and other laws as in force in Bangladesh”.

Unfortunately, the 2001 landmark judgment still remains stayed following a Supreme Court order, said Gholam Rabbani. The SC passed the stay order against the backdrop of killing of seven people in violent clashes between police and demonstrators, who took to the street following the verdict.

Prof Shahnaz Huda of Dhaka University suggested that a new provision can either be included in the penal code or in the Nari O Shishu Nirjatan Ain to ban fatwa.

The Daily Prothom Alo arranged the roundtable at its head office following death of Hena Akhter by whipping under fatwa at Chamta in Naria in Shariatpur last month.

Bangladesh Mahila Parishad President Ayesha Khanam said the incident of Hena brings the status of our social system, state machineries and performance of law enforcers into question.

Additional Inspector General of police AKM Shahidul Huq, however, claimed police acted promptly in Hena’s case and the first case police filed in this connection was right.

Prof Ayesha Banu of Dhaka University suggested reviewing the laws related to family affairs and including the matter as a topic in textbooks.

“Fatwa does not mean what is happening in the name of fatwa now. Fatwa means making decisions by Islamic scholars, who know Islam and its laws well, over a dispute,” said Prof Asif Nazrul of Dhaka University.

“I don’t believe those involved in fatwa are doing all these due to ignorance or unawareness. Rather, they are doing this on a specific political, social and cultural agenda,” said Ain O Salish Kendra Executive Director Sultana Kamal.

Former deputy attorney general Nahid Mahtab, current Additional Attorney General Murad Reza, and actress Bipasha Hayat were also present at the roundtable moderated by Prothom Alo Joint Editor Abdul Quayum.

The speakers also observed that both the Information Commission and National Human Rights Commission can play an important role in creating awareness among people.

Source: The Daily Star – 14.02.2011