European Diary

The Ulema and I

On the flight to Bombay—which a British single mother with an addiction to horse tranquilizers, or a benefits administrator dispensing them, would call Mumbai—I came across a Times of India news report entitled “6,000 Ulema back fatwa on Terror.”  I recalled that the first time I heard the word fatwa was in connection with Salman Rushdie’s blasphemy, a publicity trick not unlike Christopher Hitchens’.

I discovered that the ulema were Islamic scholars, who had come together at a conference in Hyderabad to endorse “a fatwa that declares that all forms of terrorism are against the spirit of Islam.”  The document, known as the Hyderabad Declaration, had been drawn up by the grand mufti of Darul Uloom, Maulana Mufti Habibur Rahman, and other luminaries of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, representing “almost all schools of thought in Islam.”  Explaining the document’s rationale, Maulana Mahmood Madani said: “Terrorism has no religion.  Don’t link it to Islam, Hinduism or any other faith.”

On my arrival to the Taj Palace Hotel in Bombay, I scoured Western newspapers for coverage of the Hyderabad conference.  There was not a word.  And yet, intuitively, to a man who had chanced upon the exotic word ulema some hours previously, it seemed a hugely important event.  Imagine 6,000 university professors coming...

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