One of the largest Islamic seminaries in the world, Darul Uloom Deoband, has stoked a controversy by issuing a fatwa directing an official of Indian Air Force (IAF) to quit the job if he is not allowed to keep beard as a matter of his fundamental right to freedom of religion. The fatwa, which came on a query sent by the IAF official last week, asked him to grow beard as per Islamic Sharia or “seek forgiveness from Allah” everyday he shaves till he finds a new job. According to an Indian Express report, In his query sent to the seminary, the official said that he joined the IAF at an early age and was “not having beard” then. He said he has now completed 10 years of service. “I feel because of this service, I came close to Islam because I meet different types of people at different places in India. Now I want to keep beard but in Air Force there is no permission to keep beard at this stage. I have to go for daily shave. I have two options —- either get discharged from service (without any pension benefit) or continue with daily shaving. So please suggest what should I do? Should I leave the service or continue?,” the official asked.
The suggestion given by the seminary, on the query, and available on its website, tells the official that if it was not permissible to grow beard as per the “rules (bylaws) of India Air Force” and “you had signed on the agreement in the beginning of service” then in that case he has only two options, the report said.
“If you are financially well off and you can find out any other income source comfortably after leaving this job then in such a case you may prefer quitting this job. But in case you cannot arrange for suitable income source, then in such a case continue (with) your present job and keep on doing taubah and istighfar )seeking forgiveness from Allah). Also keep on looking for suitable job and when you get one leave this job,” the seminary suggested the official in the fatwa.
It also said “if as per the rules (bylaws) of IAF there is no restriction on growing beard” and that he enjoys “religious freedom” and “there is no ban in adopting your religious customs as written in the Indian Constitution, yet the department does not allow you to grow the beard”, then he should consult an advocate and “materialise the religious freedom mentioned in the Indian Law”.
Notably, the Supreme Court last year declined to urgently examine whether Muslim personnel in the armed forces can keep beards as a matter of their fundamental right to freedom of religion. The case, a plea from Muslim personnel seeking equality with Sikhs, who are allowed to wear unshorn hair and turban, has been pending since 2008.