An all-girl teenage rock band in Indian-administered Kashmir (Jammu and Kashmir) has broken up after receiving threats and abuse from a local Muslim cleric and others.
Outlook India reported that the Grand Mufti Bashiruddin Ahmad declared a fatwa (Islamic decree issued by a scholar) against members of the group Pragaash for what he termed as their “unIslamic” behavior.
"When girls and young women stray from the rightful path ... this kind of non-serious activity can become the first step towards our destruction," the Grand Mufti said in a statement.
He told Press Trust of India: "I have said singing is not in accordance with Islamic teachings … and will not help them in playing any constructive role in the society."
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The Mufti also posted threatening comments about the group online, which led to police filing a case against him. Other inflammatory remarks -- including death threats -- against the group appeared on their Facebook accounts.
"So far, half a dozen Facebook users who had posted hate messages have been identified while efforts are on to identify the others," a local police official told Indian reporters.
"Arrests are likely to be made in the next couple of days.”
Nonetheless, one member of the group has already fled to Bangalore, 1,500 miles away in the south of India. The two other members reportedly stayed in Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir, to heed the fatwa.
One band member (with her face obscured) told Indian TV: "We just quit [singing and playing music] only because of the people of Kashmir, as Mufti sahib said it is un-Islamic. We did not know that they are unhappy with our music. We respect the Mufti sahib who said it is haram [forbidden]. We respect the opinion of people of Kashmir also.”
However, she denied that the group broke up because of the online threats.
"It is because people are not happy with us. People of Kashmir are not happy," she added.
However, BBC reported that it spoke to one of the girls (it is not clear which one) by phone and she questioned the necessity of the fatwa.
"Music was our passion. We did not know it was haram," she said.
"There are many artists from Kashmir who are performing. But they did not issue a fatwa against them. They did not stop them. ... But we are being stopped. We respect their [Mufti’s] opinion and we have quit. But I don't know why we are being stopped.”
In any case, the Mufti is apparently satisfied by the band’s collapse.
"I am happy they have quit. I congratulate them, their parents and all those people who supported my fatwa, he said.
However, some local politicians are unhappy about the fate of the girl band.
Union Minister Farooq Abdullah described the situation as unfortunate and hoped the young ladies will not relinquish their musical pursuits. The state’s Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has also criticized the Mufti.
Outlook India identified the three girls as 10th-grade students named Noma Nazir, Farah Deeba and Aneeka Khalid – they formed Pragaash and performed in public at a competition last December, winning an award.
Interestingly, local Muslim militant groups were divided over the Mufti’s fatwa.
Dukhtaran-e-Millat (DeM), an extremist separatist group that wants Kashmir to be independent from India, warned the girl group that their music would lead to social ostracism. But Muslim Khawateen Markaz (MKM), another separatist organization, denounced the Mufti’s action, calling it “unwarranted.”
"There are much bigger issues where fatwas can be issued. Why has there been no fatwa against male singers? Why has there been no fatwa against girls participating in government or army functions," Zamaruda Habib of MKM told Press Trust of India, adding that such acts only give Kashmir a bad name.
The band has received support from some in India as well.
Vishal Dadlani, a Bollywood musician, wrote on the group’s Facebook page: "Please don't stop making music due to the fear of some random lunatics. It is our duty as custodians of our talent to reach people, and to sing stories of the human soul.”
Dadlani even invited the girls to come to Mumbai and pay for their travel, room, board and studio recording expenses. (The girls have reportedly rejected the offer.)
Jammu and Kashmir, which is dominated by Muslims, has been ensnared in an insurgency against the Indian government for almost 25 years. Islamic militants have repeatedly sought to impose Islamic law in the region, often closing down cinemas and liquor stores, among other measures.