Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Fatwa on Indian tennis star dress deplored by Christians, Muslims

New Delhi (ENI). Christian women activists have joined some Muslim leaders in lambasting a religious edict by a Muslim cleric demanding that Sania Mirza - India's teenage tennis sensation - who reached the fourth round of the US Open last week wear "Islamic dress".

The 18-year old Muslim player made international headlines when she became the first Indian woman to reach the US Open's fourth round before going down to top-seeded Maria Sharapova of Russia.

"The dress she wears on the tennis courts not only doesn't cover large parts of her body, but it leaves nothing to the imagination," Haseeb-ul-hasan Siddiqui, a senior cleric of the Sunni Ulema Board said in issuing a fatwa last week. He accused the teenager of "indecent dressing" at tennis courts and in advertisements, and said that "Islam does not permit a woman to wear skirts, shorts and sleeveless tops".

The first Indian woman tennis player to break into the top 50 women tennis players in the world, she is now ranked 34. Mirza is also the second highest paid national sports star, charging up to 15 million rupees (US$350 000) for each advertisement - only surpassed by Indian cricket idol Sachin Tendulkar.

"This [fatwa] is really absurd," Maulana Wahidudhin Khan, president of the Islamic Centre in New Delhi told Ecumenical News International. Describing the controversial Muslim edict as "irrelevant", Khan said it "only ridicules Islam".

Several women activists including Christians also attacked the issuing of the fatwa against Mirza.

"Religious leaders should not concern themselves with what kind of dress sports women should wear," Jyotsna Chatterji, a prominent woman activist and Church of North India member, told ENI. Sports competitors should have "freedom to choose the dress that suits their sports", said Chatterji who heads a group called the Joint Women's Programme. She noted religious leaders "should be more concerned with the spiritual lives of sportspersons than prescribing dress codes for them".

"This [fatwa] is ridiculous," said Annie Raja, another Christian and general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women. "Muslims should come out and denounce such steps that discredit the entire (Muslim) community," said Raja.

However, Sayed Ifthikar Ali, editor of Shodhan, a weekly magazine in western Maharashtra state told the Times of India newspaper that he had refrained from publishing Mirza's action photos, as these "will offend sensibilities"