Did Imam Tawhidi profit off a fabricated fatwa?

Was the so-called death fatwa written about Tawhidi fabricated for the purpose of giving him credibility and publicity for his book?

Imam Tawhidi is a well known personality on the internet who also refers to himself as ‘The Imam of Peace’. He has a considerable following on social media. Last week Tawhidi claimed that a preacher in Pakistan called Mufti Ahmed Raza Sialvi had issued a death fatwa against him which forced him into hiding. It seemed that several points in this claim didn’t add up so Shariq Siddiqui, a friend of mine, decided to look into it further. I am summarizing his findings here.

How would a Pakistani Imam who barely knows Arabic write a fatwa in Arabic, and why would he write it in Arabic when most of his audience speaks Urdu? We also have a recording of a call to Mufti Sialvi where he denies having written it and claims his account was hacked

The reason we believe it’s in the public interest to share this is because rather than an honest critique of Islam, the rapid broadcast of unsubstantiated death threats around the same time as a book launch irresponsibly can cause additional hatred where it needs not exist.

Here are the details:

  1. Last week Tawhidi claimed that a preacher in Pakistan called Mufti Ahmed Raza Sialvi had issued a death fatwa against him which forced him into hiding.

2. Imam Tawhidi tweets about this death threat, claiming he is going in hiding:

The purported original post by the Mufti was taken down within hours of Tawhidi’s tweet, presumably following reports to Facebook by his followers, some of whom shared screenshots as proof.

He also posted the same to Facebook. He also called this imam a ‘terrorist’ and claimed he had connections to the Pakistani Airforce (presumably based on some photos of him walking around available publicly on the Imam Sialvi’s facebook).

3. Tawhidi then claimed he had gone into ‘hiking’ not ‘hiding’

His book “The Tragedy of Islam: Admissions of a Muslim Imam” has recently been released on Amazon. He has claimed on his Facebook that “If I’m killed, it’s because of this book.”

Imam Tawhidi tweets and posts that if he is killed, it’s because of his book

Imam Tawhidi has received thousands of views from all these tweets and gained a lot of publicity from this supposed death fatwa. Is it possible the entire death fatwa scandal was a calculated sham made to sell more books?

Questions about the fatwa:

  • The Mufti (meaning expert on matters of Islamic jurisprudence) is based in Pakistan, where Urdu is the national language. While there are several other languages spoken widely, Arabic is not one of them. Why is the fatwa in Arabic?
  • Fatwas are generally issued in response to a specific question. This fatwa doesn’t appear to be in response to anything in particular except vaguely mentioning Tawhidi’s book. It also has a simple heading saying “Sharia Fatwa” without even mentioning what it’s about. Is this the standard template for a fatwa by a Pakistani Mufti? Or has it been hurriedly written in a manner to include just enough juicy material to confirm the worst fears of those who fear Muslims, creeping Shariah and the like?
  • Is this Mufti a recognised authority whose death threat needs to be taken seriously and have most Muslims even heard of him? In other words, even assuming this fatwa is real and the threat made in earnest, is it worth taking seriously and broadcasting without verifying it? Would anyone with more than a superficial exposure to Islam take it seriously?
  • The Mufti in question appears to be mainly engaged in responding to fairly mundane queries about everyday matters of Islamic practice, exclusively in Urdu. He has also advertised two mobile numbers inviting queries to be sent to him via WhatsApp. His other posts are also mostly in Urdu except of Quranic verses directly quoted in Arabic and not in the vein of judgements about individuals, much less fatwas.
  • Wouldn’t a mufti in Pakistan who’s this fluent in Arabic be quite proud of the fact and be posting much in Arabic or at least mentioning this, to add credibility to his status as a mufti?
  • As a minor point the fatwa is signed “Mufti Ahmed Raza Alvi” in Arabic rather than Sialvi. Is the death threat really from whom it’s supposed to be?
  • The Mufti issued two Facebook denials, claiming his account was hacked and appealed to god to guide whoever committed this mischief. These posts are here:
20 Dec 2018. “Salam Aleikum, my Facebook Page had been hacked, if any issues resulted from that I am not responsible.”
20 Dec 2018: A fatwa was published in my name, neither did I write it nor did I have any knowledge of it. I saw it just now and it made me very sad. As for whoever did such a thing, may Almighty Allah guide them, Amen
23 Dec 2018: As-Salam-Aleikum, All friends and wellwishers are hereby informed that someone has hacked my Facebook account which has only now become fit for use again
  • Do mad mullahs generally deny having made death threats?
  • Even before addressing the question of whether he issued the fatwa, a quick call to the Mufti can easily confirm whether or not he even knows enough Arabic to issue a fatwa in Arabic, before addressing the question of whether he even knows. We have a recording of such a call, whose authenticity we can’t confirm, but believe it’s in the public interest to share this. (Scroll down for phone call transcript and audio)

Imam Tawhidi and Robert Spencer confuse the Imam Sialvi above with a different Imam Sialvi who was invited to UK

  1. Robert Spencer retweeted Imam Tawhidi’s death fatwa tweet, claiming it was the same imam who was invited to UK. It was not. Muhammad Ramzan Sialvi is a different person. Link to his facebook here.

2. Imam Tawhidi retweets Robert Spencer’s tweet, also claiming this was the same imam who was welcomed into UK (who he was not):

Did someone hack the wrong mufti’s page? Was the target of the hack Muhammad Ramzan who visited UK?

Phone call to Imam Sialvi in Pakistan

Transcription of conversation with Mufti Ahmed Raza Sialvi:

Mufti: Hello, Salam aleikum

Caller: Yes, Waleikum Salam, is that Mufti Sahib speaking?

Mufti: No sir, who’s this?

Caller: My name’s Faisal, I’m calling from Birmingham. Just wanted to talk to him, if he’s available now?

Mufti: Yes sir?

Caller: I..My name is Faisal, I’m calling from Birmingham. Just wanted to talk to him for a couple of minutes but if he’s busy…

Mufti: At your service, sir.

Caller: Are you Mufti Sahib speaking?

Mufti: I’m not a mufti…at your service, sir, at your service…

[note: many imams like to be humble and refuse to call themselves muftis]

Caller: Maybe I have the wrong number…

Mufti: Though people do call me a mufti…

Caller: Ah I see! So you’re Mr Sialvi?

Mufti: Yes, yes

Caller: OK…I follow you on Facebook, I read your stuff. The issues you explain in detail, that’s great to see, but this thing that’s happened these last few days…someone issued a fatwa in your name, made me sad to see that, I just wanted to phone you and convey that.

Mufti: OK yes I see. I did post about that and say that someone’s done this in my name.

Caller: Yes…They wrote in Arabic, I wondered that you must read some Arabic but might not be writing so much in it, can you write in Arabic? As much in the fatwa…did you see the fatwa?

Mufti: No sir…yes I did read it, I saw it.

Caller: So I did wonder, that it wouldn’t be Arabic…

Mufti: No not Arabic, I’m an Urdu speaker, you’d know how much Arabic an Urdu speaker would…

Caller: Yes..

Mufti: I do manage to read it and generally understand what’s written, but…I don’t really need it. It might be needed, for example, if there were Arabs even here, but you do know Pakistan has mostly Urdu speakers…so…

Caller: No I do know that…even my family, I mean, half of them are people from Pakistan…That’s why I thought someone’s played some mischief, and felt… Looking at the other things you write, I knew you wouldn’t be doing something like this yourself…but I just wanted to express to you that it saddened me to see that someone’s trying this with you.

Mufti: Well one thing is there are certain types of people who want to give others a bad name…

Caller: Yes, yes…

Mufti: Let’s see… Giving someone a bad name…every guy thinks ‘why is this guy rising higher than me’?

Caller: Hmm, hmm…

Mufti: So far all the things I’ve posted on Facebook…I haven’t ever said anything so anarchic have I?

Caller: No that I have been seeing… this sort of thing isn’t your style, I know…

Mufti: Whoever did it, may Allah guide them…I even wrote this dua [supplication] that may Allah guide them…

Caller: Yes, yes…Inshallah [God willing] hope it doesn’t happen again…take care of your passwords etc…

Mufti: Yeah, will do something, God willing

Caller: Yeah…I have a couple more questions for you, can I write them down and send them to you via WhatsApp?

Mufti: Yes absolutely, send them to me on WhatsApp.

Caller: OK I’ll do that. So it was great..thanks for taking my call, it was nice to speak with you. God willing will keep the conversation going with you on WhatsApp.

Mufti: Yes, God willing, many thanks, many thanks, Allah hafiz [Good bye].

Caller: Allah hafiz

— end transcript —

Conclusion

In summary, some random imam in Pakistan who writes mainly innocuous Islamic posts suddenly decides to post a fatwa in a language he doesn’t speak (Arabic) for his Pakistani audience who can’t read Arabic either, signed with a slightly different name claiming that the australian Imam Tawhidi needs to be killed. Tawhidi somehow finds this fatwa, and uses it to promote his book, claiming he is in hiding and then hiking.

Robert Spencer then claims an imam who had a similar name was invited to UK was the same one who made the death threat, which Tawhidi also falsely confirms.

Imam Sialvi was contacted by phone and said he wrote no such thing and believes his facebook was hacked. He also claimed he had no need to say such things like that.

Was this all a setup to promote Tawhidi’s book? While we are not believers in Islam, we care about honest critique of Islam and not an unsubstantiated hatred of Muslims. We present these details as a starting point for someone to look into this further.

Critics have questioned his credentials as an imam and also his social media activity which they say borders on fomenting anti-Muslim bigotry rather than a thoughtful critique of Islam. Eg. A damning ABC article described him as the ‘fake Sheikh’.

Another article: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-23/imam-tawhidi-the-problem-with-the-medias-favourite-muslim/8643726

For more about Shariq you can check out his Medium.

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Husband, dad to five, tech enthusiast. Former Conservative Muslim. www.abdullahsameer.com