Authorities in Muslim-majority Bangladesh have joined growing public discontent involving a ban on using chairs in mosques, saying the edict had no basis and would exclude the sick and the elderly from prayers.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed dismay June 3 over a fatwa, or edict by an expert in religious law, issued by the Islamic Foundation of Bangladesh last month which outlawed the use of chairs in the mosques.
At the weekly Cabinet meeting, The Daily Star quoted Hasina as saying there is no such ban in the teachings of Islam. The prime minister pointed out that she said her prayers on a seat during air flights.
Hasina then asked Religious Affairs Minister Matiur Rahman, who was also at the meeting, to expound on the fatwa, but the official said he had just arrived from a meeting out of town.
Rahman vowed that he would seek more clarification on the matter from the foundation, which reports under his ministry.
The fatwa contained 12 points and was issued on May 19 by Mufti Mohammad Abdullah of the foundation's research department.
The decree specifically outlawed bringing chairs into mosques, explaining the seats disrupt the formation of prayer groups inside the place of worship. Aside from that, the chairs also spoil the mosque's aesthetics, according to the fatwa.
The edict declared that Muslims using chairs inside mosques were non-believers.
At the meeting, Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury hinted that the fatwa did not have any relevance because it lacked basis. He added that the edict put the government in an uncomfortable position.
Had Islam prohibited the use of chairs at mosques, the practice would have been done at Mecca, the holiest site for Muslims, noted Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed.
The official recalled that when he and his elderly mother performed the Hajj, wheelchair-bound pilgrims were allowed at the Kaaba grounds.
The Kaaba, a cube-shaped structure in Saudi Arabia, is considered by Muslims as the "House of God." Every Muslim is expected to make a pilgrimage to Mecca - called hajj - at least once in their lifetime,
The Daily Star reported that other Cabinet members joined the criticism of the fatwa, saying it ignored the physical limitations of people who suffer from various ailments.