Christian women activists have joined some Muslim leaders in lambasting a religious edict demanding that Sania Mirza, India's teenage tennis sensation, should wear "Islamic dress", reports Anto Akkara of Ecumenical News International.
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, Mirza is now ranked 34. She is also the second highest paid national sports star, charging up to 15 million rupees (350,000 US dollars) for each advertisement - a sum 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".
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]