Bharat Mata ki Jai slogan
Activists from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of India's ruling BJP, raise their hands as they shout slogans during a protest marchMukesh Gupta/Reuters

A prominent Islamic seminary in India has issued a fatwa against pro-nationalistic slogan "Bharat Mata ki jai", which means "Hail Mother India" in Hindi, adding more fuel to an already-raging controversy. The fatwa, or an Islamic edict, was issued after an eight-member panel's deliberation in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

The fatwa issued by Darul Uloom of Deoband reads: "We love our country, but it is not our god. In Islam, we believe in only one God and hence it is against the faith of a Muslim to chant the slogan."

The hullabaloo over the slogan erupted after a well-known Muslim politician Asaduddin Owaisi, a Member of Parliament from the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, announced he would not chant the slogan as it is against Islamic values. He was widely criticised for decrying the slogan, which was one of the iconic catchphrases during India's Independence struggle.

The fatwa added: "In the past too, a similar controversy emerged about the chanting of Vande Mataram in schools. That song was made mandatory for students. Now, Bharat Mata Ki Jai is being made compulsory. Both the issues are the same."

"India is, without doubt, our country. We and our ancestors were born here. We love our country, but we do not think it is our God."

Quickly responding to the fatwa was Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, a federal minister of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who herself was censured in the past for her inflammatory remarks. She told reporters: "It is showing the fundamentalist side of Islam. Denying 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' shows disrespect to martyrs of the country. It shows their mentality. They should understand that they are not living in Pakistan."

Opposing politicians have been sparring over the chanting of "Bharat Mata ki jai" in recent weeks. Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of Rashtriya Swayamsevakh Sangh, which is the ideological mentor of the ruling BJP, had kicked off a controversy when he suggested the next generation of Indians should be taught to chant the slogan.