Indian High Court Bows to Islam: Judge Denies Interfaith Marriage

A High Court in India rejected a plea for protection filed by a Hindu-Muslim couple, citing that their marriage is invalid as per Muslim Personal Law, which governs all Muslims in India in several aspects, such as marriage and divorce.

The Madhya Pradesh High Court ruled against protecting an interfaith couple in the central Indian state seeking to marry under the Special Marriage Act of 1954. The Hindu-Muslim couple said in their plea that even though they were in love with each other, their marriage couldn’t be registered under this law because they couldn’t appear before a Marriage Officer due to objections raised by their families regarding their relationship.

The Hindu-Muslim couple had sought police protection so that they could safely appear before a Marriage Officer to register their union under the Special Marriage Act. However, the court ruled against accepting their plea for protection, with the court’s decision based on the interpretation of the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937, which deems the marriage of a Muslim man to a Hindu woman who is considered to be an idol or fire worshipper, to be invalid or irregular, therefore categorizing it as a “prohibited relationship” under Muslim personal law. 

As per Mahomedan law, the marriage of a Muslim boy with a girl who is an idolatress or a fire-worshipper is not a valid marriage. Even if the marriage is registered under the Special Marriage Act, the marriage would no longer be a valid marriage, and it would be an irregular (fasid) marriage,” Justice G.S. Ahluwalia said in a 14-page order dated May 27th, rejecting the couple’s petition for police protection.

Under Muslim personal law, marriage is a civil contract with three distinct classifications: A valid marriage (sahih), a void marriage (batil), and an irregular or invalid marriage (fasid). Marrying an idol or fire worshipper is not void or batil, but merely fasid or invalid. 

Mahomedan male may contract a valid marriage not only with a Mahomedan woman but with a Kitabia — that is, a Jewess or a Christian — but not with an idolatress or a fire-worshipper.” the High Court judgment also said. 

The judgment also cited Mulla’s Principles of Mahomedan Law and distinguished between void and irregular marriages, arguing that the former is unlawful from the beginning and the latter only under certain circumstances, with one reason mentioned in Mulla for marriage being invalid is due to differences in religion, which can become valid if one of the two partners accept the faith or the other.

However, the High Court cited that the marriage would remain irregular under Muslim Personal Law and cannot be legalized under the Special Marriages Act since, in this case, the Hindu woman did not intend to convert to her Muslim partner’s religion. 

The Special Marriage Act allows marriages to be registered, regardless of one’s religion. However, the Act says that any marriage within a “degree of prohibited relationship” cannot be solemnized under this Act. The High Court also cited Section 4 of the Act, which “provides that if the parties are not in a prohibited relationship, then only marriage can be performed.

Legal experts described the High Court's ruling and interpretation of the term “prohibited relationship” under the Special Marriage Act as flawed and contradicting several judicial precedents that protected interfaith couples in India.

They argued that the Special Marriage Act was created to allow interfaith marriages in India, further arguing that the term “prohibited relationship” within the SMA pertains to “blood relationship” and not “prohibition due to difference in religion.

In their petition, the Hindu-Muslim couple also expressed that while they were in love with each other, they also showed their desire to follow their respective religions without interfering with one another. The couple was also observed to be unwilling to be in a live-in relationship. They argued that because the Special Marriage Act is a secular, federal law, it overrides any personal law, an argument the presiding judge did not accept.

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