The Supreme Court ruled on July 6 that Sharia courts in India are not sanctioned by law and thus their decisions are not legally binding. The ruling also stated that fatwas issued by Sharia courts must ensure they do not violate the rights of Indian citizens that are guaranteed by law. However, the court did not declare Islamic courts (Dar-ul-Qazas) or the issuance of fatwas as illegal, explaining that these informal systems of delivering justice do help in bringing about amicable settlements and people are free to accept, reject or ignore them.
“Dar-ul-Qaza is neither created nor sanctioned by any law made by the competent legislature. Therefore, the opinion or the fatwa issued by Dar-ul-Qaza or for that matter anybody is not adjudication of dispute by an authority under a judicial system sanctioned by law… A qazi or mufti has no authority or powers to impose his opinion and enforce his fatwa on any one by any coercive method,” a bench headed by Justice CK Prasad said.
Dar-ul-Qazas are religious tribunals run by Islamic organizations that take on legal issues on behalf of individuals who approach them. Describing fatwas as opinions and not decrees, the court said that in many cases fatwas have violated the rights of individuals, causing them irreparable damage by infringing upon their basic human rights.
“Whatever may be the status of fatwa during Mughal or British Rule, it has no place in independent India under our constitutional scheme,” the court said, spelling out for the first time its view of edicts issued by Muslim clerics.
The Supreme Court’s recent ruling came after a Delhi-based advocate Vishwas Lochan Madan filed a public interest litigation saying Sharia courts should be banned for running a parallel judicial system. Madan had filed the PIL after a Sharia court issued a fatwa against a woman who had been raped by her father-in-law, forcing her to leave her husband and live with her father-in-law even after the tragic incident took place. However, both the Central Government and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) asserted that fatwas are only advisory in nature and not binding upon any Muslim.
The court’s ruling has of course infuriated several adherents of the Islamic faith. Abul Qasim Nomani who belongs to the influential Islamic seminary Deoband said that the verdict interferes with the personal law of Muslims and it is unacceptable that the court has attempted to stop clerics from issuing advisories of a legal nature.
Zafaryab Jilani, member of the Muslim Personal Law Board, said, “We are not doing anything parallel to the judicial system and we don’t say that any order passed by a Qazi is binding on all. Our sole motto is to resolve a matter with the consent of two parties involved in accordance with Sharia.”
“Indian Constitution has given us the right to act and work according to our Muslim personal law… One must keep in mind the Sharia Application Act, 1937, which has said that in those cases where both parties are Muslims and the matter is related to nikaah, talaaq, zihar, lian, khula and mubaraat, the decisions will be taken in the light of the Muslim personal law,” said Khalid Rasheed Farangi, a Muslim cleric.
Muslims follow their own personal law that governs issues of succession, marriage and divorce. However, a secular civil law also exists for those who prefer that. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has made the promulgation of a uniform civil code for all citizens irrespective of religion a core issue on its agenda.
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