Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband has issued an edict saying that Muslim women should not become judges as it is forbidden in the religion.
The seminary posted the fatwa on its website after a question was posed to it on the issue.
The edict, which said that women should not become judges, has drawn sharp reaction from various quarters.
"Somebody's qualification should be judged by education and upbringing and not by gender. This is bias," said advocate and women activist Mumtaaz Akhtar.
Contending that the welfare of the community should be kept in mind before issuing such decrees, she said, "A woman understands the plight of another woman better. These types of diktats only dishonour the work done by several Muslim women in the field of judiciary."
In 1989, the country saw M Fathima Beevi from Kerala becoming the first Muslim woman judge to be appointed to the Supreme Court. Then in 2006, Seema Ali Khan was made a permanent judge of the Patna High Court.
According to Supreme Court advocate Kamlesh Jain, such fatwas affect the mindset of people and pose hurdles for Muslim women who want to opt for this profession.
"There are only 10-15 per cent women who are working in different departments of judiciary and they are performing extremely well. A woman advocate or judge is preferred in cases related to women issues but there are not enough women in the field," Jain said.
Rukhsana Zabeen, who works with Radio Kashmir in Srinagar as an assistant station director, says it is difficult to accept that women should not become judges.
"How can someone suggest that women cannot be capable judges without giving them an opportunity to show their competence," she asked.
"It is, however, a different matter that according to Islam, women should stay away from cases related to death as they are likely to take decisions emotionally," Zabeen said.