When Britain’s Archbishop of Canterbury remarked that the certain aspects of the Sharia law in the UK seem “unavoidable”, it led to an outcry. Many imagined forms of punishment such as, stoning and severed limbs.
In most non-Muslim countries, including India, Sharia only refers to laws related to a set of very personal matters — such as divorce — which continue to pose one of the problems of how to reconcile Islamic laws with secular ones.
“A mountain of a mole hill has been made out of today’s verdict,” says Islamic law scholar Tahir Mahmood, a former member of the Law Commission of India. He says he is shocked to hear people peddle so many ignorant views since the verdict was handed.
“It is one thing to say something has no legal sanctity, quite another to say it is illegal,” Mahmood said.
Monday’s SC verdict states that such rulings have no “legal sanctity” but the practice itself has not been declared illegal. Mahmood says there is nothing “objectionable” in what the court said.
In India, Muslims subject themselves to the country’s secular criminal laws, while private family matters are often settled through fatwas or Islamic edicts when both sides have agreed to abide by its ruling.
Yet, the BJP’s promise to explore options for a uniform law, replacing myriad personal laws based on customs and traditions, can be an explosive issue.
“We will not accept any interference on personal laws,” the rector of influential Islamic seminary Abul Qasim Nom-ani said.
For one, there is no protection to personal laws in the Constitution and it is within the purview of the judiciary and legislation, according to Mahmood.Watch: Sharia courts not sanctioned by law, fatwas illegal says declares Supreme Court
Increasingly, many western countries are looking at solutions to issues where Islam and modernity don’t square up. In 2008, the UK set up five sharia courts, with their rulings enforceable with the full power of the English judicial system.
Experts feel a uniform civil code for India may meet with resistance from many communities. One example, Mahmood says, is the Special Marriage Act of 1954, to which was quickly added the Hindu Marriage Act a year later.
“Uniform law doesn’t mean Hindu law being applied to Muslims and vice-versa,” he said.
“Ignorance makes it worse,” says Mohammed Fadel, professor of law Toronto University.