Shariat courts have no legal authority and their decisions are not legally binding, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, saying fatwas must not violate rights of individuals guaranteed by law.
The court, however, refused to declare Dar-ul-Qazas (Islamic courts) or practice of issuing fatwas as illegal, saying it was informal justice delivery system for bringing amicable settlement and it was for the persons concerned to accept, ignore or reject it.
“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 bench headed by Justice CK Prasad said.
“A qazi or mufti has no authority or powers to impose his opinion and enforce his fatwa on any one by any coercive method.”
Dar-ul-Qazas are religious tribunals run by Muslim religious organisations which take up legal issues on behalf of parties who approach them.
“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 issues by Muslim clerics.
Fatwas that infringed upon the rights of an individual at the instance of strangers caused irreparable damage and violated basic human rights, the court said, adding fatwas were opinions and not decrees.
A person can choose to accept or ignore a fatwa even after asking for it but if “any person or body tries to impose it, their act would be illegal”.
“Religion cannot be allowed to be merciless to the victim. Faith cannot be used as dehumanising force,” the court said.
Sharia courts not sanctioned by law, fatwas illegal says declares Supreme Court
The ruling came on a public interest litigation filed by Delhi-based advocate Vishwas Lochan Madan who said Shariat courts should be disbanded for running a parallel judicial system.
Both the Centre and All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) argued that fatwas were advisory in nature and no Muslim was bound to follow those.
AIMPLB said the judgment vindicated its stand that Dar-ul-Qazas were not running “parallel judiciary”. Board spokesman Qasim Rasool Ilyas said “in the absence of any legal backing, Shariat courts role was of arbitrator.
Abul Qasim Nomani of Dar-ul-Uloom, Deoband, an influential Islamic seminary, said the verdict did not restrain clerics from issuing advisories of a legal nature.
Any interference in personal law of Muslims would not be “acceptable”, Nomani, who objected to Salman Rushdie’s presence at Jaipur literary festival two years ago, said.
Madan moved the court after Dar-ul-Uloom issued fatwa forcing a woman to separate from her husband and live with her father-in-law after he raped her. A journalist wanted to know the marital status of the woman and legal status of children born with the rapist’s son.
India’s Muslims, like all other religious groups, follow their own personal laws governing marriage, divorce and succession. There is also the option of ‘secular’ law in matters of marriage and divorce.